How much do you trust "paleo" sources of information?

by (18909) Updated November 01, 2011 at 9:35 AM Created October 31, 2011 at 4:52 PM

Does the source of your information on diet and health determine how you accept the information?

Do you question and research into advice from paleo* online/book sources as you would from your Primary Care doctor or other conventional sources?

Particularly of advice from authority figures such as medical doctors. Many people following other dietary philosophies, such as vegans, will accept some terrible information from influential members of their community because they do not question the information; such as information about human anatomy and digestive systems that could easily be falsified with some independent research.

If you accept advice more readily form sources who share your views and biases do you think this may leave you open to misinformation and should we question information more?

*In this case "paleo" could include any related area of diet and health.

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12 Replies

13680 · October 31, 2011 at 7:01 PM

I agree with Rose regarding the element of faith. We could go on and on about how someone earns our trust and becomes a "guru" that we rely upon (e.g. formal training, letters before/after their name, personal life transformation story, etc). Peter at Hyperlipid says "no gurus". However my take is that there are gurus, but it is not a tenured position. It needs to be continually earned (or at least not lost).

Perhaps it will be more efficient "via negativa" to answer this question

  • Has he/she ever blatantly lied or falsified information?
  • Does the person make bold claims absent supporting information? I am not talking about cites for every last claim, but at least controversial ones.
  • Does he/she have a history of being litigious on blogs and forums with dissenting views?
  • Is he/she unwilling to consider alternate points of view?
  • Does he/she imply omniscience rather than acknowledging limitations of his/her knowledge?
  • Does the person engage in ad hominem attacks?
  • Does the person have an incoherent writing style? Genius that no one else can comprehend is not very useful.
  • Is the person emotionally unstable? This might seem odd but it is difficult to trust someone, even versed in science, that arguably needs to be institutionalized, or at least get some intensive therapy
  • Is the person respected by his peers? This is not synonymous with complete agreement on all points

I could go on. This is not the be all / end all list, just an off the cuff response to the question. Also, this is obviously not a black-white assessment - there are many shades of grey. But if a person fails enough of the questions, then one must consider the possibility that this person is doing more harm than good for our community.

Also, I do NOT think the argument "well, a lot of people have gotten healthier following his/her advice" holds water. People have gotten healthier following Ornish and Oz also. Correlation is not causation.

I think this is a great question Matthew. If Paleo ever reaches the tipping point, I hope the voices leading the community make us proud, not hold our head in shame.

Ghee, out...

11957 · October 31, 2011 at 5:09 PM

What an excellent question. For me, years of following standard weight-loss and health advice only to fail miserably have led me to mistrust just about everything. The final word for me is my own experience.

A case in point is when I tried zero-carb the first time, after a year-long stall on VLC. I was totally skeptical, and tried it only as a last resort, expecting fully to find that going from 20g/day to 2g/day of carbs would make no difference. Instead, I lost nearly 20 pounds, and felt wonderful. Even after that, though, I couldn't believe it, and went back to VLC, regaining weight and losing some of the health improvements I'd found. It was another year before I was willing to try again, despite my own success. I kept "explaining" the success away as being due to having been VLC long enough, and it was only when another year of VLC resulted in no further weight loss and continuing poor health that I realized I shouldn't eat plants, no matter who says what.

The same has turned out to be true for me in the "safe starches" debate. As much as I admire Paul Jaminet and some of his most ardent supporters, it simply hasn't worked for me in the two multi-week trials I gave it.

The downside of only trusting N=1 experience is that I tend to embrace theories that support my experience and dismiss those that don't. It makes me narrow, I suppose. However, I think I can say that I've only used Theory as a basis for trying certain approaches, and not for justifying my continued commitment -- the commitment comes out of experience, period. If my current approach stopped working, I'd change in a heartbeat.

And, of course, there are no guarantees of the long-term efficacy or safety of any approach, including any and all forms of "paleo." We're all ultimately acting on faith.

ETA: My skepticism of everything extends to peer-reviewed studies as well as proclamations from internet gurus. I seem to be different enough from the average obese middle-aged woman that even Atkins, which has been vindicated by a slew of recent studies, wasn't low-carb enough to do the trick for me. And anthropology fails me as well -- I'm clearly not a Kitavan, lol.

15964 · October 31, 2011 at 5:40 PM

I really like this question.

I try to research studies on the regular just to see if the things my gurus are saying jive with the science. But, as we know, so many studies are flawed from the start - whether it's bad science or whether the sponsoring agency is tainted by industry money.

That's one reason why I like to go with the advice given by people who work with real folks and achieve results. Some of these people may be doctors, some may not. I respect what Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson have to say because it seems like their advice is based on Both science and real world results.

One thing I have not done until recently (which made me slap my head in "DOH!" fashion) was research the patient reviews of doctors who give health advice. Seems reasonable to me that we use sites like this one: http://www.ratemds.com/ to look into our medical gurus just to see what their history with real life patients is like. It can be pretty enlightening.

2979 · October 31, 2011 at 7:29 PM

Me, I trust everybody AND nobody. I tend to believe a lot of what I read. After all, I'm not in a position to head into a lab with someone's research paper in hand, and try to experimentally validate every item contained. And there's no way I'm qualified to analyze every scientific article with the kind of scrutiny needed to prove it's right or wrong. Instead I trust some people, and use their wisdom to evaluate interesting claims. I'll also trust competing claims and theories, which keeps my eyes and ears open for actual truth.

A good example is VLC vs LC vs "hey ho hey ho the hell pass the honey pot hey ho." I trust the VLC voices here who give convincing arguments. I also trust Paul Jaminet of the Perfect Health Diet for a more carbs perspective. AND I even trust Ray Peat who pushes sugar in amounts that would make most people here fall down in shock. So what's the "truth"? I have no idea! But the more I read them, and listen to their (hopefully polite) discussions, the further into the truth I get.

In my view the Answers aren't decided yet - and probably never will be decided beyond a working approximation. So my goal is to go with what seems to be correct, but keep my mind open for new light.

Of course reputation matters to a degree - like in that review site Meredith posted above: one should tease out the "god this guy is awful!" meme from the "I don't believe him" comments- the former is an experience, the latter can happen when the envelope is pushed.

Ray Peat, Paul Jaminet and Ron Rosedale, btw, are good examples (out of many) in why I trust their voices - always the gentlemen, patiently explaining their ideas and not pushing any viewpoint with obvious self-aggrandizement. Paul is selling his book of course, but has never pushed it in an overt way yet has been more than generous with his time and attention. Ray Peat just keeps putting his ideas out there and any income he might get seems almost incidental to his work.

7300 · October 31, 2011 at 5:04 PM

To be perfectly honest, I don't question nearly as much as I should within the paleo community. When someone like Paul Jaminet or Stephan Guyenet cites a study for something that does not seem terribly controversial, I probably won't go follow it and try to find a loophole. I often go and read the study, or at least the abstract, but I don't pore over it for errors. Maybe I should, but at the moment I don't have enough time and I figure that there are smarter people than me doing that already. However, when I get studies from vegans trying to tell me why red meat has been silently killing me, I look up the studies immediately and do my best to dissect them.

So I guess I am more open to misinformation now, but I feel like I've gotten the basics down pretty well so its not one of my biggest concerns at the moment.

8848 · November 01, 2011 at 12:22 AM


Not really.

I did learn a lot about the erotic uses of coconut oil, though....

1652 · October 31, 2011 at 5:37 PM

I don't inherently trust paleo sources of information over other sources. Anecdotally, I find that paleo-minds question more than others. Perhaps paleo has taught me/others to question before we accept or trust information. In the end, science truly is an art - a difficult one at that.

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8187 · October 31, 2011 at 5:59 PM

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” — Buddha

I question (investigate, look into, look beyond surface) any health related claim that pertains to a practice I might consider putting into place for myself. I do so not with an assumption of suspicion; rather from a place of open-minded skepticism. The moniker "paleo" gives me no greater assurance about quality or reliability than "natural" or other nonsense terms used to promote products and practices.

As for trusting biases that conform to one's own biases: huge margin for error in that. Hence even Buddha's suggestion is not fool-proof. For often my "own common sense" has been mistaken, and my reasoning flawed. It has taken me a while to realize I have an innate conservative impulse with respect to health stuff, specifically with respect to potential interventions aimed at improvement and progress. Precisely because I take self-responsibility seriously and believe lifestyle decisions and personal behaviors are crucial, I don't undertake significant changes casually.

77348 · October 31, 2011 at 5:30 PM

I don't trust anybody, including medical journals.

It goes like this with me. First i disable common sense. Then I read around and if over some longer time I encounter similar lines of thought by various independent sources I accept it as potential truth.

Later, when there is situation which requires crystallization of such potential truth [i.e. I decide that its good idea for it to influence my life or life of somebody else], I check medical journals and books exclusively, monitoring organisations and scientist involved. Then I concentrate on personal observations and case studies which are equally important for me. Then I check level of toxicity. Then I start following most prominent persons if that is possible to determine how they think in general. There was multiple times so far I have seen some of my favorite people promote radical or strange ideas triggered by some event. If this phase finishes with positive outcome, I start following directly opposing fraction for some time [for instance Science Based Medicine forum or QuackWatch etc] and I try to put myself into that role. If I start to evaluate the method and incorporate it in my every day life, I will recheck data on each future event that could be connected to it.

Then i try to find some guinea pigs - coworkers, friends etc... to further test the theory.

So all in all, I tend to question ideas for prominent community members even more then that of others.

I generally aim for least sensational substances with low potential for toxicity. That way I make sure if it doesn't work, or entire world is wrong [happened before] at least there is low probability to screw myself.

And one rule: if you are promoting your ideas by attacking others, I no longer listen [good example: Gorski and Adams]

4983 · November 01, 2011 at 9:35 AM

I love this question! We should always be questioning information given to us and not blindy follow someone or accept their views as facts because they have some sort of title or "guru status". When it comes to your health, in my opinion it is important enough to need to look deeper into things, and of course the most important thing is listen to your own body.

It's so difficult though, especially if you are short of time, or if you don't have a comprehensive enough understanding of science yet. I've done it myself! You can think people are completely legit (if not just a bit mad) at first, but the more material you read the more cracks start showing. It's completely unfair and unjust of these people to throw their OPINIONS out there as solid fact, and they could potentially cause some serious damage to the very people that are placing their trust in them! All I can say is, thank goodness for the internet and the ability to google and research people.

Medium avatar
10077 · November 01, 2011 at 3:52 AM

I am skeptical of most paleo sources because the claims often do not match my own experience. There's a certain egotism about the paleo authors that rubs me the wrong way, and other than Guyenet I see too much lockstep adherence to credal beliefs and too little intellectual questioning. To the extent that paleo supports my own experience in eating meat and being active, and to the extent that paleo supports restriction of high glycemic carbs as an effective way for the obese to escape health problems, it is very helpful. But my doctor's conventional advice was more useful, ultimately because it was personalized rather than because it followed a set theory. Paleo has been a good support, but my health problems were under control before I found out about it.

0 · October 31, 2011 at 11:47 PM

I do what feels good and I don't trust other peoples advice. The only way you know paleo works is once you feel what it does to your body and you just wont want to go back.

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