Are You Doing Paleo ‘Wrong’?
Someone asked us this week if we were involved in creating a website like this because we thought everyone in the UK was doing Paleo “wrong”. We laughed, of course – but then realised that this question held within it a serious underlying concept.
Can you ever really eat “wrongly”?
We asked our resident nutrition expert whether she thought eating or doing Paleo ‘wrong’ was even a thing – and she came back to us with the below.
Nutrition Is Divisive
Nutrition is often referred to as being akin to politics or religion. When people make this statement what they really mean is that the world of nutrition is divisive – and moreover, it is a landscape in which people take sides based on the belief that their opinion on this topic is ‘right’. By ‘right’, they mean ‘correct’ – as in factually accurate. But they might also mean ‘right’ in the sense of morally appropriate, or that their belief is borne out either by scientific evidence and/or by historical proof.
Within these worlds of nutrition, politics and religion, arguments arise whenever any side starts to insist that what it says is “Universally True”.
Getting into religion or politics is well above my pay-grade, but ‘Universal Nutritional Truths’ are definitely something I can speak to…
Because there kind of aren’t any…
You cannot actually eat “wrongly”. You make choices. You can make healthier or less healthy choices, but again which choices are ‘healthy’ vs. ‘unhealthy’ will itself be very individual. Moreover, food is basically a chemical substance that you are taking into your body. When you choose your nutrition you are selecting to have the chemical input of the food you have chosen.
You might think that Nutritional Science is there to establish what is ‘healthiest’ for us all. And yet, science can only measure either interventions which show the greatest efficacy GENERALLY (using studies which are preferably randomised and controlled) OR mechanistic actions of certain nutrients when examined under laboratory conditions. In the former, no study shows 100% identical results across all populations, all ages etc. Bodies just don’t all work the same. And in the latter, mechanisms in laboratory settings are not always proof of what happens in real human bodies. And again… not all bodies will react identically.
So whilst both mechanism and probable outcomes can be extrapolated to a certain degree this is rarely if ever going to provide “universal truth”. I have worked in practice long enough to know that there are no guarantees, and there are typically exceptions to everything once thought of as a rule.
So after the huge sidebar into the fact that nutritional strategies aren’t universally appropriate, where does that leave Paleo and whether you can get it ‘wrong’?
Nutritional Choices Are Not Commitment
If you notionally commit yourself to ‘being Paleo’ (and there’s no actual contracts here, so this really is an internal decision known only to you – unless you choose to divulge this to anyone) you are still simply choosing to follow a specific nutritional approach. Equally, you could choose Veganism or macrobiotics, or you can choose not to care what you eat – consuming whatever, whenever. These are all personal choices, and none of them tie you to a specific ‘club’ or set of rules which you have to follow in order to be considered a member.
Within each of these groups or nutritional strategies there is also not ‘one way’ to do each approach.
Dietary approaches – with their recommendations and suggestions – are often interpreted as literal rule books which, if deviated from, mean that you are instantly not a member of that group, in this case ‘not Paleo’.
And yet despite what you may have read, Paleo is not an identity – it is a title given to a dietary and lifestyle approach which focuses on looking at what the human body is best suited to, based on how fast we’ve evolved as human beings.
This explanation literally has the words “evolved” and “biology” within it, so you will perhaps grasp from this that the whole point of eating Paleo is to eat the food that is biologically best suited… to YOU.
The word Paleo is, therefore, kind of arbitrary – it’s a suggestion and a framework. Without labels, nutritional styles are un-marketable and un-google-able but realistically we could have called the website “Most of the time nutrient-dense, whole foods (i.e foods that looks like food and are without man-made chemicals) that can be digested well, as far as we know to date, by the human body but more specifically by your own personal digestive system and for your overall health whilst minimising things that stress your body” – in the UK. But “Paleo” just seemed easier.
The recommendations on Paleo In The UK are precisely that. Based on the science of the body we know to date and an understanding of the environmental and stress impact on physiology, the recommendations are broad brushstrokes of information which empower people to learn more about the effect their food choices have on their own body.
So the answer to the question of whether we set up our website because people in the UK were doing Paleo “wrong” is no – because doing Paleo wrong is impossible. We built this site so people could understand the reasons behind the rules that they had come across, have a place to find actual information rather than scaremongering or bro science, and understand the principles behind the recommendations they may have been just blindly following. We’re not here to tell people how to live and eat – just to highlight how powerful food and lifestyle practices are on how we feel and how well we can be.
Ultimately, the choices we make about what we eat come down to two things: your own personal biology (i.e. what suits your personal genotype, phenotype and current physiology) AND what effect you are trying to achieve (i.e. weight loss, weight gain, lower inflammation, try to just feel a bit fitter). As such, each individual’s Paleo will be different from the next person’s. Moreover, someone’s Paleo can – and probably should – change over time and in certain situations.
Information is what is needed to navigate and understand your own body and its reactions. Hence – Paleo in the UK. And we really do view this ‘Paleo’ thing as your own experiment with your personal biology. As such, you literally CANNOT do it ‘wrong’.