You Might Be Getting Too Good at Paleo
Note: You can receive all of the new articles written at Humans Are Not Broken right in your email inbox — about 2 per week — by just signing up free right here.
Are you getting too good at Paleo? Is that even possible?
I’d say, yes, it is. It is entirely too easy to get too good at Paleo(tm), while getting worse at the Paleo(lithic) Diet and overall evolutionary approach in the process. Allow me to explain.
Do’s and Don’ts
Paleo, for most people, is a set of do’s and don’ts. Don’t eat:
- lectins, phytates, gluten or other toxins, which rule out cereal grains and legumes;
- chemical additives or preservatives that are found in processed and packaged foods;
- trans fats;
- added or excessive omega-6 fats, eliminating seed oils;
- foods with added processed sugars;
- dairy, usually with the exception of butter and ghee.
The do’s are a little more appetizing, and while these may not seem like a lot of bullet points, the combinations are virtually endless. Gourmet chefs use real-food ingredients like this all of the time. Do eat:
- a variety of meats, including fish and grass-fed ruminants and their organs;
- pastured eggs;
- a variety of organic green vegetables;
- natural spices and herbs;
- fats like tallow, lard, omega-3 fats, coconut oil, palm oil, and raw olive oil;
- and only moderate intake is encouraged for fruits (fructose) and nuts (omega-6 oils).
The Successful Novice
When first starting out with Paleo, the new rules can feel both liberating and restrictive. But who cares if it’s restrictive when you can have bacon and eggs for breakfast? YES! You can enjoy a huge salad filled with meat, boiled eggs, and avocados for lunch. For dinner, you can sink your teeth into a juicy steak with a side of broiled vegetables, and if you get a little wild-and-crazy, you can toss in a few squares of dark chocolate for dessert.
All is good in PaleoLand!
If you were a little overweight, or especially if you were obese and transitioning from a Standard American Diet (SAD) — of pizza, sugared drinks, toxins up the wahzoo, processed and packaged foods, eating out several times a week, etc. — you will almost invariably begin to feel great and start losing weight, too.
“To have some deep feeling about [Paleo] is not the point; we just do what we should do, like eating supper and going to bed. This is [Paleo].”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (substituting “Paleo” for “Buddhism”)
The Paleo Pro
As time marches on, you begin to learn new tweaks in your zeal to absorb information about your diet, nay lifestyle.
You’ll start stocking up the pantry with everything that’s on your Paleo(tm)-approved list. Maybe you’ll eventually decide to start skipping breakfast in an attempt to try Intermittent Fasting (IF), which you’ve heard will kickstart stalled weight loss. With your “feeding window” narrowed, the IF can certainly help you reduce calories and lose weight.
But, perhaps you have a family who wants variety, or you’re just getting bored with making the same foods over and over again, so you start learning how to make elaborate foods using Paleo(tm) ingredients. There are entire web sites dedicated to Paleo recipes, books with hundreds or recipes, and even sites and books dedicated entirely to DESSERT.
What might start off as a ‘once-in-a-while treat,’ eventually devolves into ‘these-foods-are-always-within-an-arms-reach.’
Every one of the following foods can be made with ingredients that comply with the Do’s and Don’ts we talked about at the beginning of this article:
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Now just as an aside, I’m not trying to insinuate that these foods are inherently bad or, as some people like to say, ‘evil.’ In fact, I think it is quite (psychologically) unhealthy to think about food in those terms. If one of these recipes happens to be yours (or one of your favorites on rare occasions), my hat’s off to you.
Why Can’t I Lose Weight on Paleo Anymore?
In the beginning of your journey with Paleo, there’s a damn good chance that the new habits you adopted put you in a calorie deficit. You were eating meat, vegetables, and fruit. A bit of oil was used for cooking, not as an ingredient. You probably weren’t snacking between meals. And you weren’t making fancy Paleo brownies.
This was partly because a) you didn’t know how and b) the novelty of your new diet was already enough to keep you interested. Learning to cook the perfect lamb chop, experimenting with offal, snagging up new veggies at the farmer’s market — it was interesting and fun (hopefully, it still is for most of us!).
As you got better at Paleo(tm), you learned methods to undo the benefits that were a free consequence of being a newbie.
The major problem with elaborate Paleo(tm) foods and desserts is that they are calorie-rich and low on nutrition. This is exactly why SAD doesn’t work. And here we have Paleo folks mimicking the SAD approach! Unless you are a growing, active child or you have trouble with putting on weight, these foods should not be on your everyday menus.
Part of the problem with the Paleo(tm) approach as opposed to the Paleo(lithic) approach is that the Paleo(tm) approach is a business. It’s a business that is seeking clicks, views, booksales, pins, likes, tweets, and every manner of marketing bullshit that ought to have nothing to do with what influences your health decisions.
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Become a Paleolithic Pro Instead
Hey, keep your clothes on, don’t quit your job, and be careful before you climb that tree in search of honey. That’s not what I’m talking about.
The Paleo(lithic) approach involves something like this (forgive me, I know this is incomplete…):
- Start with the basics: food, sleep, activity, sunlight, socializing. Do not start with, “What can I buy to fix such and such?”
- Eat real, whole foods. Fill your plate with recognizable foods and make them delicious with cooking techniques and spices.
- Avoid Paleo(tm) processed foods. Nut flours, oils, butters, etc. are processed foods. That doesn’t make them toxic, but it does make them easy to overeat. Do you think human beings have had a chance to evolve a mechanism for detecting when too much coconut oil, almond butter, or coconut flour has been consumed? I don’t.
- Avoid snacking between meals. Admit it, before you learned how to make Paleo(tm) muffins, you rarely snacked between meals. And when you found out Larabars were Paleo(tm)? Fuhgeddaboudit. Even if you did snack a bit, the foods were less calorie dense and probably more nutritious.
- Stop being afraid of starch. Unless you are diabetic or otherwise unhealthy (and being a little overweight is probably not ‘unhealthy’), why are you avoiding a food like potatoes? They are nutrient-dense and low in calories. They’re also inexpensive and can help solve Paleo(tm) budget issues. Give your body the glucose it wants, or heck at least experiment with it. It’s done wonders for n=1 me.
- Learn new skills like fermenting, instead of baking. You can keep getting better at a Paleo(lithic) approach, too! Fermented salsa and kombucha will keep your gut humming along nicely.
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
— Hunter S. Thompson
One reason the food industry can be so far off base is that the nature of business is to take something — some substrate — add value to it, and then sell it for more than it all cost to improve the original materials. This is a fantastic model for most businesses. But when it comes to food…not so much.
An apple is only going to cost so much. Competitive pressures will keep the price of an apple affordable. Nature grows it. It’s not that complicated. However, you can charge magnitudes more for apple pie, caramel apples, apple dumplings, apple sauce, apple juice, and so on ad infinitum. Another business principle is to reduce costs in order to maximize profits. Again, this is not ideal when it comes to food, and it can be downright dangerous, too.
Well, friends — the time has come in Paleo(tm)’s march toward the mainstream for us to be careful about what is being peddled with Paleo brands and labels, all in the name of making us healthier, stronger, sexier, and skinnier.
Paleo(lithic) is about what we don’t need. It’s a recognition of humanity’s appropriateness in this world, via millions of years of evolutionary adaptation. And a Paleo(tm) Chocolate Lava Cake baked with all of the love and best intentions in the world, probably won’t help you achieve your goals.
If we take this “Too Good at Paleo(tm)” principle and apply it to other areas, we might come up with:
- Too Good at Crossfit(tm) – are you over-training, pushing too hard for PRs too frequently? This can lead to injury and major setbacks.
- Too Good at YourJob(tm) – are you going through the motions and forgetting about the genuineness and quality craftsmanship just to get things done?
- Too Good at YourRoutine(tm) – have you mastered your schedule and forgotten the reasons you’re living for?
Or even more generalized:
“They know the words, but not the music.”
And finally, when it’s time to celebrate, celebrate! Just remember, ‘Wednesday’ is not a special occasion.
Let me know what you think. These ideas are part of a work in progress, that I expect to continue developing here. The social media sharing buttons work pretty well, too, I’m told.
If you're new to the blog, have a look at what Humans Are Not Broken means. Then, you might want to take a look at The Plant Paleo Diet to see how I eat to maintain my body transformation and health. It's an omnivorous diet that is heavy on plant foods, based on scientific evidence and evolutionary clues (Part 1 and Part 2). If you're into podcasts, you'll probably really enjoy Latest in Paleo, which looks at the latest health news in an entertaining and thoughtful way.