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You Might Be Getting Too Good at Paleo

You Might Be Getting Too Good at Paleo
Angelo Coppola

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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

Girl holding ScaleWhen 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:

Paleo Bread and Jam

Paleo Bread & Jam!

Paleo Bon-bons

Paleo Bon-bons!

Paleo Waffles

Paleo Waffles!

Paleo Brownies

Paleo Brownies!


“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?

Treadmill Desk

“I haven’t bought enough Paleo(tm) stuff to be successful.”

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.

Gourmet pork.

Gourmet cooking is exciting and delicious. Learn from the pros.

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

Hmm…what’s this missing?

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.

Humans Are Not Broken

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.

  • Great post Angelo, I love the perspective and the quotes!

  • Teresa

    Well said 🙂

  • zack passman

    I liked this post. I have been moving further from the paleofied neolithic foods and instead, filling the variety gap with new ventures in fermentation of veggies and new cuts of meat that I don’t usually get.

    • Yes, it’s amazing how much there is to learn with regards to food and more traditional preparation methods along with variety (cuts of meat, offal…). But nothing gets clicks like a Paleo(tm) cupcake. 🙂

      • zack passman

        That’s the truth. I think it’s OK for starting out, but what I found is that A) I was only hanging on to my old temptations and B) It’s so much more time consuming than making some goddamned ribs or sauteing up some kale that I just don’t have the patience for it.

  • James

    Great post.
    There’s a quote i have heard a few people mention and i quite like it. and i think it goes well with what you have said. Goes something like this.
    “learn from everyone” (we will always be students)
    “follow no one” (think outside the box)
    “work like hell” (take action after you have an idea)
    “watch for patterns” (ie listen to your body. aka awareness)

  • Deann

    In two words “bloody brilliant”. Thank you Angelo.

  • Really great article! It’s important to not take things too far and just stick to the basics. There’s a reason we all converted to paleo, and by making Wednesdays special occasions, we lose sense of why we said no to SAD foods in the first place.

  • karameez

    Hey Angelo, first off, congrats on a great article.

    I’m really happy to see how far you’ve come from the early days of This Week In Paleo podcast (Episode 0!), where you simply reported the latest news.

    The always thoughtful Moment of Paleo and After The Bell podcast segments have always been my favourite. And now, an increasing number of blog posts get my attention enough to be shared with others. You have definitely blossomed into your own voice in the Paleoshpere, and for this you deserve sincere congratulations!


    • Hi, George!

      It’s always amazing to hear from folks who have been around since Episode 0. 🙂 Seems like a lifetime ago.

      I really enjoy talking about the news. I’m starting to get stoked about the next episode of Latest in Paleo. What with Coca-Cola giving me so much fun material and all. And with plenty of listeners who I am sure could use some New Year’s Resolution encouragement right about now.

      I do feel like the time has come for me to do some writing, though. This is partly because blog articles are a lot easier to reference, share, and become part of the overall conversation, whereas podcast episodes are much harder to crack. Even though they have a tremendous audience, it’s difficult to tell someone, “Hey, you should listen to what so-and-so said at the 14-minute 37-second mark!”

      It’s much harder to copy and paste. Impossible to google. Well, without transcripts anyway, and I don’t have time for that.

      As someone who is an observer of the community, and as someone who is starting to see some potentially negative trends, I feel like I ought to write about it.

      I think this article can be seen as Humans Are Not Broken, Episode 1. We’ll see what happens next.

      Oh, and not to mention, the commenting structure makes it a heck of a lot easier to talk to folks like yourself, which is good.


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  • Great article. With the exception of coconut oil, which I use almost daily for cooking, I treat all other Paleo processed foods as treats.

  • Susie Shaffer

    While I understand the fear that the paleo(tm) approach can get out of hand and some can go overboard with the “processed” nut flours, sweet treats, comfort foods, desserts, etc., I have found that by having these available for myself during the weaning process from processed foods, grains and sugar in my diet made the transition easier and the “carb flu” more tolerable. At least the ingredients in these paleo(tm) “comfort foods” are much healthier and more nutrient dense than refined white flour, sugars, preservatives and other chemicals not fit for human consumption. And having paleo(tm) comfort foods is especially critical for those in my family who are less resistant to a change in their diet like my diabetic husband, already a victim of the standard American diet (SAD). I grew up eating a wide variety of meats, vegetables, fruits and processed foods based on conventional wisdom, so the paleo(lithic) approach was easier for me to embrace as someone who is more experimental in food choices. On the other hand, my husband, although he “believes” in the Paleo approach, is much more a creature of habit and has had much more trouble than me giving up processed foods, especially breads, and is more tempted to “cheat” if I don’t go to the extra trouble to make paleo(tm) muffins, pancakes, loaves, desserts, pie and pizza crusts with “processed” nut flours. Even though these foods are not optimal, his diet is still so much healthier than it ever was before because of all the other healthy and nutrient dense (paleolithic) foods he is willing to eat now because he still has some “comfort foods” to satisfy his cravings for grains, sugars and starchy foods. As a result, he feels more satiated than ever, his blood sugar levels have improved tremendously, and I am hoping that in time that he will be able to back off some of the diabetes meds as he continues to see and feel the advantages of a more committed paleo(lithic) lifestyle, as I have enjoyed with my healthier weight and more stable energy level throughout the day. With people like my husband, I must remind myself not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    • Thanks, Susie for the great comment and for taking the time to articulate it so well. Let me start by saying I was trying to speak to a group of Paleo dieters who started Paleo in order to lose weight, had some success, and then saw their weight loss progress flat line.

      I suspect the health ramifications of padding a good, nutrient-dense diet with some empty calories is not all that bad, if those empty calories also lack toxins. However, this can easily interfere with weight loss.

      I do wish I would have used the phrase you mentioned in the article, “Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” because it’s very true and very relevant.

      Another point I was trying to make is that a lot of the information we are receiving now from Paleo blogs, cooking & recipe sites, books, etc. is focused on things like desserts. On making a Paleo lifestyle indistinguishable for a standard lifestlye. For example, both have cupcakes, but one uses ingredients that are less or non-toxic. This could be because the business of Paleo(tm) is starting to have a louder voice than Paleo(lithic) diet advocates.

      • Dana

        In the low-carb communities I used to frequent, we’d see people’s weight loss plateau, but it turned out their clothing sizes were still getting smaller. I think it should become the norm for people battling obesity to measure bodyfat percentage and ignore the scale. Or use the scale, but don’t let it be the last word.

        Last I knew (I need to check again), I can get Bod Pod local to me for $25 a go. It’s worth a look.

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  • George Henderson

    Yeah, good carb/potato comment. At least experiment, there’s a perfect carb setting for everyone and it may not be where you read it is.

    • Absolutely. A lot of people will say, “everyone’s different and has to find what works for them” — and then proceed to make blanket statements about not eating bananas or potatoes or carbs or what have you. “Everyone has to figure out what’s right for them…now do what I tell you.” Argh.

      • Sounds like Jimmy Moore.

  • Nancy

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you! Lately it’s been very easy to deceive myself into rationalizing eating Paleo(tm) treats way more often than I know I should– the more of them I eat, the less I can hear that voice in me that knows better… even though the ingredients are technically compliant, that (all natural! low glycemic!) sugar deafens me. And the next thing I know, I’m fantasizing about croissants filled with Nutella, and then I’m including a slow bakery drive-by (wheel-by?) in my grocery store perimeter shopping. I love to cook and I love the challenge of hacking a recipe, but I have to accept that I’m a person who has to keep it simple or else go off the rails. Thanks again for the reminder!

    • Did you just say Croissants filled with Nutella? Curses! 😉 Glad you enjoyed the article. And, you know, refraining from the every-day Paleo(tm) snacks and treats makes them taste even better on those special occasions.

      My version of an everyday treat, or something sweet after a bike ride for example, is a couple of squares of dark chocolate. Or maybe a teaspoon of raw honeycomb from the local farmer’s market. It’s difficult for me to overeat those, and that is key. Other foods are just way to easy to over-indulge. For example, one cup of coconut milk has 552 calories! It’s the Paleo(tm) version of a giant milkshake. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.

      …unless you’re like my little Lucy who we’re always trying (encouraging) to fatten up a bit. For her, we make coconut-butter-based dark chocolate pudding. She gets as much as she wants she’s eaten her fill of nutritious foods like liver, egg yolks, broths, vegetables, and fruit.

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  • I feel where you are coming from (just listened to LiP65. Of late I’ve been getting paleo fatigue and just coasting along without evaluating anything. Just last weekend was at a pot luck dinner (I took a chunk of roast beef) and was almost getting pissed off with explaining /justifying myself for not eating someone else’s dish. I wait for the day, when we are as accepted as vegetarians for our choices.


    I really enjoyed reading this. Personally I steer well clear of all these allegged paleo recipies. No offence it is great to have idea for food combinations. But a paleo recipe is almost an oximoron epsecially things like Paleo bread and Paleo cakes and Paleo muffins. People desperately wnat to imitate processed foods and in doing so they also recreate the high calorie low nutrient meals they should have left behind. So thanks for writing this post!

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  • First off, great article! I’m really enjoying the blog and have been a listener of “latest in paleo” for a while now. Thanks for the work you do!

    Secondly, I love food and LOVE trying out new things. 7-8 months ago I could search for “Paleo” on Pinterest and find several interesting veggie/meat meals to add to my ever growing “try this” list. It was a great source when I struggled to make a good meal for my family.

    Just yesterday I did the same search, looking for some healthy culinary inspiration. The search results have undergone a total transformation. Pictures of breads, pies, cookies, and fudges popped up, with few, IF ANY, simple whole-food, NON dessert, recipes. Bummer. Pinterest was a good resource for me..

    • Great observation. I just did a search for “Paleo” on Pinterest. First result is a dessert. There’s also, Paleo Snickerdoodle, Paleo Key Lime Pie, Paleo Coconut Bread, Paleo Sliders, Pumpkin Paleo Granola, Paleo Cheesecake, Paleo Toffee Caramels…


  • Alex

    When Robb Wolf anounnced paleo(TM)logic I had a flash back to Vito kissing Fredo in the godfather. “you broke my heart , you broke my heart”.

    I’m not a doctor but people will buy that supplement , change nothing about their diet or lifestyle and think they’re on a paleo diet then when nothing happens , say a paleo diet doesn’t work.

    I also feel very strongly that if you want sweets or desserts or treats , eat the real thing , save time and effort , feel how shitty they make you feel , don’t buy expensive “safe” ingredients that allow you to get away with eating shit.

    • I wouldn’t be a good Coppola if I didn’t clarify that it was Michael who gave Fredo that kiss of death…

      But, back to your main point. There is clearly a lot about Paleologix that ought to be questioned. I’m not sure if it will be successful for Robb, Chris, and their affiliates…only time will tell. I’ll have more to write about it in the future.

      With regards to empty calories and desserts and such, I think the number one factor is frequency. I’m very sensitive to gluten, so when we make a birthday cake it’s the coconut flour variety. But, I hear ya.

  • Love the new site and the pod cast which I listen on the drive into work.
    Keep up the good..
    Nige (here in the uk)

  • Jack Yee

    Great post! On one of your podcast, you mention you made your own cream cheese. What’s the recipe? I make my own yogurt out of raw milk, so I think all I have to do is wrap the yogurt in cheese cloth?


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  • Angelo, any concerns about saponins in potatoes?

    • Not enough to prevent me from eating potatoes regularly. Most of what I’ve been able to find about saponins, in non-Paleo circles, is that they are beneficial and health promoting. I doubt we know the full story yet. But in the meantime, we can point to healthy populations with high levels of potato consumption. However, anyone who would like to eat more starch and avoid saponins can stick with sweet potatoes and yams.

  • The TM is being used here to shine a light on the very absurdity that you are talking about.

  • Hey Angelo, don’t know why I didn’t see this article before, but it certainly resonates with how I have been feeling lately about Paleo(tm).

    Thanks for putting together these words that so aptly discuss this Paleo dilemma (as I see it)

    Great article!!

    • Articles like this are a little tougher to spread within the community, since the article is critical of some common practices of the community. But, a lot of people are feeling this way, so I’m sure the ideas will be talked about more and more.

  • Love this! I’d love to read the “Too good at CrossFit” article too!

  • angela

    Great article, great perspective! I think everyone needs reminders sometimes about the basics, a plate should be full of veggies with some meat.

  • Hardly ramblings! Thank you for sharing this. I think your story will resonate with a lot of people. What you said very succinctly, and what I failed to do in the article is to point out that: “I replicated a problem from my former eating, right into my paleo-ish eating.” That needed to be said! Thanks, again.

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  • Warren Dew

    Don’t kid yourself – potatoes are no more nutrient dense than Wonder Bread.

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  • I agree, I can not have potatoes and i am not diabetic, it makes my heart race and my blood sugar soar, how are they NOT “calorie rich and low on nutrition”?

  • Great article! I have been thinking about this too, watching so many people complain that they don’t have enough time to cook/prepare nutritious whole food meals, homemade broths or fermented foods, but there always seems plenty of time to make “healthy desserts”! I have been thinking about writing my own article on the subject, but until I do, will be sharing yours with our holistic health community. Thanks! -Bex

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  • Guest


  • I think Paleo style (meaning real-food, minimal processing, no preservatives, mostly homemade, minimal seed oils, etc.) goodies can be great for kids. In the article I mention, “Unless you are a growing, active child or you have trouble with putting on weight, these foods should not be on your everyday menus.”

    For the people who come to Paleo specifically to lose weight, these foods are problematic. This is especially true when they are presented by some as a total green-light because they’re made with Paleo-approved ingredients.

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  • Dana

    How do you know what nutrition is in the Paleo-fied foods? No one ever actually checks this stuff, they just assume since it’s waffles and bread. If what’s bad about waffles and bread on SAD is that they contain grain, it follows that finding better ingredients would make them much better for you.

    There are ways to find out what’s in food and you need to be looking at the micronutrients as well as the macro.

    And as for the notion that processed is bad, I will take the argument for “safe starches” and turn it right around back at you: there are indigenous people who harvest tubers, process the *f?!k* out of them, and then cook them and eat them. Because if they didn’t process, the stuff would be poison. Now *I* would argue that even an indigenous person can get things wrong, just like sometimes our bodies do stuff that makes no sense, and the reason is the same in both instances: because it doesn’t kill you before reproductive age, you continue doing it. BUT, I can also argue that processing a food doesn’t necessarily make it worse for you. In some cases, as in removing the skins from almonds, it can make it *better,* since (in this example) the almond skins likely contain most of the phytates!

    Mind you, I mentioned there are ways to find out what’s in food but I have to admit they are limited in scope. None of us can afford to test our food directly and must rely on the USDA’s data, which is incomplete and necessarily inaccurate for the food right in front of you. But for a ballpark idea, that’s all you’ve got.

    KNOW what you’re putting into your body, to the best of your ability. Gurus and bloggers can’t tell you. And if it’s too much of a PITA to find out? Well, maybe you *should* stick to whole foods then.

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  • Megan White

    This artcile inspired me a while back, the first time I read it, and I have once again come back to it in order to share it on my blog! Thank you for keeping me thinking about what I put in my body 🙂

    Here’s the link if you’d like to see the blog post:

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