Paleo is the most popular diet, especially with hunters.
As with most popular things, it comes with a lot of hype and confusion. I’ve received many questions from readers of my email newsletter about Paleo.
Everything from “what is it?” to “what’s your opinion on it?” to “should I do it?”
In this article, I’ll break down the Paleo Diet in a simplified manner and explain how to implement it in a sustainable way.
What is the Paleo Diet?
In a broad sense, the Paleo Diet is a diet that allows you to only eat the foods that your ancestors would have eaten during the Paleolithic period.
The word Paleolithic come from Greek.
- “palaio” means “old”, and “lithic” means “stone” — literally, the Old Stone Age.
- This period includes the period from about 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago.
There are two basic concepts behind the Paleo Diet.
Concept 1: For over 99% human history, our bodies evolved and developed based on our environment that didn't have many of the foods that we have today.
Radiometric dating shows that early humans existed as far back as 4-6 million years. Despite this long history, humans have only been farming and producing grain for the last 10,000 years. A significant portion of our evolutionary history was spent living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
With that lifestyle, we only had access to certain foods. These foods varied significantly based on where our ancestors were located.
For example, people in northern climates like Northern Europe, often consumed diets extremely high in animal products. This led to them consuming high amounts of fat/protein and low amounts of carbs. Many people in these climates consumed their vitamins and minerals from the liver of animals or whatever fruits could withstand the extreme temperatures.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, people from equatorial climates often consumed diets that were high in edible plants and relatively low in animal products. This led to their diets being high in carbs and low in fat/protein.
Concept 2: Because we evolved to consume certain foods, we function best when that’s what we eat.
Dr. Weston Price, a dentist and in my estimation the grandfather of the Paleo Diet, traveled the world studying indigenous people.
He made a strange observation: many indigenous people had healthy and strong teeth despite their lack of access to modern dental care. With further study, he also found that they very rarely suffered from cancer, heart disease, and other modern diseases.
This wasn’t the case with all indigenous people. He found that it was only the case with those that were still eating diets that were very similar to those of their ancestors. The ones who were eating ‘modern’ foods suffered from all the same disease that afflicted the modern world.
Dr. Price’s theory, commonly referred to as Metabolic Typing, is that over the course of history human’s digestive system adapted to digest and metabolize the foods that they most frequently ate. This adaption led to a healthy individual with healthy teeth, as was the answer to his initial question.
While most Paleo experts don’t go into metabolic typing, they do advocate moving back to an ancestral diet.
Here’s a list of acceptable foods on the Paleo Diet:
- Animals + eggs
- Edible plants like stems, leaves, roots, tubers, raw fruits and seeds
- Honey and naturally occurring plant sugars
Here’s a list of non-Paleo Foods:
- Seeds that need to be cooked
- Processed sugars
Humans don't have the biological machinery to digest and metabolize many of the foods that we commonly eat. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), one of the main ingredients used to sweeten processed foods, has only been around since the 1950’s.
Because we are unable to digest these foods appropriately, they lead to increased inflammation. In laymen’s terms, inflammation is swelling caused by the immune system to combat unknown pathogens and heal injury. It’s a stress response that is meant to ward off infectious disease, so it’s a BIG problem if our diet is causing inflammation.
More evidence is beginning to show the link between chronic inflammation, obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
The more body fat you have, the more inflammation that your body produces. More inflammation leads to increased leptin levels and decreased insulin sensitivity. This leads to increased levels of body fat. This is a viscous cycle known as the fat-inflammation cycle. It commonly leads to:
- Chronic Fatigue
- Excessive Bodyfat
- Joint Pain
- Auto-immune disease
- Heart Disease
The first thing that I do when working with a fat-loss client is create a plan to break the fat-inflammation cycle.
This is done by making small habit changes that work to increase movement and the intake of an appropriate amount of whole foods.
The most common mistake people make when starting a fitness journey is exercising too much and eating too little food. This might lead to an initial loss of fat but over time the body reacts to it as stress and thus lowers metabolism and produces more inflammation. This feeds back into the fat-inflammation cycle and causes you to regain all the weight that you lost. This is why most people that lose 10-15+ pounds in a month end up putting it back on.
Movement and Inflammation
Unlike the cardio/pulmonary system, the immune system does not have a pump, like the heart, to remove toxic byproducts (inflammation). It relies on gravity and muscular contraction.
This is a big problem if you are not getting adequate amounts of movement. Too little movement means that there isn't an adequate muscular pump to clear inflammation out of the body. Too much or poor quality movement leads to an overly stressed system that produces more inflammation. Both of these contribute to the fat-inflammation cycle.
My Take on Paleo
The philosophy behind Paleo is excellent – eat whole foods that our bodies are designed to digest.
The main problem is that most people that start it end up quitting. There isn't anything wrong with the diet itself, rather it's the way that people implement it.
For the majority of people, it’s unwise to go all-or-nothing with Paleo. It requires too many changes for anyone that has other commitments like work, family, and hunting.
Research shows that people who take on one habit at a time achieve success about 80% of the time. When the take on two habits, this drops to 35%. With three or more, it plummets to below 5%.
Paleo is a great goal to work towards using habit-based changes that compound over time, like you’ll find in my nutrition program.
If you decide to follow the Paleo Diet, work your way into it one habit at a time and don’t worry about being perfect 100% of the time. When you slip up, as you will, wipe the slate clean and keep going.
Here’s a question to ask yourself to guide your fitness journey:
“Am I more concerned with being in optimal condition for this season or for the next 20-30?”
If you’re like most people, you want sustainable progress that leads to longevity of your health, ability to hunt the backcountry and play with your kids/grandkids.
If you see the value in putting in the time to do things right, I want you to download my free Kitchen Rescue Pack below.
Except for a few slight alterations that make the changes more sustainable, Paleo is how I teach my clients to eat in my habit-based nutrition curriculum.
*Discover how to simply and easily create the perfect, chef approved meal.
*Learn the secrets to fast and healthy meal prep so that you always have appetizing, supportive food ready when you need it.
*Enjoy delicious protein shakes that are quick to prepare and are excellent meal replacements when you're short on time.