The dismissive criticisms of the Paleo Diet generally fall into one of three categories:
Cavemen had short lifespans. So there.
A recent article said that cavemen ate grains. So there.
Eating that much meat is unhealthy. So there.
As I said at the beginning of this article, it doesn’t matter what cavemen or cavewomen ACTUALLY ate.
The reason this diet works has nothing to do with what our bodies are designed to eat or what cavemen ate 1,000s of years ago.
The Paleo Diet CAN help you lose weight because it gets you to cut out junk food, focus on eating real food, and gives you a framework to evaluate quickly every food choice:
“Did a caveman eat this? Yes or no.”
By following this ONE rule, you’re likely to eat fewer calories than you used to, and thus you’re likely to end up healthier than before.
I personally don’t follow a Paleo Diet, but I do appreciate the fact that it’s easy to comprehend and gets people to take a more active approach in their food!
So, disregarding the fear-mongering, dogma, and anthropological criticisms of what cavemen actually ate, what are the ACTUAL critiques of the Paleo Diet?
#1) “Why is the Paleo Diet expensive?”
Admittedly, while I recommend eating organic fruits and veggies, free-range chicken, and grass-fed beef whenever possible, these products can be more expensive in conventional stores due to the processes needed to get them there.
However, farmers’ markets often have well-priced meats, eggs, fruits, and vegetables that are locally grown and incredibly healthy.
Even if you’re spending a little more money than before, when you factor in your overall health, spending a few extra bucks on healthier food now is a wiser investment than thousands later on costly medical expenses.
Also, if you’re really short on cash, eating the non-organic or grain-fed version of meat, vegetable, or eggs is still better than eating breads, pasta, fast food, and the like.
Most people simply compare the cost of a paleo meal with ramen noodles or pasta and bread and determine Paleo is prohibitively expensive.
Sure, it’s more expensive than those foods, but if you are smart with your money you can eat a much healthier meal and do so pretty inexpensively. Check out this guide on “How to Eat Healthy Without Breaking the Bank” for some tips and tricks.
(This doesn’t even factor in the whole “if you eat cheap unhealthy food now, you’ll pay thousands in medical bills and hospital visits and medications later” argument, which is valid too).
#2) “But cavemen had short lifespans! Of course they don’t have the diseases we do. We live way longer now.”
I agree with you here, but only because you don’t have to deal with the dangers of living back then.
Again we don’t really care to live like cave people!
This is SIMPLY a construct that can help many make more informed food choices.
#3) “Plenty of societies around the world consume grains and aren’t fat and unhealthy like us.”
Awesome – it seems like those people have found a solution that works for them. Have you read our big ass guide to eating a Plant-Based Diet?
The China Study is frequently cited when criticizing the Paleo Diet – focusing on a vegetarian diet and consuming rice is healthier than the Paleo Diet. I respectfully disagree with the conclusions drawn from that book but that’s awesome if you want to go plant-based!  I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions based on your own self-experimentation.
You’re here to learn about the Paleo Diet though, so let’s keep the focus there.
#4) “But this is just a meat diet, and eating all meat is bad!”
First of all, consider your sources and do your research before jumping to the conclusions.
Next, this is not an all meat diet like the Carnivore Diet or uber-low carb diets like Keto or Atkins. The biggest component of the Paleo Diet?
Every meal in a true Paleo diet has a moderate amount of healthy (properly raised chicken, grass-fed beef, hormone free, etc.) meat combined with nutritious veggies or a moderate amount of fruit.
#5) “The Paleo Diet is too restrictive and I can’t live like this.”
This is the most valid criticism I personally have of the diet, as the best diet plan is the one you actually stick with and follow through on! The goal shouldn’t be to go “full paleo” for a few weeks only to go back to how you were eating before.
Instead, the goal here should be to rethink your relationship with food and develop a strategy that you can live with permanently.
There’s nothing worse than going on diets and gaining and losing the same 20 pounds over and over. The Paleo Diet, like other diets, WORKS ONLY IF YOU STICK WITH IT PERMANENTLY!
This makes sense after all: make temporary changes, get temporary results, right?
#6) “Steve, I hate vegetables. How do you make vegetables taste better? HALP.”
I got you. Heres how to start liking vegetables and how to make vegetables taste better.
We know this all too well, and we have helped thousands of people slowwwwly transition their diet over a long period of time to make change less scary, more permanent, and thus make the weight loss permanent too!
If you’re overwhelmed or scared of changing too much, or maybe you’re just sick of dieting and want to find a solution that works for your busy lifestyle and situation, schedule a call with us to learn more about our 1-on-1 coaching program:
Paleo Recipes and Paleo Resources
Here’s our full list of Nerd Fitness Paleo/Healthy recipes, and here are my three favorites:
10 Minutes of Prep, 10 Easy Meals
Paleo spaghetti: freaking delicious, I promise
How to Make Mini Paleo Pizzas.
I’ve also compiled a list of my favorite sites and recipe books around the internet that can help you get started:
#1) Nom Nom Paleo – Michelle Tam and her husband Henry are amazing people, and their Paleo Blog is absolutely phenomenal. Great photos. Well written. Organized intelligently.
Their “Nom Nom Paleo” cookbook is a fun resource too, and a great place to get started with cooking for your Paleo lifestyle. Oh, what’s that? You have kids and a spouse and you’re all trying to eat healthier too? This book is perfect for that as well!
#2) Mark’s Daily Apple – Easily the most comprehensive resource on the internet for the Paleo Diet – Mark writes an article every weekday about everything Paleo, and it usually blows me away. Some of the posts can get overwhelming, so I suggest starting with his Primal Blueprint 101.
The Primal Blueprint – If you want to read about this stuff in a book rather than on a computer screen, Mark’s book The Primal Blueprint is a great place to get started on not only what to eat, but why you should be eating it.
It’s educational, funny, real-world applicable, and teaches you how to primalize (just made that up) the rest of your life too.
#3) Robb Wolf – Another great resource, and a guy I’ve already referenced in this article multiple times. Check out his site for a comprehensive FAQ on all things Paleo, a shopping list pdf (right-click and save), and plenty of humor.
The Paleo Solution – This article would have been finished 3 hours earlier, but before I wrote it, I read ALL of Robb’s new book. It seriously had me laughing out loud at certain points – not bad for a book on diet!
This book is a little less forgiving than Mark’s book above, but it’s still a great read.
#4) Loren Cordain – Loren is considered the leading expert on the Paleo Diet – Robb is actually one of his students/disciples/Padawans.
Dr. Cordain is probably the foremost authority on this type of eating, which is why I really enjoyed reading both of his books.
MORE RECIPE RESOURCES:
Ready or Not! 150 Make Now Recipes – The newer book from Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo. It’s super fun. Plus she’s wearing a Nerd FItness t-shirt in some of her photos in the book, so I might be sliiiightly biased 🙂
Mark’s Daily Apple – Although he sells the cookbook on Amazon, Mark also lists over 100 free primal recipes on his site. Pick something on the list, go buy the ingredients, and follow the instructions! So easy even a caveman can do it.
Everyday Paleo – Great pictures, easy to follow recipes, and pretty interesting combinations. Click on FOOD in the Nav bar, and the meals are broken down into breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you’re curious about The Paleo Diet’s recent popularity and thus it’s criticisms, we’ve written two other pieces on Nerd Fitness that might be of interest:
“The Paleo Diet Debunked??” where I address a few of the more recent criticisms that have popped up.
“In Defense of a Paleo-Ish Diet” where I cover how to live a mostly Paleo lifestyle but still enjoy the modern benefits of society.
Who Should and Who Shouldn’t Do the Paleo Diet?
I’m a fan of the Paleo Diet for the RIGHT person:
I love mental models that help us make sense of the world, and I think for SOME people, the Paleo Diet will really help them cut down on overeating.
I personally do NOT follow a Paleo Diet, but I do have rules that I follow.
Do whatever makes you happy and fits in your schedule. I like this kind of stress-free eating.
Regardless of whether or not grains should be vilified, I love this diet because I know it WORKS. I know people that have lost incredible amounts of weight and changed their lives within a matter of months.
People like Staci:
Regardless of how you feel about grains, we can all agree that eating more natural foods and less processed foods is better for you.
YOU SHOULD DO THE PALEO DIET IF:
You struggle with portion control (meaning you can’t eat just one cookie, or you tend to keep eating even when you’re full).
You can stick with the changes you’re making permanently! Remember, temporary changes create temporary results.
You don’t mind eliminating some of your favorite foods completely.
YOU SHOULD NOT DO THE PALEO DIET IF:
The idea of giving up non-paleo foods makes you want to cry.
You don’t mind learning about calories and want to track your food.
Another diet sounds like a better fit for you!
Consider some of these other options instead:
The Mediterranean Diet which still includes portions of things like pasta or bread (note: I said PORTIONS, not platefuls)!
Our guide on healthy eating and slowly adjust your nutrition – which would be my recommendation.
My paleo-ish dietary philosophy that keeps me healthy and happy.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you need to make permanent adjustments to your nutrition.
If you don’t see yourself being able to permanently follow a Paleo Diet, I would advise a more ‘wade in from the shallow end‘ approach to dietary change!
How to Do the Paleo Diet Safely
Maybe you’re ready to try out this Paleo lifestyle, but you can’t commit fully. There are certain foods you refuse to give up, or you can’t afford to buy grass-fed beef at the moment.
If you can even make a few small changes here and there (cut out liquid calories, switch out your rice for steamed vegetables, cut back on bread, etc.) you’ll start to see some changes.
Remember, 20% healthier is better than 0% healthier – as you get more comfortable with the changes you can increase that percentage.
After all, I know how tough it is to stay loyal to a strict diet, especially without a plan to follow. It’s why we created free resources that can help you reach your goals faster without you also going crazy.
Get rid of the temptation: if you’re gonna go at this thing with a full head of steam, remove all the junk food from your house.
It’s going to take a few weeks for your body to adjust to burning fat instead of glucose, and you might want to eat poorly here and there. If there’s no food in your house to tempt you, it will be much easier to stay on target.
Now, it’s your turn.
Have you tried the Paleo Diet yet?
What was your experience like?
Have a criticism of the diet that I didn’t cover before?
Do you have a favorite paleo resource?
Remember, one of the major Rules of the Rebellion is to question everything!
I hope this article gives you some food for thought (terrible pun, I know), and gives you permission to question conventional wisdom and start addressing the issues in your diet!
In addition to this Beginner Paleo Guide, I hope you consider checking our 1-on-1 Coaching Program as well.
We have designed this program from the ground up to help people like you change their lives and fix their nutrition in a way that doesn’t suck.
Now, go forth. And eat like a caveman.
PS: If you want to continue your adventures with us, check out NF Journey, our fun habit-building app that helps you exercise more frequently, eat healthier, and level up your life (literally).
You gain access to this app through Nerd Fitness Prime.
photo sources: cavemen elephant hunt, caveman cooking over fire, cavemen hunt paleo bear, milk truck logo, darth vader vendor, storm trooper tomato, lego cook, chef and lego pig, lego explorer, lego muffin, lego bread and carbs, frozen caveman grok lego, lego clock, lego caveman forging for food, caveman with wheel, darth vader and ostrich lego, easing into water lego, lego man with pasta, cheddar cheese,