Purity?

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PURITY?

We all dig being part of a movement. In this day and age, as we trust the powers-that-be less and less, when big money seems to be controlling our tiny lives, when the fat cats, hep cats, alley cats (and let’s not forget the Stray Cats) seem to be making a lot of decisions for us, it is comforting to rally ’round a flag of anti-authority. Heck, any of us who dabbled in punk or hip hop needed to hear what we always believed, that the man was keeping us down.

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still a great album

So don’t trust the politicians.
They don’t make their own decisions.
Cuz they haven’t got their heads screwed on.
For everything that’s said it’s just another head.
And a politician’s words can be replaced.
But then maybe I am wrong, I mean this is just a song.
Is it just that politicians are two-faced?

–  Subhumans

So any movement that questions a great deal of the standard dogma, even fitness or nutrition, has a noble appeal. There is often a craving for cutting out all the nonsense and get back to what is raw, basic, simple… pure.

Ah, purity. If something claims to bring us closer to it, there’s a slice of our population that will ride that bus with the speakers blaring.

I’m all for a quest for purity. Lawd knows that our modern industrial complexes (food, medical, health, fitness) are actually greased by funds that want to steer us away from purity. Who will save us? Who is willing to step forth and help retrace our path away from an uncaring industrializationism ™?

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The heroes are out there, and from pulpits and soapboxes the gurus do spout, making claims to intimate connections with purity. Do we bother wading through all the hyperbole, or should we trust ’em? In the fitness and nutrition world, our dollars must choose where to go. There are folks who claim their quest for purity through time periods (the Paleolithic era comes to mind, what we’ll call caveman husbandry), scientific principles (blood types or somatic ideals … metabolic husbandry), ethical planetary guidelines (often based on moral high grounds: Greenpeace husbandry), or analytical, mathematical mumbo jumbo (macro-nutrient or periodization husbandry).

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Any of these claims to eating or moving a certain way dooms such diets and workouts to become footnotes in a book about past trends, like Randy Roach’s series Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors. Randy’s books are superb in pointing out that we’ll giggle tomorrow at the fads of today, as has been the case for decades, if not centuries. If your diet has a name, it is already relegated to future dustbins of history, no matter what claims of purity it strives for.

Since true purity is an inside job, not growing from the lengthened shadow of somebody else’s idea, we’ll always miss the point when our quest follows a path well tread by other feet. Our noggins and spirits want a little challenge. Like physical strength, it takes some actual effort to grow some philosophical muscle.

barbell for logo 2Some of us can already look back on eating or workout trends like we can on fashion choices which now cause physical pain to be reminded of. Good for an embarrassed laugh, but we knew at some point in life to move on.

Roach’s book describes the last 100+ years of physical culture’s relation to nutrition, and sums it up pretty nicely as a spectrum (and we all know I love spectrums) with pure meat and protein on one end to vegetarianism on the other, showing how any diet trend that had any share of followers fell somewhere on that spectrum, usually a bit closer the one of the ends. Well that’s obvious, but more importantly, if you add up these trends over the last 100 years, not only does every diet fall somewhere on this spectrum, but every part of the spectrum would have some diet fall on it.

In other words, it has ALL been done before. I dabble in a bit of research here and there and my minor physical culture archeological skills have unearthed that the same is true with fitness trends as well.

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Truth is that diet and fitness trends often have some solid roots and very valuable points. But combine some real, valid ideas with a little bit of cool factor, then mix in a tad of fringe thinking, and you’ve created a movement that will not only attract followers, but dilute itself into extinction within a decade, starting with those hyphenations that sent Atkins (among others) packing, like semi-Paleo or sometimes-Vegan.

My lack of flesh eating for over 21 years generally lumps me into a group called vegetarians. Commonly nice folks, often avid readers, sometimes interesting facial hair and colorful clothes of the autumnal hue variety who hang out at co-ops with frequency. I was given a gift of sustenance recently, a bag of some yummy snacks, from a different tribe, folks who labeled themselves Paleos (also nice folks, often sharing the same reading traits and body modifications as the veg heads but tend to travel in packs and hang out at CrossFits a lot). Strangely enough, this particular grub had no meat in it (Paleos love their meat, a big rift between them and the flesh-free folks), so the defining factor of it being labeled Paleo was its lack of wheat. Now a buddy of mine who has a nasty relationship with wheat, but comes from clan Vegan, also loved my gift, as I shared it with anyone who had a tongue (and few who didn’t). Does this make her half-Paleo?

me-club-2What about just eating like a human (and, as Allyson says, not an American)?

Nutrition and fitness cliques? Will this help me decide who to ask to the prom or sign my yearbook?

Food. The less processing the better. The less corporate money involved in your food the better. Yes, these last two sentences seem redundant, but even a harmless vegetable, grain or meat slab can have a sketchy relationship with big money; a love affair that is less than pure. This is one example of where so many of the modern food trends fall apart. Whether you’ve decided that your ancestral roots dug tons of meat, or you have a vehement ethical statement to make by avoiding meat entirely, if we don’t know where our food is coming from, than the purity of our intentions is tarnished.

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Avoiding processed foods… oh my god, have you gone Paleo? Vegetarian? Maybe even Raw? Naw, maybe I just feel like eating like a real human, someone of the here and now, a 21st century boy, one that plans on a lifestyle of this stuff. This concept of labeling our diet is a very western idea, stemming from a self centered place of luxury. Inuits don’t have a name for eating nothing but fish, and from what I’ve gathered, in India they don’t really call their habits vegetarianism… they simply do it.

Something to mull over… if your diet has a name, and with that name a set of restrictions, chances are it really isn’t something that could sustain the entire planet easily.

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In high school I found identity in my music, clothes and (really bad) hair. Sometimes we hold onto that need. Even as the identifiers change, we’re still crazy to be noticed for what we find groovy. Hey, ours is a culture of finding ourselves, and sometimes that might be as simple as a car, a diet, a wardrobe, a religion, a music genre or a workout style. If you chose such a flag to wave, then you have found something that might even resemble a tribe.

We can chose the labels we wear, from our choices in movement, face-stuffing or music worship, to the literal labels of what makes us not nekkid. This is the way it should be, but only with the responsibility to think first, discern second, chose third. If we wanna wear the badge of our eating habits or workout habits, our birthright deems it such. But our birthright also says we can be just a person, a person whose only label is whatever they sign their letters with.  Maybe that is a bit closer to actual purity.

 

Oh, write your own caption for this pic.

Oh, write your own caption for this pic.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Justin_P
    Reply

    Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors. Great book! I read it. Twice. It’s getting time to pester poor Randy about Vol 2 and 3.

    Wow, did you manage to unearth the first stab at making the ROM in that old pic? Did it go for $14,000 back then?

  • chip
    Reply

    Naw it was only $8,000 and it took 8 minutes instead of 4.

  • Steven Rice Fitness
    Reply

    Well spoken words on purity and diet.

  • Greg
    Reply

    Almost everything could be considered a fad if we use an unfortunately normal perspective: recent American history. That is one of the reasons why I like the historical fitness perspective here.

    If we actually look at all of history (in this case all of human evolution) the only non-fad diet is something similar to paleo. To describe it without a label: eating whole foods according to healthy human tradition without faddish conceptions of what is good or bad to eat. In the course of human evolution avoiding eating fat or meat (or any tasty whole food) is certainly a fad.

    While suspicion is warranted of fads we can’t just declare something automatically bad because it is a fad and has a label. In pre-civilization (when everyone was fit) there wasn’t a word for fitness, it was just called life- all of fitness is a fad. Fitness, even as prescribed by Body Tribe is one of many fads in the context of all of human history. But I think it is one that helps people adapt to the fad of civilization.

  • chip
    Reply

    Agreed, and if I ever lose my career because people actually start moving again as an essential part of life, I’ll be thrilled. One correction on history and eating looking similar to Paleo: Humans have been cultivating grains, seeds and legumes for thousands of years, sometimes making up the bulk of the diet for entire countries, yet that isn’t very Paleo.

  • Justin_P
    Reply

    I’m glad they managed to get it down to 4 minutes. Otherwise, that would be a major rip-off!

    This article makes me hungry for Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake…

  • mace
    Reply

    yup. there’s nothing new under the sun.

    think, discern, choose. i dig that. a lot. that’s what it comes down to. so many people get lost in the small details.

  • Greg
    Reply

    Hah, like you said you are going to lose your job when we evolve into amorphous blobs that don’t need to move.

    Yes, it is very true that humans have been consuming a lot of grains since the start of civilization. But the question is: is this a healthy human tradition? As far as I can tell it is generally the exact opposite, although there are certainly the exceptions who in addition to eating other whole foods learned to carefully process grains to avoid their toxins. Today we are at the other extreme with no wisdom on how to handle grains and reaping the consequences of increasing celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and many other health issues that cannot be so directly linked.
    This article has a good overview of the consequence when things like gliadin from wheat cross through the gut: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2886850/
    Grindstone bakery makes real bread using whole grains and old techniques of slow fermentation (which breaks down toxins). It looks and feels like a brick. Today’s grains are yet another fad.

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