What Paleo Isn’t

*Another great post by Jason Seib!

Because our society is plagued with diets, most of which make no sense, many people come into this paleo thing with a few preconceived notions.  I would like to address some of these misnomers and get us back on the same page.  The following is a short discussion of the things paleo is often assumed to be, but in reality is not.

The most important one for me is that The Paleo Diet is not a diet.  I know, it really
doesn’t make any sense when you say it like that, but it’s true.  The Paleo Diet is the modern nomenclature for human nutrition, and the fact that we need to name the concept of “human food” means we have reached a completely ridiculous place in the evolution of our species where we have forgotten who we are and where we came from.  It seems like I say this every time I open my mouth or sit down at a computer, but here I go again – humans are the only creatures on earth that use the word “diet” as a verb.  Animals don’t do diets, they have a diet.  They also don’t suffer from the extensive list of noninfectious diseases that we do.  What is the lesson here?  We need to try to find the ideal human diet in today’s modern world.  Or by definition, go paleo.

Another thing that paleo does not define is a macro nutrient profile.  The word “diet”, even in most research papers, is synonymous with weighing and measuring food, even if it’s only part of the intake that we’re interested in, like carbs or fat.  Paleo is simply food choices.  This means that higher carb paleo and lower fat paleo are completely acceptable as long as your goals reflect those choices.  For example, high carb paleo with lots of sweet potatoes, yams and butternut squash is still paleo, but it probably isn’t the best choice for fat loss.  On the other hand, if you are an athlete and you need more carbs for peak performance, there is no reason why paleo will not work for you and plenty of reasons why a more neolithic way of eating will be detrimental.

Paleo is also not inherently a weight loss or muscle gain plan.  It is a health plan. If you are over weight, getting healthy will mean getting leaner.  If you just gave up running marathons, getting healthy will mean gaining some muscle mass.  Beyond basic health, paleo and training can be tweaked for more muscle gain or fat loss.  That is not something that can be said for most “diets”.  Try packing on muscle mass on Weight Watchers sometime.

Finally, paleo is not an excuse to not exercise.  Proper nutrition is absolutely essential, but it doesn’t change the fact that the acquisition of food was inextricably tied to movement for all but the last miniscule fraction of time that our genus has been biped-ing it up on earth.  Since the kitchen, in all it’s glory, is is merely steps away these days, you will need to get out and mimic proper human movement.  Please note that I said “mimic proper human movement.”

Perspective is everything.  All this stuff will fall into place for you when your perspective is right.

Comments

  1. says

    Nice! Love it! I’m putting something similar together for my website; basically trying to debunk common Paleo myths like the ones you mention above (others being the standard “you’ll be vitamin deficient”, “you’ll die without whole grains”, and “paleo is caveman re-creationism”). Great to see members of the community working hard to debunk these perceptions and try to get the word out.

    • jessica b says

      i love, love, love when whole grains come into play… from reading wheat belly. my family and i have taken on the “paleo lifestyle” in the last 2 months. its been simple for myself though my husband doesn’t read, he’s just going by what i say. it’s been a bit more difficult for him. everyone should be eating paleo or similar to hit big food hard! it makes me so angry to know our gov’t is promoting “crack-like” food which is so unhealthy. :/ go paleo. :)

  2. says

    It was weird but before I decided to try paleo I had a dream where someone was chiding a woman for eating paleo – asking when she would come off her diet. In the dream it was very clear to me that Paleo is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. So I went Paleo shortly after. :-)

  3. Suzanne LeMere says

    Love your post, Sarah. My weight trainers Rueben and Autum have brought a Paleo exercise program to Highline Athletic Club in Burien, WA. When I talk to others about what I’m doing I say, “I have adopted a new/paleo lifestyle”. I try my hardest to not call this a diet. I recently returned to college (after nearly 20 years) to earn my undergraduate degree (finally) and graduated in 09. During that time I took an environmental science class (in 07) and learned what was being done to the food we eat. Ever since, I have been looking for ways to eat and live a healthier life-style. After being introduced to this by Rueben and Autum, everything finally clicked. I have struggled with weight all my life. On 8/1/11, I weighed 303 lbs., the heaviest I’ve ever been and started to seriously consider gastric by-pass surgery (I nearly gave up hope). Now, I way 275 lbs. and I already feel fantastic. I’m still reading your book Everyday Paleo (I’m not a reader and I love your book is so easy to read and straight forward). By eating more protein and not eating processed food, my appetite is half of what it once was (I digress). Thank you for sharing your knowledge with others and I’m really loving your recipes (I made Pollo con Salsa Roja last night–delish!)

    Also, NPR just aired a story earlier this week about baby’s being given digestive medicine for being fussy and having upset stomachs. One of the doctors suggested that the woman change her diet and eliminate soy, wheat and something else) because she was breast feeding. Problem solved!

    • JasonS says

      I’m not Sarah, but I’m glad you enjoyed my post. And I’m sure Sarah is very grateful for your kind word about her book. It is certainly a fantastic contribution to our community.

  4. says

    Thanks, Jason ;-). I nearly got in a fight with one of my best friends today – a vegetarian – over paleo. She was likening it to Atkins, low carb, ‘fads.’ Ugh. I backed off because we weren’t going to go anywhere good with that one. My emphasis with paleo has always been that it is a natural process that will lead to health, that individuals will need to find the individual combination of foods that work best for them, and that it will mean different things to different people within a broad framework. Thank you for the reminder!

  5. says

    Going through some of Robb’s old podcasts and came across an excellent quote from somebody named “John Ryan” or something like that.

    “Paleo is a logical framework applied to modern humans not a historical reenactment”.

    I find this is something the media needs to learn, every “Paleo” piece I’ve seen either blatantly portrays it as “caveman reenactment” or strongly hints at that.

    Somebody needs to make a t-shirt with that on it ;)

  6. Hailey says

    Great post, Jason. I always correct my husband when he says “your diet…” and tell him this is a lifestyle change. He still calls it a diet, but uses it in a proper context rather than saying “You’re dieting”. I think where a lot of people get confused is the part about it being a permanent change. This is unlike exclusion diets, like the Perricone Perscription or South Beach Diet, where you eat a certain way for a while then go back to eating SAD. I think that’s where the confusion comes from for people who haven’t adopted Paleo yet.

  7. says

    Awesome post Jason! I recently put up a post on my blog titled “Is the Paleo Diet really a diet?” … but your article is WAY better.

    And in case Sarah reads these comments too. Love your book! I finally got my wife on the paleo train by buying her a copy! :)

  8. Penny says

    “If you just gave up running marathons, getting healthy will mean gaining some muscle mass. ”

    I believe you were talking to me there. ;) Yes, I know I have lost a lot of muscle mass and gained more of a fat layer since running 3 full marathons and 3 half marathons plus all the training that entails in a year. No more of that!

      • says

        I liked you comment on a recent podcast interview, Jason, regarding the “look” of World Class Sprinters vs. World Class Marathoners ….something about sprinters looking like Greek gods and goddesses vs cancer patients (no offense to true cancer patients).

        Psst. I’m also down with some muscle definition and not the gaunt runway model.

        Later,
        Craig Almaguer (Chico, CA)

  9. Aubrey says

    Love this. It will certainly help me to explain Paleo to family and friends who think I’m crazy or to those of them who are interested in going Paleo themselves.

  10. Audrey says

    Good stuff! Lately when I turn down cake, pancakes or whatever it’s been people have often asked, “Why, are you trying to lose weight or something?” and it dawned on me that people eat “properly” for that goal all the time, but rarely JUST for HEALTH. So, I answer, “I eat real, whole foods that are intended for overall health.” And that can often seem to baffle them. I love your emphasis on muscle mass too, and your de-emphasis on the scale. It’s such a logical, breath-of-fresh-air approach.

  11. Danielle says

    Good post. Been paleo about 6 months and my husband still asks me if I am “allowed” to eat certain foods on my “diet”. I tell him I can eat whatever I want. I just choose not to eat particular things. He is coming around though. He might give it a go sometime soon.

    • Sharyn says

      I know just what you mean – my partner says the same things. Also that he has been ‘naughty’ and eaten a chocolate bar or whatever. To his credit, he has mightily reduced his bread and cereal intake, is eating ‘naughty’ bacon, and has been pleasantly surprised as his love handles and little pot belly are slowly disappearing.

    • says

      Agreed. Most of my co-workers (other massage therapists at a big fancy spa) keep saying “are you still on that paleo thing?” and “can you eat this?” I keep telling them that I “can” eat whatever I want… And I plan to be ” on that paleo thing” for the rest of my life. Luckily, thanks to months of my pestering, we now sell Robb Wolf’s book in our spa boutique, and I’m working on getting Sarah’s book on our shelves too.

  12. says

    I started a 40 day Paleo Challenge today thru “Crossfit”. I am doing this for several reasons. One, I have read a lot about it and want to try it out, get rid of some excess pounds, increase my strength workouts and mainly to see if I want to recommend it to my clients. Wish me luck! Thanks for all of the great information.

    • says

      As a busy massage therapist working on people riddled with “modern diseases” I recommend paleo to nearly ALL of my clients. (even some vegetarians, if they seem open to the idea) If you go full tilt on your 40 day challenge, I have no doubt you will be as thrilled with the results as I am. (and my whole family too!)
      My 65 year old mother is 30 lbs lighter and looks/acts 20 years younger in only 6 weeks!
      My wife needs a belt to hold up her formerly tight jeans, but weighs MORE due to an increase of sexy, healthy muscle. (and… Get this- NO PMS, NO CRAMPS!)
      My brother has lost 45 lbs since mid July and feels better than he ever has.
      I am more energetic, have no gas (a big deal, ask my wife) and look and feel better than I have since I was 23 (I am 40 now)

  13. Julie says

    Jason,

    Great post (again :) ) I love reading what you and Sarah have to say! Keeps me moving foward with my Paleo lifestyle! My question for you is this…for weight loss, I should be looking at lower carb Paleo choices, correct? Yams and Squash have been my “go to” veggies for the last few weeks, should I be limiting those types of veggies for the time being? And what is your opinion on fruit? If I am looking to become leaner, do I need to limit my fruit for awhile too? Thanks for any advice you can give me! I feel so much better eating Paleo (and have lost about 47 pounds, have a ways to go and things have been slowing down in that area), my moods are more stable, my skin is clearer and I sleep better. It is GREAT! Just want to make sure I stay on the right track! Thanks so much!

    Julie

      • Julie says

        Jason,

        Thanks for the information and the reminder to not be a “scale addict” :) I need to remember this is about being healthy and making good choices, not just some number on a scale. Wish I lived closer to your gym, because I would definitely be knocking on your door!

        Thanks again,
        Julie

  14. Stephanie says

    I just want to thank all of you who are involved with Everyday Paleo. You have really supported my journey into Paleo. For the first time in my life- after nearly 15 years of dieting- I feel that I have adopted a healthy lifestyle. I feel so much better.
    I have attempted Paleo several times, but this is the first time I am really doing it without “cheating,” okay, well I may have a piece of 77% dark chocolate and a glass of wine occasionally, but I have to do this in a way I can live with, right? I didn’t have even a small portion of pasta at my dad’s 60th (why would I when there was sausage and veggies?) and I have not been tempted by treats and candy at work. I can’t ever think of a time in my life where I didn’t actually want all of those things–even just a little.
    Jason, your forthright assertion of what it means to truly live a Paleo lifestyle, has allowed me to really do that. Thank you for your well thought out explanations of scientific terms. Sarah, thank you for your easy, delicious and healthy recipes.

    • Audrey says

      I love your thoughts here! This is totally how I feel too. There’s a lot of freedom in this Paleo way in that it’s about pursuing health, not counting things or driving yourself crazy with “dieting.” So happy for you!

    • JasonS says

      Stephanie, your comment warms my heart. It’s always nice to know that we are accomplishing what we set out to do – help people. Don’t worry about the dark chocolate and wine in moderation. I wouldn’t even call that a cheat. Keep doing what you’re doing and you will be back here in no time telling stories of all the amazing, seemingly unrelated benefits you are experiencing. Keep us posted!

      • Stephanie says

        Thanks Jason. But you all really deserve credit. This website has offered me incredible support and motivation. I hope you all feel good about that. I will definitely stay in touch and keep you all posted on my journey. For now it is being committed to a lifestyle that I can live with. I refuse to diet anymore (though I am working on a few excess pounds- and they are coming off, yay) and Paleo is the way for me to live a healthy lifestyle that I can do everyday. I am in amazement everyday I am around foods that used to weigh heavily on my mind (you know what I mean- walking by the donuts at the office and you either can’t stop thinking about them because you’re not “supposed” to eat them, or you eat them and feel supremely guilty after wards?) and I am truly not even tempted. This is big stuff for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  15. David says

    Good post Jason!

    I’ve been living the Paleo way for approximately 3 years. Having started on the lean side to begin with I wanted to lose the last of the love handles and belly fat. I haven’t found the answer. Tried eating strictly protein for one month in fact. No change. I crossfit 4x a week, so there’s lifting heavy and metcons. Currently I eat 6 ounces of sweet potato for some starch along with a cup of berries a day along with good fats and protein. No change in BF. Is it possible for a person like me to unable to lose the last 5% of BF? When I was younger I could lose the BF but ate the CW way and was starving. Any suggestions?

  16. says

    Thanks for a great post, Jason. It is difficult when people ask time and time again “When are you going to think you’ve lost enough weight and start eating bread again?”

    That would be “never”. I like the whole “pain-free with a clear mind” thing. Yeah, the smaller clothes are nice too, not to mention the “c’mere baby” looks I get more often from The Boyfriend.

    But even he tells people “This is just how she eats now.”

  17. Suzanne LeMere says

    Thanks, Jason! Sorry I confused you with Sarah. I appreciated your post all the same. And, yes, I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, you’re doing the caveman diet.” or “Isn’t that the Atkins diet?” Ugh, is right! Any more, I just save my breath. I know what’s working for me. :)

  18. Nicole says

    I arrived at something very near paleo on my own, through years of eliminating foods that make me sick. A few months ago a coworker mentioned that her brother ate a paleo diet. I had never heard of this, so I asked her about it. When she said he subsisted primarily on meat and vegetables, I was shocked. I had no idea that there was a name for how I ate, much less that there was an entire community out there to support this lifestyle.

    Interestingly, I have never experienced resistance, anger, or accusations from friends or family (even the vegetarians!) about what I do or don’t eat, because from my experience, it’s pretty straightforward: If I eat grains, I get a headache. If I eat wheat, I can’t breathe. If I eat soy or milk, I’m in pain. (If I eliminated meat, I would starve to death.) So, like you said, it’s a health plan, and that’s exactly how I have perceived and communicated it since until recently I didn’t even know I could put a label on it.

    How lucky for those who didn’t have to go through years of trial and error to arrive here! And how lucky for me to have finally found a community of like-minded people to keep me on target.

  19. Asime C. Ozozer says

    Hello Jason,

    Thanks for the article. I have started eating paleo since the last 5 days. I already feel with mucho more energy then before. But I have two questions:
    1) When I try to convince my mother who has diabetes II, and who doesn’t like meet that much, to do paleo “diet” she says “humans were eating that way in the past, and that’s why they were dying at the age of 40!”. I know that our ancestors were living much shorter than we do now, but do you think it can be related to too much eating of the meat?
    2) My sister who always have digestive problems went to a doctor, and he said my sister had genetically too long intestins and that she better avoid eating a lot of meat. It made me think, is it possible that the paleo way of eating may not be good for everyone?
    hank you in advance for your valuable information.
    Best regards and healthy days!

    • Rella B says

      Asime, Here’s the 3 step counter-argument I use for the “short, brutal lives” argument
      1) Researchers use the term “average lifespan” which includes all the infant and child mortality, balanced by all the aged population. Short average lifespan just means more humans died younger, not that they all dropped dead at 40. 2)Paleolithic hunter-gatherer average life was 35 years, but the lifespan of one of the earliest farming cultures, the ancient Egyptians, dropped to 28. 3) Some of that is city living causing disease to spread more easily, but autopsies find larger numbers of heart disease and dental decay among the early farmers. And evidence of diabetes. Google “Indian Knoll & Hardin Village” for a more modern comparison
      For your sister: Paleo eating is not the same as eating lots of meat. She should eat sufficient meat for her own well being but not enough to cause her intestinal distress. Or stick to proteins easier to digest (I find eggs, fish and shellfish work well for me.) But urge her to avoid grains and industrial seed oils, to work on balancing omega 3 to 6 fat ratios, improve sleep quality, improve play quality and pay attention to what how her body reacts to her diet. She may have leaky gut, and that will improve with Paleo eating. After it heals, some of her digestion issues may improve.

  20. Debbie B in MD says

    Thanks for the post. Since going gluten free in January of this year because of finally discovering the cause of so many health issues, celiac disease, I have adopted a paleo way of life. It still bugs me to no end when my mother continues to ask me how my diet is going. How many times or ways can I say it isn’t a DIET. Afterall, she is my mom, but it so irks me!!! I am glad to know I am not alone.

  21. Kelly Scanlon says

    I also NEVER say diet…too many preconceived notions with that word. My lifestyle naturally converted to Paleo after I was on GAPS for a yeast overgrowth. As I slowly incorporated things like lentils and beans (on GAPS) I noticed I had more blood sugar control problems. Around the same time I heard a lecture by Dr. Loren Cordain regarding Paleo so I started doing some research. Never in my life did I realize I could feel this good and have this much energy. I struggled with hypoglycemia since I was in middle school and now it is a thing of the past! I am also one of the ones who gave up running…I ran about three 5Ks per week, just around my neighborhood, but I found it very hard to keep up this pace and did not find it helped me control my weight. Now, I walk those 3 miles and do weight training and muscle conditioning in my basement on alternate days! Thank you Jason and Sarah for all you do…you guys really keep me going! The information is priceless!

  22. Belinda says

    thanks for another great post Jason

    I wen’t away to a crafting retreat this weekend, had a ball, decided that in the intreset of good mental health I’d not worry too much about the meals being Paleo or not, to my surprise, dinner on the first night was a chicken catchetore type dish, crushed tomatoes chicken drumsticks olives took up half the smallish plate and good old fashioned veggies, Lunch the second day was grilled chicken and salad, and diner that night was roast beef and vegies, I just didn’t take any bread, breakfast was more difficult with pancakes and cereal being the only option but I figure, one weekend a year of musili for breakfast isn’t going to kill me, I was able to keep up my early morning exercises, my roadtrip up and back was strictly paleo I had lots of fun Exploring, though I think the Grain and sugar cravings will hang around for a bit but I know I will quickly get back to feeling awesome while enjoying my lifestyle

  23. Alicia says

    I recently started a training program and was looking for a way to adopt as my families new “lifestyle”. Thats when another friend recommended paleo and turned me on to your blog. I have been trying out your recipes and we have been eatting this way for about 3 months now. My question is this…My husband has been diagnosed with high cholesterol and triglycerides. HE does not want to take meds for this but we were wondering if the paleo lifestyles is one that is going to be healthy for him? Let me also say that he does not have a workout regimine that he sticks to, however his job is labor intensive. He also does drink beer on a regular basis. I have told him I think the beer is the culprit and that stopping that would be the best thing. Just curious on your opinion. I know that you are not a doctor and I will also be consulting a nutritionist that I know, but was wondering if anyone else has had any problems with cholesterol and triglycerides once switching to paleo! Thanks

  24. says

    It is so true. THAT WORD DIET… sends all kinds of scary things to me. I have been on paleo strickly and not for over a year and I can say it is just plain good eating of real food and my body craves all of that! So I LOVE Paleo STYLYIN

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