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Does eating paleo stimulate agression and violence?

by (273)
Updated October 22, 2014 at 3:06 AM
Created October 13, 2010 at 4:35 AM

This has been a question that I hear asked all the time as a yoga teacher surrounded by vegetarians. Hunter Gatherers definitely had to have an aggressive tendency that could be purely construed as survival instinct in order to hunt and think on their feet. There are arguments which may be quite unfounded against paleo eating stated by the yoga community,state that eating animal protein increases testosterone and violent tendencies. I personally feel that eating animals is in the natural cycle of things, and that paleo is the most healthy and scientifically fit way to live and eat for the most part, but can see how life percieved through the eyes of some would be more peaceful but possibly less interesting without violence and aggression in some form, if we could somehow get optimal nutrition from agriculture. Thoughts?

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78422 · March 19, 2011 at 12:49 AM

Estrogen dominance makes me feel a lot more violent:) Try constant PMS due to this condition. It"s one of the reasons I decided to go paleo and I hope it helps resolve it.

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19220 · October 16, 2010 at 7:20 PM

There was no career ladder in the paleolithic...

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803 · October 16, 2010 at 5:47 PM

I can't find something I read recently that talked about a lack of crime in a specific native/HG culture. I'm thinking it was somewhere in Oceania - though I recall thinking about Canadians not locking their doors, as "discovered" by Michael Moore (and I hear they've been locking up ever since). Anyone remember reading about this?

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273 · October 14, 2010 at 11:17 PM

Yoga hippie idiocy is a pretty strong way of putting it. Most of the arguments against paleo a coming from the yoga angle are negligible, but there are some vegan and veg yoga hippie fighters and lifters who have strong success in what they do. Maybe the success is just genetic though.

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2399 · October 14, 2010 at 5:50 AM

Women and men should be equal but NOT the same. As far as biology goes there, I think our sex is determined somwhere around the 8th week. Girls get estrogen, boys get testosterone. And yes agression is unfeminine.

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4896 · October 14, 2010 at 1:33 AM

this is really not an argument. As much as I don't agree with the notion of eating meat=more aggression, Hitler wouldn't be able to attack or hurt anyone personally, I strongly doubt that. He poisoned others to boil their hatred enough to kill any compassion.

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2369 · October 13, 2010 at 11:36 PM

On the other hand, I have seen a completely vegetarian bull be quite aggressive. ;)

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0 · October 13, 2010 at 11:32 PM

+1 >Pretty sure Lierre Keith will agree that there are some horribly aggressive veg*ns out there...

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273 · October 13, 2010 at 7:56 PM

thanks for the article Carissa

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273 · October 13, 2010 at 7:55 PM

This question was meant to be more of an opportunity to reflect on a vegetarian/yogic view that I feel is completely unfounded and based in man-made agricultural religion. I believe that agression is a natural and necessary component of a happy and succesful existence. The avoidance of aggression if it is just an escape from the reality of nature is based completely in fear and leads nowhere

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273 · October 13, 2010 at 7:55 PM

I am feeling much more sharp and focused since being paleo, and also feel intimately in touch with my blood sugar levels which were were fluctuating dramatically on the vegetarian diet that is typically recommended in Hinduism for yoga practice and general living.

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 7:54 PM

@JohnnyR: I'm afraid that I'm from Ontario, so can't really speak as to Pennsylvania. But in terms of how to do it, you're going to need a hunting license; your state department of natural resources is probably a good place to start for that. Also, you'll need a gun; I have no idea what PA's gun laws are like, but I'm sure the NRA can help you out there.

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 7:52 PM

@Mark: thanks. It's on my Amazon wishlist.

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273 · October 13, 2010 at 7:48 PM

since beginning to eat paleo, I have wanted to get more in touch with the sources of what I eat, do you have any reccomendations on resources for a complete novice to hunting in Pennsylvania?

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350 · October 13, 2010 at 6:36 PM

Many vegetarians think about as well as the food they eat. Why is aggression automatically a negative thing? Seems to me our overly permissive and increasingly estrogenic culture could use a shot of aggression once in a while. Get fired up, lift something heavy, climb a tough mountain, eat some animal flesh and feel human again!!

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1676 · October 13, 2010 at 6:13 PM

Book recommendation: In Defense of Hunting, James A. Swan. Thoughtful hunters will LOVE it.

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 3:51 PM

Good point on the distinction between violence and aggression.

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 3:24 PM

I'll second the positive mood effects of Paleo. I work in a very high-stress, high pressure job, and in the past have frequently had anxiety and depression issues requiring medication as a result. These days, now that I'm eating Paleo and doing the Primal Blueprint Fitness thing, I feel great; much calmer, much more able to handle things without anxiety. I hadn't really thought of it, but maybe I should add anxiety to diabetes and obesity to the list of Diseases of Civilization Paleo has fixed for me.

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 3:16 PM

Let them seethe.

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643 · October 13, 2010 at 2:41 PM

Oh, and most of the vegans that I have had contact with are aggressive and intolerant. Seriously.

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643 · October 13, 2010 at 2:41 PM

I have to add that like the aforementioned mother, I am much more agreeable, calm, and upbeat about things when eating paleo/primal. I used to be know as moody and have had family members point out that I am much more even keeled these days and they have no idea why.

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2604 · October 13, 2010 at 2:29 PM

I can just picture a vegan reading your (very good) answer and seething...

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20411 · October 13, 2010 at 2:21 PM

I have been diagnosed as hypogonadal for 2 years and have been taking Androgel (testosterone) since. When I first started taking it, I did a lot of research on the effects and side effects. Testosterone is *not* strongly correlated with aggression or violent behavior. in fact, amonst prison populations, the most violent had low levels of testosterone! (Probably just cranky.)

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20411 · October 13, 2010 at 2:20 PM

I have been diagnosed as hypogonal for 2 years and have been taking Androgel (testosterone) since. When I first started taking it I did a lot of research on the effects/side effects. Testosterone is not strongly correlated with aggression or violent behavior. in fact, amonst prison populations, the most violent had low levels of testosterone! (Probably just cranky.)

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275 · October 13, 2010 at 12:55 PM

I think the idea of aggression also stems from the adrenaline produced by the animals just prior to the slaughter, which is still in the meat as we consume it. As far as studies to support this idea, I don't know of any... However, as a fellow Yoga Teacher, I thought you might enjoy this article on Ahimsa... http://www.yogauntwisted.com/yoga/doing-more-harm-than-good/ From one Paleo Yogi to another ;0)

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1676 · October 13, 2010 at 12:00 PM

Do the vegetarian yogis offer any evidence that eating meat increases aggression? Anthropological studies of HGs, perhaps? This sounds like another vegan-style ad hominem attack against those with different views. And are YOU feeling more aggressive and violent since starting paleo?

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1215 · October 13, 2010 at 11:50 AM

There is nothing wrong with a bit of male aggression. Unfortunately many guys in the new-agey / self-help world deny their own masculinity. So what if you get a bit more testosterone from eating meat. I think it's a good thing.

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10294 · October 13, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Great answer. I forgot about those prison omega 3 thing.

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2520 · October 13, 2010 at 6:17 AM

Or before you throw a pepper-laced cream pie...

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2520 · October 13, 2010 at 6:16 AM

And also, I definitely second that blood glucose swings impact mood a lot more significantly than meat consumption. I used to be 95% vegetarian for want of cooking facilities whilst living at University, and I know I was pretty awful to be around sometimes - snapping at people, yelling and sulking and throwing things in confrontations, and panicking wildly if I started feeling hungry... These meat-heavy days, I'm only likely to be short tempered once a month (and guess which day that might be, ladies...).

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2520 · October 13, 2010 at 6:13 AM

Pretty sure Lierre Keith will agree that there are some horribly aggressive veg*ns out there...

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20787 · October 13, 2010 at 5:03 AM

I don't know if I would agree with the aggressive tendency issue. In the paleo times, people did not have hospitals nor beds they could lie in for 4 months at a time to recover. Most likely, avoiding injury would have been even more important for them than for us and acting irrationally would have had much more severe consequences on average. The smart survivalist does not take unnecesary risks.

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Ce0b5fd94b1034e96cf710b6f138c29d
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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 1:17 PM

As a hunter, I can report that hunting doesn't make you any more aggressive, and in fact, is a remarkably non-aggressive practice. While I have quite literally blown the head off a rabbit with a shotgun (10' is too close with a no'6 heavy game load out of a 12-ga. with modified choke), I wouldn't dream of doing the same to a human being (barring the usual morally and legally extenuating circumstances). Aggressive behaviour against your fellow human beings has nothing to do with your natural predatory behaviour. And a lot of hunters, myself included, will tell you that the actual killing is a very small part of the hunt, and feel a great deal of empathy with the prey.

To put things into perspective, the aforementioned rabbit died instantly. At the velocity those pellets were travelling there was no way it could have felt anything. But seeing it flop around from reflex nerve action, its outline all wrong, made me feel pretty awful. Even knowing it was a perfectly humane kill.

It was very tasty, though.

It is entirely possible to have a capacity for exercising lethal violence and only exercise it in a controlled, moral, disciplined, productive manner. It is an entirely different thing from being aggressive. You should check out your local dojo or shooting range sometime to get a feel for what I mean. I'm relatively recent to hunting and the shooting sports; I started about five years ago. Having invested a lot of time and money and effort into becoming a competent shot, and having killed dinner rather a lot, I can say that if anything I am calmer and more confident in my personal life, and even less likely to resort to violence than I was previously (which given that I haven't struck another human being since the third grade, is saying a lot).

We're evolved from a long line of people who were really good at killing dinner with tools. In fact, I'm inclined to say that we might even instinctively like it.

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 3:16 PM

Let them seethe.

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1676 · October 13, 2010 at 6:13 PM

Book recommendation: In Defense of Hunting, James A. Swan. Thoughtful hunters will LOVE it.

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2604 · October 13, 2010 at 2:29 PM

I can just picture a vegan reading your (very good) answer and seething...

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 7:52 PM

@Mark: thanks. It's on my Amazon wishlist.

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273 · October 13, 2010 at 7:48 PM

since beginning to eat paleo, I have wanted to get more in touch with the sources of what I eat, do you have any reccomendations on resources for a complete novice to hunting in Pennsylvania?

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 7:54 PM

@JohnnyR: I'm afraid that I'm from Ontario, so can't really speak as to Pennsylvania. But in terms of how to do it, you're going to need a hunting license; your state department of natural resources is probably a good place to start for that. Also, you'll need a gun; I have no idea what PA's gun laws are like, but I'm sure the NRA can help you out there.

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20787 · October 13, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Eating paleo, eating healthy, and avoiding toxins have all been shown to help prevent low testosterone. I do not think it's healthy to keep testosterone unnaturally low in men, for whatever reason. If I were a man, I would not look to unnaturally low levels of testerone as a preferred mechanism of behavior control.

All that being said, my mother, who has long had a tendency to extreme moodiness and grouchiness, is MUCH nice now that she has gone paleo. I can't believe the improved level of energy and niceness she is exhibiting. I would not have thought it possible! Most people I know who have gone towards paleo eating have 'just' felt better, lost weight, etc, but for my mother, it's made a big improvement in her agreeableness in general, just the opposite of what the vegetarians are apparently saying.

Another thing to consider, insulin is well known for inhancing aggressiveness (it's a hormone after all) and hypoglycemia is well known for making people obnoxious and crabby. Diabetics heading towards dangerously too low blood sugars have been well known to sometimes become dangerous and deranged in their behavior as their brain is starved of glucose. High carb diets cause both high insulin levels and increased chance of insulin overswing leading to hypoglycemia.

I have known plenty of vegetarians and vegans who were kind to animals but pretty darned militant and confrontational about some other things, so personally, I do not think there is any significant merit to their accusations that paleo or meat eaters are any more militant than other segments of the population. Then again, if a person is sick and light headed and without much energy, that may also contribute to less confrontations. The more you lay down in bed and do nothing, the less trouble you are likely to get into! ;-)

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643 · October 13, 2010 at 2:41 PM

Oh, and most of the vegans that I have had contact with are aggressive and intolerant. Seriously.

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643 · October 13, 2010 at 2:41 PM

I have to add that like the aforementioned mother, I am much more agreeable, calm, and upbeat about things when eating paleo/primal. I used to be know as moody and have had family members point out that I am much more even keeled these days and they have no idea why.

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2520 · October 13, 2010 at 6:13 AM

Pretty sure Lierre Keith will agree that there are some horribly aggressive veg*ns out there...

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 3:24 PM

I'll second the positive mood effects of Paleo. I work in a very high-stress, high pressure job, and in the past have frequently had anxiety and depression issues requiring medication as a result. These days, now that I'm eating Paleo and doing the Primal Blueprint Fitness thing, I feel great; much calmer, much more able to handle things without anxiety. I hadn't really thought of it, but maybe I should add anxiety to diabetes and obesity to the list of Diseases of Civilization Paleo has fixed for me.

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2520 · October 13, 2010 at 6:16 AM

And also, I definitely second that blood glucose swings impact mood a lot more significantly than meat consumption. I used to be 95% vegetarian for want of cooking facilities whilst living at University, and I know I was pretty awful to be around sometimes - snapping at people, yelling and sulking and throwing things in confrontations, and panicking wildly if I started feeling hungry... These meat-heavy days, I'm only likely to be short tempered once a month (and guess which day that might be, ladies...).

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0 · October 13, 2010 at 11:32 PM

+1 >Pretty sure Lierre Keith will agree that there are some horribly aggressive veg*ns out there...

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1215 · October 13, 2010 at 11:48 AM

I hope so! (kidding)

I think aggression and violence need to be kept separate. I know that the definition of aggression includes harm to others but right now I can't think of a better word to describe the 'dominant', 'assertive', 'go after what you want' male spirit.

There is no doubt that testosterone increases the 'male spirit / aggressiveness' which is not a bad thing in my opinion (as long as it doesn't hurt others).

Many guys feel more dominant, confident and assertive when they are in good shape and working out (because they have more testosterone in their body). They do better at their jobs, experience less fear, take more risks and are more confident with women.

It might well be correct that eating meat is one of the causes of 'aggression', but as I've said there's nothing wrong with that. Violence on the other hand is rarely justified.

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4089 · October 13, 2010 at 3:51 PM

Good point on the distinction between violence and aggression.

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4991 · October 13, 2010 at 8:11 AM

I am sure I read that research had been done suggesting that increasing the Omega 3 intake i prison populations massively decreased aggressive behaviour. In both Denmark and the UK - Wakefield prison springs to mind.

So - no.

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10294 · October 13, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Great answer. I forgot about those prison omega 3 thing.

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820 · October 13, 2010 at 5:28 AM

Yoga instructors or naturally insulated by their hosting civilization. They have falsely associated eating meat with aggression because they see vegetarians as generally eschewing violence. Of course, this is a false correlation. Vegetarians tend to be sensitive to the suffering of others, including animals, so they may drift towards eating fewer animals or no animals. However, there are violent vegetarians like those crazies associated with animal liberation or PETA. Hunter-gatherer and other primitive societies tend to be very kind and gentle and generous peoples and they eat as much meat as they can catch.

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10294 · October 13, 2010 at 7:33 AM

NO IT DOESN'T!!!!! F$*% YOU!!!!

;-)

I have read quite a lot of anthropological texts about hunter-gatherers in Africa (Bushmen, Pygmees and Hadza) and they all seem very non agressive and peaceful. Now I don't know if these HG's are representative, and I don't know if the texts I've read are 100% true.

Also, I don't think that agression makes a good hunter.

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803 · October 16, 2010 at 5:47 PM

I can't find something I read recently that talked about a lack of crime in a specific native/HG culture. I'm thinking it was somewhere in Oceania - though I recall thinking about Canadians not locking their doors, as "discovered" by Michael Moore (and I hear they've been locking up ever since). Anyone remember reading about this?

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129 · October 13, 2010 at 4:58 AM

Short answer: no. Long answer: probably a small correlation.

Yoga hippies' idiocy aside, I don't think there's any reason eating paleo should cause violent behavior. (This might not apply for those among you who believe in paleo re-enactment, instead of paleo-informed eating.) Food is food.

That said, paleo eating is conducive to better hormone levels, which for men means higher testosterone. Also, people who eat paleo are very likely to work out with heavy weights, which also stimulates testosterone production. While "roid rage" is a very overstated concept from the media, take it from me: when I have higher T levels, I know I'm more direct, aggressive in mindset (though not violent...), higher sex drive, all those things. It does affect you. That would probably lead to a small statistical increase in violence correlated with eating paleo.

But I wouldn't worry about it. Higher testosterone levels don't turn off your brain; you are still more than capable of acting rationally. Just think before you punch. :)

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2520 · October 13, 2010 at 6:17 AM

Or before you throw a pepper-laced cream pie...

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20411 · October 13, 2010 at 2:21 PM

I have been diagnosed as hypogonadal for 2 years and have been taking Androgel (testosterone) since. When I first started taking it, I did a lot of research on the effects and side effects. Testosterone is *not* strongly correlated with aggression or violent behavior. in fact, amonst prison populations, the most violent had low levels of testosterone! (Probably just cranky.)

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273 · October 14, 2010 at 11:17 PM

Yoga hippie idiocy is a pretty strong way of putting it. Most of the arguments against paleo a coming from the yoga angle are negligible, but there are some vegan and veg yoga hippie fighters and lifters who have strong success in what they do. Maybe the success is just genetic though.

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20411 · October 13, 2010 at 2:20 PM

I have been diagnosed as hypogonal for 2 years and have been taking Androgel (testosterone) since. When I first started taking it I did a lot of research on the effects/side effects. Testosterone is not strongly correlated with aggression or violent behavior. in fact, amonst prison populations, the most violent had low levels of testosterone! (Probably just cranky.)

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56616 · October 16, 2010 at 4:57 PM

According to one of my last boyfriends, it definitely does not. This was amply demonstrated by the time he snatched a muffin away from me and said "No, I can't have you becoming a monster again."

Yes, I was very guilty of being a monster when I was not paleo. I would get hungry quite easily and then become aggressive to the point that all attempts to fix the situation would be rebuffed by some fixation on a rare or unattainable foodstuff. Paleo has given me the stability to not be the monster picky girlfriend from hell. Blood sugar stability is king!

The bad thing about being paleo is I'm so un-aggressive that I don't really care about climbing the career ladder or being competitive. Oh well.

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19220 · October 16, 2010 at 7:20 PM

There was no career ladder in the paleolithic...

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193 · October 14, 2010 at 12:51 PM

No. I think a whole foods, nutrient dense diet will calm people down. People won't have any hypoglycemic-induced anger. People won't have any depression, social anxiety, and road rage. People will actually be calmer if people got rid of the food additives, MSG, and artificial chemicals which make them rage.

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4896 · October 14, 2010 at 1:17 AM

I have a few issues both with the statement (which I consider false) as well as with the line of "defense" coming from here. I remember reading (now who was it?) that NOT eating animals actually causes aggression because of some natural hormonal changes (sorry, I am not that good in this all). I remember even that the author joked that there is no surprise why all these vegetarian/green activists clash often violently with police (anti-globalization) or organize aggressive and violent attacks, in the name of "saving animals".

To be honest, I dont' know enough to have an opinion about the bio-chemical changes in our bodies. I know that I am much more mellow. But it might be also the meds I am taking ;-)

I am not hungry non stop. When I was hungry before going paleo, I could tear apart whatever was on my way. I had very short temper and my kids (I am a teacher) would drive me crazy. Now I can take really a lot of crap from people and stay in line, all zen. OF course that's totally anecdotal. But reading/watching about HG they seemed all pretty low in aggression, and even during hunt there was more focus, attention and thinking involved than some blood thirsty violence.

Another thing. Please, why go all the time with the tired stereotypes that aggression=male? That to be "more male" one must be more aggressive? And that there is no aggression with women or that it's somehow unfeminine? Aggression is a natural drive in our species, no difference the sex. It is used or expressed differently, may be triggered differently, but it's well there. Both sexes have testosterone, and I am pretty sure testosterone is not the only factor in the feelings of acts of aggression. We are talking biology here, not socialization of patriarchal society. Violence among/caused by women is very common, even among young girls. It's enough to take off the social expectations, or change them, and it's all up on the surface.

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2399 · October 14, 2010 at 5:50 AM

Women and men should be equal but NOT the same. As far as biology goes there, I think our sex is determined somwhere around the 8th week. Girls get estrogen, boys get testosterone. And yes agression is unfeminine.

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78422 · March 19, 2011 at 12:49 AM

Estrogen dominance makes me feel a lot more violent:) Try constant PMS due to this condition. It"s one of the reasons I decided to go paleo and I hope it helps resolve it.

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415 · October 13, 2010 at 3:35 PM

It's proven that eating vegitarian, especailly vegan, decreases testosterone. So in a relative sense, those eating paleo could be considered more agressive. What's really going on is that veg*s are just low on testosterone and are very passive. And really, what's so wrong with an appropriate amount of agressivness? When it comes to survival, you need some. Veg*s see agressivness as a negative. It's not. Just veg*n propaganda.

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106 · October 13, 2010 at 5:45 AM

I think the people you gained your information from misconstrued instinct with desire. We all have the instincts needed to eat fresh animal flesh from the bone, but not all of us have the desire to do that. If you were stuck in the wilderness with a bow and arrow, and you had the skills to use it, you would kill an animal, cook it in a fire, and eat it. It's not aggression that makes you want to do that, it's survival.

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22913 · October 19, 2010 at 11:17 AM

Sugar promotes a poor temper and aggressiveness with me, back during my food journal periods this was very clear.

Testosterone however makes me feel large and in charge, and not really violent.

cheating with sugar will cause road rage in a heartbeat for me. Also causes paranoid feelings

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641 · October 16, 2010 at 4:52 PM

I hang out a bit in yoga circles, too. There's a lot of "need to rid the whole world of violence" sentiment there. I don't have a problem with that, but if I join in a conversation, I try to point out the distinction between violence and animosity.

Carnivorous animals must employ violence in order to hunt and survive, but they do so with no animosity -- they don't hate the animal they're trying to kill. I think it would by much more useful to strive to "rid the whole world" of animosity, rather than violence. (Yes, I know this sentiment is just as futile as trying to rid the world of violence, but we can all dream, right?).

Judging from the conversations I've had, it seems to me that there are many people out there who would rather not give up the ability to feel animosity towards others. Sorry to say, but that makes them hypocrites in my mind.

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65 · October 13, 2010 at 7:20 PM

Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian perhaps best known for his lack of compassion.

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2369 · October 13, 2010 at 11:36 PM

On the other hand, I have seen a completely vegetarian bull be quite aggressive. ;)

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4896 · October 14, 2010 at 1:33 AM

this is really not an argument. As much as I don't agree with the notion of eating meat=more aggression, Hitler wouldn't be able to attack or hurt anyone personally, I strongly doubt that. He poisoned others to boil their hatred enough to kill any compassion.

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78422 · October 13, 2010 at 9:08 AM

when i lean out on a strict paleo (lamentably with consequent lapses into gluttonous debauchery) i do feel a great increase in self-confidence and a desire to be more self-assertive (testosterone?), domineering or even contemptuous towards other people (which may not be a particularly commendable trait per se) - and in those times i may very well (potentially) act more aggressively in situations where i otherwise would usually have yielded

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