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Jan. 11 2010 - 11:25 am | 1,123 views | 0 recommendations | 12 comments

Cavemen (and women): stay out of my 21st century

cavemen2Ah, the joys of modern living: paved running pathways line scenic waterways, fresh food is available mere blocks from most residential areas, and every Barnes & Noble is flooded with hours upon hours of mildly entertaining fitness and diet books for me to peruse on quiet weekend afternoons.

Especially in January, when everyone and her dog are on the lookout for the latest, greatest weight-loss method. Now, the New York Times is pleased to announce, we’ve got a winner for 2010: the Caveman Diet.

In Sunday’s Style section, the Times explores a diet fad that I’ve written up, with much skepticism, several times. To make a long, bizarre story short, the Caveman Diet is a food and fitness approach that mimics the – apparent – habits of our long lost ancestors. Raw meat, fasting, and exercise routines that would allow one to “flee from a mastodon” are all integral. And, according to Caveman devotees – photographed by the Times inside what appears to be a Museum of Natural History exhibit (bizarre Times photo number two last week) – the result are impressive: they’ve lost fat, muscled up and feel “in touch with their inner ancestor.”

Oh, my. How many ways do I hate this entire idea? So many ways. Mostly, though, it comes down to this:

“I didn’t want to do some faddish diet that my sister would do,” Mr. Durant said.

Ahem. First of all, Mr. Durant (whom the Times generously describes as “a cheerful Jim Morrison”), women aren’t the only ones attracted by faddish diets. Men are too. And know what? I’d say you’ve probably been hook-line-and-sinkered into a diet fad yourself. Because nothing says “diet fad” like no carbs, 24-hour fasts and an at-home meat locker. I’ve seen it before, and I’ll see it again. Week one, it’s bacon-and-eggs for breakfast and a glowing smile as the pounds melt off. Week four, it’s nibbling “just a little” of my lunchtime bagel. And week eight, you’re binging on donuts in the bathroom and scrambling to rub the powdered sugar off your nose for fear that someone finds out what a phony you are. Shame.

But what might really sum this disaster up are the following nuggets from the Times piece, as Cavemen devotees remark and reflect on the roots of their new (for now) “lifestyle”:

Andrew Sanocki, 38, a former Navy officer, explained that he preferred working out on an empty stomach near the end of a fast, and then following up with a large meal. This is a common caveman schedule, intended to reflect the exertion that ancient humans put into finding food. It is as if, Mr. Sanocki explained, “we’ve gone out and killed something, and now we have to eat it.”

Oh, but Andrew. You didn’t go out and kill anything. Which means you just starved yourself, and then panted through a glycogen-deprived workout, for no reason at all. Unfortunate for our ancestors, they didn’t have modern research to show that eating before a workout boosts energy levels and improves recovery.

Another caveman trick involves donating blood frequently. The idea is that various hardships might have occasionally left ancient humans a pint short. Asked when he last gave blood, Andrew Sanocki said it had been three months. He and his brother looked at each other. “We’re due,” Andrew said.

Giving blood is a great idea, but not as an imitation of “various hardships” that might lead to massive blood loss. I’ve actually never, ever heard of someone creating an entirely self-serving reason to sacrifice a pint of their own blood for those in dire medical need, so this is a first. Nice one, guys.

They regularly grumble about vegans, whom they regard as a misguided, rival tribe. But much of the conversation is spent parsing the law of the jungle.

Hey now! First of all, take a look at my blood tests and race times, and then tell me that I’m misguided about healthy habits. Second, there’s no tribe here. Most vegans I’ve met dislike most other vegans they meet. I dislike most other vegans I meet. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t all hold tree-ins, believe in consensus decision-making and weave beads into our dreadlocks. Also, law of the jungle? Ha.

And while we’re discussing misguided ideas, let’s get back to the point: I think it’s misguided to live in the 21st century, enjoy its luxuries and amenities – like at-home meat lockers – and then use those amenities to create bizarre parallels between yourself and a caveperson. Also misguided: The Times reports that Durant and co. took up the diet after “researching health concerns online.” Yes. That is a very good idea. And a great way to take up a fad diet that even your sister would fall for. Good luck getting laid after letting that quote slip.

I give our country’s cavemen three months before they’re back to pasta and tired of – er – jungle laws. That is, if they last that long:

Unfortunately, life was short: If you made it to age 30 or so, you had done well.


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  1. collapse expand

    “Week one, it’s bacon-and-eggs for breakfast and a glowing smile as the pounds melt off. Week four, it’s nibbling ‘just a little’ of my lunchtime bagel. And week eight, you’re binging on donuts in the bathroom and scrambling to rub the powdered sugar off your nose for fear that someone finds out what a phony you are.”

    Sounds like what omnis say about new vegans, yet plenty of vegans stick with it. There’s room for all sorts in the 21st century.

  2. collapse expand

    Wrong.

    Caveman diets have nothing to do with ethical considerations. Maybe some vegans are in it for weight loss, but I’m not. And that’s why I’ve been vegan for 13 years, and will be until I die.

  3. collapse expand

    The fact that this “diet” involves fasting turns me off immediately. If I go 3 hours without a snack I get cranky and feel sick. Perhaps this is how our ancestors lived, but haven’t we learned a thing or two in the last 10,000 years? I think I’ll go have a bagel now.

  4. collapse expand

    You got it down, sista! Those low-carb diets are the absolute worst! I did it once for a month and lost about 20lbs. I went to a wedding on week 5 and ate what I wanted….. I got on the scale the morning after and I had gained 7lbs! That is crazy….

  5. collapse expand

    I wonder if cave-chicks are hawt?

  6. collapse expand

    A couple of points, first the “diet” doesn’t call for fasting, some people do, some don’t. Second you probably wouldn’t be hungry 3 hours after eating if you weren’t eating a majority of carbs. Try adding some fat and protein to the diet and see how you feel 3 hours after eating.

    The main point of the paleo diet is to eat as natural as possible, i.e. no overly processed foods, while providing your body the fats and proteins it needs.. I’ve slowly been moving to a paleo diet, starting first with breakfast. I used to eat cereal 7 days a week for breakfast and now it is mainly eggs, fruits, and vegetables. No desire after almost two months to eat cereal.

    • collapse expand

      1. I was responding to the Times piece, which references fasting several times. So, you should let that writer know if she’s got her facts wrong.

      2. I’m a big fan of fat and protein.

      3. Paleo diet – sure – maybe it is mostly based on natural eating. But that’s not what this Times article was focusing on. So that’s not what I was writing about.

      I agree that a low-processed-foods diet is a terrific thing. I disagree that it ought to involve meat, for ethical reasons, and I also don’t think it should involve blood donation and escaping from mastodons.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  7. collapse expand

    Katie,

    I agree that the article painted the Paleo diet in a poor light. No one is going to sign up for a diet high in raw meat or one that is also associated with bare-chested revivals in the hills of WV (my home state) attended by computer execs looking to reconnect with their inner caveman. But there is no denying the ground swell that is Paleo eating.

    The Paleo Diet is a basic premise. It supports local eating and the way we ate for thousands of years. A not too shabby side benefit is the diets effect on the local economy and the evironment. It seems to me that if more people adopt the diet, the U.S. could solve several of its ailments (the environment, the economy, the obisity epidemic).

    The one thing I am curious about is that you stated you are vegan because of ethical consideration. What are the ethics you are concerned with? If it is the ethical treatment of the animals wouldn’t the Paleo diet, which advocates locally grown and pastured animals cure those concerns? If it is that the animals are killed at all well I can’t help you much. I would however refer you to the “vegetarian myth” and the studies of Weston Price on our hunter/gatherer lineage.

  8. collapse expand

    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your comment! And I agree that the Paleo lifestyle is a “groundswell” — I’ve reported on it before because it is attracting new advocates by the day.

    As for animal rights, I’m an abolitionist — so you “can’t help me much” — When I’m not writing snarky blog posts, I’m often working on animal rights philosophy or outreach. Ergo, not so interested in meat lockers chez Drummond.

  9. collapse expand

    This isn’t a fad for most of us. It’s a lifestyle that has allowed me to effortlessly maintain my 114lb frame at 5′4 for many months. I used to adhere to a chronic cardio routine and was constantly hungry as I poured kashi products down my gullet. It wasn’t until I ditched the grains, dairy, soy & all processed garbage that I truly felt and looked lean!

    I don’t eat raw meat or pretend I’m catching a mastodon. My diet is “primal” meats, vegetables, nuts, seeds and limited fruit (mostly berries). I use extra virgin olive oil & coconut oil to supplement if I’m lacking in fat. Most of all, I enjoy not spending hours at the gym or on the street distance running! Lifestyle activities like walking for long periods of time for pleasure and/or eating intuitively not 3x a day just because we’re told to do so. I don’t intentionally fast or plan them…I simply eat when I’m hungry and often it’s 12-18hrs after my last meal on a day of low level activity.

  10. collapse expand

    You paint an amusing picture of modern humans desperately trying to cling to their caveman roots while living in New York condos. Unfortunately, in doing so, you make numerous mischaracterizations and oversimplifications of the paleo WOE (way of eating).

    First of all, the diet isn’t “meat only” or “no carb” despite what you have said here. Vegetables, fuits, and nuts all contain carbohydrates and are all allowed.

    Secondly, it’s not a “fad” diet if you consider the entire scale of human existence on the earth to be your scale. Quite the contrary; everything in the past 10,000 years has been a fad diet, because the agricultural revolution didn’t happen until then and our species has existed for around a million years (depending on whose numbers you believe).

    I guess you think it’s not possible to follow long term (hence your imaginary sugar sniffing scenario, which I can only assume is nothing more than anecdotal evidence), but it is quite manageable given adequate meal planning, preparation, and time devoted to seeking quality food sources..

    I would also humbly submit that if you’re into animal rights, the paleo diet is the perfect thing for you to be *promoting* (yes, I said promoting) amongst people who will always choose to eat meat. Following the diet closely demands an individual get his or her meat from local, pastured sources whenever possible. Many of these animals have lived lives (up until the point when they are instantly and painlessly slaughtered) that would make many house pets jealous. Moreover, raising these animals doesn’t require the input of energy and water suctioned by our feedlots. Paleo isn’t about stuffing yourself with nothing but $0.99/lb ground beef from your local supergrocer. It’s about eating real food (including meat) in season, locally, and sustainably. Unfortunately, you’ll never see the “ethical meat” side of the debate promoted because small time farmers can’t afford subway ads the way PETA can, or lobbyists the way the giant agricultural conglomerates can. But that doesn’t make what they do any less valid.

    Finally, I suggest you look into infant mortality and its effect on the mean age of a population. To put it simply, the “nasty, brutish, and short” portrayal is largely driven from examining mean lifespans, which is meaningless in the context of evaluating lifestyle factors in health. Why? Because if an infant dies from infection, or complications during childbirth, it brings down the mean lifespan dramatically. But that isn’t a reflection of the overall physiological health of individuals who reach adulthood.

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    About Me

    I'm a full-time heath & science writer at Sphere and a contributing editor at True/Slant. I also contribute military health news to Danger Room at Wired.com, and have recently written for Marie Claire, World Politics Review and Next American City.

    My first foray into journalism came in middle school - at a French-speaking plaid-kilt-wearing educational institute somewhere in the Canadian tundra. It was there that I decided to start my own newspaper, to disseminate my sarcasm and attitude problem among my peers. We lasted three issues.

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