On paper, paleo makes sense: eat like a caveman.
Eat meat, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds; exclude dairy, grains, and processed foods. This idea’s become a household staple over the past few years.
In fact, check out this graph from Google Trends.
Since 2009, the number of searches for “the paleo diet” has absolutely exploded.
The paleo diet’s contemporary version started with a (now classic) paper published by a scientist named Boyd Eaton, M.D. in 1985 in the New England Journal of Medicine titled, Paleolithic nutrition: A Consideration of its Nature and Current Implications.
Soon, other scientists and research facilities dug deeper into the diet, ultimately publishing additional papers and studies comparing our modern day diets to those of our paleolithic ancestors.
In 2010, a little-known author named Robb Wolf published a book called, The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet.
As a central figure early in the CrossFit movement, Rob introduced his book to the rapidly-expanding CrossFit community and it spread like wildfire. The book became a massive bestseller, and the contemporary paleo movement began.
The Initial Results Were Incredible
There’s no other way to say it. What people were able to achieve by following the paleo diet for just a few short months was simply incredible.
Everyone from soccer moms to young 20-something’s were able to shed fat, fit into smaller clothes, and finally eat foods full of fat. I still remember the 23 success stories that Primal Plate published when I first considered trying it. It was hard not to consider paleo after seeing the transformations.
Paleo advocates commonly point to the idea that this is the way nature intended us to eat and hence the success; the cornerstone idea of paleo is that you are “eating in a way that works with your genetics instead of against it.”
That’s a hard premise to argue against, and businesses took notice: they found ways to recreate the processed foods that people love (i.e. paleo cookies, paleo pizza) into versions that adhered to the principles of paleo.
And Then This Happened
Paleo’s lack of sustainability led its followers to interpret its principles more and more loosely. I began hearing things like, “I’m 80% paleo,” and “I eat paleo, but still drink beer.”
There even arose a subdivision of the paleo eiet, in which certain previously scorned foods were included; the most prominent example is “Swiss Paleo,” which allows for the consumption of a number of dairy items.
People slowly started gaining weight back and found it harder and harder to follow the diet’s strict list of restrictions. Like other diets, adherence to the diet started to get looser, and people found themselves on the typical diet rollercoaster.
Now, I’m not bashing paleo here; it does have its benefits.
The prioritization of food quality that it teaches is fantastic. Very simply put, eating more natural, higher-quality foods and better-farmed ingredients is generally a recipe for success.
It goes wrong when they start to list the categories of foods that are OK: fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats area all okay; dairy, grains, legumes, and alcohol are not okay.
Managing health is not just a matter of managing food or your diet, but managing human emotions. What paleo missed is:
- You can’t change what you eat overnight and be able to follow it sustainably.
- You can’t cut out all of the things you love to eat long-term. The success will be temporary at best.
- Humans are social animals, and they don’t live in bubbles. The diet is designed to only work in a bubble.
No matter how many statistics we put in front of people demonstrating how bad pizza and alcohol are for them, alcohol and pizza will always win.
You know why?
Because pizza is fucking delicious, and I only dance when I’m drunk. So unless some combination of avocados and bacon turn me into a dancing machine on Saturday night, Jameson it is.
Where Paleo Succeeds
If you’re a normal human who has a job, family, friends, and a social life, I don’t recommend paleo.
For anyone suffering from an autoimmune disorder, paleo can be highly effective.
Paleo’s helped people manage the symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis, Eczema, and certain forms of Thyroiditis. Autoimmune diseases are a type of disease where the body mistakenly attacks itself, and it’s especially exacerbated in the presence of specific stimuli like gluten, sugar, dairy, or stress.
Paleo eliminates most of these stimuli, but for someone who doesn’t suffer from similar issues, paleo’s just another diet with a strict set of rules that you’re likely to only follow for 3-to-6 months at best.
At The End of The Day
Although its principles are rooted in our paleolithic ancestors and experts presented papers with impressive charts and statistics, it’s just another diet.
Every diet has merit. Every diet has science behind it. Every diet claims that their science is better than the other guy’s science.
And it’s all bullshit.
The only way to lose weight sustainably and keep it off is to change your habits. Habits are not changed overnight; they, and the mindsets that must change with it, take time.
Gaining weight is the result of unfavorable habits that developed over time, and in a similar fashion, you’ll only lose weight (and keep it off) as a result of consistent small changes.