How You See It

The very same day we posted Scarlet Letter last week…a reproval of treats was posted elsewhere. It was presented in an analogy that goes like this (my interpretation).

“Paleo” treat : the “real” thing


having sex with your pants on : having sex with your pants off

I actually agree with this statement…but for none of the reasons its original authors intended.

When taken out of context it probably makes some really healthy people question themselves (unhealthily)…but even in the context of it only being a temporary challenge I think it still promotes ambiguous shame. This was the kind of prescription I was afraid of when writing that post.

I’ll add that they say they are not promoting that we become nutritional members of “the cloth” forever…as they write this in the context of a 30 day challenge. And while in that sense I see where it could have potential, I see its shortcomings as well.

I’m going to post a few thoughts on the subject just to illustrate that there are usually two sides to every story. Many things like this are personal…what works for one may not work for another. So let me be clear – if a strict abstinence period works for you, that’s fine…I know there are those who would respond best to it. However, if it doesn’t…let me show you how this exact same analogy can promote an entirely different method. As with anything…all we can do is determine which one we want to buy.

1. Not the best I’ve ever had?

On the surface this argument seems reasonable. Their first point is that the stand-in treat won’t be good enough to curb your “desires”. I guess it’s true in most cases removing wheat and high amounts of sugar won’t yield you the exact same eater experience. But first off…is it safe to imply that it won’t be really good (good enough to satisfy you)? I don’t think it is…I know many first hand who do enjoy likenesses to SAD treat’s who no longer have any desire for the much-worse-for-you version.

ThePaleo pizza example is used…even if it isn’t as good as a brick fired pie in Naples…couldn’t it still be a hell of a lot better than a lot of other boring and uninspired meals?  Is variety no longer the spice of life? Even if it’s not “as good” as the original why shouldn’t the ingredients you do want to eat be made as great as possible? Even if they resemble a delicious innovation that just happened to have been made with ingredients we no longer wish to eat.

Sometimes not having sex is the wise and prudent choice (that part was left out of the original argument)…but why would having sex with your pants on (so to speak) really be harmful? Sure it isn’t the same…but the danger according to the other post is that this will make you want “real sex” more.

I’m having a difficult time seeing how zero sex and “interaction” for an extended period of time would make you want sex less than having some form of safe interaction over that same period of time.

2. Crack-head?

The last point brings up the question…is everything we do and enjoy an addiction? Can an abstinence period make us no longer want the thing in question? With some things (like sex)…it’s hard to think that a normal “need” is something that could or should be cured. It’s even harder to believe that 30 days (or even years – think: POWs) would take away our desire for some things that are innately human (sex/ tasty food). It could probably lessen them or change the way we perceive them but I can’t see how they would go away entirely.

Somewhere the line has to be drawn…we can’t think of everything in life as an addiction similar to crack. Am I a workout-head, a reading-head, DIY-at-the-house-head, a sugar-head? These are all things I enjoy and/or do frequently. I’m not that happy when I don’t do them but is it really the same? And in the case of sugar…you have to eat…even if you lived entirely off the land you would likely eat some form of sugar (seasonally)…I realize that it has an effect on your brain (wouldn’t all food) but is it really the same dependence as someone on powerful psychoactive drugs? Again, I just think we have to draw the line somewhere or we could compare everything that brings us joy to the type of habits that we would kill or steal for.

I don’t feel that our need for exciting food is something that could or should be cured either…simply managed.

3. Quarterback sneak.

I know that folks like to set a goal and go after it. That’s why I see some value in 30 day challenges. But in other ways I believe they can be detrimental. That if you’re living the challenge in a different way than your comfortable/mindful/compromising daily life would be after said challenge…how are you learning/creating the lifestyle that’s going to work for you along the way? Isn’t it possible that instead you learn that restriction is no fun and you just go back to the way you were before? Isn’t it valid to think that if you we’re feeling it out for that month and finding a way to make it all work for you the individual that might lead to a more smooth transition into a different lifestyle?

Why would you practice in a way that’s different than you intend to play (to insert another analogy)?  It’s football season so go with this…would you run plays all week that you don’t intend to use this weekend at the game? Shouldn’t you be developing and practicing the plays you’re going to use to go for long term success?

And to use the sex analogy again…does having no sex or sex-like-activities teach you how to have safe sex later on?

4. Let’s talk about sex.

Seriously…what it is FUNDAMENTALLY. A way to procreate. Something that serves only one true purpose that we exploit for enjoyment.

To use the analogy that is acknowledging the idea that sex is more than this…that it’s fun…flies directly in the face of any point you would then try to make to say that we shouldn’t treat food the same way (albeit responsibly).

Food has only one real purpose, to fuel our bodies…and we as humans go beyond that to make it enjoyable on other levels.

So if the underlying premise that makes the analogy work is that humans make enjoyment from things that are otherwise strictly utilitarian…it’s flawed to then argue that we should try to reduce food to fuel only for any period of time. Because we’ve already admitted that they are much more than that.

Sex : procreation :: food : fuel
Sex: enjoyment :: food : enjoyment

Sex: responsibility :: food : responsibility

There are 2 sides to every story. It’s all in how you see it.


15 responses to “How You See It”

  1. The conclusion in bold of point two is exactly the problem I have with the food palatibility argument. It strikes me as very much akin to the late 19th century vegetarian movement. The goal of Kellogg and others of his ilk was to supress fleshly desires by feeding bland foods. But the funny thing is, those bland foods seem to be the very foods that SG says contribute to success in low carb if we avoid them. Unless I’m entirely misunderstanding his point, which is possible.

    Anyhoo, I’m simply not prepared to believe that tastey food is bad or wrong or addictive or even immoral.

  2. Excellent post. I completely agree with all points.

    Which is funny, because I’m currently in the middle of a Whole30. From my perspective, there are some great benefits to focusing on our dietary intake for an amount of time, most of them psychological. But I think it all depends on our point of view and what we want to get out of eating this way.

    I am not coming from a disordered eating perspective. It sounds like you aren’t either. And I think folks like ourselves have to admit that our position is luxurious.

    My take on Whole9’s position is that they are not absolutists. But they are about being honest with ourselves and coming from a place of integrity about the foods we eat. It sounds simple, but many people have a hard time with this and “fail” eating according to Paleo/Primal principles. Why? Because they aren’t willing to make the commitment. Which also leads to shame and disappointment, along with a new idea that Paleo eating isn’t possible or sustainable. And the only way to make the commitment is to make the commitment without mitigation. If you had trouble with muffins before making the change, you’re still going to have problems with almond flour muffins.

    I think this leads to a bigger question: Are you better served at being introduced to this style of eating by going whole-hog or by easing into it? For me, easing in was the only way. The information out there is too overwhelming to be consumed at once. I’m 9 months into Primal, and it’s only now I could’ve conceived of doing something as strict as a Whole30. I felt at this point, it was worth seeing if going without dairy would be beneficial for me. Also was happy to welcome a break from alcohol.

    I’ve got a post referring to this same idea going up tomorrow (10/11), but about baked goods in particular.

  3. yeah, i wouldn’t feel right saying that an all or nothing approach doesn’t have its place. one size never fits all. i just feel like that method gets more attention as being the most beneficial…and we want to offer reasoning for another way that we feel has as much if not more potential for lasting positive change. reassure those out there who feel like us that there just might be more than one way to “skin the cat”.

    i’ll look for that post!

  4. I think challenges r like fishermen & nets. A fisherman throws out a big net…he catches alot of fish…sometimes turtles dolphins ect. some of the catch he keeps some he throws back…some hop out of the net…a challenge will inspire alot of people…some have no business in the challenge and quickly hop out…others go with the flow & have some fun boasting bout what thier doin…then u have the Tuna…that winds up a beautiful steak on someones plate…they R where they were meant to be & the challenge was a way 4 them to discover it! me old fashion/romantic but sex should be an act of love 4 humans as we get to choose who we mate with unlike other species who r driven by need!

    1. good point. we’re happily married and committed…an evolutionary topic for a whole other post elsewhere probably…but yeah…the food you enjoy should be treated with respect too. i made a remark like this in the comment section on Scarlet Letter.

  5. I agree with all points in this post…I’ve been struggling with the SWYPO post as well…
    Like Karen, I have been primal for just over a year and am currently doing a Whole 30 program to see how my body responds without dairy…
    Here is my problem with the SWYPO issue… I am gluten intolerant, allergic to soy and eat absolutely no refined sugar (just over 5 years now of gluten & soy free)… My “paleo” treats are the REAL thing for me…there is no option of eating a brownie made with almond flour/nut butter and then “caving” and diving head first into a box of Betty Crocker’s…
    I hate that the post makes “paleofyied versions of things feel dirty…and I don’t really see the difference in making a paleo pancake or making PCF fried chicken (which they referenced as being Whole 30 approved)…same ingredients, different protein.
    Again, it’s all about moderation and balance and you gotta find what works for you…
    Thanks for bringing some thoughts on balance to the party!

    1. i think it puts a “dirty…downward look” onto them as well even though i don’t think it’s ultimately what they mean. that’s why i felt compelled to write this. i wasn’t going to bring up the fried chicken and wraps.

  6.”the wraps” ..good point!

  7. At risk of dumbing down the conversation. I just wanted to say that making fun primal cookies is just a way to change up the regular. I love cookies. I could eat a whole box of them in 1 sitting before i made my lifestyle change to paleo. Does having an almond butter cookie make me eat a whole box of regular cookies again? nope. But it is fun / a challenge to bake something i don’t normally make and enjoy something a little different.

    That is the reason i like this place. I can put cheese and milk and “fake cookies” into my eating regimen and that is totally fine. I love that you give options to support all levels of “Paleo” (which lets face it has a lot of shades of grey) So keep up the good work Brandon and Megan and I’ll keep eating primal cookies and we’ll all be just fine = )

  8. i agree with all of these points 100%. i love food. there have been points in my life where i categorized foods strictly as “GOOD” or “BAD”, resulting in endless stress and obsession on my part. it caused me to see food as the enemy. i have also tried in the past countless restriction diets in which i tried to think of food solely as “needed fuel”, not something i so much enjoy. i am a nutrition major in college so of course we learn that saturated fats and meats = clogged arteries, sluggishness, increased cancer risk, etc. at first that equated to me that all the tasty fatty meaty foods were “dirty”, and whole grains, fruits and vegetables were “clean”. of course after extensive reading and research on my own time (outside of traditional textbooks) i came to find that this does not hold up in reality. after being primal for about 4 months i have established a healthier relationship with food than ever. i eat really good food that makes me feel good too and i am not afraid of the occasional indulgence whenever the desire arises. i also have much less of a problem with binge eating (it’s a work in progress still)

    i think the main point is that everyone must find their own balanced, healthy mindset. it is never psychologically the best thing to be obsessive over categorizing foods as “good” or “bad” or to view your body as some kind of machine without desires.

  9. Thanks for this post; it’s truly a really good thing that there are checks and balances in the paleo world. People look to so many different resources for truth, and the number of paleo blogs grows rapidly (which is awesome). I think most people understand that no one is out to attack anyone and most times it’s just to clarify something that could be taken the wrong way. I had similar reactions to the SWYPO post and in a debate, I could formulate arguments for each side as there are valid points to be made. Some things in paleo are black and white, in my opinion. Gluten=good for nobody. Lots of excess sugar=not beneficial to anyone’s long-term health. However, other things are more gray. Some people who are really active might require more carbs (sweet tates, yams, etc) to feel awesome and perform at their desired level. I like what Karen P wrote above: “If you had trouble with muffins before making the change, you’re still going to have problems with almond flour muffins.”

    I have learned some valuable lessons as I am currently on Day 22 of a Whole30. I used to have sugar cravings after dinner which I would satisfy with way too much dark chocolate. I also used to go nuts baking and creating paleo-ish treats rationalizing them because the ingredients were approved. However, as Primal Pallet puts it, these are still treats and should be enjoyed as such-in moderation. So, over my Whole30, I have stopped eating after dinner. I try to eat before 8. And guess what? I have no more sugar cravings. Dinner is actually enough for me. I don’t feel like it isn’t complete until I have some chocolate or a treat. So when I’m done with Whole30, I will go back to using my ghee (I know it’s now approved, but we started under the old guidelines). I will be able to eat my dark chocolate again (I have stacks of TJ’s Dark Chocolate Lover’s Bar), but I know that I do not need it to be satisfied, and I still plan on trying to not eat after 8. So, there are things to be learned about yourself, and maybe a Whole30 can knock you into some better habits once you come off.

    Sorry this post has been all over the place, but it really resonates with a lot of my own experiences, and I think there are valid points to each side. Like I said, I’m glad to know that we have some accountability in the paleo crowd. We keep each other honest. 🙂

    1. meaghan,

      i hope i made it clear that i do see both sides as well. i agree that there are some who would prefer and do better with more strict “rules” and avoid anything that reminds them of things they would otherwise deem unhealthy (even if made “paleo”) but as is obvious from this post…i lean toward a more progressive approach where being informed on food choices (and knowing the difference between a pancake made with wheat and one made with coconut) makes more long term difference than living by rules for the sake of rules.

      i think a “challenge” is a valuable motivational tool for people. there is excitement with making a commitment like that…in anticipation of some kind of “win” or satisfaction from having endured.

      my issue comes in when others claim that their method is a one size fits all, seemingly not acknowledging that there could be valor in the alternative as well. especially when i feel that one of the things they base their opinion on is borderline patronizing (you are weak if you still want to eat delicious food) and completely inconclusive (who decided that wanting interesting food is something we can cure? – what if it’s a part of our brain that is a selected adaptation – think “culture”).

      i don’t care that they have picked a side. i have. i don’t care that they try to convey what they think is the best way to get healthier…i guess it’s just the way they do it.

      and when their argument for such is as flawed as this one…and can be reasoned to show the exact opposite under some scrutiny…i don’t take it so well. i am supposed to be shamed if i want a healthier alternative to a pancake but told to eat wraps in the same breath. what gives?

      thanks for adding to it, all good points.

      1. I couldn’t agree more. Heck, I made Paleo Comfort Foods Bisquits and Gravy last weekend for a special breakfast. You can have the best of both worlds when it comes to paleo in my mind. All the taste and all nutrients to boot. “Going paleo” wasn’t super hard for me actually, but for some people it definitely is. And if they stick with it while eating a “paleo pizza” or “paleo pancakes” I FOR ONE AM ALL FOR IT! The more the merrier. Thanks for all your hard work.

  10. This article made me sigh in relief. I was reading about the Whole30 today and I felt myself getting overwhelmed and discouraged. I kept thinking…drinking my coffee black is hard for me dammit! So, for now…I’m just easing in. And from what I have read on your site, that is nothing to be ashamed of. Great post guys!

    1. i like my cream with a little coffee in it! it’s completely true that you will learn to prefer unsweetened tea or black coffee (for example) once you get used to it…but i still think a complete cold turkey period isn’t neccessary to accomplish this or to adapt any eating habits…and in some ways may cause more problems than it solves.

      we like to say that “real change doesn’t come from 100% compliance, it comes from knowing the difference.” when you know the difference…you naturally make the right choices for you the majority of the time. and when you choose something that doesn’t necessarily comply with your nutritonal priorities…you’re fine with it…you know the difference…you’re not going to let it be your norm…it’s just something that might be less ideal…nothing else. and life goes on.

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