“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” –Adelle Davis, Let’s Get Well
The Autoimmune Protocol changed my life. Pretty much everyone that even remotely knows me knows that. Not only does my plate look different, but also my family life, my career, and even my leisure time have changed dramatically. Everyone knows that my feelings on the power of food are, um, strong (to put it mildly). I agree with the late Adelle Davis . . . what we eat can help us be so much more. I’ve even referred to myself as a “Paleovangelist.”
It’s that reference, “Paleovangelist,” that brings me to the topic of this post. Despite my strong feelings and the weighty connotation of creating a made-up word out of Paleo + evangelist, I think those of us in this movement need to watch out for the tendency toward religious fervor. AIP is not a religion. Acting too intense sure does make us look like a cult though.
I first noticed the tendency toward religiosity in the community quite some time ago and it made me realize I needed to work on toning down my own words and actions. I see online groups where even the mention of non-elimination phase foods gets an unlucky member seriously chastised. It’s as though saying “chocolate” or “coffee” is sacrilegious. Then there’s the self-flagellation that’s lurking. Self-flagellation is the act of punishing oneself, typically with whips, in a religious context. It can also refer to severely criticizing ourselves . . . which I sometimes see in regards to something as small as eating almonds before it was time to reintroduce them. We’re talking about almonds here, no need for the “I’m so stupid” and the “I’m terrible at this” talk. These are some of the more benign examples of the religious fervor approach I’ve observed. Unfortunately in some cases things are much more extreme and people have stopped enjoying life all together as they view every possible action through the lens of “Is it AIP enough?”
The enthusiasm is understandable. At this point thousands and thousands of us have experienced the healing that came with AIP. After awhile it’s normal to start making other changes to better protect newfound health, like switching body care products to something less chemicalized or changing schedules to accommodate more sleep. Those changes often prompt feeling even better and then others notice and it’s hard not to want to tell nearly everyone about your profound recovery after what may be years of illness. The happiness that comes with abundant physical wellness is hard to contain and AIP can easily seem like exactly the right sized container for it. This is where Adelle Davis’s thoughts really apply. Once healing has taken hold we can use that energy to expand our lives, rather than contract into a restricted zone.
I’m not criticizing religion. I’m also not criticizing AIP. I’m just saying that the two shouldn’t be confused. AIP is a method of healing, not a way to monitor matters of the heart and spirit. It requires focus, but not devotion. What we do or do not eat is not the ethical standard by which we should harshly judge ourselves or anyone else; it is not the yardstick of our goodness or badness, rightness or wrongness. When our enthusiasm starts to look like worship and a full life gets squeezed into a space the size of an altar, we lose the chance to take this movement to the next level and the opportunity to introduce millions of new people to renewed health is lost. As Joanna Harris writes in Chocolat, “Chocolate, I am told, is not a moral issue.” I could not agree more
My colleague, Amy Kubal, RD, has recently written about the “paleofication” she sees happening in the larger Paleo community. Her post hits on very similar points to this post and is a great addition to the thoughts here.