The paleo movement of a hundred years ago

Is the Paleo movement something new, or is it just a repetition of something that has happened before?

The lecture that impressed me the most at the Ancestral Health Symposium 2012 has just been posted online. Here’s Hamilton Stapell, Ph.D., comparing the Paleo movement to the “Physical Culture” movement of the early 1900’s. The similarities are startling. Better diet with less sugar and processed crap? Check. Strenght training á la Crossfit? Yep. Intermittent fasting? Sure. Sun exposure? Yes. Barefoot walking? Absolutely.

Both movements are about a “return to nature” in a stressful and disorienting new world, according to Stapell. They’re a reaction to rapid social, economic and technological changes.

If the movement of the early 1900’s were a reaction to the Second Industrial Revolution, the Paleo movement of today is a reaction to the Digital Revolution (sometimes called the Third Industrial Revolution).

Stapell’s argument raises some intriguing questions. Will the fast-growing Paleo movement of today go mainstream, or will it stay fringe until it fizzles out? Stapell was asked that in the Q&A (not in the video). He hesitated a bit and then said that… no, he did not believe Paleo will go mainstream.

I think Stapell might be right. This “return to nature” Paleo concept is very powerful today, but in ten years time running around barefoot might feel very passé.

What I believe is truly important is to make some core concepts in the original Paleo movement go mainstream. Like the focus on human evolution for understanding what’s likely to be healthy today (followed by controlled trials to prove it, of course). And most of all, in the middle of a disastrous epidemic of obesity and diabetes, to realize that we are not genetically adapted to today’s extremely insulinogenic processed high carb junk food.


  1. mezzo
    I agree. Paleo - just like the "Back-to-nature-movements" of the early 20th century may remain on the fringe. They can be too religious. The same may not apply to low-carb eating. The latest - and to date biggest - meganalysis of data about high- and low-glycemic index eating clearly shows a benefit for low-carb eating for diabetics and goes diametrically against the official recommendations and point to carbohydrates as risk for develping diabetes.
  2. Gary Green
    The "Religious" ones have always been the vegetarians. Meat eaters are way more relaxed. I have no idea where you got that opinion.
  3. finn
    I've heard this is the first book that says lchf cures diabetes II. At that time doctors tasted patients' piss to determine diabetes. There are books about tasting and flavors. Oh those were the days.

    "In 1797, Dr. John Rollo—a surgeon in the British Royal Artillery—published a book entitled An Account of Two Cases of the Diabetes Mellitus."

  4. But now we have this magic thing called the internet, and information can spread like never before. This time around I believe Paleo can really become mainstream.
  5. p01
    On the other hand, in ten years time, running around barefoot might just become the norm, because the unprecedented debt-fueled industrial and financial expansion is butting heads with global oil peak since about 2008.
  6. FrankG
    Reassuring to know that: despite decades of "obesity research" by academics in their ivory towers, there always has been and continues to be, a place for common-sense and practicable solutions :-)

    I also echo Raul in that: the internet might just be the key to allowing this "wisdom of the crowds" to finally blossom.

  7. PatrickP
    You can be committed to low carb-high fat/evolutionary-ancestral fitness/etc. without walking around barefoot and being an oddball.
  8. Ed
    He is incorrect, that it is a reaction to the Digital Revolution. It fact, it is a reaction to the Biotech Revolution. People are, justifiably, scared of the engineered and processed foods, making them fat and sick. The movement is a push-back against big agra and big pharma (who have all the same investors). This trend will only accelerate as the global population grows, governments struggle to feed their citizens and people continue to get sick. This is NOT going away, anytime soon!
  9. bill
    '...religion will not survive the internet.'
  10. It seems that there is a little more momentum in the scientific community for low carb diets at least, particularly in the field of cancer therapy. If it can catch on there... it'll gather steam and hopefully get into the mainstream.
  11. His name is Hamilton Stapell, with two l's:

    I think that mastication is really important.

    Also important is the emphasis on Excreta. Not only feces but also urine.

  12. And posture and breathing!
  13. Ondrej
    “If you’re inactive, you probably don’t need much in the way of carbs. But humans aren’t metabolically normal unless they’re active on a regular basis. So the healthy solution isn’t to go low-carb, it’s to increase activity level to the point where you need the carbs”
  14. Kristin
    This is a great lecture and such a different topic than any of the excellent paleo/low carb lectures I've seen. It is a bit frustrating to see how much folks knew a hundred years ago that got buried in special interest and propaganda that passed as health recommendations.

    And it is amusing to me to see that John Harvey Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium is mentioned as part of the early movement. Kellogg invented the dreaded breakfast cereal we all vilify today as part of his health program to get us off the horrible bacon and egg breakfasts. A historic connection between Kellogg and modern Paleo? Yikes. :)

    Reply: #16
  15. Keith
    The original corn flakes produced by Sanitas company in 1897 were sugar free the brothers John and Will Kellogg then split in 1906 when Will wanted to add sugar to the recipe so started the Kellogg Company. John continued with the Battle Creek Sanitarium and developed soy products under the label Battle Creek Food Company.

    About the same time 1907 Bernarr MacFadden (the founder of Physical Culture magazine) opened the Bernarr Macfadden Sanatorium on the opposite side of the street which used water fasting to cure many ailments and eventually led to its popularity for treating epilepsy in children.

    Robb Wolf author of The Paleo Solution has written an article on MacFadden and the origin of the ketogenic diet here.

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