Book Review: Paleo for Beginners

Paleo for Beginners: Essentials to Get Started by John Chatham

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


It could have been a pamphlet.

At no point is the paleo diet ever discussed in any detail, or any reasons provided why it’s a logical, or even sensical choice. This one’s like an arbitrary rulebook that makes vague, buzzwordy reference to things like “blood sugar” and “bad cholesterol” and expecting you to take that at face value, then condemning milk and beans without making any sort of explanation for why that isn’t on paleo.

And then, the “recipes”.

Cook a fish! And some vegetables! Delicious fish and vegetables, serves 4.

Craving steak? Grill a steak! And some vegetables! You won’t go back to eating anything other than meat and vegetables after you try THIS paleo classic!

Do you miss pancakes? Smash a bunch of bananas and eggs together! That’s “batter”, now. Just fry it up in olive oil because butter is dairy! Whatever! Just like the cavemen!

On some dumb.

Two stars because it made me hungry for trail mix, so I made my own trail mix, which rules.



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Book Review: The Primal Blueprint

The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless EnergyThe Primal Blueprint: Reprogram Your Genes for Effortless Weight Loss, Vibrant Health, and Boundless Energy by Mark Sisson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another ungabunga paleo supremacy book winds up in my reviews, big surprise, but this one left me really conflicted, probably because the author was so flagrantly Californian.

The Good:
Our mans is a successful ultramarathoner, lifelong athlete, and current health coach, so he knows his stuff. He explained the function of insulin in a way I finally understood, after half a dozen books have tried with varying levels of success. (I still had to copy a paraphrase down in my sketchbook for it to fully land, though. Real science is hard.)

The laws of the primal blueprint are as instinctive as you’d expect of something called “the laws of the primal blueprint”. Eat food, don’t eat not food, exercise intelligently, sleep, play, use your brain, put down the goddamn nintendo and go outside. Conceptually solid. Mom was right. Outside of that, it’s the usual awakened caveman shtick — move how evolution intended, wheat and sugar are the devil, manage your stress, and everything will fall into place.

Nothing here I can argue with, and nothing I would argue with even if I could. This is how I keep my house in order, and it’s why I’m such a little fuckin’ ray of sunshine.

The Bad:
It’s a pyramid scheme. The clown name-drops his personal line of “primal supplements” constantly throughout the book. With names like “Primal Probiotics”, “Damage Control”, and “Adaptogenic Calm”, and at a measly $30 to $50 a bottle, you know you’re in good hands. Primal pill supplements! You know, like australopithecus used to order!

Or if you want to take it the rest of the way, how about becoming a “Certified Primal Health Coach”? That’s right, for a one-time payment of $4,495.00, Sisson will tell you the 10 steps to being a functional person again, then print you a little diploma. Hopefully he sprang for some Captain Caveman clipart, but I’d be hesitant to try to juke around Hannah Barbera’s copyright, too.

Now that we’re a nice round $5k in the hole, we can truly begin our Primal Adventure (note: actual Primal Adventure packages sold separately).

Most of the science in the book held up, but I took issue with the exercise part. Again, I’m sure we are all gawp-mouthed and astounded. Sisson presses for maintaining a heart rate between 55 and 75% of your max HR for the “comfortable pace” movement, which he advocates to get as often as you can. That, two days of weightlifting a week, and 20 minute HIIT sprints every other week and you will be a marvel of primal athleticism! You will be Caesar from Planet of the Apes, but smooth and sexy!

Thing is, I’m in good shape, and I can get my HR up to 55% walking my dog. And my dog is real slow, fellas. He’s huge.

But, benefit of the doubt, I tried that for a week. It was a massive drop-off from my normal regimen of what he would call “chronic cardio” and I would call “a pitiful 20-minute run every morning”. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but that week I barely lost any weight (half a lb) as compared to my consistent 2 lb/week loss I’ve maintained since January. I was also grinding my molars down to nubs with all my excess pent-up energy, because 3-5 hours of brisk walking a week is not an exercise regimen, as any extant hunter gatherer society will tell you.

Now, granted, I lost those 40 lbs following the primal blueprint, but only incidentally. If you exercise, sleep enough, and eat primarily meat and vegetables, you’re going to get healthier and trimmer no matter what. Even if you don’t spring for the year’s supply of Primal Fish Oil.

Sisson spends the whole book talking about how buying into his program will improve your generalized fitness, not only your health but your non-specific athleticism. Grok (the cringe-inducing fictional caveman he chose to represent primitive man in his contrasts between diet and lifestyles in the prehistoric and modern worlds) had to be ready for anything, so he had to be well-rounded. He achieved this by following the 10 laws, and they made him not only healthier and happier, but spry right up until the end of his days.

There’s some truth to this. You don’t need to be an anthropologist to see the difference between a modern hunter-gatherer elder and the shuffling ghouls that Westernization has inflicted on the rest of the world as a perceived inevitability after retirement.

So I was willing to buy it, right up until Sisson talked about how he busted his leg and wound up in traction for six months playing Ultimate Frisbee (which of COURSE he just referred to as Ultimate) in his early 50s.

All this can be yours for the low, low price of $4,495.00.

The only other gripe I had was all the middle-aged woman yard sale jokes he polluted the writing with, but honestly, after tallying the rest of the issues, it feels petty to take a star off for that.

Two stars. One for explaining insulin to me, the other for confirming my bias.

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Book Review: Your Brain on Nature

Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and VitalityYour Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality by Eva M. Selhub

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From beginning to end, this book was an exercise in cognitive dissonance for me.

I’m a major proponent of the back-to-nature mentality, which I refer to as my “unga bunga bullshit” and inflict on my friends at every opportunity. So are this book’s authors, and they provided chapter after chapter of studies confirming my every bias. Even biases I didn’t know I had!

Shinrin-yoku, Japanese for “btfo in the woods”, improves your mental health on every conceivable level, including what aspects of it extend to the physical. Being around dogs, cats, fish, and hamsters do, too. Eating fewer Tastykakes and more fish reduces brain inflammation, linked to improvement in mood, lower depression symptom presentation, and increased cognitive functioning.

Wow! Turns out I was right about everything forever. To ameliorate any potential flagging in well-being, I self-prescribe a friendship dog and a big ol’ joint of roasted meat like in Conan. Join me in the shrub, my brethren.

“That’s not what cognitive dissonance means,” you may be saying. “Everything is great for you rn! Why you so stingy with those stars?”

Let me tell you, beloved reader. Although I’m functionally paleo, and I do consider hitting a tire with a sledgehammer to be cardio, I’m also a practician clinician who reads this shit recreationally and spent the last decade arguing with people on the internet. I know a thing or two about sourcing references.

Red Flag #1:
The writing wasn’t very good. This is excusable, but must be considered. Writing is hard, academic writing is agony, and you can’t expect a dry, scientific tome of this length to be an emotional roller-coaster the whole way through. What stuck out for me were word repetitions, slips in grammar, and clunky sentence construction. A good solid edit could have fixed all of this, but didn’t. Disconcerting.

Red Flag #2:
“For a chapter-by-chapter list of references used in this book, go to yourbrainonnature.com”.
What? Why?
I get that you used a lot of references, but removing your scientific backing and proof from your argument by additional degrees is incredibly suspicious.

I did track the references down, and they seem to be a pretty even divide between respectable sounding psych or anthropology(???) journals, and ambiguous horticultural journals no one’s ever heard of. Considering the authors, that makes sense, which brings us to our next red flag.

Red Flag #3:
Eva Selhub, MD, and Alan Logan, ND. What the hell is an ND, you may ask? I certainly did. It means “naturopathic doctor”, which is to say, not any kind of actual doctor. I tried to find more information on naturopathy thereafter and there were only two sources of information:
a) Naturopathic.org, which paints all NDs as physicians who became frustrated with the pharmaceutical industry and injecting children with autism vaccines so they went rogue, quit “conventional medicine”, and started prescribing essential oils
b) Wikipedia.org, which was essentially a 3000-word rendition of holding up a foghorn and yelling “QUAAAAAAAAAAACKS”

Red Flag #4:
Eva Selhub is very well-credentialed. She’s a for-real doctor of internal medicine, taught at Harvard Medical School for around 20 years, and served as Medical Director at Benson Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital for 6 years. She publishes often in medical journals and shows up on Dr. Oz. Despite being nearly 50, she still lookin’ kinda fresh doe. Nowadays she identifies as a “resiliency expert and executive coach” and is her own LLC, which is probably much more lucrative. The issue with lucrative is, most pyramid schemes tend to be, for the executive coach.

Red Flag #5:
An alarming number of medical quotes and excerpts throughout the book come from the 1700s to the early 1900s. This is intended to instill the “forgotten wisdom” motif, but we just stopped leeching people in the early 1900s.

None of these attempts to poison my own well necessarily detract from the suggestions made by the research, which boil down to “hanging out in the woods is better for your mental and physical health than playing Candy Crush 15 hours a day”. That’s a reasonable supposition. I’ve gotten through some more recent and less suspect books recently with data that points the same way — Digital Minimalism is a good one.

It’s an “I want to believe” situation. Everything seems to check out, but there’s a fishy smell under all this patchouli.

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