The Paleolithic diet, also called the Paleo diet, promises amazing results ranging from clearer skin to lower blood pressure. Proponents of the lifestyle say that adults can lose weight and decrease their risk of chronic health problems by adopting a primitive diet similar to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The idea is that food supplies have been transformed in the past 150 years since the Industrial Revolution, but the human body hasn’t evolved significantly since the end of the Paleolithic period some 10,000 years ago.
The concept behind the diet began in the mid-20th century when Scottish playwright Roger MacDougall used primitive Paleolithic foods to combat his multiple sclerosis (MS). Dr. Walter Voegtlin received more attention when he published a book called “The Stone Age Diet” in 1975. Additional studies were developed in the late 1980s, but the diet really took off when Loren Cordain, a doctor of exercise physiology, published “The Paleo Diet” in 2002. By 2013, it was the most popular diet on the Internet according to Google’s annual search data. One online survey found that between 1 and 3 million Americans followed the plan.
Paleolithic Diet Basics
Although the Paleo diet has a unique approach, it is one of many nutritional plans that falls into the high-protein, low-carbohydrate category. Two other diets that advocate increased protein intake and reduced calorie consumption are The Zone and the Atkins diet.
Scientists are still learning about the foods that early cavemen ate, but Loren Cordain believes that lean meats were a central part of the hunter-gatherer diet. Cordain says that protein should make up about 50 percent of participants’ daily calorie intake. A moderate amount of vegetables, fruits and minimally processed oil is permitted. The diet isn’t just about preindustrial foods. It’s a preagricultural way of eating. Based on these central ideas, Cordain recommends the following protein-rich foods:
- Lean meat
- Grass-fed beef
Foods to Avoid
- Processed foods
Celebrities That Have Used the Diet
Like many healthy eating plans, the Paleo diet has plenty of celebrity followers. Models like Kate Upton, Miranda Kerr and Adriana Lima swear by the naturally gluten-free and lactose-free diet along with a healthy dose of exercise. Celebrities of all ages and fitness levels have lost weight, toned up and become healthier by following Paleolithic principles.
- Kourtney Kardashian, Kristin Cavallari and Jessica Alba have used regular exercise and Paleo-friendly foods to shed their post-baby weight. They rave about the benefits of coconut oil, healthy fats and low-carb foods. Yoga, Pilates, calisthenics, cardio and daily weight training helped these beauties shed between 20 and 45 pounds of the weight that they gained during pregnancy.
- Television personality Jack Osbourne turned his life around after being diagnosed with MS in 2012. During an interview with Dr. Oz, Osbourne said that he was juicing a lot and following a Paleo diet to combat chronic inflammation that increases MS symptoms. He focused on cutting dairy, grain and gluten from his diet. This approach was developed by Dr. Terry Wahls who used Paleo principles to overcome her progressive MS. The plan is detailed in the book “Walhs’ Protocol.”
- Reality TV co-stars Corey Harrison and Austin “Chumlee” Russell made headlines for their dramatic weight loss. While Harrison opted for surgery to shed 200 pounds, Chumlee lost 100 pounds by following a Paleo diet. In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he said that he avoids refined carbohydrates, sugar and fried foods. He starts his day with a juice smoothie and hits the gym six days a week.
- MMA athlete Ronda Rousey uses two power-packed diets to get her through tough training sessions and even tougher fights. She eats plenty of clean Paleo-approved protein on a fast-and-feed schedule advocated by Ori Hofmekler in his book “The Warrior Diet.” She told the UFC’s Frank Curreri that she eats one big meal each evening. She’ll have carbs like rice and potatoes on alternating days, and she won’t compromise on her morning coffee.
- The inimitable Welsh crooner Tom Jones dropped 35 pounds by quitting alcohol and adopting a classic caveman diet for two months. Jones said that he had lapsed on his workouts and picked up some extra weight during the holidays. Before long, he was 30 pounds overweight and couldn’t fit into his suits. His dietician recommended a Paleolithic diet centered on meat, fish and vegetables that helped him to get down below his goal weight.
How to Get Started On the Paleo Diet
When it comes to cutting out refined carbohydrates and eating healthy, there are two schools of thought. Some experts say that you should purge your pantry of banned foods to go cold turkey. Others say that it’s easier to cut down on your sugar and carb intake before switching to a Paleo diet. Either way, it’s normal to go through some difficult times. Low-carb flu is a real phenomenon. You may have headaches, nausea, dizziness and flu-like symptoms as your body goes through significant changes on your new diet. Prepare for mental and emotional challenges, including self-doubt and mood swings.
If you choose to purge your pantry, consider donating some of the items to a local food bank so that the staples can benefit others. Planning for success is important with any diet. Do some research. Create a meal plan and shopping list. Many folks spend more on Paleo groceries because they are buying organic produce, sustainable fish and grass-fed meat. Meal preparation may take more time if you aren’t just cracking open cans and popping frozen entrees into the oven.
Use the list of Paleo-approved foods to restock your pantry. Purchase seeds, nuts and healthy oils. Remember that the goal isn’t to swap conventional junk foods for Paleo-friendly options. Build meals around healthy proteins and vegetables. Include greens or a piece of fruit in your breakfasts. Start with salads. Then, add meat, nuts and seeds. You can also adapt some of your favorite recipes so that they can be made with Paleo ingredients. Take advantage of diet-specific cookbooks for inspiration and support.
Adapting to The Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet is about changing your lifestyle. You don’t have to count calories, measure portions or weigh yourself weekly. In fact, traditional dieting techniques are discouraged. Cordain recommends that you follow the plan 85 percent of the time. According to his approach, you can enjoy three non-Paleo meals each week. This can ease the dietary restriction and help you avoid binging and gaining back the weight that you have lost. The goal is to create a sustainable and satisfying way to eat better.
Numerous resources are available to help you start and stay on a Paleo diet. Traditional Stone Age diets are naturally free from lactose and gluten. If you have food sensitivities, this approach may help you determine what’s causing your digestive issues. You may also get relief from chronic symptoms.
Dr. Terry Wahls suffered from severe MS symptoms that progressed until she was confined to a wheelchair and feared that she would be bedridden for the rest of her life. When conventional treatments failed, Wahls developed her own plan. While the book includes some recipes, it mainly focuses on her approach to healing the body and overcoming autoimmune diseases, including MS. She shared her story through a TEDx Talk that went viral in 2011. Today, she provides practical information through her website and at speaking engagements.
Written by bestselling author and certified nutrition consultant Diane Sanfilippo, “Practical Paleo” is one of the most popular and comprehensive books on the diet. It is filled with recipes and meal plans. It includes background information and diet guides for readers who have specific goals, such as balancing blood sugar, managing autoimmune diseases and improving digestion.
“The Dulce Diet”
Created by Mike Dulce, “The Dulce Diet” is a cookbook and meal guide based on the author’s other bestselling nutrition and fitness plan. “The Dulce Diet” has been used by Ronda Rousey and dozens of world-class athletes and UFC fighters, including Gray Maynard, Jake Ellenberger, Thiago Alves and others. Many of the recipes are vegan or free from gluten. They fit into the Paleo plan easily. Loyal fans say that they boost athletic performance and aren’t as strict as traditional Paleo meals.
“The Whole30” is a social media darling that has sparked a health-conscious revolution. Its rise to fame started with the 2012 publication of “It Starts with Food.” That led to a diet plan, cookbook and lifestyle franchise. Authors Melissa and Dallas Hartwig contend that it takes the body 30 days to reset once harmful foods are removed. Following traditional Paleo guidelines, the plan encourages participants to cut sugar, dairy, grains and legumes from their diets for a full month.
“The Paleo Diet”
This is the book that started the Paleo trend. It laid the groundwork for multiple bestselling books in the category and encouraged many readers to change their lifestyle. While some loyal followers say that subsequent authors have improved on Cordain’s work, “The Paleo Diet” provides valuable and helpful information for anyone who wants to become healthier and lose weight. It includes recipes, a multi-week diet plan and information on the reasoning behind the Paleolithic approach.
“The Primal Blueprint”
If you’re interested in healthy living, you have probably heard of Mark Sisson, who founded the Mark’s Daily Apple website in 2006. “The Primal Blueprint” covers diet, exercise, genes and everything that you need to know about Paleo diets. Sisson provides holistic, science-backed information on how diet and exercise work synergistically to improve health, fitness and energy levels.
These books offer plenty of information to get you started. You will find additional resources and helpful guides as you explore the topic further. Good luck on your Paleo diet.