Did you know that Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories a day?
Michael Phelps also dominates his sport and has won 22 Olympic medals.
Clearly if I start eating 12,000 calories a day I will also be a great swimmer.
Did you buy that? I hope not. That’s a pretty obvious example of how inferences can go bad quickly. But not all examples are that obvious, in fact you (and I) probably make similar mistakes on a daily basis.
How NOT to Convince Someone to Try Paleo
If you’re a regular reader of Solving Nutrition you were probably a bit confused by the title of this post. After all, I mostly eat Paleo, recommend trying Paleo. But this one issue in the way I’ve seen others try to justify Paleo is just wrong.
Answer this one question for me if you wouldn’t mind:
When you see someone struggling with weight and health issues that could benefit from changing their eating habits, what (if anything) do you tell them about Paleo?
Here’s the basic outline of what I see online and offline when people who are in favor of Paleo try to introduce someone else to it:
- We have evolved over millions of years to thrive on many foods (True)
- People used to be thin, fit and healthy, compared to modern society (More or less true)
- We should eat like our ancestors to be fit and healthy (Faulty Inference)
This is a classic case of misinterpreting correlation for causation.
Here’s What the Science Says
There are studies that have helped us narrow down the typical diets of people in the Paleolithic Era, and more importantly what they didn’t eat.
What there aren’t, unfortunately, are intervention studies with Paleo diets. There simply isn’t the funding for it, and not many places that it can come from.
Where Does This Leave Us
As I’ve written about before in Spotting Bullshit Science, you can’t make conclusions from observational studies. However, you can make a hypothesis from the information.
This leaves us with a hypothesis, that a Paleo-esque diet may be a good, or even an optimal diet for human health. Certainly many of you that still ascribe to a Paleo diet have also experienced positive changes in your health from this type of diet.
How Should This Change How You Talk About Paleo
There’s one small, but very important takeaway from this that some of you may have already figured out.
When you’re talking to someone about Paleo, don’t try to bullshit them into trying it. Don’t say “the scientific evidence backs it up?, because quite frankly it does not.
Present what we do know about our ancestor’s diet and lifestyle, and explain that this type of a diet is worth trying as a sort of self-experiment based on what we know. It may be a long time until there are sufficient intervention studies involving Paleo.
I’ve seen many examples of where switching to a Paleo diet has completely changed lives, so I can understand that it’s easy to get excited and passionate when talking about it. However, if you expect others to think and act rationally (about things like saturated fat not being bad for you), you owe the same to them.
So here’s my final request: If you’ve ever wrongfully explained Paleo to someone, with good or bad results, send them an email or give them a call and clear things up. Not only will it help their understanding, but it will help anyone else that they talk to about it.
If you don’t feel comfortable explaining it, or you think they could benefit from this article, please send it to them or share it using the buttons below.