Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
3 Apr

Is It All Just a “Paleofantasy”?

PaleoFantasySo this is my review of the new book Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live. It’s been making the rounds for a few weeks now, and although some other people have already weighed in, I’ll add my two cents. At the outset, I’d like to make very clear that I actually agree with a decent portion of Marlene Zuk’s individual arguments. Though it may surprise you to know that Mark Sisson agrees with the most prominent paleo debunker du jour on several topics, I’m not saying I support the overall product or her final conclusions. In fact, Paleofantasy is an odd, meandering book whose ultimate purpose I’m not really sure I truly understand.

There are two main problems with the book, as I see it. First, she’s working against a straw man. Many of the arguments she debunks, like “eyeglasses aren’t paleo” or “the paleo diet was carnivorous,” seems to have been dug up from some random Internet commenter or drawn from fringe camps. In other words, they aren’t arguments people like Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, Paul Jaminet, or me (or our readers) are making. Second, many of her counterarguments or “nuanced approaches” are the very same ones we’ve been exploring at length for years! After reading the book, John Durant tweeted “Paleofantasy shouldn’t have been a book in 2013, it should have been a blog post in 2010,” and that’s as good a description as I can think of.

It’s all very uncontroversial:

There is no one paleo diet.

Who’s saying that? Humans have spanned the globe for millennia, surviving and even thriving in environments ranging from tropical to temperate, from arctic to near-aquatic, all the while subsisting on the wild foods available to those regions. Same basic diet of animals and plants, different configurations.

Evolution doesn’t just stop and humans didn’t just reach a state of perfect adaptation back before agriculture from which we’ve never progressed.

Sure. I talked about how we’re still “evolving” last year, even mentioning Zuk’s favorite topics – lactase persistence (35% worldwide, which is far from 100%) and amylase production. She discusses a few more recent changes, like malaria resistance, adaptation to high altitude, and earwax differentiation, but that’s it. If she wanted to, I’m sure she “could keep adding to the list” and mount an overwhelming case for widespread genetic adaptations to grain consumption, chronic stress tolerance, and sedentary living, but she’s saving up material for the next book. Or something. Either way, I’m not very convinced by her “list” of rapid evolutionary changes, especially considering most of them have little to do with the mismatches we discuss in this community and none of them are even present in a majority of humans.

Zuk is also quick to misrepresent “our” arguments so she can swoop in and take the sensible position – positions the ancestral health community has long occupied!

In her exercise chapter, she characterizes paleo exercise proscriptions as “short and intense” and “literal-minded,” mimicking activities like “having to run down a rabbit for dinner.” We type away at our computers on caveman forums, spend a little while lifting weights and running sprints, and sit back down. Then, Zuk explains that contrary to our reenactment fantasies, the real problem and the real divergence from our past is that modern humans sit too often. It is our inactivity, our hours and hours spent doing nothing physical that hurt us. What we should be doing is lots of slow moving, steady low-level activity like walking, hiking, gardening, yard work, house work, rather than sitting all day and trying to make up for it with a hard gym session. Hmm – where have I heard that kind of stuff before? Why hasn’t the ancestral health community addressed this pernicious force in our lives?

Later, she rightly claims that paleo authors are suspicious of endurance training, mocking my position that the idea that “natural selection redesigned our simian shapes to run the Boston Marathon is… ludicrous.” As support for her claims, she cites Louis Liebenberg’s persistence hunting studies (PDF) with the Kalahari bushmen of Botswana where men would go on hunts lasting “two to five hours, with an average running speed of 6.3 kilometers (about 4 miles) per hour.” Those are fifteen minute miles. If you were running the Boston Marathon at a 15 minute-mile pace, you’d finish in six and a half hours (roughly). That’s an easy run (fast walk?), especially for someone who’s reasonably fit. You could hold a conversation at that speed. You could get up and do it again the next day at that pace. That’s not chronic cardio. That’s not a competitive time for an endurance athlete – the dogged pursuit of which is precisely what I’ve always warned against. It’s easy aerobic activity, the kind I promote!

Even when she acknowledges the potential utility of an evolutionary approach to analyzing health or current environmental “mismatches,” they are glossed over or relegated to a single sentence buried in a paragraph. Zuk spends an entire chapter explaining how traditional child-rearing, with its extended family members available for childcare, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, parental “indulgence” of crying babies, is likely the biological and evolutionary norm for human infants, citing Dr. James McKenna’s extensive research on the benefits of the aforementioned methods… and then ends the chapter by saying “most children grow up fine” so let’s not bother with it. Let’s just keep on keepin’ on.

In response to the idea that limiting artificial light at night and getting plenty of natural light during the day might improve sleep and preserve our circadian rhythms, she asks “is this really the solution to our health problems?” She creates an argument that we are all apparently positing – that smashing light bulbs and waking up at dawn are the cure to all our health problems – and then proceeds to dismiss it, to laugh it off. And yeah, it’s ridiculous to say that unnatural light is the cause of all our health ills… but who’s saying that? Who’s making this argument but her? And on that note, what about the negative effects of artificial light at night? Aren’t they worth investigating? Isn’t the data we already have fairly compelling?

(If you notice me asking a lot of questions in apparent exasperation, it’s because I’m puzzled and exasperated and driven to inquiry by some of these “arguments.” Forgive me.)

A worrisome theme starts to emerge: that the past is murky and we need more data so let’s not make any sudden changes to the way we live, especially not if they’re couched in evolution. I disagree. Whatever most people are doing isn’t really working for most people, whereas whatever we’re doing (whether it’s a paleofantasy or not) seems to be working.

To her credit, Zuk doesn’t throw out the idea of evolutionary mismatch altogether (although you could have fooled me). She just rails against “denouncing modern living as unsuitable to our Stone Age genes,” calling for research into “just what parts of that life send us too far out of our evolutionary zone of tolerance,” as if she’s stumbled upon some revolutionary concept. Really, though, we are exploring and identifying the specific aspects of modern life that trigger a mismatch. We are gathering data. Academics and scientists and bloggers and lay individuals are figuring out, in fits and starts and lurches and self-experiments and clinical trials and study analyses, just what works about modern life and what does not work. We’re not resting on our laurels, on our assumptions.

So we kind of agree, even though it appears she doesn’t know it.

I don’t necessarily blame Marlene Zuk for her failure to comb the ancestral health community’s tomes, read all the blogs, study the comment sections (although she seems to have a fondness for anonymous blog commenters), attend the symposiums and conferences (although much of the material is available online for free), and explore the message boards. There’s a lot of material to cover. It’d probably take years to really do a thorough job. But if she hoped to publish a relevant critique of the community, she probably should have understood its actual claims instead of erecting a straw man for easy defeat.

In John Hawks’ favorable review of the book, he says that we must “play with hypotheses, explore their predictions and try very hard to falsify them.”

I completely agree. I think Zuk agrees, too, and I think I may have divined her ultimate goal with this book. In her 2009 NY Times piece on the same subject, she said “we shouldn’t flagellate ourselves for having modern bodies, and we shouldn’t assume that tweaking our diets or our posture will rescue us from all our current ills.” She thinks people are rushing headlong into such dangerous lifestyle changes as giving up grains, sugar, and seed oils without doing their due diligence.

You’ll have no arguments from me. Assume nothing, test/tweak/research everything. It’s not like I’m sitting here typing away, conjuring up fantastical stories about the past and making big lifestyle proscriptions based on said stories. Those success stories are actual success stories from actual people. Those studies cited are actual studies from real journals. I suppose you could make the argument that all these folks losing weight and gaining muscle and getting off meds and regaining their lives after adopting a Primal way of eating, living, and moving cannot definitively establish the lifestyle was the precipitating factor. They can’t “prove” it works. It could all be a big dream.

A big paleofantasy. I could be making this entire world up in my head as I go along, a lonely brain in some amniotic sac with electrodes attached, my entire history and the blog and the books and my relationships all constructs of my mind. I don’t think I am, though. I think this is real, flesh-and-blood stuff.

Are improved blood sugars, better blood lipids, a hundred pounds of weight loss, newly emergent abs, steady midday energy, improvement of autoimmune disease, and new leases on life paleofantasies? No.

Are sitting in front of an LCD screen until 2 AM, spending zero time in nature, living off of Cheetos and Coke, walking under a thousand steps a day, and working 20 hour days at a miserable job evolutionary mismatches with drastic health consequences as shown by current science (and hinted at by anthropology)? Yes.

And that’s what it comes down to in the end: results. We got ’em, and people recognize that.

Have you read Paleofantasy? What do you think? Let everyone know in the comment board, and thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I read an article in Discover magazine about this book and just shook my head. It seemed neither here nor there, somewhat rambling and her arguments seemed weak, circular or not counter to paleo at all. Meh.

    Alison Golden wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Wow, first! Don’t think I’ve ever been first in two and a half years of commenting here.

      Alison Golden wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Awesome! Did you get the email about your prize yet? I got a pair of vibram five fingers and a month supply of pastured bacon last time I claimed the first post.

        dantheman wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • Now THAT’S a paleofantasy!

          Mark Sisson wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • hah. That is all.

          Hal L wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • Dang! I could have been first too and I didn’t jump on it.

          I think there are always going to be doubters, always going to be people who cannot let go and who cannot fathom that modern society has been able to lead us so astray from our natural environments.

          While skepticism is natural and many times productive (it brought us all here and helped us debunk may of the commonly accepted ‘facts’), what good does it really serve? Promoting skepticism just gives people another confusing data point, one that may cause people to not act due to conflicting opinions.

          So, another piece of conflicting data that will confuse the heck out of my family friends. Great…..

          I like the summary though; we have results which are ever growing, keep up the good work everybody!

          Kyle Sullivan wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • One hundred and thirty first! hahaha

          Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • Ha! Awesome.

          Emily Allred wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • I’M JEALOUS.

          Steph wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • MMMM… Bacon… definitely my paleofantasy!

          Jennapher wrote on April 4th, 2013
        • A month is a LOT of bacon, at least for me. Did it come with a chest freezer?

          Louise wrote on April 11th, 2013
      • You will always be first in my book.

        Greg wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • +1

          Heather wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I also read that article and once I saw that she was arguing against what a commenter said from a blog (this one), I knew the book/her premise would be almost worthless. That’s a perfect reason not to bother with a book – I’ve got plenty other good stuff that I want to read. It just seemed to me that she was trying to find something to write about that would sell. Bleh.

      ReNae wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Would it be overly cynical of me to suggest that she herself could be the anonymous commenter?
        If she knows what her ‘counter arguments’ are going to be, then she needs to have a view point they are counter to- and if you can’t find one….make one!

        jade wrote on April 4th, 2013
    • I meet similar resistance. Every time I mention the primal lifestyle, people act as though I’ve suggested abandoning modern medicine, hygiene and santitation and proposed that we all go live in caves.

      John wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Geez. I am up against the same thing. I get either the ‘It’s dangerous/unwise to eliminate any food group’ or the ‘What? You can’t eat anything now?’ response from every person whom I engage in a conversation about the Primal approach. BTW, all but two of the naysayers I’ve encountered are obese. The other two are young and don’t seem to have developed overt symptoms of the SAD yet. Oh, well. Off to lift something heavy . . .

        Primelle wrote on April 4th, 2013
        • +1 So very frustrating.

          wolfwoman wrote on September 21st, 2014
      • Exactly. And most of us don’t.
        I mean, I wash in the river once a week, and live in a tree house! :)

        Plus aspirin is basically just willow bark tea that has been around, well probably since the paleolithic era actually!

        (To be fair I’ve actually had some quite good reactions, and have directed a few people to do a bit of research in the field.)

        jade wrote on April 4th, 2013
        • You wash in the river once a week? Lucky you. I have to wait for the Spring thaw…which is late this year. 😉

          D. M. Mitchell wrote on April 5th, 2013
    • As someone with an extensive science background (BS Biology and MD) as well as a born skeptic, I can only chuckle to myself regarding those who present arguments such as those in Paleofantasies. I’ve been Primal for 3 years and have extensively researched the Primal diet/lifestyle premises and find them to be based on solid science and valid conclusions. In my Orthopedic/Sports Medicine practice I am selective as to whom I introduce the topic of the Primal Blueprint (so as not to appear evangelical on the topic) but I have NEVER seen it fail to produce the desired results in patients who actually follow it. I have reformed ultramarathoners, converted vegans, had patients drop 75+ lbs, had patients with autoimmune diseases significantly reduce symptoms etc. Unfortunately we live in country which is by and large math and science illiterate (we have to look no farther than the US Congress) so it is no surprise there are those who can’t understand a Primal/Paleo life or wish to criticize it. My philosophy is “Live and Let Live”. Don’t waste precious moments of your life worrying about detractors. We know it is effective and benefits us personally. Mark, a quick plug for The Primal Connection–great book! It pulls it all together!

      Rick Weidenbener, MD wrote on April 4th, 2013
      • Hi I started trying to go paleo a couple of years ago but was only half hearted about. A little over a year ago i was diagnosed with CREST (limited scleroderma) which was affecting my lungs so I went totally paleo all additives preservatives etc were banished, as well, all chemicals in the house were banished (enjo made a small fortune just from me). While I will never improve I haven’t gotten any worse. This is a life style that suits me is relatively easy to stick with and makes me feel like I have taken control of my health and control of something that if left to degenerate will eventualy kill me. How can that be a bad thing. On a side note since I’ve gone paleo I’ve been able to go off my depression medication. So get lost naysayers we are happy and not hurting anyone.

        Trish wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • So, you “read an article” in a magazine *about* the book, and you’re willing to dismiss the book as “rambling” based on that? Interesting….

      Will wrote on April 5th, 2013
      • Absolutely. My time is precious – prioritize ruthlessly.

        Alison Golden wrote on April 5th, 2013
    • I feel very good about questions that you Mark, and so many other questioners of current diets, lifestyles…have not only helped me ask, but have helped me experiment. My wife’s (triglicoerides) have been cut in half; I am gradually gaining energy “moments” I did not know I had. And it is good to temper enthusiasm when the is good evidence I seek out that says ,”Wait a second on this idea about paleo…” I will keep looking, but I will keep doing what works too!

      Thank you for review, Mark and to commenter for your questioning stances which does not really threaten. “Just check it out”, is all I read. Happy day!

      Bill Knotek wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • Whoops. I need to thank you for writing! I, however, (inadverdantly) clicked reply down lower. I am the one who says “Happy Day” at end of my short comment about Mark’s and your questioning stances which I like. And I do value how much energy and time I put where. Not this book.

      Bill Knotek wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • I don’t think the anti paleo stuff will ever end and a main part of that is that paleo is not really a definitive facts based program. I don’t mean not facts based in that the science of eating “clean” doesn’t have quantifiable and testable results, I mean facts based on what a paleo diet is specifically. It’s mostly an educated guess. There really is no such thing as a paleo diet. It’s made up. It’s more of a shorthand way to describe some basic principles around diet and lifestyle.

      The principles are sound, but the name paleo will always be problematic because among the followers, it’s understood that it’s an abstraction, but the naysayers will always critique as literal. On a literal level, paleo can’t be defended. As a metaphor it works very well and is easily defended. The palo followers don’t literally think they are eating like cavemen, they know that’s impossible, and understand that it’s really besides the point. But the haters will always say things like “cavemen didn’t have the types of big juicy blackberries like we eat now so you’re a hypocrite” while totally ignoring the fact that berries are emphasized because of their low glycemic load and their antioxidant properties. Not because cavemen enjoyed flats of pre-picked berries on a daily basis.

      Clay wrote on April 3rd, 2014
  2. I disagree. I imagine she did do her research, likely obtained a base understanding of the material and found it didn’t make for a very interesting critique. If this is the best she can come up with {YAWN} …

    Greg wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • What’s sad is that too us who actually understand, these arguments are petty and ridiculous but to a lot of my fellow Americans who thrive on comical relief and take pride in “the last laugh” they might think she really told us something.. What’s funny/sad is that we will probably end up being the ones who have the last laugh when they’re bound to their house with arthritis and IBS we will be hiking, surfing, and boarding the slopes still.
      I suppose change doesn’t happen all at once… one person at a time we can all work to help our loved ones discover optimal health.

      Jennapher wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • wait, we’re allowed to surf? cool. can’t wait to carve a stone board and head to the beach!

        ig wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • Lol. Well played, ig.

          Lauren W wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • ^^I vote comment of the week!

          Charlayna wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • Hahaha.. NICE… Good luck getting that thing down here… but when you do we will be waiting with our fiberglass surfboards… don’t worry, it’s uhhh.. paleo fiberglass ofcourse

          Jennapher wrote on April 4th, 2013
        • Actually, surfing was developed by native Hawaiians-with stone age technology.

          Matt wrote on April 6th, 2013
  3. A friend (who I have never talked to about eating paleo) gleefully told me about this book, so I mentioned there was evidence for a link between autoimmunity and grain consumption and that autoimmunity was increasing generally, and received a blank look. Oh dear.

    PrimalParkGIrl wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Try to get your friend to read “Wheat Belly,” by Dr. Davis, a preventative cardiologist. Modern wheat is a slow poison.

      D. M. Mitchell wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I don’t really give a *&%@ what the detractors say and write. I KNOW for a fact that paleo/low-carb works for me. Eliminating grains and most dairy products, while increasing veggies and fresh whole fruit, has done wonders for my IBS. It is also eliminating the underlying inflammation that has been causing me musculoskeletal pain for years.

      It just floors me that so many people can continue to cling to the old food pyramid, with its 11 servings of grain, claiming that people “need” grains in order to be healthy. Meanwhile the population is getting sicker and fatter on the Standard American Diet. Of course, we should keep in mind that Ms. Zuk is trying to make…you guessed it…money from her book.

      Shary wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Just bought a couple of copies of that Wheat Belly for mother and lil bro (dating a vegan). Skimmed it, seemed okay for a first intro.
        You can lead a horse to water.. but some horses will always think you’re an idiot.

        Madama Butterfry wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • With a bruise on your forehead from all that ‘banging head against a brick wall’!

          Grokesque wrote on April 4th, 2013
      • My experience was exactly this as well. I was a college athlete in the 90s when they told us to carbo load..

        fitmtnmom wrote on April 22nd, 2013
      • Well, I don’t think “she’s trying to make money from her book therefore it’s bullshit” is a valid argument. There are plenty of Paleo books too, including, of course, “The Primal Blueprint” which is my favourite so far. Yes, maybe Mark Sisson wrote it because he was really passionate about it and wanted to introduce this idea to people and make the society healthier, but if he didn’t want to earn money from it, he would have made it free. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making money out of something you love and are passionate about – on the contrary, I’d say it’s the best and most enjoyable way to make money. But if you’re arguing that Zuk only wrote her book to make money out of it, you’d also have to argue that every Paleo/Primal book was only written to make money out of it, therefore Paleo is bullshit.

        Sunjammer wrote on January 30th, 2015
  4. nice backlash

    people failing to understand arguments then evaluating their failed understandings is a common problem, especially in regards to this movement/ sub culture

    joe whittaker wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Yup… misrepresent something then argue how it is wrong. A common tactic of trolls on the internet. However I guess there must be a readership for some of this…. Ah well – Life’s too short to argue back too hard! :)

      Sally wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Also in regards to Catholicism…or any faith tradition with any depth of history. In fact, now that I think about it, this seems to be a problem for every single community I’ve taken the time to understand even superficially well. That’s what makes me hesitant to write off any idea as totally meaningless or dismissible.

      Lindsay wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • I am Catholic, and you’re so right. Once I realized that, just as other people leapt to conclusions about my beliefs, I was doing the same about theirs …. I started being a lot more openminded and learned a lot!

        Sheila wrote on April 8th, 2013
  5. Love this: “In fact, Paleofantasy is an odd, meandering book whose ultimate purpose I’m not really sure I truly understand.”

    Reading this whole post, I suspect Zuk and her publisher didn’t see a need for any real purpose. I’m guessing this is one of those (many) books that came into being on the belief it would sell. (It even has the word “sex” in the title for good measure.)

    A very well done post here, Mark. Thanks for saving me the trouble of reading the book. :-)

    Susan Alexander wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • 1+ !

      Fritzy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I think the publishers say, “Hey, this paleo thing has a lot of momentum right now. Let’s leach off it’s popularity and publish an anti-paleo book.” With the number of health books out on Amazon that have “paleo” in the title, an anti-paleo book would really stand out. And your right with the title – if the anti-paleo message didn’t hook them, sex sells!

      The Beckster wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • This was exactly my thought!

        luke wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • what luke said.

        allison wrote on April 4th, 2013
      • Bingo.

        BillP wrote on April 4th, 2013
    • The actual journey is what puts the meat on the bones (pun!!) of an argument. She barely skimmed the surface for a book designed to make some of her mortgage payments. Good luck to her. We all know she secretly eats meat in her closet while lovely loaves of bread cool in her kitchen (that she feeds to her birds)….

      Suzanne wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Exactly, Susan. I smell a “gravy train-er” here wanting to sop up some of the cash and figuring that a counter-stance will be a good way to do it. That sure isn’t a new thing under the sun.

      Tina wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  6. Im all for trying to understand why things work. But why some people mock something like ancestral health because it to them seems silly or has no evidence to back it up, in spite of the fact that it works, confuses me to no end.

    I honestly believe that some people dont want to succeed and will question something to death in order to continue their nonsense. I suppose we will have the victory in the long run because eating real food and moving has always worked and it always will. Some people just have to learn the hard way I guess!

    Robert Barnes wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • And that takes us neatly back to yesterday’s post and the comments that followed!

      There is a fascinating study to be made of the underlying reasons people don’t want to succeed, despite everything they say to the contrary!

      Kelda wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • “I honestly believe that some people don’t want to succeed and will question something to death in order to continue their nonsense.”


      this actually is no fantasy … but a REAL common mechanism of our human brains. :-/

      our mind is full of BELIEVE SYSTEMS … once we believe something, our brain tries everything to maintain that believe as ‘true’.

      just sit a chistian, a moslem and an atheist at one table and let them come to a final conclusion about what the whole humanity should believe in. :-)

      the same thing happens with politics and a million other things.

      romeo_x wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • ..a chistian, a moslem and an atheist and a vegan. : )

        Madama Butterfry wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • and hope the roof caves in 😉

          barnamos wrote on April 8th, 2013
      • YES! And this is the area we need to address when moving our populations toward a healthier lifestyle.

        Beliefs, often deeply hidden by the psyche are at the root of self-sabotage and until they are uncovered permanent behaviour change is unlikely.

        Kelda wrote on April 4th, 2013
  7. I don’t understand why some people are so motivated to debunk Paleo in the first place, and at times I wonder why we even care. The fact is that eating, exercising, and existing in this way is unbelievably superior to the way I used to live, and I have no plans to stop. If some people choose to do whatever they can to resist it, it’s their loss.

    Graham wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I think the fact we’re starting to get people trying to debunk it is evidence we’re starting to get some real traction.

      A.Stev wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • There are always going to be haters, and in this case the sole reason is they lack the discipline, effort, and inconvenience (i.e., shopping somewhere other than the corner grocery) it takes to live a healthy lifestyle. So of course they are going to mock what they don’t understand. My favorite stories are when my kids come home from school and tell me how someone told them that eating bacon and eggs for breakfast every day is soooo bad for you, and then my son proceeded to explain how that’s not the case IF you live a “paleo” lifestyle. He even provided proof by going to your blog!!!!! LOVE IT!!!

      Heather wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Well said Heather.

        Donna wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • When I tell people I don’t eat grains, the first thing out of their mouth is “what DO you eat”? Like the only thing to eat on the planet is bread…

        Cindy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • I’ve had the same experience. I’ve been off bread for about a year now, after reading Davis’ Wheat Belly, and when I tell people I’m “wheat-free,” the usual reaction is a mixture of shock and genuine concern… People think I’m depriving myself of some essential nutrient (presumably fiber), and they “helpfully” direct me toward their favorite brands of whole grain bread.

          Audrey S. wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • My husband and I went out to eat at an Italian restaurant the other night. I love Caprese salads and was fine ordering that, it’s big at this restaurant, but I decided to ask the waiter if ‘by chance they had gluten free pasta’ and he answered, yes, we have whole wheat pasta if you would like that instead of the regular pasta.


          I then explained that gluten COMES from wheat, to which he replied, ‘oh, we have a pasta for people like you, it’s made from corn’.

          Rebecca wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • That’s funny cause I had the same response when my husband was diagonised with coeliacs, people were like “can’t eat bread! What do you eat then”

          Trish wrote on April 6th, 2013
      • I had to comment because it too adorable. I can’t even get my family to understand and they are all adults. I predict your children are gonna grow up healthy and strong in a world declining in both those attributes. Made me smile, thank you.

        Brandi wrote on April 4th, 2013
    • I believe it means to them that they have been doing something wrong, and are infact responsible for the situation they are in, misguided as they may have been by “experts”

      ReggieW wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • That’s what boggles my mind. It’s like… um… I’m just eating food and moving more and sleeping better. WHY do you have a problem with this?

      I think they have the problem because they’re currently starving themselves or avoiding all fat or eating some tasteless “low carb” thing, while killing themselves at the gym, and your results are better than theirs.

      Oh, well. Smile on. You know how good you feel.

      Sarah wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Extremely well said.

        Slowneal wrote on October 11th, 2014
    • As someone with an extensive science background (BS Biology and MD) as well as a born skeptic, I can only chuckle to myself regarding those who present arguments such as those in Paleofantasies. I’ve been Primal for 3 years and have extensively researched the Primal diet/lifestyle premises and find them to be based on solid science and valid conclusions. In my Orthopedic/Sports Medicine practice I am selective as to whom I introduce the topic of the Primal Blueprint (so as not to appear evangelical on the topic) but I have NEVER seen it fail to produce the desired results in patients who actually follow it. I have reformed ultramarathoners, converted vegans, had patients drop 75+ lbs, had patients with autoimmune diseases significantly reduce symptoms etc. Unfortunately we live in country which is by and large math and science illiterate (we have to look no farther than the US Congress) so it is no surprise there are those who can’t understand a Primal/Paleo life or wish to criticize it. My philosophy is “Live and Let Live”. Don’t waste precious moments of your life worrying about detractors. We know it is effective and benefits us personally. Mark, a quick plug for The Primal Connection–great book! It pulls it all together!

      Rick Weidenbener, MD wrote on April 4th, 2013
      • wow Rick, great comments- i’m with you on the evangelical thing, I only discuss the paleo/primal ideas with someone I know is curious, and I have lots of friends who work in the medical field that I can’t even bring this up around. I am thrilled to hear you have had great success with your patients. I will pick up the Primal Connection- thanks for the tip, and I really wonder who Zuk’s audience is.

        Liza wrote on April 4th, 2013
  8. Written by a naysayer, for the naysayers. I’m pretty sure anyone who would purchase this book will never have tried, or go on to try, any aspect of a primal/paleo lifestyle regardless of the content. Almost anyone who has tried any of the recommendations expressed over the years forming this movement will attest to a positive change.
    While I loved the response, Mark, nobody will be talking about this in a few months, let alone any reasonable amount of time that it takes to create a larger change. It’s just another case of information overload. Let it die it’s death.

    Sam wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I agree. I had heard about this book before. It seems like it is written specifically for friends and relatives of people who eat paleo, who don’t themselves believe in it (despite evidence in front of them). I can just imagine people I know brandishing this book at my husband and saying “SEE?!” while he just shakes his head and points to his transformed body and says “……. See?”

      Samantha wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Yes, gives them justification to keep sitting on the couch eating crap and blaming all their health woes on “bad genes.”

      Colleen wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • I totally agree, it allows them to continue to NOT take responsibility for themselves, their health and the ultimate outcome. “Debunking” us makes them feel better about themselves and continuing to give their power away. I think the fact that we’re all so freakin’ healthy and happy but we don’t need doctors, medicine or someone to cook for us makes them feel bad about themselves.

        Tara wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • Oh yes, well said.

          Kelda wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • I need to google this Zuk gal and see what she looks like…

          Nocona wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I think this post and others give too much attention to a poorly conceived analysis (which is any analysis that doesn’t accurately portray the actual “mainstream” paleo tenants).

      About the we are still evolving argument, the issue here is the difference between shallow adaptations and those that are more deeply embedded. Her examples are shallow adaptations. Perhaps we can digest starch and milk products, but many (most?) cannot simply eat carbs, carbs, carbs and maintain health (especially if we grew up eating too many refined carbs (i.e. sugar and flour)).

      It really would be a paleo fantasy if I could eat that pan of fat free brownies, rice with no fat dressing, and pasta with low fat cottage cheese and be in great health, but when I ate like that I was not healthy. 25 years later I am eating paleo and healthy. No fantasy here.

      Colleen wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Well, after seeing photos of the Zukster, the bags under her eyes and pasty skin tone, etc. We should put photos of Mark next to her!

        Nocona wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • OY!! She needs a Paleo makeover, methinks.

          Rebecca wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • A picture is worth a thousand words?!?! 😉

          Jane wrote on April 6th, 2013
      • Our big problem with grains is not that they are recent in human diet, but that we are much more sedentary. Very few small farmers have problems with carbs. If you go to the gym for exercise, yes, you will have a problem. But if you get up after your carb-heavy meal and hoe weeds for the next four hours, you will not notice any carb problems.

        wes wrote on April 18th, 2014
    • Totally agree. Do not plan on reading it. (totally get why Mark would need to, tho)

      Suzanne wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  9. Have you seen christina Warriner’s TEDx talk? Here is the link:

    In the first part of the talk she basically makes a similar argument to Zuk. She goes through various paleo books (yours and Robb Wolf’s books are pictured in her slides) and “debunks” a strawman with arguments such as the diet is not being truly paleo — that our modern fruits and vegetables did not exist in the current form in a paleolithic diet.

    But then in the second part of her talk, her conclusions are basically straight out of your books and blog — that we should inform ourselves from paleolithic diets and have a diverse diet (including organs) and eat whole and seasonal foods.

    Did Warriner and Zuk even open the books they are purportedly criticizing? It seems to me that their entire purpose is to establishing eminent domain: we are the scientists and these are popular books that lack our authority.

    Dan wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • awesome link thank you :)

      octavian wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • The domain between the academic world and the growing “real” knowledge base outside of it is really one of those huge quiet changes the Internet has brought.

      For instance, “peer review” was supposed to be exactly what blogs do today. Research, post an article, get feedback from others. In that sense, most blog writers and popular book authors have experienced genuine peer review in a way that an academic in a closed field cannot.

      (Mythbusters, by the way, is the the ultimate form of peer review — and I’ve known a few people with way too many letters after their names to be upset and frustrated with that show, but can’t articulate the issue other than it’s not “real” science.)

      Of course, the blog sphere can turn into an echo chamber. What the academics rarely admit to themselves, however, is that formal peer review has the same echo chamber quality, but far, far worse. The system is shut to those who haven’t wasted time in many pointless classes. The articles themselves don’t get published unless a committee agrees even at some level. Commenting is not immediately available with the article.

      Modern academics is finding itself in a weird position. Modern society (at least in the US) agree that knowledge is important for everyone. And yet thanks to the Internet, it’s losing it’s grip as the “knowledge guild”. Right now, unfortunately, most of the solution has been what was suggested above — assume the outsiders are extremists and *gasp* populists and then move in with a more “moderate” view. After all, you don’t have to read the book if it’s “just” a talk anyway. 😉

      Amy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Exactly! I saw an interview where Mark was describing his daily lifestyle — he wakes up, writes in the morning, reads and researches in the afternoons, and takes several breaks — and the thought running through my mind was that he’s basically a modern academic.

        Now there is something to be said about academic institutions and the academic process. It constructs an environment where intelligent people are able to get together, discuss their ideas and get feedback. The blog-o-sphere can reproduce some of these functions but there are limitations. But there is something very wrong when instead of applying the relatively flat-hierarchy of academic discussion, people like Zuk resort to “argument by authority”.

        Dan wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • I don’t have a problem with academics or academic institutions. Face to face discussions and the formal atmosphere/language has some benefits over blogsphere.

          However, in many ways academia is as limited (in different ways) than the blogs-o-phere. The blogs much more approach the academic ideal, warts and all. It’s just hard to acknowledge if most of your life’s blood, sweat, (and not to mention paycheck) is in a system that in terms of communication and knowledge storage, is merely adequate (but totally antiquated) in comparison with system people use to post pictures of funny cats. 😉

          I agree with you on “appeals to authority”. I’ve come to choose professionals on their confidence (and humility) with their own skill sets. True story – 2 very different specialists (surgery) regarding an issue with our infant daughter.

          One had a very hard time breaking out of Latin (thank god I had enough education to mostly keep up), brought an entire student retinue (without real permission), and did not show us some of the hard won imagery that was the diagnosis until I directly asked. Ordered another test before being willing to order surgery. When asked, had no idea how the test was performed but was “standard” for this type of issue. Hey, that other test wasn’t his specialty.

          Horrified with the whole experience, requested a “2nd opinion” at another teaching hospital. Doc came in alone after consult with the nurse with the printout of the same image. Clearly pointed out the part of the image that confirmed the diagnosis. Discussed the test (clearly) that the first Doc had ordered, why and the improvement his department had made to do it the day of surgery. Gave us leave to go back the 1st, if we wanted, at the end of the discussion.

          Guess which one wrote the book (literally) in his field? Yep, the second. And guess one which one we went with? I’ve come to distrust “authority” bluster. Professional yes, if you can’t break out of the terms of your profession and be clear, I don’t really trust that you know what you’re doing. Competence means you don’t need most of the “trappings”.

          Amy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • I don’t think you understand what peer review means. Peer review means academic literature has been reviewed by experts in the same or similar academic fields. Not by your internet friends. Because let’s face it, with a geology paper, another geologist’s opinion is more important than someone with a phD in English or an interior designer. Same goes for health science.

        Peer review is done by people who have been trained to learn and think critically, which is the actual point of University. Trust me, students spend a semester on a unit, pass it, then forget the details and only retain the key concepts. But they’ve proven that they can train themselves to learn detail and they know where to find that information of they ever need it again. And from all those essays and reports they learn how to criticize everything.

        Referees don’t just read the first paragraph and say ‘I agree’. They read in detail, check the citations and compare it with other articles to see how credible or innovative it is. If it contradicts fifty years of peer reviewed literature it may still be published, but it better be a damn good article with a lot of evidence and an explanation for why it contradicts other evidence. And publication doesn’t make it true. Until there is enough evidence to outweigh the past body of knowledge, it is just something to consider and test further.

        Being picked as a referee is an honor. Only the best in the field get to do peer reviews. Not Jo Bloggs who spent 5 minutes on Better Health Channel. Referees can’t speak to each other or the author during the process. They also have to declare any conflicts of interest and, where possible, should have as little to do with the author as possible. They ay not even know who the author is and the author often won’t know who they referees are. Referees are not paid either. So the process is as independent as possible. Peer review takes a lot longer than commenting on a blog for a minute too (about 8 months longer). With all the rewrites and research. It’s often done more than once-if the author is told to resubmit.

        Unlike blogs, papers must be reviewed BEFORE they are published. Not the other way around. This is to stop just anyone writing just anything. But then once it’s published the subscribers, mostly scientists in the field too, also throw in their two cents. Oh and then it will probably be included in a Lit review down the track.

        And ‘peer review’ is a very sugar coated term for it. More like, ‘be prepared to have your argument ripped to shreds and your self esteem shattered for all eternity’. Any flaws that is not addressed by the author in the first submission will be picked up by the referees, editor or readers. Brutally. With pens dipped in acid (OK I made that up but you get the idea) To be a scientist you have to be prepared to rip yourself and others to shreds, or someone else will do it for you. And you have to consider any criticism that comes your way. Most papers are not accepted or must be resubmitted because they just aren’t written well enough or the studies are done badly (often through lack of time and funding).

        Like Democracy, it certainly has it’s flaws (having to pay to read articles to fund the cost of the journal, being hard to administer in small fields where everyone knows each other) but it’s the the best system out there for academic writing.

        Bookworm wrote on April 4th, 2013
        • “… it’s the the best system out there for academic writing”

          True. The problem lies in the medical field itself. Doctors (and docs that become researchers and therefore peer reviewers) have little grounding in science and scientific analysis: experimental design, statistical analysis, and the possible sources of errors in those. Lacking in these skills especially are the older, established leaders of the profession, typically known for being rather conservative, and possibly allied to external special interests. That is why most published medical research is, many times, way off the mark. This is something that you would not find in the regular sciences (physics, for example, or even most engineering disciplines.) The medical field needs to clean up its act.

          BillP wrote on April 4th, 2013
        • I perfectly comprehend peer review. I almost went into academia (Geology, actually) and have acquaintances in it. The toughest part is being published is coming up with a politically correct topic that passes muster the committee. I haven’t met anyone who fears the discussion afterwards.

          And everything you point out as an “advantage” is also a disadvantage as well. School classes do not automatically confer either expertise nor critical thinking. The current system systematically shuts out both informed outsiders and opinions/evidence foreign to the current body of knowledge thanks to the committee vote before publishing.

          Yes, a fellow geologists opinion will bear more weight than an interior designer on a geology paper. However, an interior designer will also naturally lack both the interest and the language of geology to write a credible opinion. Opening up the system to mimic the blog world will not result in free for all.

          This post merely confirms my view – academia has in place the top of the line communication and knowledge storage system of the 18th century and is in awkward place of trying to defend the status quo.

          Notice also your only argument is that I don’t “understand” the peer review system. Then the discussion goes on to how all the rest of the outsiders are well, idiots. I’m not naive to over estimate the intelligence of all of humanity. 😉 However, I’ve met enough Phd scientists to say they would benefit from some true review outside their closed circles.

          Amy wrote on April 4th, 2013
        • “Only the best in the field get to do peer reviews.”

          Nope. Only the people who have the time ended up doing peer reviews. The best researchers research and the best teachers teach. Peer review is mostly for those into the ego trips, unfortunately. That’s where the “acid pen” effect comes from and why getting published is a much worse process than actually being published. :(

          Amy wrote on April 4th, 2013
        • OMG! Have you entirely missed John Ionnides? Climategate? What you’ve described sounds like a lovely well-thought-out, and productive reviewing system. Alas that it: IS. NOT. USED. in the modern-day!

          Instead, the “peer review” that is active today has very little to do with critical thinking — and a LOT to do with political maneuvering and “insider” support / “outsider” rejection. Peer reviewers are skilled in critical thinking? That would explain why the “climate scientists” (it is to laugh!) didn’t try to … what did you write?: “read in detail, check the citations and compare it with other articles to see how credible or innovative it is” — no, no, THEY (plotted) to close-out differing opinions!

          Scientists and academics who do not fit into the current political “climate” (ha.) are NOT reviewed and published; they’re blocked and pushed away. (Alfred Wegener, anyone?)

          Elenor wrote on April 5th, 2013
        • The peer reviews I endured at Bell Laboratories, in my Department anyway, were only a couple of hours long for each session with 12 of your peers around a table and you get to stand, present, and defend. We would get one of 4 grades. 1) Publish as is (never happened) 2) Make the changes noted and publish (seldom) 3) Make the changes noted and circulate for comments. (often) 4) Make changes noted and schedule another peer review with the same 12 peers. (often … especially if you had ordered coffee and donuts)

          But, it was effective and often would uncover aspects of the paper that might not have been initially considered usually resulting in a better document.

          john wrote on April 24th, 2013
    • These people remind me of mini-Monsanto’s…

      Nocona wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I just watched that the other day. The part the I couldn’t understand is where she mentions some nitrogen (?) analysis of bones where she explains it’s how we can tell where something is on the food chain. She then gives several examples, all of which are different, showing humans/jaguars/mammoths at different levels and explains how all sorts of factors determine the nitrogen levels in bones and that we don’t really know how it works. But then she concludes paleo has misinterpreted these results. What? So this analysis is widely affected by several unknown factors but paleo people definitely misinterpret it?

      Also, she never mentions Ootsi, the iceman who was found with a bellyful of goat meat. Now, which is more likely, that we happened to find the rare 5,000 year old man just as he ate his once in a blue moon meat meal? or that people often ate meat?

      Splint wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • The point about Warriner’s talk is she explains why this approach is not like how our paleolithic ancestors ate.

      She does conclude that a lot of this approach to eating is positive.

      But her point is that it doesn’t have any basis in history.

      So if Mark & others want to explain why this approach works, they need to come up with other reasons.

      Again – this doesn’t mean this way of eating doesn’t work. It just means that reasons given for it are not true.

      marc wrote on April 4th, 2013
      • The problem is that she’s misrepresenting what it is that Mark & others are proposing that we eat. She shows a guy with a gigantic plate of meat and goes on to say that hunter-gatherers prized other cuts of meat as organs — well that’s exactly what Mark is saying as well. She also implies that these popular paleo plans eschew plants, which is not true.

        Dan wrote on April 5th, 2013
    • Looks like Robb Wolf just put up a blog post addressing her talk:

      Dan wrote on April 6th, 2013
  10. There are plenty of people ready to tell Apple readers that what we’re doing is wrong, that’s nothing new.

    It’s also kind of a bummer to read a negative post from Mark, I like the inspiring, positive stuff and was hoping for a lift at the end of a tough day.

    Primal V wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  11. Mark it saddens me to think that you took time to read and review this book. You have too many more important things to be doing then denouncing stuff like this.

    The number of lives you’ve improved and altered is fantastic but if you could have convinced one more person to try living a primal life it would have been a more productive use of your time then reading this nonsense.

    If the naysayers and the close minded folks don’t want to hear then I don’t want to tell them.

    When someone comes asking for my opinion based on my massively improved health and positive outlook thanks to the Primal Blueprint I help them in any way I can because that’s time well spent. I consider it to be a charitable act and a fantastic use of my time.

    But arguing with idiots reminds of the classic saying “They will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience” Grok on Mark.

    Oliver Kelly wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Sometimes you have to respond, I think. Silence can be taken as either an affirmation of the other side’s arguments or you’re just too darn arrogant to care about people’s concerns. If the book gains traction (I know I won’t be buying it), he can at least do the whole “read this article” link thing. 😉

      Amy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • But why?? Is this author that powerful? Has she got legions of fans signing up and reading her blog everyday? I doubt it.

        We live in an age of information overload and the beauty of it is you don’t have to respond or read any of it. Let keyboard warriors go at it and I’ll be doing my best to get outdoors and enjoy this primal life thanks to the tips and well judged prodding of Mr. Sisson.

        I had never heard of this author before today and now Mark has gone and given her the oxygen of publicity on the front page of his website. If I stumbled across MDA for the first time today and I read this somewhat negative and potentially defensive sounding post responding to this book, I might not be so inclined to give primal a shot. What a shame that would be.

        Mark has gone and written a well researched and carefully crafted blog post as he always does, but I don’t think it it helps to achieve his goal of primal global domination on this occasion!! :)

        Again just my opinion.

        Oliver Kelly wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • Critical analysis is one of the most important aspects of intelligent living. Mark ends his review with a positive note and includes logical reasons to continue a primal lifestyle throughout the post. I’ve heard far more anti-paleo stuff than pro-paleo in the press lately, so it can do nothing but good for a major voice in the movement to debunk the debunkers.

          In the long run, it doesn’t really matter if people think you are a quack or a zealot for following a paleo lifestyle. What matters most is how you feel and whether you’re happy with your life every day. But there are plenty of people who only need one small word of discouragement to keep from taking that first step. If books like Paleofantasy are allowed to go unchallenged – or are even held up by the mainstream press as examples of “real science” debunking “pseudoscience” – then people on the bubble may find excuses in the book to keep from trying something different, even though they know that what they’re doing now isn’t working.

          Mark A wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • You’re totally right about giving people publicity they don’t deserve. And I agree, this may have not been the battle to pick. :)

          But…having an answer to craziness appears to be part of the blogging gig. For instance, at some if you’re low carb/Paleo and promoting, you end up having to deal the “The China Study”.

          Frankly, it hardly even warrants are a refute. It’s correlation study — you don’t come to solid conclusions based on those. Instead, they are used to uncover promising new areas of research. Correlations are important basic research, but that’s all they are – basic research. To give you some idea of how poor the science is behind it, one of the original researchers abandoned the project when it became clear the purpose was to market it as conclusive research.

          Yet, the questions on “The China Study” pop up endless all over the net. In that sense, you better have at least read the made for TV version of the study and have some answers, even though the real answer is “incredibly poor scientist with agenda and excellent book agent”. 😉

          I think we mostly agree, though anyway. I get tired of blogs that devolve to turf wars. But I do see the need to on occasion answer or have at the ready answers to common questions/criticism.

          Amy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • PrimalParkGirl has already had a friend tell her all about this book (in her words) “gleefully”. What Mark has given done for us here, is taken the time to read the book and provide his insight on it. I know now that if someone where to come to me and talk about this book, I would feel confident pointing out the issues with it because I trust Mark and he’s done the work for me.

          Again, thanks to Mark for everything that he’s done. He takes time to do all the research and give us the final nitty-gritty, so we can spend more time moving, eating right, and having fun! 😉

          Cheers all!

          abraxasDragon wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • It is important for Mark to post these rebuttals. After all, Zuk is not just some hack — she is a respected evolutionary biologist whose opinion is likely to be taken seriously (however misguided this may be).

      Scott UK wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • I agree — and the other reason it helps is that no doubt, smug SAD relatives of Mark’s readers will trot the existence of this book (that they’ve never read themselves or researched) out as proof of why they don’t have to think about paleo at all.

        Jen wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • There are many currently in the naysayers camp who are not full citizens of its ideologies. They are thoughtful people confused by the farce that is the predominant conventional secular and scientific thought on thriving. Many don’t even believe actual thriving — on all levels — physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, intellectual, relational, creative, soulful thriving — is truly possible. The culture is so profoundly misaligned, out of harmony, with our basic nature as beings designed to be in motion (on all levels), the reality seems preposterous to them. Some of those people are actually somewhat open to change, and some of those will be influenced by a cogent rebuttal of a weak argument.

      So I for one am thrilled that Mark wrote this piece. It is important at times to engage in this way. Some minds will be opened, some people will step into a more empowered response-ability, some lives will change for the better as a result of such efforts. I appreciate what Mark is doing here.

      Lauren W wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I’m thankful. It can be scary for those who maybe aren’t as skilled at reading this type of thing (I haven’t read it and don’t plan to, but then I don’t have a well-known paleo blog and lots of loyal readers) who suddenly get a book “debunking” their whole lifestyle waved in their face. They don’t know what to say. I think that a reply like this is adequately polite (after all, Ms. Zuk has put herself out there publicly as an authority on this; she may be legitimately publicly refuted… it’s not an attack on her personal character or intelligence… it just sounds like it’s a poorly written book) while addressing the flaws and errors of the book. Pointing out that it’s poorly organized and confusing is all a part of reviewing a book. Some people just need the clear “This is not death to paleo. Relax,” message, before they decide that all that they’re doing is worthless. And others need to realize that the book they may be waving in their poor paleo relative’s face is not a valid argument.

      Sarah wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  12. Mark or someone should invite Marlene Zuk to AHS or one of these big shindigs. Extend an olive branch and let her see what Paleo really is in order to show her she’s just fighting a straw man.

    Being nice to and educating the haters couldn’t hurt, could it? Worst case scenario they stay the same, best case scenario they change their minds and hop on the Paleo wagon.

    A.Stev wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Absolutely a great idea. It’s to disparage a cartoon you’ve created — not so much when confronted with “normal” people who moderate what they say.

      Amy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • This is a really great idea! Come meet some of the thinkers in this area and have a reasoned discussion. Maybe even put them on a panel and do a Q&A session. It sounds like there is a lot more in common than disagreement, and it seems primarily to be a rejection of the evolutionary label.

      Jason wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • +2!!

      Heather wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • +3. Get her into the fold.

        She is probably a good scientist (though she is primarily an insect geneticist.), but I, too wonder why she wrote this book, exhibiting a gross misunderstanding of paleo, primal, low-carb, lifehacking, the whole nine yards.

        Hopefully it wasn’t just a pub or money grab by a frustrated scientist in an obscure field. Or that she’s a secret vegan. (Horrors!)

        BillP wrote on April 4th, 2013
  13. Thanks for this post, Mark. As a graduate student in philosophy, I spend a lot of time trying to teach my students what constitutes a good argument. One thing that I emphasize in class is that if you’re going to object to a position, the most important thing to do is to interpret that position as charitably as possible, i.e. make a strong case for it first, and then knock it down. It’s clear that Zuk has not only failed to do this, but as you rightly point out, is replying to a straw-man position that nobody in the ancestral health community actually holds.

    As I see it, the paleo diet takes its inspiration from how we as humans evolved to live, but is ultimately about what’s best for us today. And this is best determined by individual experimentation with food and lifestyle. I certainly was skeptical about paleo before I tried it, but once I did, I couldn’t believe how good I could feel all day, every day. The success stories here also attest to that, and should be given more evidential weight than some of the faulty studies you talk about here that support the standard American diet.

    Agnes wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  14. Reading this book, and then attempting to critique it, feels a lot like pointing out a trail derailment.

    Paleo Sledgehammer wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • *train.
      Damn you, Siri.

      Paleo Sledgehammer wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Hey now, trains aren’t paleo! It was correct the first time. 😉

        Jen wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • : )

          Madama Butterfry wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • very funny!!

          Violet wrote on April 4th, 2013
  15. John Durant’s tweet sums it up perfectly as does this line: “So we kind of agree, even though it appears she doesn’t know it.”

    The standard issue attack on the Paleo diet/lifestyle is based off a faulty notion of what it actually is. And she wrote an entire book based on that. 10 minutes of actual research into what people who follow this diet are doing would have either changed the arguments of this book or rendered it unnecessary.

    zack wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • No, she knew all along. They did it this way to get attention. It’s a cheap ploy.

      Jordi Landon wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Ha! She saw the straw man argument being used against paleo and said “I can sell a book to these idiots”

        zack wrote on April 4th, 2013
  16. Everybody has an agenda. Whether it’s financial, religious or just their own unwillingness to change.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Well said!

      KitC wrote on April 7th, 2013
  17. Why do people care? If you don’t like the Paleo way of life…don’t do it. I don’t like lima beans but I wouldn’t bother writing a book slamming all the people who do. It’s just not nice.

    Jennifer wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • HAHA!! Perfect.

      MattyT wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Although if you genuinely believe that something is detrimental to general health or that a specific notion is propagating falsehoods or is built on faulty science, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not pointing it out in whatever form you can. Following your argument, Mark Sisson would have stayed home and lived his primal lifestyle by himself, quietly reaping the benefits without ever encouraging others to do the same.

      Whether you agree with Marlene Zuk or not, it’s important to recognize that dialog and disagreement are crucial to drawing long-term conclusions.

      Mark A wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Dialog, yes! Disagreement, of course. My kids live by this tenant.

        Derision? No.

        Jennifer wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • looool

      cynthia wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  18. Mark I like how you have meet her head on!
    In order for her to sell her book idea she had to take this position – thats why some of her arguments don’t wash completely. If the Paleo moment didn’t exist she’d have no story and no paycheck.
    By taking a counter position she created the controversy she needed to interest publishers and generate a buzz.
    It is actually a good sign that some of these ideas are coming under scrutiny and attack – shows that Paleo ideas are starting to impinge on the status quo.

    RJ wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  19. Id still be interested in reading this, regardless of whether or not I agree with everything, its another perspective which is always interesting.

    Nick wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  20. Possibly not “on topic” but I wonder what creationists think of the whole paleo thing – not only no humans that far back (nor anything really) but what of daily bread?

    Clasby wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Hi-

      I’m pretty sure God made us a few hours after the proto-apes (not all evolution is BS).

      Now, as I recall, our “daily bread” was soaked and sprouted. And made from grains that contained much, much less gluten than grains found today.

      Personally, my daily bread is in the 5 of my 95/5. I don’t need the full 20 anymore.

      T-Mag wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • As far as I’m concerned, God created us in the midst of a perfect “Garden” where all things necessary for our survival/health grew naturally. Once we got involved in the decision making process it’s been all down hill!

        On a side note: The phrase “daily bread” was used by Jesus while explaining the manor in which we should speak to our creator (IE: Pray). I believe He was inferring that we should ask the Creator for daily provision, both physically, in the form of food and metaphorically, in the form of spiritual sustenance. As with the vast majority of Jesus’s teaching, it was delivered in a manor that his audience could relate to. In this case, Bread being a staple among the people at the time. (someone should definitely do a study on the gluten and lectin content of the wheat at the time!)

        If it helps, I like to think: “Give us this day our daily Bacon.”

        Jodess wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • Thanks for that insight (and the chuckle)! I agree: I don’t think Jesus meant bread literally. When I say that prayer, I substitute “Give us this day, our daily strength.”

          Audrey S. wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I believe that when Jesus asked us to eat bread that he wouldn’t have done so if it was bad for us. But he also didn’t say eat the equivalent of 2 loaves a day, and the hybridization and genetic modification of wheat that occurred in the 60’s 70’s and 80’s changed wheat into something totally different than the original. I just finished re-reading that chapter in “Wheat Belly”. It’s some real Frankenstein stuff that went on with the goal of ending world hunger, but with no thought to what the end product would do to us.

      Cindy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • The “bread ” part could easily be an interpretation, you need to remember that the bible wasn’t originally written it was all word of mouth, when fist written it wasn’t in english. Have a look at the different religions bibles, the Giddions interepration is different to the catholics in many small ways

        Trish wrote on April 6th, 2013
    • Creationism and evolution do not need to be separate things. I sure do not ever think I can put God in a box. I am sure that everything that has happened in this universe at Gods hands if far bigger and more amazing than anyone of us can fully comprehend. I for one whole heartily believe in God and evolution! I also do not take the Old Testament as literarily as some.

      As for Daily Bread. It has nothing to do with “bread” and everything to do with the Body. It’s a representation. A symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Also too bread long ago was not what we call bread now. And God isn’t going to throw a lighting bolt down on me if I eat a gluten free communion wafer instead of a regular one.

      I cannot speak for others but for me I believe God is happy with me when I am treating my body with care and respect. Making it the best it can be! For me that is eating Primal!

      Joanne - The Real Food Mama wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • I agree but part of what I was getting at was that sometimes “debunkers” are not interested in evidence of any kind let alone any of that science kind. Many of the same people also ‘literally’ do not do metaphor . . . so to speak.

        Clasby wrote on April 3rd, 2013
        • Yes, but I would hesitate to lump creationists into one giant group that “don’t believe” in science or logical arguments. I’ve seen atheists on forum boards go on and on about evolution like it’s all of science, rather a “our best guess” creation story. The *theory* of evolution will always be that – a theory because it can’t be tested or repeated.

          To flip the picture, there are many people who believe in evolution but absolutely don’t get science or how to sift through evidence properly. Hard core evolutionists (by the way I believe in evolution myself) would have us believe that it’s a litmus test into believing in all of science and progress, but it certainly is not. Scientists are usually much more interested in what they can know and test, rather than a theory that will never have definite answers and has little impact on our day to day lives.

          Amy wrote on April 4th, 2013
    • I love it! Well, the evolution part is nonsense but the science is merely pointing out how the body that God created best functions. The evolution part is non-essential. Grok is just a mascot. This is why all the conclusions are based on studies and observable chemistry and the surrounding article is an interesting story of how that feature might have aided our mythical Grok in his presumed surroundings.

      Joshua wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I have no problem with it, as a creationist (as in I believe that way… I don’t make it the central issue of my entire life…). I’d agree that we ate a lot of meat for much of our history and that grains in quantity came much later. But whether we did or not, I feel just fabulous eating paleo and lousy eating any other way. So personally, I can overlook small portions of the books, etc., that I might disagree with (and believe me, they are quite small) and go with everything else.

      As I tell people all the time, I have deeply-held beliefs and I believe they are valid, but it’s very, very difficult to truly offend me. :)

      Sarah wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • As a creationist, I see Paleo style eating as correct and logical since I believe humans are designed to eat real natural food.

      BROBEARINDY wrote on April 3rd, 2014
  21. I believe in reading some “nay saying” material — it gives me the chance to question my beliefs. Questioning your beliefs is always a good idea.

    However, I will wait for the book to come to my library. I am not sure that I want to give her money for something that could really hurt people.

    How could this book hurt people — by giving them the “arguments” they “need” to not try changing their lifestyle.

    I am one of the many people who have experienced amazing results with on the paleo/primal path. And I wasn’t all that far from being “healthy” by modern standards.

    PaleoMBA wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  22. I’d love to see a fight to the death between the success stories before and afters. On one side, type 2 diabetes, fat, inflamed miserable people. the other side leaner, happier, healthier, productive folks. The proof is in the pudding (or lack thereof).

    MattyT wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • +1

      ReNae wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  23. This books sounds incredibly stupid. I was planning on reading it, just to see if there were any good arguments, but it appears there aren’t. Thanks for saving me the time, Mark.

    Brad wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  24. Cessastion of IBS,improved body composition, awesome energy, improved mood, stable blood sugars, clear skin and the bloodwork to go with it. Dangerous? I don’t think so. What’s dangerous is continuing to buy into the mainstream thinking on diet and lifestyle that was literally ruining my life.

    Lauren wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  25. I saw this on the bookshelf the other day and was hoping you might review it. I’m about to dig in!

    Edward Brown wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  26. Fun fact — I just emailed this article to Marlene. I wonder if she’ll respond…probably not!

    Lindsay wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  27. Why do people feel the need to debunk their preservation’s? Since flipping my ‘primal switch’ (that’s what I call it), I’ve never taken the approach that I have to be a ‘salesperson’ for primal living. Nor do I accept any argument against it from friends, family or foes.

    If Marlene aspires to be an author, she should find a topic that she’s an authority on and consider not writing about topics where she’s assuming. Or, this is a novel concept, try it for a while and see if you notice a physical or mental change….then, write about your results, i.e. a blog, as mentioned in the beginning.

    Bryan wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  28. Conformational Bias…….

    Ms. Zuk’s tome is just that and it is not so much dangerous to the Paleo/Primal/Low Carb communities as to all those people out there who will use Paleofantasy as a reason to continue eating those “healthy whole grains” etc. in spite of the fact they are gaining weight among other issues.

    On the other hand this may be a great sign the Paleo/Primal/Low Carb movements are actually getting the attention of the larger population because of the recent trend in vehement denial of the health mess we are in due to dietary recommendations that all the exercise in the world does not seem to correct.

    Peter Defty wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • Thats the sad part in all this…

      But I suppose it has more to do with yesterdays posting than it does with todays.

      People who are not opening up their mind, are more inclined to sit back passively and subscribe to the notion that we cannot change (and those that due, are clearly living a fantasy).

      Kevin wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  29. It’s dead clear to me. She has shamelessly gone for a controversial title to grab attention and sales. She should be embarrassed.

    Jordi Landon wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • +1 totally agree Jordi.

      Mark, thanks for reminding us of why we embrace and live the Primal lifestyle. Marlene Zuk and the other wanna-be debunkers can have their grains and seed oils. Paleo 100% all the way!

      mars wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  30. A true researcher would try the lifestyle in order to properly understand it and then use the results to argue his/her side. Doesn’t sound like she tried going primal, but instead relied on web research, books, and talking to people. I would challenge her to try it and then see if she would still write about the same topic.

    Emily wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • But giving up bread is so….hard! (I’m sorry I had to, been following MDA for a long, long time.) I would challenge her to a constest of atlatls. Now that spring is coming around, time to get mine out again.

      George wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • I LOVE this thought, Emily! I was vegan when my sister tried to convince me to go paleo. I thought she was killing herself, eating all this meat (cuz I read The China Study.) Finally she scolded me, said, “oh, you’re so smart, you just know EVERYTHING, don’t cha? You can’t even TRY 30 days? You think you’re gonna die in 30 days?” So I tried it. I remember my first meal…bacon and eggs with greens. It was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted, after being vegan for years, and I could literally feel my body rejoicing, “YES! YES!” and my mood turned to rosy and happy and I was full until 3pm! I never looked back and feel better than ever.
      I would share this experience with a dear friend of mine, a bread junkie, and she scoffed at me. “Our bodies ADAPT. We can eat bread.” Yet she always had a puffiness about her, couldn’t lose weight, etc. Finally she gave up the gluten for a Beach Body cleanse program, ate more primal, and now she weighs what she did in high school, looks and feels amazing, and says that she can tell that now when she has bread or other processed stuff because it makes her sick….
      You really only need to try it to know if your body likes it. And then you will know immediately. But if you don’t try it, you really don’t have a place for an opinion…

      rebecca wrote on April 3rd, 2013
      • Eating paleo since 3 years now, I feel so healthy that I never felt before. I feel so energetic that I can ride 200+ km., almost non stop in 8 hours, without bonking nor muscle cramps. (I am 53 years old). I can live without eating 24 hours without feeling any hunger. I am away from infections (cold,flu etc) . I loose less hair now.:)

        Whoever tells the paleo diet is not the best, I strongly disagree. I can see the difference on myself (and on many friends too). Period..


        Gursel Akay wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  31. I’m glad to see your post, Mark. I read about this book in the Nutrition Action Newsletter, something a friend had given me a one year gift subscription to. I was not surprised at her assertions because Nutrition Action is very conventional in its endorsement of a diet low in fat, low in saturated fat, and in the promotion of grains, beans, dairy products, and many processed foods.

    It is wise for us to keep up with papers and books that try to debunk the paleo and primal diet so that we know what the critics are saying. Usually they’ve read very little of our books and know very little about what we are recommending so it is usually easy to spot the flaws in their arguments, as you have.

    Good work!

    Chef Rachel wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  32. These naysayers are fools. You cant argue with results. Ive been paleo since novemeber 26th and have lost 80 lbs. My life has changed. Im happier and healthier than Ive been in years. Im finally able to begin playing rugby again. This book is a fantasy

    Adam wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  33. Had to laugh!
    “A big paleofantasy. I could be making this entire world up in my head as I go along.”

    ……Being Mark Sissonvich…..

    Greg wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  34. Been eating paleo (except for the wine) for two years. While I started out relying on the ancestral justification, having lost patience for explaining the rationale and rolling my eyes at the fringe examples thrown at me, I now focus on how not eating sugar, soy, dairy, grains, legumes has vastly improved my health. Even as a walking example of how eating this way benefits one’s well being, there are still those among family and friends who think it’s a miracle I’m not gravely ill from lack of toast.

    I appreciate you taking the time to review this book–you articulate everything that’s misguided about it far better than I. Several people have emailed a review done on the daily beast about what a great book this is, so your comments are a good balance.

    Leslie wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • “there are still those among family and friends who think it’s a miracle I’m not gravely ill from lack of toast.”

      That is FUNNY! & true. “I’d like to see your cholesterol numbers!” Then I tell them how good all my blood work is. And then continue on with the school of thought that maybe high cholesterol is not the real problem anyhow.

      Bruinwar wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  35. “Are sitting in front of an LCD screen until 2 AM, spending zero time in nature, living off of Cheetos and Coke, walking under a thousand steps a day, and working 20 hour days at a miserable job evolutionary mismatches with drastic health consequences as shown by current science (and hinted at by anthropology)? Yes.”

    Let’s not set up some straw man ourselves here. There are lifestyles out there that are fairly obviously unhealthy, even to the people that lead them. I don’t think Zuk would argue that. We should just be making our case for primal living as the best, most natural, achievable and sustainable alternative.

    Southy wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  36. I for one am grateful for the debunking. We need to keep as many people on the CW track as possible. My investments in pharmaceutical companies and other standard 401K fare are depending on it.

    “Whatever most people are doing isn’t really working for most people, whereas whatever we’re doing (whether it’s a paleofantasy or not) seems to be working.” True. I’ll just keep plugging along with my liver and sweet potatoes and enjoy my muscles out in the sunshine. You all just keep taking your pills…

    Diane wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  37. I may browse this book at the bookstore but I sure won’t buy it. I’m interested to see the counter arguments to Paleo. I haven’t commented before but have been following your blog for over a year. I consider my entry into “Paleo” a complete accident. My young son had some dental issues relating to possibly his diet and we bought the book “cure tooth decay” by Ramiel Nagel and it has changed our families’ life for the better. Wouldn’t you know the diet he suggested is largely paleo and in fact he stated that healing tooth decay problems on a Veg/grain diet is almost impossible. Human’s teeth and gum health went to hell once a mostly grain and or western diet was imposed on more primitive cultures. I discovered your site and went mostly Paleo in Jan 2012 after a miserable cold took me out of commission for awhile. I stopped drinking beer(don’t miss it at all), stopped my morning bowl of cereal routine, no pasta, breads., and did a mostly bodyweight exercise program. Jan 2012 I was 188 (6 feet tall), within 6 months I hit my college weight of 165. I turned 40 last year by the way. I’m currently 168 lbs. and that’s with slacking on my exercising. More energy and haven’t had a cold in over a year. I don’t care what that book says the Paleo lifestyle has totally worked for me and my family. Thanks for this blog Mark, it’s awesome!

    Kevin wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  38. I think the head of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard would take huge issue with Zuk’s dismissal of disturbed sleep as a major contributor to modern health ills.

    On that (completely unscientific) assertion alone, I have no interest in reading this book.

    –signed someone who used to have a major circadian rhythm / psychiatric disorder, i.e., bipolar disorder, before protecting my sleep, ditching grains, and eating lots of fat, and is now in complete remission for three years without the use of neuron-killing psychiatric meds

    Jen wrote on April 3rd, 2013
    • You go! I’d like to see more about the psychological benefits of paleo in general–seems to have cured my mood disorder, too.

      Louise wrote on April 11th, 2013
  39. What really makes me angry is John Hawks. He thinks he knows the arguments, and the science behind eating paleo. He does not. Why in the world is he responding to something that he clearly knows nothing about.

    FvanderB wrote on April 3rd, 2013
  40. Mark:

    Excellent, thorough, balanced work. Really accessible and down to earth.

    In the end, as many things often go, I’d expect the book to have the unintended consequence of actually adding to the Paleo / Primal momentum. Which has me wondering, do you ever write in a pen name, perhaps with a last name that begins with a ‘Z’?


    Richard Nikoley wrote on April 3rd, 2013

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!