It’s Not Your Fault (But It’s Partly Mine): On Robb Wolf, Fandom and the Misplaced Blame Game

‘…the one that is most adaptable to change.’

If you were ‘fortunate’ to have spent much time around me during the infancy of our gym, you’re bound to have been exposed, through some medium or another, to a Paleo haranguing or two. Admittedly, I was an early adopting, Paleo extremist (circa autumn 2009). When opportunity afforded, I would seize every chance to play Paleo martyr. At heart, I accepted an unconditional mission to silently judge and inwardly condemn any noncompliant food habit, lifestyle, and basically all behavior raising, from my vantage, the [gluten-filled, processed] red flag of doubt. Ironically, if Kool Aid could’ve been Paleo, I’d have been drunk. And I’d have been served by the most adroit bar-keep around, Robb Wolf. If you doubt me, I’d be inclined to reference a younger Trista. Luckily (for me, at least), she carried the same warm and spritely disposition then too and, much to my chagrin, remained mostly unaffected.

Hopefully, by now, you’re all acquainted with my softened – I prefer ever-evolving – nutritional views, particular the ones centered on Orthodox Paleo practices. And, while these purist ideas have waned, my admiration of Robb Wolf has been nothing less than augmented. Robb is the New York Times Best Selling author of The Paleo Solution (aka the gospel from those days of martyrdom) and owner of NorCal Strength & Conditioning (one of the Men’s Health ‘top 30 gyms in America’). He hosts a top-ranked iTunes podcast, is a former California State Powerlifting Champion, Weightlifter, Ju-Jitsu practitioner, and, equally impressive, a father of 2. Basically, he’s still the bees knees. As you may expect, I was excited to hear him speak at this year’s Paleo f(x). The title of his talk was, “It’s Not Your Fault: On Novelty and Evolutionary Biology” and it was fantastic. In the following, you’ll hopefully find a respectable overview of his, perhaps my favorite, talk.

*I’d be remiss without first prefacing this read. While the following largely centers on the material Robb presented, the deductions and summations are largely framed, and limited, by my comprehensions. Should they not represent his declarations directly, I beg for both your and his forgiveness.

Robb’s Paleo Solution podcast is worth everyone’s while.

Throughout the previous 50+/- years, society has taken a staunch, and mostly unspoken, moral stance on the means and habits with which we eat. Eating X food is BAD, but Y food is GOOD (I wish there were a way to put horns and halos upon those respective words). When it comes to meals, we’ve even attached moral indicators like, ‘cheat’. At what point did eating become an ethical battlefield? Hush, vegetarians. The word ‘cheat’ implies an air of immorality, does it not? Without question, yes. But, Robb presented an entirely different spin on this morally-rooted, nutritional blame game.

If you are fat, if you are sick and if you are broken, you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. And, in actuality, you’ve done everything right. In fact, Robb even argues that you’re a success story. As we all know, super markets, fast food chains and Krispy Kreme are neolithic, and terrific, creations. Had they been available to ancient man, you can bet he’d resemble Ronald McDonald more than Cro-Magnon. Instead, though, our ancestors were a foraging bunch. Foraging, in my nonpracticed understanding, is, calorically-speaking, a low-efficiency activity. In other words, it requires lots of energy-spending risk without the promise of much reward.

Imagine pushing a sled around all day in search of berries and roots. Ouch! Ancient man was no fool, though. He quickly developed an optimal approach for foraging and it was simple – obtain as many calories and nutrients as possible, while doing as little as possible. Is there a catchy, new acronym to be coined here – AMCAP while DaLAP, anyone? Nah. In short, we learned to be efficient, energy-storing (see: nutritional calories) machines when times were tough.

Evidence based social fandom.

Interestingly enough, during that same time, we also became picky, to a certain degree, eaters. Robb defined this evolutionary development as palette fatigue. Yes, enjoying a large helping of berries sounds quite palatable to most everyone. But, can you imagine eating the same food during every meal for weeks on end? I, for one, cannot and, as it turns out, our Paleo parents couldn’t either. Moreover, ferreting out novel foods was even more beneficial to Grok than we might initially assume. Nutritional novelty was the key to his and, ultimately, our survival. Those tiresome taste buds limited his and his clan’s exposure to bioavailable toxins in food. I could be wrong, but I needn’t outline the affect of consuming lethal amounts of toxins. Variety, then, was truly the spice of [an enduring] life.

Yes, the definitive forces that made us who we are, are completely working against us now. All of us, myself included, eat like a professional. We’re all capable of downing dreadful quantities of salty food, only to chase it with super-sweet treats. The variety of palatial flavor, by evolutionary design, permits us to eat sinful (again with the morality) amounts of food that our body, in its machine-like efficiency, can store for times of famine. But, what happens? The famine rarely comes and the foraging, for most, is impossible to label as tough. Remember, Krispy Kreme?! And, adding to that tragedy of taste, our supermarkets offer 50,000 items with an average of 11,000 new and, wait for it – novel – products added annually. Shesh. We’re doomed! What on earth can we do?

With the sagacity I’ve come to regard, Robb acknowledged the dilemma and provided guidance. The easiest way to combat our evolutionary efficiency is to keep things simple. With the use of his Food Matrix, it’s easier to dispel this notion of boredom with common, nutrient-rich foods available at most grocers. Eat protein, veggies/carbs, herbs/spices and fat with most every meal. In the end, the math doesn’t lie, there are over 80,000 nutritious and financially, feasible meal combinations awaiting you and your finicky palette too.

Lastly, and what I opine to be most important, Robb suggests our dietary struggle remains for a reason. And, while waging the ever-changing nutritional sea, can our human brain always reign victorious over the more primitive lizard one? More simply – will we always take, conscious or not, the proper dietary direction? Of course not – much like the religious adherence during my pubescent, Paleo years, perfection should never be considered realistic nor obtainable. We should, contrastingly, embrace those trying times of turmoil and, like Justin already eluded, consider a shift in our perception of struggle. If we’re capable of making legitimate, sustainable change, novelty, morality and all those judgmental connotations dissipate. Yes, the struggle is reaI, indeed. Robb simply recommended embracing this evolution and the one to follow. We are, after all, the result of 4 billion struggle-filled years.

Long live the king,