The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf: Book Excerpt
Our good friend Robb Wolf has been kind enough to allow us to run an excerpt from his new book, The Paleo Solution.
This book is a story about us. You know, H. Sapiens. It’s also a story of how to optimize our performance, health, and longevity. While combining such monumental plot lines might lead you to believe this is one of those family saga novels that jumps all over in time, don’t worry. This story both starts and ends in the past. However, in order to fully appreciate this story, it is important to replace your current view of “time” with that of certain ancient cultures. The ancients’ view of time worked something like this:
You are in the middle of a river (Time) and facing downstream. The future approaches you from behind . . . only to recede into the past, which actually lies in front of you, moving ever farther away. If you could look far enough downstream you would see the beginning of the stream and, in essence, everything.
This may seem odd and difficult to imagine at first, but as you get deeper into this book, not only will this philosophy make more sense, but you will also see that it is a more accurate description of reality. Think about it like this: Our current worldview is like the “crazy guy” at the bus station. He gets through life, but not very effectively. Once you have a more realistic, past-centric orientation, you will be able to make sense of modern health and disease. And perhaps quit scaring people at the bus stop.
Stop! Savannah Time!
It is our natural birthright to be fit and healthy. Unfortunately, science and medicine have largely missed this point. Researchers look boldly to the future, to new medicines, genetic screening, and surgical procedures, yet never ask the questions, “Why do we need these advances?” and “Is there a simpler, better way to health and wellness?” If they were to ask these questions, they would realize that the key to the puzzle is to start at the beginning. Our health researchers, who currently lack a framework from which to assess the staggering volume of information they generate every day, flounder with basic questions: “What should we eat?” “How much and what types of exercise should we do?” “How can we live a healthy life?” Although these may seem like sound questions for health researchers to ask, the answers constantly change in response to politics, lobbying, and the media. As a result, their recommendations are not based on science, but rather lobbying and political maneuvering.
Our system is confused and broken, and we are being held hostage by an Orwellian nutrition and health research community that lacks a unifying theory to assess the validity of one study over another. They do not even know where to start looking for answers, which makes our “health maintenance system” more parasitic than symbiotic. The worst part is that few people make a real attempt to fix this mess. But who can really blame them. After all, it’s hard as hell to make money off healthy people . . . unless you sell bicycles, running shoes, or teach dance classes.
Is this debacle making any sense? Let me provide an analogy to help explain it a little better. Imagine you have a box full of ceramic fragments, half of which are green and half of which are red. It is your task to put these pieces back together to form the complete, original object. Now, let’s imagine two scenarios. In the first scenario, you know the object you must construct is a bowl composed of only the red ceramic shards. In the second scenario, you have no idea what the object is, and besides that, you must wear glasses that make all the pieces, both red and green, look brown. Do you think it might be tough to complete this task if every bit of information (the ceramic pieces) looked essentially the same and you had no real idea of what you were trying to construct? I think it’s obvious this would be a damn confusing and frustrating situation. Well, it happens to be analogous to our state of affairs in the nutritional sciences, medicine, and most of health research. Everyone has blinders on, every study looks as good as any other, and we have no unifying theory from which to assess our findings. As a result, you constantly receive different information on what is healthy and what is not. One year eggs will save your life, and the next they will put you into the grave.
Need a more concrete example of how this is affecting you? Here is a good one:
Fat Makes You Fat, Right?
Oddly enough, no. Epidemiologists are befuddled by why fat does not make us fat. Ever hear of the French Paradox? Spanish Paradox? The French (and Spanish, and Sardinians, and Greeks) eat far more fat than Americans (while consuming a fraction of the sugar) yet do not get fat, diabetic, or cancerous at the rates we do. Why? Our dieticians tell us we eat too many calories and too much fat. Fat has nine calories per gram, while carbohydrate and protein only have four! Obviously the “fat makes us fat” paradigm is right, isn’t it? Don’t we just need to eat less and make “sensible” food choices? Isn’t this all just a matter of willpower? Does my inner child need a spanking because I fell off another high-carb, low-fat diet? Most people try these “sensible” approaches, fail, and end up fatter, sicker and more despondent than before. Why do all the buzzwords of dietitians (willpower, moderation, manifesting, balance, fiber, counting calories) fail?
What explains this? Unfortunately, the answer to this question requires yet another question: Are there examples of people who do not suffer from the scourges of cancer, autoimmunity, obesity, diabetes and neurodegeneration? The answer ironically is “yes,” there are people who live free of these diseases. However, when presented with this information, most doctors, dieticians, and researchers ignore it because it challenges the paradigm in which they garb themselves. Little do they know it’s a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Our medical community is naked. So, it’s back to more studies comparing a 15 percent fat diet with a 20 percent fat diet, all with 55–60 percent carbs from whole grains, because everybody knows you would fall over and die without your bran muffin.
Perhaps I should not be so hard on our research community. After all, those pointless studies are good for keeping departments of universities open and well funded. But oddly enough, I am more interested in saving you than keeping these goofballs funded and in tenure-track positions. In order to accomplish this goal of saving your fanny, I must help you face the music, and the song is an old one.
Don’t Confuse Me with the Truth
One might think that people (nutrition scientists included) would find solace in understanding how powerfully our genetic heritage influences both our present and future. But quite to the contrary, this idea generates a remarkable amount of resistance. The answer is too simple, and it annoys some folks that the answers to most of life’s ills lie in our past. For others, it’s uncomfortable to realize that we, H. Sapiens, are a part of nature.
We, like all critters great and small, are bound by our heritage on this planet. This fact has a way of undermining our sense of “beautiful flower” uniqueness, but really it should not. We just need to shift our focus from upstream to downstream and appreciate our remarkable heritage. We (you and me) represent an unbroken lineage of life that extends back to the dawn of time. Pretty cool, no?
Some of you are on board with all this; some are not. Good: don’t believe a thing I say. Instead try what I recommend in the “how-to” section of the book and see if you look, feel, and perform better. That’s a fair proposition, right? Once you see that the Paleo Solution works, you will likely want to know “why.” To address the “whys,” I will build my case throughout the book starting from mechanistic descriptions of disease. You will learn exactly how our modern life causes diabetes, autoimmunity, cancer, neurodegeneration, and infertility. Then you will learn how to avoid or reverse these ills.
Before we get to all that science, I want to look at a little anthropology. Considering I was a biochemist by trade before becoming a strength coach, you might think I would be swayed more by the mechanisms and pathology presented later. I’m not. It’s important for me to cover that material, as it helps you and your doctor make sense of how a Paleo approach can improve your health and reverse disease, but even as a geek, I find the mechanisms and pathology tedious and a little boring. In stark contrast, the anthropology and historical aspects of this story touch something in me besides the intellect, and it moves me. Instead of metabolic pathways, genetics, and biochemistry, we consider living, breathing people and how their diet affected their way of life. This is a microcosm of the world-changing shift all of our ancestors made. A change from millions of years of the hunter-gatherer way of life to the ultimate global experiment: agriculture.
Buy the Paleo Solution online or from a bookstore near you.