Give me a break. I’m a modern woman, not Paleolithic.
You’ll never catch me in a cave. I don’t look good in animal skins. I prefer to pick my berries at the grocery store.
So why are about 3 million Americans eating like cavemen?
It’s hard to escape the Paleo diet. Even if you’ve been lucky enough to escape an evangelical friend trying to convince you to try it, then it’s probably snuck into your Facebook feed.
Although I’m a diet skeptic, I respect the fact that Paleo has stuck around. Maybe its fans are onto something. Maybe perfect health is just a bloody steak away.
So I looked into it, and what I found made my jaw drop.
There are a few things Paleo fanatics aren’t telling you about their beloved diet. I’ll tell what they are in just a bit.
The Story of the Paleo Diet
The argument behind the Paleo diet is that, though modern man may wear Armani, his body is still the same of his fur-clad ancestors who lived between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. We were “perfectly healthy” as hunter-gatherers, before agriculture transformed our diets.
Therefore, the secret to health and longevity is to eat like a caveman.
It’s a wonderful story, don’t you think?
Paleo promises a return to simpler times. It paints a black and white picture of good versus evil. It’s not our fault we’re so overweight and unhealthy. It’s because of modern agriculture. Agriculture is the enemy that booted us out of the garden of Eden.
And now YOU can step back into that primeval time when humans were muscular, fit, and supremely healthy. It’s simple. Just eat what they ate.
Lots of meat. Vegetables. Some nuts and fruits.
But absolutely no dairy, legumes, or processed grains.
All well and good, but there’s a bigger question…
Does the Paleo Diet ACTUALLY Work?
There are really 2 separate issues here:
- Does eating a diet high in meat and vegetables, with little dairy or processed grains, lead to weight loss and better health?
If you already eat a lot of meat, then yes.
- Does the Paleo diet have any relationship to what our Paleolithic ancestors actually ate?
Not in the slightest.
It’s possible to lose weight and feel better on the Paleo diet without supporting the unrealistic premise that you’re actually eating the same as a caveman.
There’s no question that eating less sugar and processed foods is good for you.
There’s no question that cutting down on the amount of dairy you consume is good for you.
If following the Paleo diet helps you do that, then it’s done what it set out to do.
Concerns have been raised over the amount of meat encouraged by the Paleo diet, as well as the restriction of high-fiber, healthful foods like peas, beans and lentils.
If you’re not a huge meat-eater, then don’t let the Paleo diet encourage you to start laying on the steaks. The scientific evidence weighs heavily on the side of plant-based diets.
But the Paleo diet does one very, very good thing:
It weans us off processed foods and gets us back in the kitchen cooking.
And that’s to be applauded.
(Want to know how to cook Paleo – no fire needed? Here’s a great resource.)
4 Things They’re Not Telling You about Paleo
The Paleo diet has created a community around itself, almost like a dietary support group of people determined to get back to nature.
Given that only 1 in 5 dieters make it to the 3-month mark , that support is invaluable.
Paleo requires a huge mindset shift. You have to start looking at everything you put into your mouth in a whole new way. The enthusiasm of the Paleo community and the endless parade of Paleo products helps you feel part of a movement to get healthy and stay that way.
Don’t believe the marketing.
If you choose to eat Paleo, do it because the diet itself makes sense to you. You like the idea of cutting out processed foods. You like the idea of eating more naturally. You want to learn how to prepare food from scratch.
Just don’t claim you’re eating like Paleolithic man.
Here’s how the popular “Paleo diet” differs from what Stone Age tribes actually ate.
1. True Paleo means eating bugs and bark, not steaks and sausages.
To eat like Paleolithic man, we’re looking in the wrong direction.
Our ancestors did not gnaw on sides of beef.
Anthropologist Ken Sayers’s research suggests our Stone Age ancestors were not the mighty hunters we portray them as. Rather, they were scavengers, eating whatever was easiest to find. 
Insects, worms, leaves, and bark, anyone?
2. True Paleo means eating local, seasonal, organic, and non-GMO.
Hardly anything we eat today resembles what was available to our Paleolithic ancestors.
Modern agriculture didn’t just change the composition of our diets. It altered the genetics of every single food we eat.
Lest we forget, our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t enjoy a nice steak every Friday. That’s because they didn’t raise cows for beef. Drop a modern-day cow into Stone Age times, and it would be lucky to survive long enough to breed.
Stone Age peoples ate wild game, not grain-fed beef. Wild game that was lean, tough, and stringy. They ate fruits and vegetables that were small, misshapen, and wormy … and they counted themselves lucky.
You can either forage for wild food, or you can accept that nothing in a grocery store is truly natural. Everything we eat is the product of modern agriculture.
The closest you can get to a Paleolithic diet is to choose foods that are strictly local, organic, and non-GMO. Shop at your local farmers market. Fresh, local, seasonal food can’t go wrong.
3. True Paleo means going through periods of feast and famine.
Unlike us, our Stone Age ancestors didn’t have food security.
When they had food, they ate it. When they didn’t have food, they starved.
In fact, we now know that there’s nothing wrong with strategic starving. Except, in modern day parlance, it’s called fasting.
Fasting has a number of health benefits. It can help reboot the immune system, reduce insulin sensitivity, detoxify, and improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Always check with your doctor before starting a fasting program.
Feasting, on the other hand, doesn’t have the medical community’s stamp of approval. Guess our Paleolithic ancestors got one thing wrong.
4. True Paleo goes beyond diet.
If you truly want to go Paleo, why stop at diet?
Surely we should adopt a Paleo lifestyle, too.
Our ancestors didn’t contend with many of our modern diseases not just because of their diets, but because they weren’t sitting in chairs all day, extending their working hours long into the night thanks to artificial lighting. They didn’t have air conditioning or central heating (yes, central heating affects your BMI).
So don’t just eat Paleo. Live Paleo.
Move more. Wake up with the sun and go to sleep at sundown. Turn down the central heating and throw on a sweater. Turn off the television and go pick blackberries. Pitch a tent in your backyard. Walk to the shop instead of taking the car.
Then you can call yourself—maybe not “truly” Paleo—but Paleoer.
And that’s healthy enough.
Other Back-to-Earth Diets
Before the Paleo movement captured the public’s imagination, getting back to nature meant choosing a whole-food plant-based diet.
At one extreme were the raw foodies, who didn’t believe in any form of processing, including cooking. (No, they didn’t eat bloody steaks. They were plant-loving vegans.)
One of my favorite books on the back-to-earth lifestyle comes from Miss Earth Australia 2009, Liana Werner-Gray.
Her 2014 manifesto, The Earth Diet: Your Complete Guide to Living Using Earth’s Natural Ingredients, goes much further than Paleo. It encourages you to rethink everything you put on your skin (makeup included) and everything you use to clean your home. Werner-Gray inspired me to keep raw cookie dough balls in my freezer – heaven! – and discover the 1001 uses of Bentonite clay.
So if you love the idea behind Paleo but shy away from the hype, I urge you to check it out.
But if the idea of giving up your meat appalls you, then stick with Paleo. It’s better than Atkins by far. Even if all you do is learn to cook meals from scratch, you’ll be giving your health a big thumbs up.