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Eating paleo and shopping in my sleep: "Free the Animal" reviewed.

Writer, blogger and entrepreneur Richard Nikoley is one of the more colorful and unique characters in the paleo blogosphere.  He and I are very different people and I don't agree with him on everything by a long shot.  The posts on his blog, Free the Animal, are blunt, confrontational, often delivered with unabashed profanity...but they are also downright entertaining.  His take-no-prisoners attitude, especially pronounced when met with stupidity or bad reasoning, often provides much-needed doses of reality for the paleo community, whose information-cycling bloggers often seem to exist in a grass-fed and organically-pastured netherworld of online pontification. The past year saw my own transition into a paleo-style diet and lifestyle.  What began as a gradual series of minor lifestyle changes in an effort to lose weight, (portion control, cutting out soda, etcetera), led to deeper study that went beyond weight loss and into the ideas surrounding “ancestral” health.  By the time Nikoley released the printed version of his take on paleo living, Free the Animal: How to Lose Weight and Fat on the Paleo Diet, I was already a grain-free, fifty pounds lighter, Vibram-wearing stereotype and I doubted the book would contain information that I hadn’t heard before from one source or another.  However, I enjoy the blog and respect the man enough that a purchase of the print edition of Free the Animal was justified.

At least, I think I purchased it.

The exact event of my ordering the book remains a little hazy in my mind.  I remember adding it to my Amazon.com wish list, then waking up one morning to an email confirming an order for it.  There were extenuating circumstances--it was late in the semester and school was keeping me up at odd hours; I’ve come to expect occasional blackouts during such periods.  However, in this case I suspect that a larger game might have been afoot, for upon my telling the 140-character version of this story on Twitter, I received a response from the man himself:

 

 

 

Hmm...well played, sir.

The apparent dubiousness of the purchase aside, I would like to share my opinion on Richard’s book, and how it measured up to my expectations.

The book is quite literally a printed compilation of Nikoley’s blog entries about the paleo lifestyle; compiled and printed by the ebook publishing company, HyperInk.  In the interest of reaching a broader audience, Nikoley’s trademark colorful vocabulary has been toned down considerably, but his personality remains strong, as does the communication of his ideas without the extra saltiness.

The book has fourteen major sections, each of them easy to read and digest:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: The Paleo, Primal, Ancestral Lifestyle
  • Chapter 2: Your Inner Animal
  • Chapter 3: The Standard American Diet And Other Diet Health Disasters
  • Chapter 4: Fat Is King
  • Chapter 5: The Cholesterol Con
  • Chapter 6: Natural Disease Prevention
  • Chapter 7: Eat Like A Caveman
  • Chapter 8: The Power of Fasting
  • Chapter 9: Evolutionary Exercise And Fitness
  • Chapter 10: A Primal Weight Loss Plan
  • Chapter 11: Recipes And Supplements
  • Chapter 12: Success Stories
  • About The Blog

The information in the book is solid and presented cohesively, as can be expected.  But instead of giving away all of the information it contains, I would like to hone in what I felt set it apart from most literature about ancestral living.  Unlike the path taken by most paleo nutritionists, Free the Animal does more than provide yet another treatise on insulin spikes, omega-3s and fat-protein-carbohydrate ratios; Free the Animal presents the paleo lifestyle as common sense.

Yes, Nikoley discusses nutrition and biology; yes, he discusses the psychology of food and intermittent fasting.  But unlike the professional gurus who go to great pains to overawe readers with a doctoral dissertation’s worth of facts, statistics and observational studies, Nikoley’s book lays out the paleo lifestyle and its guiding philosophies in a refreshingly relatable way.

For paleo newcomers, I would honestly recommend Free the Animal as the starting point before moving on to the lengthier works of gurus like Robb Wolf or Mark Sisson.  It isn’t that Richard Nikoley or Free the Animal are a “better” choice; to the contrary, most other paleo nutritionists provide much more detailed information, and longer and more colorful books to boot.  But the main reason I loved Free the Animal was its no-frills, straightforward presentation.  Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint changed my life last year, but I have to admit that its sheer amount of information scared me to death when I first picked it up.

By comparison, Free the Animal is both more and less of an assault to those readers who are just beginning to be interested in paleo nutrition.  It is more of an assault because Nikoley does not suffer fools lightly and pulls few punches as a communicator.  But Free the Animal nevertheless remains extremely relatable.  Ever chapter presents its subject(s) through more than just the interpretation of impersonal data; Nikoley relates the impact of ancestral health, nutrition and fitness to everyday life.  By attaching it to concrete ideas like personal appearance, productivity and a healthy sex life, the impact of the paleo diet takes on a significance beyond buzzwords like “burning fat” or “building muscle.”

So, is Free the Animal worth purchasing?

If you are already eating like a caveman, chances are you won’t learn anything new.  However, if you want good introductory material in your lending library, this is a great book to keep around.  And if you need a gift for “one of those friends” who complain ceaselessly about their weight while stubbornly continuing to fill up on empty and processed food products, Richard Nikoley’s Free the Animal might provide the necessary shot in the arm.

Free the Animal (Blog)

Purchase “Free the Animal: Lose Weight and Fat on the Paleo Dietl” on Amazon