It seems I can’t go a week without hearing something about “living naturally.” While it isn’t as common in Wisconsin, this health craze of looking toward our ancestors and their lifestyle habits and choices is all but unavoidable on the West Coast. However, I do see the slow creep of this movement in UW-Madison’s student population, and it must be stopped. I see toe shoes, ketogenic Paleo diets, functional strength training a la CrossFit and all affiliated acts as a faddish response for middle-aged men tired of the weekly spin class their significant others force them to attend. This group of ideals would almost be tolerable, and even respectable, if its proponents were not some of the most annoying people you’ll meet on planet Earth, but since they are, I feel its my job to pick apart what’s driving these fads forward.
The two main components of any fitness regimen are diet and exercise, and so we will go over the diet aspect first. The Paleo Diet requires you to omit all refined grain products, legumes, dairy and other processed products, because the standard caveman didn’t have access to that (when multiple studies have found some of our ancestors did rely on these things).
Instead, you’ll be relying on meats, greens, fruits, coconut and olive oil (which somehow are not processed goods) and other goods that cavemen likely couldn’t take full advantage of, because they simply could not be consumed in their undomesticated forms or were from a different corner of the Earth. In addition to being pricey, this diet is up there with veganism in how isolating it can be, because nobody wants to hear you jabber about how your diet is so much better than everyone else’s.
The bedrock of exercise upon which primal living rests upon is shaky before you even break down the harmful aspects of the individual effects of this “lifestyle.” People who were already in a decent state of fitness have printed off their coaching certificates and jumped on the CrossFit bandwagon to cash out on every cubicle-working shmuck who joined in hopes of unlocking his or her inner caveman.
Given enough time spent drinking this Kool-Aid, the participants will ironically be funneled into a situation which relies upon Darwinian survival of the fittest: Those resistant to injury, able to pick up good technique or already have experienced in physical fitness will continue to stoke the anecdotal fires for everyone who injures themselves or can’t keep up in CrossFit.
The point I’m trying to make is that civilization, and all of its benefits exist for a reason. While most people who look at this school of health and thought will partake in it with more moderation than the strawman and reductio ad absurdum I’ve presented, they will fail to reap the benefits that lie at the center of the movement.
How can you trim the toxic fat of modern life when the rat race is the only thing ensuring your survival? Very few people have the means to pack their bags and live off the land, using nothing but a couple thousand dollars worth of gear bought from REI, which in and of itself defeats the purpose of such a lifestyle. Just how like a caveman can one get before it reaches the realm of ridiculousness or impracticality?
Despite the controversy, I must concede that done in moderation, some of the tenets of living like a caveman can be beneficial to one’s health. I would be lying if I said I didn’t reap the benefits of partaking in some of the activities recommended by these 21st century witch doctors: recovery runs on grass, making sure to use every part of an animal I take from hunting and replacing carbohydrates found in grains with those of a tuber are all reasonable activities that can be done to supplement a modern lifestyle. The point is, if early hominids were cognizant of the differences between our lives and theirs, they would pick to live with us instead of in the Stone Age. Some people think they would trade in their day jobs, coffee makers, mid-size sedans and three-piece suits for a loincloth and stone tools. We were meant for greater, and eschewing dozens of thousands of years of progress to play Neanderthal sounds pretty foolish to me.
Sergey is a freshman writer for The Daily Cardinal and majoring in economics and international studies. What’s your take on living naturally? Have you participated in CrossFit or the Paleo Diet? We’d like to hear your take on these activities. Please send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.