Why I’ll never be Paleo, and healthism can bog off


Starting week 5 of AIP tomorrow and let me tell you, I can’t see the end of it soon enough.

Yesterday was a busy day. Darla and I had a lovely market stall at the Canberra Hustle and Scout Twilight Markets. This was held for the first time at a gorgeous old 1930s hangar near the airport. It was a good day: great to spend the time with Darla. We did okay sales-wise and all was well, although extremely tiring in spite of the fact that Darla and her husband did all the hard schlepping and loading and unloading.

And then I got to the end of the day. AIP being the complicated thing it is, there was no way I could buy lunch there, and I knew I wouldn’t get home until 9 pm, so I had to prepare lunch and dinner in advance. Lunch was okay – veg soup and fruit. Not filling, but to be honest I’m getting used to being hungry a lot of the time.

But when I was driving home that night, bone-weary and utterly spoonless, all I could think about was food. I was ravenous but I was also desperate for something comforting and hot and rib-sticking. Let’s face it: I wanted my go-to, ‘it’s-late-I’m-tired-give-me-food-now’ meal of a toasted sandwich and a cup of nice black tea with soy milk. Comforting and satisfying, hot, not too filling and quick to make and eat, so I could get to bed earlier.

And what I had was salad and cold chicken.

Nothing wrong with these things, of course. I make a pretty damn good shredded salad, if I do say so myself *. It had carrot, celery, peeled broccoli stems **, cabbage and a simple olive oil and cider vinegar dressing. The chicken was marinated and poached in lemon juice and tarragon. It was lovely food.

But it wasn’t a bloody toasted sandwich. It was cold, and it was not what I wanted. And the Captain was having a lovely hamburger. He had intended to eat it before I got home but in fact I walked in just as he was taking a lovely hot satisfying bite.

It took me a good 45 minutes to slowly masticate my cold salad and by the time I was finished I was both full and still hungry. Essentially unsatisfied. Then I had to have a herb tea, which while lovely was also fundamentally unsatisfying.

I went to bed hungry, cold and generally cranky with the world.

© Benchart | Dreamstime.com - Vintage Angry Bomb Character Photo

I know that in terms of what many many people have to deal with, this is terribly minor stuff but at the time it was meaningful to me. I should have been grateful to have food at all. I should have been grateful to have access to lovely fresh food, plus the time and the skills to make it. I should have enjoyed my lovely repast and been thankful and gone to bed a satisfied person – but I didn’t.

And this morning all I wanted for breakfast was an egg and I didn’t have that either. Nothing wrong with the breakfast I did have, mind you – it just wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I did what my nutritionist recommended, and did some looking around paleo websites searching for inspiration in the form of information and recipes for AIP. Ideally I would have found a few new recipes to try, which usually makes me happy. Sadly, it just reiterated something I’ve been considering for some time, when it comes to the paleo food fad.

I can’t bear that elitist rubbish.

This is such a pity, because if grains and so forth turn out to be problematic for me, I may end up on a permanent version of something that looks very much like a paleo diet.

Not sure if I could stand that label though.

As I said earlier, I have no real issues with anybody wanting to eat the way they want to eat. Paleo, vegan, raw, purest fast food – whatever floats your boat. We’re all human, we all get to make our own choices. And I know a few people who eat paleo who are lovely and do it for their own reasons and this is all good.

But I have also met plenty of people who are holier-than-thou, fanatical … try-hards about it, and I feel that this is a very prevalent thing in the ‘paleo community’.

And what – are they all privileged, white hipsters ***? Seriously, have you seen the majority of those websites? It’s all about the able-bodied youthful white athletes with barrels of money, dressing in expensive pastel separates and cooking organic superfoods with their 2.4 perfect children and using their Thermomixes and taking witty ‘off-the-cuff’ photos at crazy angles with lots of soft lighting and congratulating themselves 24/7 on their general slightly-crusty perfection.


AHAHAHAHAAAAA we’re so rich and we’re laughing with salad!

In fact I did some consulting with Prof. Google, and there are plenty of paleo devotees who don’t fit this mold – but I am not the only one to have noticed the prevalence of a certain type of person.

And this is not somebody I wish to be. The main reason being that I do not in any way identify with their all-consuming focus on the Almightly Health.

Be warned: I am about to get political.

When did being healthy assume the status of morality? There is a horribly pervasive thing in society at the moment that WE MUST ALL BE HEALTHY at all times, and that HEALTH is some magical state of permanent perfection that we must all attain at all cost.

If you haven’t noticed, start paying attention. You’ll see it everywhere. Somehow along the years, being healthy went from being a nice thing that it is a good thing to aim for, to the Ultimate Challenge of Citizenship! Be Healthy Or Be Ostracized!

It has a name, you know. It’s called ‘healthism‘ and it was recognised over 30 years ago. Read more about it here and here, if you wish.

The things that annoy me about this healthist approach to life, are that it is indeed a) predominantly a privileged white thing, and b) it is completely non-achieveable by a significant proportion of the population. In fact, it goes so far as to intersect with ableism.

In my opinion, the health-obsessed people who believe that you have to eat a certain way, and move a certain way, and look a certain way, and live a certain lifestyle, in order to view yourself as a morally-superior human, are definitely healthist-bordering-on-ableist.

I doubt they’d look at it that way. Ask them if they think they are superior to somebody with a disability, and I’m guessing they’d be shocked and horrified. At the same time, however, I doubt they’d put too much effort into thinking about how their healthy-moralising affects the daily lives of disabled/sick/chronically ill people. And I have a sneaking suspicion that these are the types of people who divide disabled/sick/chronically ill people into two camps: the ‘inspirational!!!!!’ camp and the ‘did-it-to-themselves-no-sympathy’ camp: nothing in between.

In fact, this obsession with Being Perfectly Healthy is pretty damn hard on people who aren’t. Everywhere, all the time, nothing but reminders of why its BAD to be unhealthy, and why it’s YOUR FAULT if you’re not perfect – all over the place. Every day.

See, this is how I view health.

‘Health’ is nice to have, sure. (It is especially nice if you have the capacity to aim for it.) It’s also nice to have access to information on things that might improve general health. I believe very strongly in public health education, and I value getting access to work being done by scientists and medical people that can help me make considered decisions for myself.

But I think there is far too much emphasis on individual responsibility for health. I don’t see a lot that takes into account social or other factors in health. After all, not everybody can afford a gym membership. Not everybody has access to locally-grown organic produce. Not everybody has time to cook. Not everybody knows how. Not everybody trusts doctors. This is all a bit simplistic but the fact is that for many, many different and perfectly valid reasons, there are people who can not or will not follow public health advice.

Also, health is not an absolute state. Hardly anybody is ‘healthy’ their entire lives, unless they are really super-lucky (or unlucky). People get sick. People get injured. People have off-days. Somebody might believe they are at their absolute peak of health and fitness, yet be incubating something nasty. Incredibly fit, healthy-seeming people get struck down by diseases and misfortune, all the time. Other people live lives of illness and misery, yet go on to die peacefully in their sleep at an advanced old age. We’re being asked to achieve ‘health’ as though it is a perfect unchanging state over which we have complete control, and really, nothing could be further from the truth.

Is being healthy a moral imperative? Crikey I hope not! Certain people seem to think that we owe it to society to be as fit and healthy as we possibly can, so that we aren’t a burden or a drain on society. Does that mean that we should blame the sick, disabled or injured for society’s ills? Or do we only put the blame on people who choose not to lead what we regard as ‘healthy lifestyles’? What about people who get injured or sick doing ‘healthy’ things (exercising, going on fad diets)? What do we think of people who don’t prioritise their own health? Do they deserve to be treated with less respect, or be forced to pay more? What about other things those people might focus on instead of their own health? People who, for example, eat a lot of junk food because they are busy trying to earn a living, or care for others? Or people who refuse to exercise because they are depressed, anxious or fearful?

I hardly think these things are so black-and-white as certain people would like to make out.

Of course, I say all this as somebody who is not healthy. I have chronic illnesses and chronic pain. While I may one day gain a certain level of control of some of my pain, my autoimmune illnesses are currently incurable. I have gone through frequent periods of being non-contributing to society as a result.

I’m putting a lot of effort into my health at the moment because pain is vile and destroys my quality of life. If I choose to eat well and exercise and all that, I do it for my own reasons. I certainly don’t do it because it’s expected of me by society. I think society in general can expect me to be a decent citizen and obey rules, and to contribute in various ways. Being Fit And Healthy For The World had better not be one of those expectations, because – just like you – I have limited control over these things.

I do not look the way Society wants (I’m fat). I do not act the way Society wants (I’m childless). This causes me quite enough angst already, thanks very much.

Stuffed if I’m going to Join the Dark Side and become a health-obsessed, elitist clone who looks down on people who Don’t Eat Organic or eat ‘evil’ things like gluten or margarine (gasp!)

I’m going to continue taking my Evil Drugs by Big Pharma – well, why wouldn’t I? These are the only things that allow me to lead a semi-normal life. I’m going to drink a coffee in the morning even if it is an evil legume-based product. I have no intention of giving up certain cultural foods that are part of joyful occasions: not forever, unless I develop allergies or similar. And then I’ll just find a substitute.

I’m going to use this AIP self-imposed purgatory to find out what my own body is able to tell me, and then when I have that information, I am not planning to join the ranks of the thin white healthist laughing-at-salad hipsters who use appalling phrases like ‘eat clean’ or ‘eat real’. I intend to use the information instead to make measured decisions about what I want balanced against how I feel and what I’m willing to deal with.

So don’t expect me to become a paleo person. It’s just not me.



* And I am completely unbothered by modesty.

** Don’t knock this until you’ve tried it. Peeled shredded broccoli stems make a fabulous salad ingredient.

*** Yes, I am indeed privileged and white (definitely not a hipster) but I don’t have to be proud of it – and I’m not, particularly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s