The two most important aspects of a diet are that it makes you lose weight and that you can spend a lot of time talking about it. And as a guy, that really limits your options, since most diets are too embarrassing to tell other people about. You can’t tell your buddies at halftime that you’ve been feeling totally pumped from the Beverly Hills Diet. You can’t yell, “Bro, I am pulling dimes thanks to these Sugar Busters books!”
That’s why the paleo diet appeals to dudes. You can feel comfortable talking about it, and not because you’re chowing on meat (thanks to the fact that you have to cut out grains, beans, potatoes, dairy and sugar). It’s because you get to pretend you’re acting like a Paleolithic man, who existed not only before agriculture but also before all these sissifying laws, technology and written languages. Paleolithic man hunted woolly mammoths, used stone tools, traveled nomadically, settled disputes by eye gouging and didn’t have to study history, since he was prehistoric.
It’s fun to look down on the soft, lazy modern diet with its unnecessary dependence on growing things. Our bodies, the paleo dieters explain, were designed to eat only what we can hunt or gather, which is how humans lived for their first 185,000 years, until they learned to plant crops a mere 15,000 years ago. And cavemen were in great shape, according to scientists who study things by watching that movie with Raquel Welch wearing a fur bikini.
There are a few problems with this diet. First of all, I’ve seen skeletons and mummies of ancient men, and not one of them looks as if he could have played on a decent high school basketball team, much less banged Raquel Welch in 1966. Not one Centerfold in this magazine has ever listed under her turn-ons “short, hairy, smelly men who will never own a home.”
Second, gorging on meat isn’t at all how ancient man ate. Here’s precisely what our ancestors ate, according to science: whatever the fuck they could find. Since they didn’t have refrigerators, they’d devour meat when they were lucky enough to find it and spend the rest of the time digging up weird mushrooms, getting really high and not being able to eat Doritos. Most Paleolithic humans called their diet “starving to death.”
I also know our ancient forefathers didn’t have access to flaxseed oil—which the paleo diet recommends—because not even our regular fathers had access to flaxseed oil. I know early Homo sapiens didn’t eat Paleo Bread™, and they definitely didn’t buy their Paleo Bread™ in coconut or almond flavors. I know this because if a caveman used the phrase gluten free he would have been bludgeoned to death with stone tools. He also didn’t subscribe to Paleo Magazine, with its cover line announcing a “‘Not’Meal Cookies” recipe, or subscribe to the Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show podcast. Paleolithic man also bludgeoned people to death for making puns. Paleolithic man spent a lot of his time bludgeoning.
Paleo dieters claim that the postagricultural diet—which saves us about 23 hours a day in foraging and hunting, most of which we squander on creating inane diets—causes illnesses of affluence such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease and cancer. But I would argue the reason ancient man didn’t get these diseases was because he died before the age of 50. He was also free of the diseases of farting in public and sending joke e-mails, but it wasn’t because he shunned legumes.
People who believe in the paleo diet are idiots who have never read Darwin—unlike me, a smart person who has never read Darwin. Nevertheless, I still know our bodies are nothing like Paleolithic man’s. We now have totally different bacteria in our guts, which have developed to digest the huge variety of interesting, nutritious foods we’ve cultivated, such as the modern varieties of corn, bananas and tomatoes that people eat on the paleo diet but our ancestors didn’t have. Progress has, in nearly every case besides Facebook, made our lives longer, easier and more fun. If we let the smug, back-to-nature, antiprogress hippies convince us to eat like a person from 200,000 years ago, before we know it they’ll have us jerking off to cave paintings.
Paleolithic man was miserable, cold, desperate, sick and stupid. But he wasn’t so stupid that he would have turned down pasta. I get that we’ve gained weight because of processed foods. So eat less. But don’t make a big deal out of it and turn it into a philosophy romanticizing a simpler time. Stop worrying about our species ending from carbs and start worrying about it ending because no woman is going to breed with a guy who lists all the things he’s not eating. You want to go on a manly ancient diet? Drink scotch and eat liver. It won’t be any healthier, but it will at least take you a lot less time to talk about.
This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Playboy.