5 Helpful Analogies for Understanding Complex Health Issues

Bright IdeasFor millennia, the best teachers have used stories, analogies, and parables to break down complicated concepts into understandable bits that everyone can grasp. Aesop’s fables, the greatest religious texts throughout history, and Plato’s allegory of the cave are some of the most famous, showing us how to live morally, contemplate our existence, and make our way through the dilemmas that comprise everyday life. Today, I’m going to discuss five simple analogies that can help you understand five complex health topics a bit better, or perhaps be able to introduce them to the people (often skeptical or less-than-scientifically-inclined friends and relatives) around you who could use the lesson.

Let’s get right to it:

Insulin as Doorman at a Fat Cell Nightclub

From Kurt Harris’ “Insulin is a doorman at the fat cell nightclub, not a lock on the door“:

The hormones that are influenced by what you eat don’t work by locking the door or closing the nightclub and kicking everyone out. It’s not all or nothing. It’s not a switch. They work by changing the relative ease of entering or leaving the building. So think of fat storage in fat cells the same way. The same way patrons can leave and enter a nightclub simultaneously in opposite directions, fat is constantly being stored and released at the same time – the question is not “on or off” but what is the ratio of the two processes. Insulin is like a bouncer at the door – maybe he lets the prettier young women in, and maybe he tosses some obnoxious drunks. Maybe he is neutral when not many patrons are in the bar, maybe he turns you away if the joint is at capacity. But the door is not ever locked, and people come and go even as the number of drinkers grows and shrinks throughout the evening. And as you can see, other factors besides the doorman or bouncer affect the rate of patrons coming or going (time of day, the band is no good tonight, etc.) just as insulin’s action to promote fat storage is always in the context of other factors.

Although Kurt Harris no longer blogs much (if at all), he’s left a mark on the paleosphere. One post that always stuck with me was “Insulin is a doorman at the fat cell nightclub, not a lock on the door.” In it, he described the nuanced role of insulin in fat loss and deposition, using the analogy of insulin as discerning doorman to a fat cell nightclub. Like a doorman, insulin influences the flow of fat into and from a cell. Like a night club, the fat cell exists in a state of constant flux, with fat – or patrons – leaving and arriving all the time, at the same time. It’s not an on-off switch, where fat is either coming or going – it’s both at once with varying ratios. The doorman is a powerful influence on who goes in and out of the club, but he’s not responsible for all the reasons why patrons might be arriving or leaving. Maybe it’s morning and there’s not much of a demand for drinking. Point is, it’s not all up to the doorman. Insulin’s the same way. It’s a big determinant but not the only factor in fat deposition and loss.

The Crowded Restaurant

From Gary Taubes’ “The Inanity of Overeating”:

Say instead of talking about why fat tissue accumulates too much energy, we want to know why a particular restaurant gets so crowded. Now the energy we’re talking about is contained in entire people rather than just the fat in their fat tissue. Ten people contain so much energy; eleven people contain more, etc.. So what we want to know is why this restaurant is crowded and so over-stuffed with energy (i.e., people) and maybe why some other restaurant down the block has remained relatively empty — lean. If you asked me this question — why did this restaurant get crowded? — and I said, well, the restaurant got crowded (it got overstuffed with energy) because more people entered the restaurant than left it, you’d probably think I was being a wise guy or an idiot. (If I worked for the World Health Organization, I’d tell you that “the fundamental cause of the crowded restaurant is an energy imbalance between people entering on one hand, and people exiting on the other hand.”) Of course, more people entered than left, you’d say. That’s obvious. But why?

Much of the opposition to a Primal/paleo way of eating lies in the misguided assumption that we think calories are immaterial. That you can cram as much food into your mouth, as long as it’s Primal, without gaining weight. I said as much in a recent post, but I still see this misconception pop up, time and time again. At the same time, I see way too many people – even supposed health “experts” – claim that “it’s all about calories,” that “you need to burn more calories than you take in,” that people are fat because “they eat too many calories.” All those statements are technically true. Weight gain and loss does come down to caloric balance. If you want to lose weight, you have to expend more calories than you take in. And eating more calories than you expend can increase body weight. But so what? Who doesn’t agree with those statements? They aren’t telling us anything new. They’re just restating the problem.

To use Taubes’ analogy, a more helpful question is “Why are a lot of people entering that restaurant as opposed to this restaurant?”, or “Why are a lot of people staying in that crowded restaurant?” And you can’t just say “well, they just are, so there,” because that’s saying the same thing a different way. It’s about as helpful as saying a restaurant is crowded because there are lots of customers, or a kid got taller because he grew several inches, or you got a divorce because you signed the papers. Sure, if you want to be a smug jerk about it, you could say those things and “be right,” but what’s the point? It explains nothing.

I’ve found that using this analogy helps people understand why “eat less” is shoddy, incomplete advice. It’s not “wrong.” It’s just mostly useless. I encourage you to read the full article linked to above if you haven’t already.

LDL: Cars and Passengers

From “How to Interpret Cholesterol Results“:

Measuring the LDL/HDL-C and then making potentially life-changing health decisions based on the number is like counting the number of people riding in vehicles on a freeway to determine the severity of traffic. It’s data, and it might give you a rough approximation of the situation, but it’s not as useful as actually counting the number of vehicles. A reading of 100 could mean you’re dealing with a hundred compact cars, each carrying a single driver, or it could mean you’ve got four buses carrying 25 passengers each. Or it could be a couple buses and the rest cars. You simply don’t know how bad (or good) traffic is until you get a direct measurement of LDL and HDL particle number.

Cholesterol test results are confusing and often troubling. You’ve got a white coated doctor rattling off lifestyle and pharmaceutical prescriptions and scary triple digit numbers foretelling your impending vascular doom, all based on some numbers and acronyms that you don’t actually understand. LDL = bad, HDL = good, according to the lab, but what do they really mean? But isn’t there more to it? I mean, those aren’t just numbers and letters. They represent physiological processes occurring inside your body at this very moment. We vaguely think of cholesterol as a sort-of-fat that just kinda chills out in our blood and every so often gets stuck on or in the arterial walls, or something. You don’t really know. I doubt the doctor really does. What is LDL-C actually measuring? Who knows, most probably think.

The cars and passengers analogy lets those numbers and acronyms mean something. You don’t have to get the biochemistry of it. All you have to do is think of the basic traffic law that more vehicles (LDL particles) means more traffic jams and accidents (hardening of the arteries), all else being equal, and you get the gist of LDL-C versus LDL-P. A reading of 100 could mean you’re dealing with a hundred compact cars, each carrying a single driver, or it could mean you’ve got four buses carrying 25 passengers each. Or it could be a couple buses and the rest cars. You simply don’t know how bad (or good) traffic is until you get a direct measurement of LDL and HDL particle number.

Digging a Hole to Install a Ladder to Fix the Basement Windows

From the post of the same name:

Picture a house with absolutely filthy exterior basement windows, the kind that just barely peek out above ground level. The owner can’t see through the things, and they need a thorough washing. He could grab the bucket and a rag and squat or kneel down to commence cleaning. He could make it easy on himself, but for some bizarre reason, he doesn’t.

Instead, he spends the entire day slaving away with a shovel and a pick axe, hacking at the earth to loosen it and shoveling the loose dirt out. A deep hole appears, about eight feet in depth and wide enough to accommodate him and a ladder. In goes the ladder, and he follows with the wash bucket and rag. Dirty, grimy, sweaty, and disheveled, he ascends the ladder to finally reach the basement windows. He manages to clean them, but his alternate self in a parallel universe – that guy who decided to just kneel down to wash the windows – has clean windows, a killer tan from spending hours at the beach doing pushups and sprints, a couple racks of ribs on the barbecue, and a nice glass of Cab paired with a wedge of French brie. He enjoyed his day, while the ladder enthusiast had to work for hours just to arrive at the same point.

This encapsulates the ultimate goal of Primal living: to do things efficiently, to take shortcuts that don’t shortchange your results. This will give you more free time to do the stuff you truly enjoy, and make you healthier, happier, and more productive. It’s a nice way of saying don’t think you have to engage in hours of miserable cardio every week to get fitter (unless you enjoy it) when you can lift some weights, sprint a bit, and walk a lot and end up just as fit with more free time and less negative health effects. Or, don’t assume you have to agonize over counting calories, weighing yourself every day, and hiring a dietitian to get healthy when focusing on food quality, how you feel and look in a mirror, and trying the basic Primal laws will work better and save you time and effort.

Everyone’s trying to get to the same place, give or take a few details. We all want to be healthy and happy. Why not do it the more efficient way?

What Would You Feed a Lion?

From the PB Fundamentals:

What do you feed a lion?


Meat is the obviously correct answer. You would feed the lion raw meat. I think even the most ardent vegan would admit that lions are supposed to eat meat.

Lions hunt and eat animals, and they and their feline ancestors have been doing so for hundreds of thousands of years. Millions, even. That’s the key.

The hunting, killing, and raw meat-eating informed the evolution of the lion over many millions of years. The lion’s genetic makeup was shaped by meat-eating.

Humans are animals, too. We may be relative newcomers to this planet, but we’ve been around for a good 200,000 years, and our ancestors have been around for millions of years. And for a good 190,000 years of that, we were hunter-gatherers, living off the land, big game hunters who feasted on plant and animal alike. If you accept that the biology of animals, like lions, functions best on ancestral, evolutionary diets, wouldn’t the same likely be true for humans?

This is a quick, easy way to get people to understand what this Primal thing is all about, on a gut level. People tend to think of animals as, well, animals. Natural beings subject to the objective laws of nature, passive creatures whisked along a path determined by outside forces. Meanwhile, humans are different. We’re animals, sure, but people don’t think of themselves as animals. We’re people. We’re above nature. We impose ourselves on nature. We create and shape our reality.

The lion analogy bridges that gap. People intellectually know that humans are animals, they just never think in those terms. If you get them to start thinking in those terms, you almost see thought bubbles form, lightbulbs go off. “Huh, that’s true. We technically are animals. If lions do best eating the types of foods they evolved eating, why not humans? Hey, what did humans evolve eating, anyway? And what about other stuff – I mean, I bet lions don’t like being cooped up in a tiny cage at the zoo. They’re probably happier out on the African plains…” You can pretty much set them up and let them go and watch the evolution of their notion of a healthy human environment unfold right before you. It’s pretty cool to watch.

That’s it for today. Do you find these analogies helpful? Do you have any to add to the list? If so, hit me up in the comment board!

TAGS:  hormones

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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127 thoughts on “5 Helpful Analogies for Understanding Complex Health Issues”

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  1. can’t thank you enough for a few of these. I even printed the cholesterol one for my doctor who is about to become my ex doctor. 😉

    1. @ Gwen, good for you!!! I’m glad you like Mark’s knowledge! I will tell you over the years i’ve followed his advice and i feel better than i ever have in my life!!!

    2. My now former doctor, a vegetarian, really didn’t want to believe the blood pressure reading after I switched to primal. Tested me twice. I love being off BP meds . . . meat, it does a body good! 🙂

  2. I can hear the screeching vegans now–“HORSES AND COWS don’t eat meat, so why should we?”

    Horses and cows are not predators, that’s why. Horses and cows get eaten by predators!

    1. They don’t eat meat because they ARE the meat!

      Predators: eyes in the front of the head
      Prey: eyes on the side of the head

      Humans? Predators!

      1. Thanks, will use it to teach my kids!
        Easy to visualise and remember!

      2. so like a dog is a predator and a cat is prey so the cats eyes are where!

    2. Horses and cattle are delicious, too.

      Not many people in American can claim they prefer horsemeat to beef. I can! 🙂

      1. in America…pardon my terrible grammar! I’m was too excited thinking about eating horse steak.

      2. I was driving to Colorado Springs the other day and saw a billboard that read “Americans Don’t Eat Horses!” I was really annoyed by this because it imposes some sort of cultural bias that prevents us from understanding the horse’s place in the ecosystem. And it also avoids a potential solution to the problem of wild horse overpopulation in the American West. Horses are certainly noble beasts when raised and trained properly, but they’re no smarter or dumber than cows or pigs – they just happen to have a use beyond being a pure food source that makes them economically valuable when alive. There’s no morality involved in a decision about whether to eat horse or not.

        1. I saw that too. Almost everything in this town is some kind of knee jerk reaction to one thing or another. In Colorado Springs, the only culture most people get is in their yogurt. I have lived here for 40+ years and have seen it get progressively worse.

    3. Horses and cattle are obligate herbavores… explaining why they don’t eat meat. I’ve had people pull that crap on me too after they have read “The China Study”. Sheesh!!! I love “what would you feed a lion?”… I might make that into a poster and hang it on my wall!!

  3. Overeating involves much more than hunger. I know a person who grew up poor. Now, as an affluent adult, he habitually overeats, possibly because he didn’t get enough when he was growing up, but mainly because he wants to get his money’s worth. He considers buffets a much better deal than sit-down restaurants because he can stuff himself for the same amount of money. His eating habits (and just about everything else) are inextricably bound together with the value he places on money. His health and the quality of the food he eats are completely immaterial.

    1. I agree. My family was “poor” when I grew up as well. My two older sisters are overweight as a result. They deep down feel that they didn’t get enough food when they were little and so as adults they can look in the mirror and see that they are no longer hungry children. It takes a lot of transforming the mind to allow themselves to lose weight. However, we had fabulous food growing up, Mom grew veggies instead of flowers, we got raw milk from a famer who sold it for less than we could buy in a store, dug clams, picked oysters, had some laying hens for fresh eggs and had a lot of soup made from bones the butcher was going to throw out. Just not enough for more than one small serving each. I now go to bed hungry because it’s “normal” and why not, I just am going to have to eat again when I get up, right?

      1. We had plenty of food but it sometimes was rationed–I remember once wanting seconds on a pot roast only to hear “save it for Alex”–the favored children also got more/better food; I also remember being bullied into “sharing” more than once. Maybe that’s why eating alone doesn’t bother me–no critcism, being everyone else’s table servant, bullying, or harassment.

    2. Totally agree! In Eastern Europe people in previously communist countries, now in their mid thirties have grown obsessions over having new clothes, lots of shoes, cars and good interior design however the down side is that even if now they afford more all this expense has a bad effect on their health…food is on the bottom list, bulk over quality or going for new trends, aka latest processed convinince food, low fat and stuff…
      Even worse is the hunt and competition over who finds the best medical practices, hospitals and doctors cos the disease in this populations are higher than ever!!!

      Feel so sorry for them!! My mom is like that and thy don’t even want to listen, I am like an alien to my family

      When I go over they are surprise why I am so skinny supposing that I am sick or cannot afford food while I eat primal 😉 again because fat or well build they associate with being wealthy but when they hear how much I pay for my food their chin drops and exclaim: what’s wrong with normal (oppose to free range, organic) chicken/meat?

      Tried to explain…alien talk for them!!!

    1. Especially the part about the Cabernet Sauvignon and Brie…and the sun tan!

      1. Agree! Although maybe not the Brie. I don’t think dairy likes me much.

  4. Well, except that humans are primates; we didn’t evolve from the carnivora order. Now, chimpanzees aren’t cows either, and they certainly love meat and eat it whenever they can get it. But it’s a little trickier to analogize that we should eat meat because lions eat it. Hyenas eat it too–do you think of humans as civilized hyenas?

    I don’t mean to be pedantic, but I also think that anti-paleo partisans are looking for stuff like this to discredit the movement. “Mark said lions eat meat, and so he’s obviously an idiot and we should feel free to stock up on the soy patties and white flour buns!” Perhaps a better analogy would be: Primates don’t plow fields and grind grains. Should we?

    1. Hey Jen!

      While i agree with part of your statement, I think it might be a good idea to reread the analogy. I don’t think that Mark is saying “Lions eat meat. So should we”

      I think Mark is saying that we are animals like the lion, and being animals we are supposed to consume our natural diet – veggies and meat.

      1. This is exactly what Groktimus Primal was talking about in the first post…some analogies confuse people.

      2. The vast majority of vegans and vegetarians believe that humans evolved eating primarily plants, not animals, and that we only recently (in evolutionary terms) started eating meat. I find the evolutionary argument difficult against vegetarians because you do in fact have to be armed with evidence that the human body functions best when fueled by meat and vegetables. You can start with an analogy, but you’d better have your facts straight. Either way, I really have no real interest in convincing a vegan that my diet is better. All I have to do is eat a piece of bacon or some slow-smoked brisket to know I’m right.

    2. I think the point Mark is making is not that we should eat meat because lions eat meat. The point is that virtually everyone accepts the idea that every species has a particular diet it is best adapted to, yet very few people apply this same logic to themselves. This is, of course, is the logic behind ancestral eating. Using the analogy of another animal to present the idea that we should also be eating a species-specific diet is another way to frame the argument – and a very effective one!

      Great post, Mark!

      1. Right, but I have heard arguments that vegetarian IS our natural, ancestral diet. I kid you not, I have actually heard people argue that our digestive tracts are prime for eating vegetables and grains. D’oh!

        1. Exactly. And there are entire books filled with “evidence” to support this theory.

        2. My boyfriend and I love evolution documentaries. We love them. One of the ones that supports our dietary habits best is Walking With Cavemen. They point out that without protein and fats that could only be obtained from consuming animal foods, the human brain could not have evolved. It was truly impossible. I look to the future for the “devolution of vegans”, as it were. 😉

        3. I got into an argument with a guy on youtube over the same thing. He (clearly a veg-tarian) Insisted that humans were herbivores and were not designed to eat meat. Ive given up on people like that, they will only take the science and the studies and twist them to mean what they want. When in fact that there is simply no way a human could eat enough calories in simply veggies. Yes fruit, and nuts, but still meat and fat would have been the most effective food to survive on. Its called winter, I know early humans and neanderthals had large areas of territory; they would have had to travel really really far and at exactly the right time, without garantee of a snow storm to find veg enough to survive. Meat and fat is simply the best way.

    3. This is off to the side, but it’s something I see come up a lot in the comments–if we’re going to talk about anti-Paleo partisans, we shouldn’t–especially in the case of vegetarians/vegans–always use stuff like “white flour” to draw a contrast between our eating habits. A lot of vegetarians and vegans make it a point to avoid processed food, so I feel like this makes it easier for them not to take us seriously.

      1. It doesn’t matter. They aren’t going to take us seriously, no matter how exactly stuff is said. Mark’s paragraph from above is at the heart of the matter:

        “People tend to think of animals as, well, animals. Natural beings subject to the objective laws of nature, passive creatures whisked along a path determined by outside forces. Meanwhile, humans are different. We’re animals, sure, but people don’t think of themselves as animals. We’re people. We’re above nature. We impose ourselves on nature. We create and shape our reality.”

        Much of religious vegetarianism (both Eastern and Western) is bound up in this thought pattern. We separate animal doctors from human doctors even though there doesn’t appear to be all that much difference between the science of treating Fido and treating Little Johnny.

        I do believe that humans have fundamental differences from animals, but they don’t involve getting to eat whatever it is we want or playing master of the planet. But the idea that we are subject to the same forces of nature (weather, bio-chemical, etc) as all of the rest of the Earth’s creatures is a very unsettling concept for many people. It suggests a vulnerability I know I don’t care to think about.

        1. I disagree, there are some open minded individuals out there. I followed Marks Blog for three years and dropped vegetarianism after reviewing his work and Cordain. Its very hard to weigh up these views against medically established people like campbell,esselstyn etc but individual truth will win the day. As in, I feel healthier on diet x not y.

    4. Yes, civilized hyenas is it exactly. It seems fairly certain that as our early ancestors transitioned to a more meat-based diet they scavenged bone marrow and brain from the kills of other predators, and possibly drove other larger scavengers to extinction by doing so, leaving only the hyenas.

    5. Surely using this logic says we should be eating RAW meat and munching on leaves and fruit all day long, not at “meal times”, so cooking is entirely a new thing and not ancestral at all. Best we eat more raw greens and fruit, eat more raw meat and fish etc??????????????

    6. “Primates don’t plow fields and grind grains. Should we?”
      Love this Jennifer!

  5. I like these.

    The “calorie is a calorie” argument is not just irrelevant because it tells you nothing, however. This argument says that eating 1200 calories of pasta will have the same effect on your body as 1200 calories of lettuce. It’s patently absurd.

  6. I just listened to a recent podcast on cholesterol from Chris Kresser, and I’m more confused than ever. He’s certainly not as blase about the numbers as other paleo bloggers and doesn’t dismiss the use of statins out of hand. I eat mostly paleo, and have been trying to get my HDL up from a very low 33. It’s now at 55, but my total cholesterol also went up–to 205. At my last visit, my doctor didn’t seem to care about the increase in HDL and instead focused on the total cholesterol number. She told me to watch my intake of saturated fat and to try to get the number under 200.

    1. Probably shows that you’re being exposed to information on cholesterol your doctor hasn’t or (if they have been exposed to it) they don’t buy into. In my experience, if doctors are managing a number on something as dynamic and misunderstood as cholesterol without a dozen other considerations they are likely not looking at the body from the most constructive perspective. When that happens you educate yourself to the best of your ability and then ask your doctor to explain the mechanisms behind how/why cholesterol is a problem and why lowering it would be helpful. If they can’t provide you with a really good answer then it’s time to seek other options.

    2. That doctor is misled – lowest all-cause mortality is at around 220 TC. And high TC was never a risk factor for women anyway. You are lucky to have so few health problems that your doctor has to make a fuss about a total cholesterol reading.

      1. Here is my analogy for Statins.

        I’m 5’11…statistically, better basketball players are taller. Should I wear high heels out on the court? It will make me taller, and make me more like the better players! Ha!

        I think statins are the same thing. Statistically taking the drug puts your cholesterol test scores more in line with a lower risk group. Does it make you healthier? Ha!

    3. Before the cholesterol crisis, and saturated fat myth, the recomendations for total cholesterol were higher than 200. Also I undstand women can be higher without ANY increase in risk. Total cholesteral says jack anyhow, my brother had a heart attack and 43 and he had low cholesteral all across the board. I think your HDL is pretty awesome.

  7. I like the bouncer analogy best…. everything in biology seems to be like this. (And I did smile at the ladder analogy.)

  8. An analogy I’ve used to help explain the problem of over stimulating insulin is that of a super highway. If it’s full of insulin vehicles (which are seriously important and necessary in the short term – avoid toxicity) there isn’t much space for the nice to haves, like the reproductive hormones – for example.

  9. Terrific post! As a retired doc, i must admit it took me too long to realize patients would sit and nod, occasionally smiling, as I took them through a report of my exam, but wouldn’t get the information I wanted them to understand until I found stories or analogies that would convey the ideas. It’s only good information if you can use it to make better choices.

  10. The problem with the lion analogy is that most vegetarians/vegans agree that humans are naturally meat eaters, but since we are not obligatory carnivores, and we have the mental faculties to do so, that we should choose to not eat meat to avoid harming animals.

    Yes, yes, I know that modern agriculture kills a lot of animals too, in combines or whatever. But the fact is, if you ate a cow, you would kill both the cow and the animals in the field used to grow food for the cow.

    I come from a Mahayana Buddhist family and this is what they’ve told me, because they don’t want me to leave vegetarianism.

    1. And all these people playing God and deciding for themselves that an animal is better than a rock or a mountain or an avocado, etc.

      1. Well, it’s easy to say that, but you pretty much lose the argument when you insult the cultural and religious beliefs of an entire population. There are many hundreds of thousands of vegetarians in India who live long and healthy lives and I’m not one to tell them that they’re doing something wrong or are irrational in their assignment of reverence. But then again, most Hindu and Buddhist vegetarians that I’ve met are not nearly as annoying or strident as the “ethical” vegans who have sprung up in Western cultures.

        1. Where was the insult? I’ll add that in the ancient texts of the Vedas (India), you can read about the many feasts where they would kill 200,000 animals at a time. They became vegetarian because they possibly got more food in the long run from the lassi, cheese, ghee and milk. India, and especially the vegetarian indians have some of the lowest age spans in the world! Try again Mantonat.

        2. I’m from a Chinese Buddhist family, and I can assure you I don’t preach or anything to other people about being vegetarian. I really only talk to them about it if they ask. And TBH, I feel like we vegetarians get a lot of bad rap from the “ethical”/PETA stereotype. And not be insulting but it usually tends to be westerners that do that.

          Rationally I think it’s probably healthier to eat some meat, but it just feels like betraying not only my personal morals but my family and culture as well.

          I do eat eggs/milk, but the eggs are from my own chickens and the milk is from some very nice local farms.

          I feel more guilty about potentially eating meat because I’m actually pretty healthy now. I have done a lot of the other “primal” stuff, like getting rid of the sweets and grainy carbs, and I feel even better. So I wonder if eating meat is really necessary in my situation.

        3. A couple generations back, this would have been true. Most people in my family from that generation (grandmothers, great aunts), enjoyed amazing health. For example, my maternal grandmother had perfect eyesight and could thread a needle well into her late eighties. Talk about hand eye coordination!

          Sadly, the diet most Indians eat nowadays (ESPECIALLY the vegetarians) would give proponents of healthy eating (no matter their leanings) a cardiac arrest. 😀

        4. Many of the vegetarians in India use milk products (lots of milk, yogurt, and fresh cheese) if they can afford it–“vegetarian” in India is understood to mean lactovegetarian.
          Unfortunately, there are also many areas in India that are condidered “food insecure” meaning that supplies are deficient and prices high. The poor people frequently can’t afford dairy so they get their protein from legumes. I have studied what Gandhi himself ate; a liter of milk a day was at the top of the list. I also read a quote of his urging the more affluent people who could afford the dairy products to use them more in order to save the legumes for the poor.
          We of the overfed West have no earthly idea what living with such rationing is like.

      2. So when you say “people playing God and deciding for themselves that an animal is better than a rock or a mountain…”, you don’t think that’s insulting to someone who follows a specific religion? Sorry if I misunderstood, but it sounded like you were commenting on Heda’s dilemma about going against his family’s religion-based vegetarian diet. If you weren’t, my apologies.

        1. Well, you can be insulted or not even though that was not my intention. There is just too much scientific knowledge on plants, trees, grasses etc. communicating. And I’m sure they will discover much deeper connections in the future. Yes, I do believe everything is alive and humming with life. The rock, the avocado, the bison and the mountain. Just living on this earth makes us killers of all sorts of stuff. Let us be grateful for everything that sustains us, as another poster mentioned. I say the antelope is equal to the sand and the avocado is equal to the bee and the celery is equal to the chicken. Who the heck are you to decide which is more important? Again, humans trying to decide what can’t be decided.

        1. Heh – I was +1 Nocona’s initial comment. If someone truly found the concept that vegetarianism, at it’s heart, places animals above the rocks, planets, and other parts of the Earth insulting, unfortunately, there’s nothing more much to discuss. 🙁

          The whole concept of vegetarianism absolutely rests on the idea that animals are more important than any other lifeforms. It is a very hierarchical way of looking at the world. Just speculation, but that’s might be part of the reason that Westerners (more trained to be individualistic/egalitarian in their thinking) get so crazy about it. It’s very stressful point of view to hold in your head with “everyone is equally important”.

        2. Please get informed about people’s beliefs before you come along criticising them.

          Coming from a Buddhist family, we aren’t vegetarian because we believe that animals are somehow superior to plants, or that humans are above everyone else. We are vegetarian because we don’t want to cause suffering and harm. A plant isn’t capable of feeling pain and fear (suffering) when you kill it but an animal is. That’s all there is to it.

        3. I am aware of vegetarian thought. I spent a lot time with it as I was vegetarian myself for about 2 years.

          We don’t actually know if a plant feels pain. Plants clearly want to live. They well may be suffering, but humans may lack the imagination and sensitivity to see it. As a child, I was absolutely convinced that everything had feelings. Heck as an adult, I still feel sorry for the plants I forget to water and have wilted. They usually recover, but the wilting process doesn’t look like it’s much fun.

          And that’s were I come back to the hierarchical outlook: There are life forms that are “important” because they have a central nervous system and feel pain/suffer like humans. Then there are those that are not like humans and therefore not worthy of much consideration. I guess I’ve dealt with plants too much to think that just because they don’t scream out in pain when they die that their life had no real value or they didn’t suffer in that moment.

          To me life is life, regardless of it’s form. It all deserves to be honored. My spiritual side finds much more peace with the concept that plants and animals have equally important lives and places on the Earth. Besides, my time is coming — I will be the bones that feed the plants and start the cycle a new.

        4. Well Heda, I know you don’t want to cause suffering and harm (bless you), but just by being human you do. Killing trillions of small animals to eat your veggies, killing germs, mychoriza, cells and vegetables (that all want to live), driving cars, polluting, using nasty chemical smell good plug-ins in your house, etc…and you do put more importance on humans (thinking they know what suffers and what doesn’t, and how much), obviously, or you would not be so mean to all those other living things. Sorry to say, but they have proof of plants communicating fear and they are not sure of the pain part yet, but they will find that someday too I suppose. That’s all there is to it!

    2. “I know that modern agriculture kills a lot of animals too, in combines or whatever. But the fact is, if you ate a cow, you would kill both the cow and the animals in the field used to grow food for the cow.”

      All cows spend at least a lot of their lives on the range. 100% grass-fed cows spend their entire lives there. I have worked in endangered species protection in California for about 20 years. Cattle ranchers are among the most important protectors of sensitive species (along with fishermen, rice growers and the armed forces.) The CA red-legged frog is an example of a species that is being helped by cattle ranches.

      1. Yeah I’m really torn about this issue.

        I definitely agree that eating “primal” is healthier, but I can’t help but feel guilty about it. My family would be so disappointed too.

        1. You are a human, and there are certain nutrients that you simply must have which are impossible or nearly impossible to get enough of without eating animal products — vitamins A, D, K, and B12, iron, essential fatty acids, and adequate protein with all the necessary amino acids.

          I don’t believe you must eat meat, but I do think it is foolish to forego animal products. And if you eat eggs, you must consider that the mass market egg industry creates more animal suffering than any other. The dairy industry is no picnic for cows.

          The bottom line is, you are a human who needs animals to be involved with your dinner to live in good health. If you think responsibly about the animals, which you should, it makes more difference to be mindful of where it all comes from (i.e. real farms and not CAFOs) than it does to rule out one category altogether. A pastured-meat-only carnivore inflicts less suffering than a vegetarian who eats regular grocery-store eggs.

        2. It’s OK to feel guilty; you have taken a being’s life to sustain your own.

          But also, it is no less guilty to eat a carrot, killing the carrot, and also helping to kill all the animals that would have been cleared off the land to make way for a carrot plantation.

          Turn the guilt into respectful thanks for the ongoing web of life and death and eating!

    3. “No animals were harmed in the making of grass-fed beef”, except the steer, of course. Animals get killed from combines in corn and soy fields, things that should never be fed to cattle. When the cattle are grass fed it avoids this collateral damage.

    4. Killing both the animals of the field and the cow in modern agricultural practice occurs mostly when you are using a modern feedlot system (CAFO), or overgrazing your pasturage. Sustainable agriculture (Google “Polyface Farms” for starters) aims to work within the ecosystem and it’s requirements. It’s not pristine, but it’s self-renewing, and like the small farms of old (and still in parts of Europe), can be structured (with copses, lakes and and forest acreage) to provide room for larger wildlife as well as healthy, productive animal husbandry.

      Frankly, nobody’s off the moral hook on this one. The only way to zero out your human impact on other species is to zero out yourself, reduce your footprint to nothing, quit taking up space, however small, and find that big pie in the sky. But as a 100% genuine Earth species, we do have a right to be on the planet, and be what we are: carni/omnivorous predators. Kind of like a cross between a bear and a wolf.

      Having said that, we also posses a “moral sensibility”, which does make us different. I would submit that in order to consider ourselves fully human, we get humanly intentional and use it to take responsibility for our own existences.

      I suggest that the absolutely fundamental place to start is to start valuing quality over quantity – eg. to quit making so many more mouths (babies). Then we might be able to stop eating ourselves – and everything else – out of house and home. Like every other species, we do have limits. The sorry thing is, we also have the capability to destroy everything in the process of finding them.

      In my view, every other discussion is stopgap and/or meaningless, except in the context of solving this problem.

      1. “But as a 100% genuine Earth species, we do have a right to be on the planet, and be what we are: carni/omnivorous predators. Kind of like a cross between a bear and a wolf. […]

        I suggest that the absolutely fundamental place to start is to start valuing quality over quantity – eg. to quit making so many more mouths (babies). ”

        These two notions seem contradictory. Do we have the right to be here, as successfully as we possibly can or not? The only reason I exist is because humans have learned how grow more food to support more humans than hunting/gathering alone. I like me. 😉

        I don’t know…what is not sustainable will not last, whether or not I worry about the supposed carrying capacity of the planet. The earth’s history (as far as we can tell) is littered with successful species minding it’s business and in generation it was gone, thanks to changes on the planet out of their control.

        We may have plague that literally decimates the Earth’s population tomorrow. Yellowstone may erupt early, wiping out a good chunk of America and a huge portion of the world’s food supply with it. It seems a bit fluky that we got here in the first place.

        1. No contradiction – it’s the question of what’s “successful”.

          The other animals, having, as far as we can tell, little to no capacity for intentional action, are perforce highly subject to the vagaries of their external world. We, on the other hand, can plan for the future, and manipulate our present circumstances.

          Both groups are subject to Darwinian forces in everything – good, bad or indifferent. You either live or die, you either win or lose, and you either make offspring or not. And up until now, the only limits on any animal, us included, were imposed either by the effectiveness of your genome and your “technology” (tools for dealing with the world – mind, body and fang or spear). or by luck (rock falls on head – or not).

          But my point is, that as humans what makes us so different is that we don’t have to be passive players in our own stories, at least to all intents and purposes. We have a choice to introduce another dimension into the contest – to contemplate and execute strategies that are win-win, rather than just win-lose.

          I like me, too – and I acknowledge the same history as your own. But I’m suggesting that now is the time to get a wider vision, and see that a respectful attitude towards the rest of the plants and animals can lead to a sustainable – if different- win for our species as well.

          Yes, we could be wiped out by a multitude of forces (Got grizzlies coming through your backyard? I do.) But I submit that, in light of our terrifying powers, a little reproductive restraint on our parts ups the odds of creating a world that winds up being more than just us and the roaches.

          And since we’re talking morality, I think that that’s the ideally human thing to do.

    5. “if you ate a cow, you would kill both the cow and the animals in the field used to grow food for the cow.”

      Only if you’re feeding the cows ‘grown grains’ (that make the poor things horribly sick and eventually kill them with illness, if they’re not slaughtered before the grains kill them!). If you let cows forage like they’re MEANT to (grass, not grain) then, other than the bugs the cow eats accidentally, there’s no “killing animals in the field” because you’re not using fields to grow “cow-food.” You’re using land to grow cows!!

      And cows ARE prey animals — they were “created” to be preyed on. (Evolution, god, nature — pick your “actor.”) If you/your religion “decides” that taking cows OUT of their *Nature*-al role as food is the right choice (for you/your cohort: not for all humans, eh? Talk about hubris!), then you are going against what’s Nature-al or ‘god-intended’ or whatever. If that’s your choice, it’s a choice — don’t decide it’s what “God” intended! Yes?

      1. Ah, but if you raise the cows Polyface Farm way, then you are feeding the maggots in the cow patties to chickens, which is tantamount to killing the maggots. Is anyone that concerned with the death of maggots?

        Remember we routinely kill all kinds of parasites everyday just to stay alive. Are even the Jains resistant to killing their tapeworms, or sipylus bacilli.

  11. Being a teacher I absolutely enjoy and use anologies all the time! If this post doesn’t convince more people to wake up I don’t know what will. Grock on!
    I have ordered your latest book, by the way, since I am craving more recipes.

  12. This is what I tell people:

    1. Look at your average feedlot. What do they feed the cows to fatten them up? Fatty steak and fatty butter? Heck no, they feed them CORN. If you eat corn, then you too will fatten up like a cow for slaughter. (I got this from another diet book, I forgot who, but it was sold as a “sensible” version of Atkins.)

    2. It’s not as simple as calories in – calories out. If you put gasoline into an electric car, the car isn’t going to burn the gas. It doesn’t know how. The gas will just accumulate in the back seat. If you cut down the amount of gas you put in, the car STILL won’t burn the gas in the back seat. It still doesn’t know how.

    1. A good one is “Eat crap give yourself the stuff you don’t need so your body becomes stronger (yes in the sense of other certain stressors) and will handle it”.

      Just like putting an occasional dose of diesel in a petroleum vehicle will help.


    2. You know I actually used to think that same thing (#1) when I would go out and feed my steer in the morning growing up. We fed a grain mix- oats and corn mostly (we fed hay too and he was out on pasture most the time). But still, even as a kid, I was like, I don’t want to get fat! So I actually didn’t eat corn or many grains (my parents never really knew why) and I had no idea what paleo was back then. Although it is a little different with ruminants vs humans.

      #2- LOVE THIS!

    3. “It’s not as simple as calories in – calories out. If you put gasoline into an electric car, the car isn’t going to burn the gas. It doesn’t know how. The gas will just accumulate in the back seat. If you cut down the amount of gas you put in, the car STILL won’t burn the gas in the back seat. It still doesn’t know how.”

      Oh! This is absolutely BRILLIANT!! Here’s (no offense, Mark) the BEST analogy I’ve ever read! (And what a dreadful mind-picture: the car with the back seat full of gas! {shudder})

  13. Lions are carnivores. Humans are omnivores. So that analogy is very weak. Horses are animals too. We don’t feed horses meat.

    Humans are remarkably adaptable to eat ANY food and store it as fat when there’s an excess — as that’s the most efficient way to carry around excess energy for our bodies. Humans have survived where meat is plentiful. And humans have survived where meat has not been plentiful. (Often both these describe the same geographic location, but in different seasons.)

    I suspect that early humans weren’t as meat-centric as paleo-philes make out to be and have read many studies by anthropologists who make it their careers and life’s ambition to study those things support this. Early man did eat potato-like tubers, and fruits, and honey, etc. Basically, whatever was available to survive.

    But we can all agree that we weren’t evolved to have donuts and large cokes for breakfasts, big macs for lunch, and potato chips to fight off even the smallest twinges of hunger.

    1. I think you missed the point of the analogy. The point was that lions and humans both evolved to eat specific diets, but nobody would claim that you could change a lion’s diet and still keep it healthy. You could use the same analogy but substitute an herbivore – a cow has evolved to eat and digest cellulose and so thrives on grasses and herbivorous plants, but quickly becomes sick when fed other foods, such as starch or protein heavy grains and legumes.

    2. In a macro-study of 11 forager societies, Kaplan et al (2001) found that between 35% (!Kung) – 70% (Amazonian) of calories consumed was from meat. Inuit eat almost no vegetation. There is no culture in the world that eats no animal products, whether fish, fowl, or milk products. Humans have a gut six times smaller than chimps because we cook our veggies and consume nearly half our calories from meat. Absolutely anyone who says because we are omnivores we can be vegetarians is committing a fallacy. Because we are omnivores we should be omnivores.

  14. Mark (or anybody else), I’d be interested on your take regarding the ‘Insulin as a Bouncer’ analogy. A lot of what I’ve been reading lately (albeit from very pro-fat authors like Nora Gedgaudas) state that when your body releases insulin to deal with high blood sugar, your body CANNOT burn fat at all. Essentially, you’re either burning fat OR sugar, and your body will preferentially burn glucose. If you’re hyperinsulemic, it’s impossible to burn fat.

    This seems to fly in the face of the bouncer analogy as the point is that ‘fat is both coming and going’. Not to put words in the mouths of people far more educated than I, but I feel like there are a few out there who would argue that if the bouncer is there, the door is locked and nobody’s getting out. Perhaps a ‘prison guard’ analogy?

    Your thoughts?

  15. I’m delivering a lecture tonight at an addiction treatment facility on lifestyle skills in recovery. As children, we learn metaphorically–through analogy and stories. I can’t tell you how helpful your five analogies are in this post as it relates to these vital notions and lifestyle skills for the recovering addict experiencing being, “reborn.”

    Just awesome, Mark and thank you. You never know what you’re going to say or do that will affect so many in such profound ways–especially when we’re kick ass healthy. Thank you./Herby

  16. “And eating more calories than you expend can increase body weight. But so what? Who doesn’t agree with those statements?”

    Gary Taubes doesn’t agree with that statement. He discusses this in Why We Get Fat…

    And, from my own experience, I don’t believe the calories-in/out paradigm is true either.

    1. The food you consume does have to go somewhere though. It will not magically disappear. Could you expand upon your point?

      1. My point is that it’s not about calories. Same as Taubes’. The metabolic process is not taken into consideration under the carlories-in/out paradigm. There is tons of info on this very site that covers this point.

        Problem is, once in a while a contradictory statement that supports calories in/out is made. 3000 calories of dietary fat and protein is going to processed vastly different than 2800 carbohydrate. I’ve done these tests on myself. Eat 1500 calories worth of Twizzlers a day and see if you don’t gain weight (hint, unless you’re running on a treadmill/doing ‘cardio’ for 2 hours a day, you likely will). Eat 2500 calories of dietary fat and protein and you won’t.

    2. Of course Taubes agrees with that statement! He’s said it plenty of times, but he just thinks the statement is meaningless. That there’s more to it and doesn’t explain anything. “The restaurant is crowded because more people go in than leave” – a true statement! But it doesn’t explain why. The reason being: probably because they aren’t getting full.

      1. I agree – it is meaningless. And meaningless things shouldn’t be said, hence I don’t know why the post’s author made a point to say it…

  17. Mark, kin of Grok – any chance you could look into how depression feels, ref: posts like these https://nedhardy.com/2013/02/26/brilliant-description-of-what-depression-is-like-clear-and-understandable-by-anyone/ and https://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

    If so, people like me who found relief in SOME ways, not all, by ditching the toxic grains we’re told are so awesome (I’m British) and chunking back up on animal fat might help a few folks who will find the article via search results?

    I’m an N=1 study but when I introduced sat’d animal fat back into my diet after 20+ years vegetarian (NOT vegan, I ate eggs & dairy) I experienced a massive change in my mindset, that was then stratospheric when I cut gluten, then all grains.

    I’ve been dealing with clinical depression since I was six (it wasn’t diagnosed or called that back then, but I know what was in my mind and what I was going through) and ONLY since I cut gluten have I felt reborn. And I’m 42!

    I could rant on, but won’t!

  18. What this article tells me more than anything is that Mark is in the enviable position of having intelligent, rational people around him. I wish I were so lucky. Upon reading this I realize I’m literally surrounded by creationists, vegans, numbskull personal trainers, and religous zealots. Try asking a creationist what you would feed a lion and have them look at you like, “what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?” Or better yet, explain the restaurant analogy to the long-time personal trainer who’s built their career on calories in vs. calories out.

    If anything I’ve resigned myself to including nutrition in the same category as politics and religion – conversational topics to be avoided at all costs!

    1. Pity me too – I live next to – yes – THAT Wasilla, nest-home of Sarah Palin. The horror, the horror.

  19. A creative take on nutrition but all these fast cars and crowded restaurants are making my mind swell! One point I will take away is that on top of the fundamental calories-in, calories out rule to being lean, content, if not King, is definitely Prince – where we get our calories from is pretty important and triggers how our bodies will respond to and handle those calories.

  20. Analogies are sometimes the best or only way to begin the conversation. I use a very simple analogy as a conversation starter:

    There are 31,000 calories in a gallon of gasoline. Why don’t we just drink gas for energy? (Response: Because it would kill us, we can’t digest it, etc.) So, if you accept that we can’t digest some forms of energy for fuel, is it so outrageous to think that maybe things like sugar aren’t meant to be digested either?

  21. I laugh within myself every time I see one of the new dog food commercial where the owner demands that the key ingredient is MEAT, not a corn or rice meal. Too bad they arrant demanding better meat from human consumption.

  22. The falicy I see about ruminants not eating meat (or chimpanzees, gorillas, etc.) is that none of those animals washes its food. Have any of you/us been in a jungle? or in a pasture? There are bugs EVERYWHERE. Chickens aren’t vegetarians either. In addition, so-called vegetarians in India (and elsewhere) probably aren’t completely vegetarian either. I believe Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” book has an account of a group of vegetarian people from India relocated to England and eventually began to get quite ill. It was discovered that in India, the food preparation was not as exacting as in England, and the group were, in fact, getting enough animal proteins for better health from bugs left in their ‘vegetarian’ meals. We had a very large, ‘organic’ garden when I was a child; my Dad always responded to the occasional discovery of a bug in the vegetables by saying go ahead and eat it, it’s free meat.

    1. “Chickens aren’t vegetarians either.”

      When you look into where chickens “come from” — it turns out they were wild *predator* birds in the forests! Just as they’re predators now, if they get the chance: chickens will kill and eat moles and mice and hell, kittens if they can catch one! — they came from predators! (Maybe think of them as teeny-little feathered BEARS!) (Yeah, okay, they’re omnivores, really — but so are bears!)

      It’s why I’m always so dismayed (well, disgusted, actually) at the “vegetarian-fed” labels on eggs and chicken meat! They’re (ha) “crowing” about how they cut the poor birds off their natural diet to prepare them for us to eat.

  23. Great analogies Mark. I have started taking the stance of Kurt Harris on trying to explain things to others: Do it for those who want to learn. Don’t argue with those who don’t. It’ll just make you tired.

    Keep up the good work y’all. To use an analogy: The more horses you lead to a different watering hole (ours), the once resistent horses will follow the rest of the herd….or become horse meat.

  24. When you are lean (AKA ‘hot’) clear skinned and smiling after having 4 babies, no one argues with your diet choices because they want to be you. Lead by example and people follow out of curiosity. No talk needed.

  25. Very interesting post, I liked especially the last analogy of the lions. I’m not strictly a carnivore as being Italian and living in Italy pasta, pizza and such cannot be forgotten but I think that a paleo diet is the way to go, as much as possible. As said above it’s how we ate for thousands years. Human beings are neither strictly carnivores nor vegetarians but omnivores, we just have to look at our teeth. As hunters-gatherers we ate everything we could put our hands on, so to speak.

    And an increased amount of meat, not proteins in general but real meat, is how we increased our height in the last fifty years, better food equals better body. Ok eggs usually beat even meat but that’s another matter.

    When talking with someone strictly vegetarian I usually explain my point not using the lion analogy but saying that cows live on grass because they have three stomachs, we have just one so that’s not for us; then I usually add that we humans to digest soy must treat it otherwise it just passes along without even being absorbed. Again for the three stomachs thing.

    But what really drives me nuts, if it’s correct English, is when I see vegetarian dogs food which are obviously made for owners and not for pets. 🙂

    1. I have been a pescetarian for two years, full vegetarian for 10 years before that, but did miss fish – hence I started eating it again. I don’t miss meat at all. I’m tall, slim and very fit and my diet is (in addition to loads of vegetables, salad and fruit) largely pasta, brown rice, wholemeal bread based… all the stuff that here in England we are told is the way forward for healthy eating – and we are certainly a slimmer nation than the USA if average weight is anything to go by, although looking around me, I think we are catching up fast!

      But the one bit of my body I’m not thrilled with is my spare-tyre around my middle, and all the stuff I’ve read suggests that is particularly caused by the type of carbs I live on. I am seriously considering going primal to see if that gets rid of it.

      My nine year old Labrador has been fed on good quality vegetarian dog food for most of his nine years, but recently I converted him to the BARF diet – raw meat and vegetables, and he’s become a healthier dog overnight. His “itching” has stopped (it wasn’t fleas, it was some unidentified allergy that the vet told me to “cure” using anti-histamines, which made him feel drowsy), his teeth are whiter, he has tons more energy and has stopped being obsessed with scavenging when we are out walking. He’s a million times happier eating what he evolved to eat – so I’m beginning to think the same might apply to me, even though I don’t have any food tolerance issues around grains.

  26. Excellent. I particularly enjoyed the hole digging analogy – I’m going to post it to one of my personal trainer friends; some of her clients appear to think too highly of chronic cardio.

    One nitpick about the one involving lions; I know this isn’t exactly relevant to the main point of the analogy (eat what you’re evolved to eat), but I wouldn’t preferably feed my lion meat – instead I would preferably feed her with whole freshly killed carcasses, from which she would take a lot of other things besides meat.

    Even regarding humans, I’m somewhat bothered about the whole concept of “eating meat”, as it oversimplifies the role and value of animal based nutrition. Eat the whole beast! 🙂

  27. The Pee Cake Analogy

    I came up with this analogy several years ago to try to explain to friends how I could so easily avoid processed foods without the need for any special will power. The more I learned about the questionable ingredients used in most processed foods, the more I simply did not WANT to eat the processed foods, no matter how tasty the food. Here’s the analogy…

    Imagine you’re at a friend’s house enjoying a piece of homemade cake. It’s absolutely delicious, the best you’ve ever eaten. You ask the friend for the recipe. The friend lists the ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Then the friend adds, “Oh yeah, and pee. I peed in the cake batter before baking the cake.” You immediately put down your fork. Just a moment ago it was the tastiest cake you ever ate. Now you don’t want to take another bite. The next time your friend serves cake you don’t take any. Even if everyone around you is eating the cake and saying how great it tastes you don’t need any special will power to avoid it. You simply don’t want it because you know what’s in it.

    The next time you pick up a package of some highly processed food, look at the ingredient list. It’s pee cake. Just walk away.


    1. Love it! Am still very tempted by yummy, awful-for-you baked goods. Hoping to remember this the next time I’m tempted – it may just help me be victorious! 🙂

    2. WOW. Thanks for this wonderful, graphic analogy… THAT will stick in their pointy little minds!!!

  28. Not exactly an analogy – but here’s the way I conceptualize the wisdom of paleo/primal eating.

    Human beings co-evolved with oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres, so we breathe oxygen-nitrogen. We “paleo breathe.”

    Human beings co-evolved with sunlight, so we exploit it to produce vitamin D, an essential pro-hormone. We “paleo-convert” sunlight.

    Human beings co-evolved with hunter-gatherer groups, so we incline toward socializing and forming bonds with groups. We “paleo-socialize” with others.

    And on, and on. Everything we do is paleo, so we should eat in a way that approximates paleo diets!

    I think the two reasons people miss these points are that 1) only about 1/4 of Americans even accept evolution (don’t get me started), and 2) those who do tend to think of an isolated person who evolves. Evolution is ALWAYS a whole-system phenomenon – in other words, every time one says the word “evolution” he or she could just as easily, and perhaps more accurately, say “co-evolution.” We are who we are because we evolved WITHIN systems of inputs, supports, stressors, etc. It is, in fact, just a linguistic and conceptual convention to make any division whatsoever between humans and ecosystems. Once you start seeing them as the same thing, your life can become healthier, happier and generally more successful in pretty much every way.

  29. Instead of feeling guilt, embrace life and it’s circle and be grateful. Eat mindfully, choose produce (including plants and animals) with integrity.

    That’s how I made peace within myself over the eating meat drama. It worked for me.

  30. As you point out, biology is very complex. In medicine I am often assaulted by those promoting “evidence based medicine”. They won’t accept any approach not backed by RCTs. I think this is silly. These controlled trials typically only look at one variable and in biology there are countless variables that we don’t even know about. These types of studies can only answer narrow questions.

    That’s where evolutionary biology, empiric science and common sense come in. Making observations in the real world has been a part of science since the ancient Greeks. Entire fields like astronomy get along just fine without and RCTs.

    A Paleo approach is based on the wisdom of Mother Nature. As my mother always used to say, don’t mess with Mother Nature!

  31. As a teacher, I really enjoy the analogies you’ve listed here and would like to see more in future articles. I especially liked the one about the lion…we all really are animals, thank you for pointing that out.

  32. “Humans are animals, too. …. If you accept that the biology of animals, like lions, functions best on ancestral, evolutionary diets, wouldn’t the same likely be true for humans?”

    Scientifically humans are fish. Fish and reptiles are our ancestors too. Looks like you are cherry picking.