Paleos and Food Fear Mongering

I am circling back to an item that was a hot issue in the ancestral health community in early 2013: eating disorders, and how the paleo perfection community may in fact promote this among people who are predisposed to getting caught up in frivolous food obsessions.

I read this Dr. Emily Deans post, “Orthorexia in the Paleo-Primal Community,” which led me to this post, “10 Critical Issues the Paleo Community Must Address, ” by Jimmy Moore.

Moore correctly bashes the odd habit of “perfectionism,” which, in my definition, is the over-application of real food principles to the point where some paleo adherents are afraid of every bit of food that hasn’t passed the “paleo perfect” test. This strikes a nerve with me because I see it as a huge problem with people becoming obsessed with every bit of dogma that comes out of the paleo world. And often, what is said in the paleosphere may not be so dogmatic, yet the readers of otherwise good information will take it to a ridiculous degree of dogma completely on their own.

For instance, people obsessing on not eating gluten. Not eating gluten is a great thing, and everyone who is educated on the gluten issue should heed the principles of gluten avoidance whenever possible. But to say that you got sooo sick because you ate something that touched something that came from a package that touched another package that touched something with gluten is not only a stretch, it’s nutty. And this stuff goes on.

People are taking the general rules for ‘what is and isn’t’ sound food and they are puffing up the rules to ridiculous proportions. Folks doing paleo are now making up “long lists” of all these things that they absolutely cannot eat under any circumstance whatsoever. A potato? Gasp! Now that crosses a line. A potato has carbs, and it could have … touched something that had … gluten! And rice? Well, some paleo somewhere said that rice is not within the boundaries of the doctrine, so all rice is always out. One speck of rice will upset the entire paleo applecart in the minds of some of the “toe-the-line” paleos. Avoiding the worst of modern grains, such as wheat, does not necessarily mean you will hit the floor with convulsions if a piece of rice touches your lips.

These people are what I designate “afraid of food.” For instance, they have to inspect and interrogate and research the menu each time they go out to eat for fear that they will unwillingly ingest a dreaded forbidden item. It’s painful to go out to a restaurant with someone who has to cross-examine the waitress with a ridiculous series of 1,000 incoherent questions dedicated to understanding each and every ingredient in the proposed meal while sounding like a recording from any one of a number of paleo-dogma websites or books. I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me that is a moment of zaniness that just zaps my positive mental energy. A meal out with these folks is no longer an option for me.

The obsession on all things ketogenic (almost total carb avoidance) is also beyond boorish. It’s not so bad that people feel the need to go keto, it’s that they talk about it all the time, and in the most uninformed way. Also, the obsession on thyroid issues in the paleo world is, and has been, out of control. The self-diagnosis of one malady after another is now a hobby for some folks. And each time a new malady is self-diagnosed, a new set of rules goes into place about what one can’t eat. That potato becomes the evil lurking in your kitchen. And so goes the food fear mongering.

So yes, some paleo adherents are using the paleo lifestyle to create their own personal “disorder,” and being paleo keeps them busy making themselves a victim while claiming a series of personal triumphs from never touching a potato or popcorn again. These are the folks who are fixated on being victims and gaining attention for themselves and their assorted little victories. Most folks who do overcome serious issues through the development of better health habits don’t serialize their triumphs in moments of victimhood. The paleo perfectionist crowd does this incessantly.

Indeed, I think some people who are ‘food challenged’ or diet obsessed may indeed be drawn to the paleo lifestyle because many paleo adherents make it appear as if the paleo lifestyle dictates a lot of rules. This alleged rigor draws in the diet-obsessed folks, feeds their obsessions, and then they create their own internalized fear mongering for themselves based on what has influenced them. And then some of them pay it forward by fear mongering and influencing others all over the web, discussion boards, or Facebook. Yawn.

It’s important to point out that the biggest offenders of developing and spreading food paranoia are not the ancestral health pros ’round the Internet who disseminate good information – it is the mass media that extrapolates this information into melodramatic headlines and readers of information who take what they read and hear at face value and carry it down a path of pointless obsession without critical assessment.

But being paleo-primal is not about following a rigorous set of rules – unless one is actually metabolically broken or has some severe medical issues that need immediate attention. A almost none of the ancestral health pros advocate a sense of inflexibility in terms of food boundaries. Mark Sisson’s 80-20 principle is a great example of ‘lead, but do not proselytize.’

Understanding how to eat real food and learning how to avoid what is not real food is not as difficult as the paleo-orthos (after the term orthorexic) make it appear. But I’d rather call them food fear mongers: they are afraid of everything that could possibly affect some metabolic malady that they apparently have that they self-diagnosed from reading blogs. A wave of food hypochondria has certainly been wafting through the paleo reader-adherent community, and it’s becoming obnoxious.

The Telegraph just published an article titled, “The Great Gluten-Free Scam.” So again, the industrial food machine is capitalizing on what is initially a good idea at its core, and they turn it into a three-ring circus with their plethora of products for the dedicated “I can’t eat anything without getting sick” crowd. These products are hyped-up junk food for the folks who are easily sucked into one marketing scam after another. People who are dedicated to real health, and therefore eating the optimal real food diet, don’t need to scour the shelves of every crap store in America looking for the latest junk-food-turned-gluten-free-wholesome just because the label makes a specious claim.

In conclusion, the issue is that rather than teach people how to identify foods equated with good health and long-term maintenance, some paleo adherents are either (1) spreading their irritating, personal doctrines for what is and isn’t acceptable based on their own paleo-religion preferences, or (2) some folks are capitalizing on the good sense-turned-madness by running low-brow websites and blogs dedicated to selling you anything and everything related to any dogma whatsoever that says you will die tomorrow if you eat anything that falls outside the guidelines for paleo-perfect edibility.

All of it is madness to be ignored.