As we are all coming off the high of this insanely partisan Presidential election, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the equally partisan views that many folks have between the two big fringe dietary models of our current time: Paleo and Vegan.
For those of my readers who may not be familiar, I’ll take a moment here to explain my understanding of the differences between these two diets. Veganism is almost exclusively a plant-based diet, utilizing the carbohydrates that vegetables, fruits and grains provide for energy, with the added proteins and fats from nuts, legumes and fatty plants such as avocados. Vegans stay away from any animal product, protein or meat, including by-products such as milk, eggs, cheese and animal-derived oils. They also generally avoid heavily processed items, anything that has so many ingredients that it stops becoming real food.
The Paleo, or Caveman diet is often construed to be the opposite of Vegan. By definition, it is not at all. The Paleo diet contains any food that is naturally derived and completely unprocessed – that is, anything that would have been consumed throughout most of human history as we evolved to what we are today. This diet contains all forms of unprocessed meat (preferably grass-fed and not drugged-up), fruits, vegetables, eggs and nuts, and strays away from processed animal by-products like milk and cheese. Paleo also excludes any form of grain – wheat, oats, rice – because it must be processed for consumption. Legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts) and potatoes are also out because they were not a part of the diet early on in human evolution.
The reason I titled this post as such is that the people who follow one of these diets tend to feel strongly for their choice, at the total expense of the other. For example, earlier this year I decided to try a 30-day Paleo challenge, and was subsequently chewed out by a Vegan friend on Facebook. Fact and fiction alike was littered about the conversation, and there was even some namecalling. It felt like a political campaign, or hell…even a little like a religious argument.
Personally, I find that I generally tend to stay away from the side of any argument that feels dogmatic to me, and lean toward the side that feels more based in historical or empirical evidence. This is probably why I tend to lean left in my political beliefs, and non-denominational in my thoughts about life after death.
While both Veganism and Paleo tote around plenty of evidence for bringing on good health, and even though, like most religions, they aren’t all that different from each other if you look at the fine print, there’s just something more dogmatic to me about Veganism.
In my experience, many people who promote Vegan eating do it for moral or ethical reasons (i.e. meat is murder). Now, certainly this is not the case for all Vegans, but there is a good portion of that argument in there, anytime you touch on the subject. Conversely, Paleo devotees almost exclusively follow the diet for health and well-being, discarding the subject of morality entirely. I’ve always leaned toward the Paleo way of thinking because in my opinion, the nourishment of my body has nothing to do with ethics or kindness to animals (or plants either, for that matter). Coyotes eat rabbits because their bodies are evolved to need them. Cows eat grass for the same reason. I like to take my cues from science and evolution. But hey that’s just me, and this is my blog.
That said, I have seen some excellent empirical arguments made recently by friends of mine for the Vegan diet, laced with interesting anecdotal evidence (my favorite kind, heh). It’s times like these where I appreciate the sort of people I surround myself with because they are generally open-minded and intelligent, which is an excellent combination of qualities, especially because I love to learn from people and be inspired to think differently. Many of my smart, science-y friends have been testing (and loving) the Vegan diet for its ability to cleanse the body of toxins and promote overall good health. Most of them are runners as well, and they have boasted huge improvements in their performance since switching to the plant-based diet. And probably the best news of all, each of them has reported significant weight loss where needed.
Being that Paleo has always been the better fit for my political compass, I resisted these findings for quite some time. Sure you can go on a Vegan diet for awhile, but how long until you just need to go chew on an animal? How long can you really resist the general diet of the average human in 2012? Other than for out-of-the-ordinary people like Scott Jurek or Pat Sweeney, Vegan always seemed more temporary to me than even the likes of other diet systems like Weight Watchers, Atkins or South Beach. There’s just so much you have to take out of your diet, it just didn’t seem worth bothering.
But I’ve come to a crossroads. I’m struggling emotionally and physically with the weight that I’ve gained in the last four years. I don’t like the way I look in my clothes (or out of them). I run anywhere from 10-30 miles per week, I fill my house with all sorts of high quality foods, yet I still struggle with losing this extra weight. And I believe that the extra weight is the only thing keeping me from my running goals. Genetically pre-dispositioned, I’ve been somewhat overweight for most of my life and even though I’ve been moderately successful on some low-calorie diets before, I’m tired and bored of them. I need a different challenge, I think. It might be possible that going Vegan for awhile could offset that boredom enough to help me discard that unnecessary weight.
So I’m putting some thought into switching to Vegan temporarily, at least until the Across the Years 24-hour race that I just signed up for. I’m thoroughly ecstatic for this race, but I’ve been worried that my body isn’t up for the same challenge that my mind is itching for. It’s possible that changing my eating habits now, just shy of two months beforehand, could bring my body closer to meeting that challenge.
I’m not promising anything, I think, but I’m putting some serious consideration into the idea. I expect I’ll have my decision made by the end of this week. I welcome any thoughts or advice that my readers may have on the subject. Especially the free-of-politics kind.
- An Ultra-Marathon and the Paleo Diet (barefoot-monologues)