Diets come and go.
And today’s most popular diet is undoubtedly paleo, aka the paleolithic diet.
Paleo is based around eating only foods that our ancient “hunter-gatherer” ancestors would have eaten during the paleolithic times – like meat, nuts, and berries…
Proponents of paleo argue that we should eat this way because it is the way that “nature intended.” They argue that the digestive systems of humans have not evolved to handle the agricultural boom that occurred just after this period and brought us new foods like dairy, grains, and other processed foods.
Yes, there are other arguments for paleo that I’ll cover in a moment, but this is the basis of the diet… a laughable one at best.
(Side note: I’m not a big fan of paleo’s popular workout partner Crossfit either, but let’s not get off track)
The “History” of the Paleo Diet
You see – the paleolithic era spanned over 2.5 million years, and saw humans living across a variety of geographic locations, and eating a variety of different diets… some of which included non-paleo foods like grains and legumes. There’s simply not even close to enough cohesive data to back up these claims.
On top of this, paleolithic skeletons that have been recovered indicate their life expectancy was about 35.4 years for men and 30.0 years for women… Not something that indicates that they were a model for healthy eating. The average lifespan today, for comparison’s sake, is 68.5 years for men and 73.5 years for women.
Sure, some of this difference can be attributed to things that were more prevalent back then, like warfare and infectious diseases with no effective medical treatment, but still – it’s seems extremely questionable that we should base our modern diet on what people ate during the paleolithic era.
Yes, there are plenty of things wrong with the average man’s diet in today’s world, for sure, but is paleo really a good answer? Are the plethora of new foods available to us as a result of human progress really such a bad thing?
Take a few minutes to read the rest of this article and you’ll see why paleo – and any pre-packaged diet for that matter – is not an intelligent answer…
Why Paleo “Works”
Before I jump into destroying paleo I’d like to give credit where it’s due. In my mind, paleo has become so popular because of the following 3 reasons:
- Caloric restriction
When you eliminate so many foods – dairy, grains, legumes, processed foods, etc. – from your diet, you also remove a whole hell of a lot of calories in the process. It’s nearly impossible to make up for all the calories you cut out by eating more of the few paleo-approved foods (shown above), especially because they tend to be relatively low calorie.The result is almost always weight loss… Something that nearly everyone is seeking in today’s obesity-plagued world. However, you can always cut calories and keep enjoying foods you love without going full paleo and indiscriminately giving up a bunch of potential foods sources in the process.
- The low carb factor
Another reason paleo is so popular is the same reason that any other low-carb diet (e.g. keto, slow-carb, atkins, etc.) is popular… It leads to an enormous, almost instant loss of water weight.This comes as a result of the emptying of all of your glycogen stores that have been “filled up” as a result of the carbohydrates that have been in your diet before going low carb. So, because the number of paleo-approved carb sources is so low, many people who begin the diet experience a big drop in weight after only a few days. The thing to remember is that this isn’t fat loss… it’s just water leaving your body tissue.
- Avoidance of common allergens
In my mind, this is the most legit reason to follow paleo (especially given my miserable digestive system). A lot of people today are lactose intolerant, and by following paleo you cut dairy – and lactose – out of your diet. A smaller percentage of the general population is gluten-intolerant, and by following paleo you cut grains – and gluten – out of your diet as well.So for people who unknowingly have foods allergies, following paleo will drastically improve how they feel throughout the day. But it’s important to note you can easily cut out whatever you’re personally allergic to without having to go full paleo.
Paleo’s Colossal Downfall
As you probably gathered above, all of the main benefits of paleo can be achieved without actually having to eat paleo.
The problem with paleo, any every other one-size-fits-all diets, is just that: one size never fits all. There’s no reason you should have to give up foods you love just because you’re doing paleo.
- If you want to lose weight, just cut back your total calories for the day
- If you’re allergic to dairy or gluten, then stop eating the damn foods you’re allergic to!
You don’t have to go crazy and tell yourself you’re not going to eat any dairy, grains, legumes, or other processed foods… There’s simply never a good reason to do so.
And the worse part is psychological: it’s almost certainly going to make you drive yourself crazy when you go out and want to enjoy a slice of pizza, a piece of bread, or some other non-paleo food you enjoy… And then it’s going to make you feel guilty when you inevitably slip up and do it anyway.
How Paleo Fails All Athletes and Bodybuilders
As we explored above, paleo excludes our biggest source of carbs – grains. And limiting carbs is very detrimental to athletic performance.
You see – it’s very hard to maintain high levels of glycogen without eating a good amount of carbs (glycogen is a form of energy stored in our bodies, and it occurs primarily as a result of carbohydrate intake).
Glycogen is so important because it powers your mind and your muscles. This is one reason why it’s common to feel lethargic and tired when you cut carbs out of your diet.
But on top of this, converting glycogen to glucose is one of our bodies three main ways to generate energy during bouts of exercise, and when you don’t have a lot of stored glycogen to begin with, then you’ll surely hinder your performance in any physical activity – whether that means running a sprint, bench pressing, or fighting in the ring.
Proponents of low carb diets will argue that this isn’t so vital and that our bodies adapt to use fat as energy instead, and this is true to a certain extent, but there’s no question that limiting carbs will have a net negative impact on physical performance – something competitive athletes, or just people looking to get stronger, can’t afford to risk.
What to Do Instead of Following Any “Diet”
So now that I’ve made my argument for why paleo is far from an ideal diet, I suppose it’s time to tell you what I think you should do instead.
Well, it’s really pretty simple. Just follow these steps to construct a diet that will be ideal for YOU:
- If you suffer from bad bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea:
- Take the time to experiment with a dairy free diet for a week and see if it goes away…
- If it does, then don’t eat dairy…
- If it doesn’t then take the time to experiment with a gluten free diet for a week and see if it goes away…
- If it does, then don’t eat gluten…
- If it doesn’t, go see your doctor
- If you want to lose weight, eat less food
- If you want to gain weight, eat more food
- Eat mainly “paleo” type “healthy” foods like meats, fruits, and veggies
- Don’t avoid eating a little bit of other not-so-healthy foods that you enjoy
(Side note: Always supplement a good diet with weight lifting… this is non-negotiable for men)
There you go – now you’ll have a diet that’s optimized for YOU. You won’t be eating shit that bothers your stomach, you’ll be getting closer to your fitness goals, and you’ll still be enjoying foods that you love but paleo doesn’t want you to eat.
The reality is the only person I can possibly think of that paleo would work well for is someone who has extraordinary self-control, to avoid so many common foods, but at the same time is too damn lazy to figure out a diet that works for them…
And that’s some type of contradiction.