By: Jason Thurlkill
One day I’m going to get run-over by all the guys wearing Vibram FiveFingers at my gym. I first noticed the minimalist shoes about a year ago. What started with a few footwear pioneers is mainstream workout wear. Paleo-Primal living is following the same trajectory: Once a whisper, now it’s a tribal roar.
More people hear the noise. In 2011, Greatist.com ranked Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf in the top 40 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness. At the time of this post, The Paleo Solution ranked in the Amazon.com Top 150, while The Primal Blueprint cracked the Top 500. Several Paleo cookbooks (Make it Paleo, Well Fed) also ranked high in niche categories. This past spring hundreds attended the first-ever Paleo f(x) conference in Austin. The upcoming Ancestral Health Symposium is sold out. Even political commentator Andrew Sullivan is on board. What’s fueling all this interest?
People want to reconnect with nature. Part of the Paleo-Primal appeal is its back-to-basics approach to eating, playing, resting, and moving. Numerous studies indicate that we’re living like atoms: We socialize less, make fewer phone calls, and spend too much time online. Much of American life—our food, pop culture, and means of communication—seems pre-packaged, manufactured, even unnatural. By emphasizing unprocessed food, full-body movement, and socialization, a Paleo-Primal outlook grounds anxious, alienated folks who want more authenticity and less artifice.
People want to take control of their lives. I’ve noticed many Paleo-Primal enthusiasts are libertarians. That makes sense. After all, while there are many things we can’t control, one thing we can is what we eat. Amid economic and geopolitical uncertainty, people are searching for anchors. The Paleo-Primal method offers practical solutions and take-charge individualism.
Fewer people trust elite or conventional wisdom. As National Journal recently reported, Americans have lost faith in many institutions. It’s not surprising some health-conscious people are bucking experts who dole out status quo advice like eating less fat and more whole grains.
A large segment of the population doesn’t trust authority figures right now. In this respect, the environment has a sixties’ counter-culture feel. Instead of peace-ins and communes, consumers demand pastured animal products and wild-caught fish. The fact many health experts criticize the Paleo-Primal diet only motivates more people to check it out.
It makes intuitive sense. A diet rich in complete proteins, vegetables, and healthy fats simply sounds like something humans were designed to eat. Tofu “burgers” and Doritos Locos Tacos? Not so much.
Results. It’s hard to look at someone like Tara Grant, who shed lots of weight and health problems, and not think a Paleo-Primal lifestyle suits some people very well. Not everyone will end up looking like a mop-topped Mark Sisson, but most Paleo-Primal folks I meet look fit. When I see “before and after” photos of people on other popular diets, they often look “skinny fat”. When I see Paleo-Primal eaters lose weight, they look lean and mean.
It’s clear some consumers are looking for a different, vibrant mode of living. Adhering to Paleo-Primal living isn’t without challenges, but for many it can satisfy their hunger.
Jason Thurlkill reported for The Hotline and a New York Observer publication. Previously, he worked for a Washington D.C. political and communications consultancy. His writing has appeared in TheAtlantic.com, Chicago Tribune, TexasMonthly.com, New Geography, and other publications. As a speaker support team member at Paleo f(x), he worked with a number of best-selling authors and presenters