I spoke to someone recently who had nothing nice to say about Paleo, and when I asked why, she said, “Because I only heard about it three months ago. It’s just a fad diet, and a dumb one at that.” A number of thoughts ran through my head as I listened to her speak, but my primary thought was, what makes something a fad?
A fad is defined as “a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group.” I could see how, from her perspective, Paleo appeared to be a fad. I explained that Paleo has been around for decades, and that it’s actually a very therapeutic and health-supportive diet. She expressed shock that I, a nutritionist, would support such an unhealthy fad. The only change in her tone came after I told her that I myself had been Paleo for seven years, and that my entire health had been transformed by getting rid of grains and dairy. Her response? “I had no idea that Paleo has been around for that long.” And then she asked me to tell her more.
To Paleo or Not To Paleo?
We can’t always have one-on-one conversations with Paleo naysayers to help show that Paleo isn’t a fad. The fact is that the recent popularity of Paleo is, for many, a turn off in and of itself, because they assume that if a celebrity is doing it, it must be unhealthy/expensive/faddish/crazy. Clearly, though, not all celebrities have it wrong, as is obvious from the sheer volume of them who are finding success through Paleo living. Not only do Bill Clinton and Anne Hathaway find Paleo to be their preferred lifestyle, but more recently, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel have became faces for Paleo (and Paleo pregnancy, with the recent birth of their child).
Most people place more stock in real life success stories, since celebrities feel untouchable in many ways. Sure, Paleo may be a great way for Hollywood to stay in shape, but it’s also an ideal way for the everyday man or woman to improve their health, lose weight, or build muscle. I know because I did all of those things with a moderate Paleo diet. I didn’t even follow it strictly for many years, and definitely didn’t quit sugar completely until the beginning of this year.
I like to view Paleo—along with every other aspect of health—as a journey. It’s not “one size fits all” for anyone, and it definitely doesn’t come with a rulebook that is make or break. I eased into my Paleo journey back in the day, mainly because my health was so bad that I didn’t have the energy to be all in. Now, from years of being Paleo, I find it easier to be 100% Paleo and completely sugar free. I don’t even miss sweets, and my health has improved even since fully quitting sugar on January 1st.
Paleo Is About You
The thing about Paleo is that it entirely comes down to you. As a nutritionist, I always focus on the individual elements that define individual people. No two people are the same, and even the Paleo diet shouldn’t look the same for everyone. That in and of itself demotes it from fad status. Secondly, since fads are temporary, those of us who are committed to Paleo for the long haul (and in the diet world, a year or longer is easily quite lengthy) are clearly not participating in a fad, but rather in a way of living. Sure, there will always be people who try Paleo for a few weeks or a few months and find it’s not for them, and that’s okay. It doesn’t detract from my success on Paleo when someone else doesn’t like it. The same should be true for you.
So if you’re new to the idea of Paleo, and you have yet to decide whether it’s a crazy weight loss fad or a lifestyle with actual merit, what factors should you use to make your decision? Consider the following:
- Paleo focuses on individuality. While it doesn’t allow grains or dairy for anyone, it is also generally intended to be 80/20—80% Paleo and 20% other. While you could undo many great benefits of Paleo by eating gluten and many processed foods, quite a few Paleoites find that raw or fermented dairy is tolerated quite well by them. It’s all about your own body and how you handle digestion.
- Paleo focuses on the big picture. Sure, you may want to be Paleo to lose a quick 20 pounds, and it can be effective for that, but Paleo isn’t really a short-term weight-loss diet. Most Paleo success stories come from people who realize that there are long-term health benefits to clean eating and digestive health, two major tenets of Paleo.
- Paleo focuses on nutrient density. There is certainly no shortage of diet plans available, but a good many of them focus on quick results achieved by pumping your body full of foods processed with chemicals. However you dissect that, common sense will usually indicate that whole foods are better than chemical concoctions. Many of the health epidemics we have now weren’t around a hundred years ago when preservatives and trans fats weren’t used. While some can make the case that preservatives and artificial colorings aren’t detrimental, I will counter with this: has anyone ever died or become diseased from lack of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, trans fats, and the like? No. Has anyone ever died or become diseased from lack of vitamins, minerals, and whole foods? Indeed, many have and continue to do so. That’s why so many companies started to artificially fortify their foods with vitamins and minerals. (Sadly, the body can’t absorb these synthetic vitamins in the same way that it can natural vitamins/minerals/nutrients from whole foods, so it very much isn’t the same.)
I know that we live in a culture of information overload and that there is always someone who can make a compelling argument for or against just about anything. The decisions you make about your health ultimately come down to you, which is why I encourage free thinking. Yes, I believe that Paleo is an amazingly therapeutic diet and promotes wellness. Yes, it has transformed my life in ways that I never could have imagined when I was sick for years at a time. Yes, I am happy to see that it has become so popular, because more people than ever before are finding out about a food plan that can bring about some of the same great changes in their own lives.
But I also believe that everyone needs to make their own decisions, and for some, Paleo’s popularity is a turn-off. To that I say, just wait. Long after Paleo has faded from the Hollywood spotlight, we will still be an active community, skipping our grains and eating our lard, making our bone broth and brewing our kombucha. We will still be here, and for some, that will be a better time to go Paleo. However or whenever it happens, grain-free, dairy-free living is here to stay.