If you are looking for a quick fix, a silver bullet or the secret to life panacea, if you want to jump on the latest weight loss band wagon or are looking to a book or diet plan that tells you what is right or wrong for your life, the Paleo diet is not something you should try. If you are looking for someone else to tell you what they think is best for your body, the Paleo diet may not be your best choice. If your health, and the health of your environment, and the planet, are not your priorities, the Paleo diet is not for you.
The Paleo approach to modern living has taken its fair share of criticism recently (1, 2, 3, 4). Despite the myriad of success stories and, the unsurmountable amount of health challenges that have been overcome and the lives that have been permanently altered and improved (5, 6), the lifestyle has been labelled everything from ‘unrealistic’, ‘unhealthy’ and a ‘fad’. I think many of the Paleo detractors focus on perception and dictionary definitions and fail to understand the nuances and details. Listening to their arguments may convince you that a Paleo type diet is not for you.
Paleo critics often point out that literally living a life that mirrors that of Paleolithic man is impossible in this modern age. If you are going to eat like a caveman, you should also want to live like one -strapping on loin cloths, hanging out in caves, foraging for your own food, hunting your own animals, giving up modern day luxury and moving back to a primitive lifestyle.
There is no one I know who follows Paleo principles that actually wants to live that way! Hunting woolly mammoths or other now extinct animals is not an option, but consuming grass fed beef or bison, free range chicken, wild fish, and possibly some wild game meat are modern alternatives to nutrient-dense proteins. The food today is vastly different from the food that existed tens of thousands of years ago, the Paleo diet focuses on what is available here and now.
The Paleo lifestyle is not meant to be taken literally. It is looked at as a simple blueprint to give you the best chance at having success with weight loss and optimal health.
A big cornerstone of the Paleo Diet is that human evolution has progressed little since the Agricultural Revolution that occurred approximately 10,000 years ago.
Critics argue that human evolution is an ongoing process, and since the Paleolithic era certain cultures have adapted to grain or dairy consumption and thus the Paleo concept holds no validity. Humans have, and continue to adapt to their surroundings explaining why people of Northern European descent tend to have no problem consuming dairy, while people of Asian descent tend to struggle digesting lactose.
Recently, some studies have examined various ancient cultures and concluded that in certain civilizations consumed certain types of grains as far back as 100,000 years ago
You might think this could cause anarchy throughout the Paleo movement and be a true determinant that the Paleo diet is not for you.
The focus of the modern Paleo diet is on whole, real foods! Processed grains, stuff in boxes and bags, is garbage and not going to support you in feeling your best. No matter how far back you go in the evolutionary timeline, you will be hard pressed to find a culture eating bleached white bread or Lucky Charms (now with ‘heart healthy whole grains!’). The emphasis is not on ‘no grains, no matter what ever,’ but rather a common sense approach to cutting out processed foods and including more natural whole foods.
One of the main concerns of the conventional nutrition community stems from the elimination of what they consider necessary (but physiologically not necessarily essential) food groups, namely grains and dairy. Understandably, heated debates have been spun off on these topics. Huge emotional and financial interests are vested in whether these foods are harmful or not.
For this reason, it is best to adopt the approach of ‘trust no one except your own body’ when it comes to matters of nutrition. You may be one of the people who can live an optimal life with a certain amount dairy as part of your diet because you will have tested this to be true – on yourself. Until you remove something you do not know how much better you could be feeling. Just 'okay’ is no substitute for being your best. It is not necessary to consume anything simply because it is ‘normal’ (meaning common) and prevalent or because someone has told you what is best for your body. Try, don’t trust! If you are unwilling to find out what works best for you, a true Paleo lifestyle may not be for you.
Paleo detractors also often discuss the high meat consumption of the perceived 'true' Paleo diet. This again, is misunderstood. Meat is not an all-encompassing term and not all animal protein is created equal. Although you may choose to follow a Paleo type nutrition plan by eating primarily protein (the majority of which comes from animal sources), a true Paleo Diet emphasizes plant and vegetable consumption, along with animal protein sources. Critics and advocates are actually in agreement on nutrition that promotes the consumption of more vegetables, and whenever possible eating meat from pasture raised or free range animals.
Rather than a literal translation of what your Paleolithic ancestors ate (which depends on where they lived and the resources available to them), the modern paleo diet places a focus on eating real foods (not processed food-like products), like well sourced protein, healthy fats, plenty of local, seasonal, organic vegetables and fruit, minimizing toxins and liquid calories
In contrast, it is not about finding substitutes for all your favorite processed or unhealthy foods made with paleo-type ingredients, switching from normal cookies and pancakes to Paleo cookies and pancakes and eating as much fruit, honey and dark chocolate as possible. This defeats the purpose entirely. Understand that you will never be able to outrun your fork. Your diet will account for 80% of your success or failure. If you would rather not fundamentally shift how you think about food and how you fuel your body, the Paleo diet is not for you.
The Paleo diet is not about being 'on' it or 'falling off the wagon.' It is about embracing and choosing to fuel your body and live your life for the purpose of feeling great, whatever that may look like for you. It embodies making conscious decisions whether to eat ‘unhealthy foods’ within your framework, and understanding that this is part of your journey.
A fad diet is defined as 'Any of a number of weight-reduction diets that either eliminate one or more of the essential food groups, or recommend consumption of one type of food in excess at the expense of other foods. Fad diets rarely follow sound nutritional principles for weight loss, which focus on ingesting fewer calories and/or consuming more energy through exercise; fad diets are generally not endorsed by the medical profession.' Although recently labelled a fad, following your true Paleo diet is anything but.