A Double-Edged Sword

Unable to grapple with his arguments on religion, culture, and society, many of Jordan Peterson’s detractors turn their attention to his diet. Searching for a way to swiftly discredit him, they make fun of his strict program of beef, salt, and water. Surely a man following such a strange diet is a lunatic! Peterson’s pseudoscientific worldview goes far past a mere obsession with rekindling toxic masculinity, they argue. It embraces a fad diet which rejects well-established science in its reckless promotion of red meat.

One of their favorite targets is Peterson’s apple cider story. After following an all-meat diet for a long time, Peterson drank a glass of apple cider. In his words, drinking the apple cider led to an “absolutely catastrophic” fallout. He was “done for a month”. It “produced an overwhelming sense of impending doom”. They laugh at what they see as some sort of delusional fear of an everyday beverage. They imagine Peterson sipping a cold glass of apple cider during a warm summer day, and then having a mental breakdown.

But I’m here to say that this story isn’t actually strange at all. Anyone who’s done keto for a few months and then suddenly drank something loaded with sugar can attest to this. When your tolerance for carbohydrates is nearly zero, sugar is one hell of a drug. I’m much younger than Peterson, yet I was put out of commission for a few days too.

As for his carnivore diet, I would go as far as to argue that it was key to his success. I’ve experimented with similar diets, and I’ve noticed an unmistakeable benefit. My ability to keep a steady hand under pressure increases significantly. Without sugar or starch, and with plenty with fatty steaks, it’s much easier for me to keep my composure when met with social pushback. Peterson’s task was to defend his views against a vicious torrent of social pressure. He switched first to a diet of meat and greens, and then later to a diet of just beef, salt, and water. When I watch his interviews at the height of his great run, I see a man who’s unshakable. I see a genius who’s deep in ketosis.

If you followed Peterson’s initial rise to prominence and then eventual fall from the public eye, you’ll remember that he started out incredibly insightful and then later fell into relentless repetition. More subtly, I’d also say that he started out communicating in a very genuine way and then later on started sounding like a bit of an actor. Toward the end, it was as if every new video was just him explaining exactly the same ideas with exactly the same rehearsed lines.

Strangely enough, I’d argue that this is related to his diet as well. Personally, I’ve found that when I do a normal diet containing rice, bread, and coffee, I have the motivation to do new thinking on topics like philosophy and psychology, but that when I eschew carbs and caffeine for just meat and non-starchy vegetables, my headspace flips upside down. I’m no longer able to muster nearly as much motivation to produce new thoughts on academic subjects. My brain stops cooperating very well when I ask it to create new insights.

My theory is that Peterson’s diet gave him the composure he needed to spread his message, but it also made him subsist largely on old intellectual insights. Eventually he ran out of things to say, and he started to sound like a broken record.

The longer his run dragged on, the more he felt like an actor. It was as if a lot of the emotions he was trying to communicate were emotions that he no longer truly felt deep down in his bones. He was trying to channel the emotions of an intensely depressed analyst prone to extremes of anxiety, while partaking in a diet that started to erase those emotional ups and downs from his headspace. His insights were no longer his own. He turned into an actor who was playing his past self.

In other words, Peterson spent 30 years working in obscurity, where he developed his philosophical and psychological system while eating a normal diet and feeling all sorts of intense ups and downs of depression, paranoia, and other dark emotions that impel analysis, and then he accidentally stumbled onto his new diet at exactly the right time. He was thrown onto the international stage, and at this point it wasn’t new thinking that was needed but endlessly reliable energy levels and unflappable steadiness of emotion. This is precisely what zero carb will give you. He rode this wave beautifully. He used his newfound powers to communicate his message better than he ever expected he could.

Peterson’s diet was a brilliant move at the time, but the longer it goes on the more it’ll start to wear out its welcome. He leaned on a zero-carb diet to support what turned out to be one of the most epic runs in the history of intellectual thought, but it was a deal with the devil. You gain a steady hand at the cost of intellectual creativity. You buy cool-headed rationality in debates at the risk of nutritional deficiencies.

It’s now up to Peterson to swim back to shore. His spectacular rise to international fame has already happened, and his place in history is already sealed. It’s crucial for him to reduce his diet of beef, salt, and water from a lifestyle he’s trapped in, to a tool he can use when appropriate and put away when risky. If he fixes his food intolerances, addresses his other health problems, and makes it possible to go back to a well-rounded diet, he’ll be back to a sustainable position with his health. He’ll be able to get back to his life, and he’ll be productive for decades to come.