Book Review: “The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet” by Robb Wolf.

Diane Sanfilippo Book Reviews, Books, Events, & Programs 10 Comments

Before I get into my review of Robb Wolf's new book, “The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet,” you should know that I've now attended Robb's “The Paleolithic Solution Seminar” twice and can honestly say that this guy is the real deal. He's extremely passionate about his work and, more importantly, about only presenting ideas and information that will help people. He has no interest in promoting information or action plans that are contrary to getting people looking, feeling and performing better. What good would that serve? Regardless of the information he presents in his seminar or in the book I'm about to review, Robb maintains that he does not want his message to become gospel and never face a contrarian view. He wants those of us who may think he doesn't know what he's talking about to prove him wrong, badly. Because, up until now, he's yet to see someone fail to thrive when they really follow the plan he sets forth for us in his teachings.

The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet
Worth well beyond
the $16.47 it costs!

In “The Paleo Solution,” Wolf offers up his take on what is known among the nutritional and archeological science circles as a hunter-gatherer diet and lifestyle. As a former biochemist working in cancer research, Wolf's transition into studying and then promoting Paleolithic nutrition as an ideal human diet was rooted firmly in a personal history of dietary manipulations and an ever declining state of health. He covers the historical and evolutionary developments in diets of various societies/tribes and discusses the implications of these dietary changes on their health. Wolf highlights the one major historical change (the agricultural or Neolithic revolution) that has taken place across nearly all human diets and the results that the change has had on the development of disease and an overall, ubiquitous state of un-wellness in human beings. It's Wolf's belief that there are very specific foods, namely grains, legumes and dairy, that are at the root of most modern-day problems of diseases and ailment. Such problems include but are not limited to “cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmunity and infertility.” (p. 47) The notion of a hunter-gatherer or “original human diet” really clicked with me. For a while I had been thinking that we need to STOP eating like Americans and START eating like human beings. It makes sense that there is a name for this diet, since we seem to like to label everything in this society. With that label comes a large community of people who are living this way and enjoying optimal health. With that label will also come the naysayers, and to them I say, read the book and just try it for yourself before you poo-poo the concept entirely. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it, right?

Robb Wolf teaching a
Paleolithic Solution Seminar.

Overall, I found “The Paleo Solution” to be informative, entertaining, accessible and well presented. Wolf takes us through a historical approach to his modern-day living recommendations and provides information along the way of why they work. In a sometimes quite sarcastic tone and conversational writing style, he explains physiological implications of foods he suggests are deleterious to our health and exactly how and why negative things happen in our bodies as a result of consuming those foods. He goes on to dispel common myths that circulate about nutrition and lifestyle (including the notion that consuming saturated fat causes high cholesterol and that running on a treadmill for hours will unlock the ultimate key to health and longevity) and then presents a practical application of how to make this what-once-was-old-is-new-again primal approach on how to feed, water and move yourself.

While I did expect to learn, or re-learn I should say, a lot about the concept of why grains, legumes and dairy are at the root of the health problems many suffer from in today's world, I did not expect to be laughing along the way. Wolf has a great ability to keep the reader engaged and recognize when he's gotten in pretty deep with scientific jargon just in time to pull back to a more basic level of explaining the concepts through analogies and anecdotal examples. Repeatedly throughout the book, he challenges you to NOT believe what he says, but to DO the work and either prove him wrong or see how it works for you. He repeats several times throughout the book that “Paleo works, but only if you do it.” (p. 200)

Maybe this could be you?!

It is Wolf's proposition that people will all look, feel and perform better if they adopt a Paleo diet and adhere to some basic lifestyle principles such as getting optimal amounts of sleep and keeping stress levels to a minimum. He presents several case studies of men and women in different situations and with different problems, all resolved using his recommendations. He builds a very solid case and I'm apt to believe it largely because I don't think he has any motivation to present false information. Wolf isn't selling us anything other than the notion that if we make some changes in our lives, we will experience improved health. Period. He's not proposing that there's any magic pill, potion or bar that will be able to better supply nutrition to us than real, actual food we can go out and buy ourselves. Imagine that?! In fact, the healthier we are, the LESS he may profit since fewer of us will step into his gym (Wolf co-owns the Men's Health Top 30-Ranked NORCAL Strength & Conditioning in Chico, CA). All that said, the one perspective I would like to have seen in this book was one of an elderly person who possibly grew up eating mainly Paleolithic foods (since that's what likely was available when they were young) but transitioned to a Neolithic diet that was similar to what we see in most modern-day Americans and has experienced good health (with the medical records, or lack thereof, to prove it) into his or her golden years. Granted, it would be Wolf's proposition that this person likely doesn't exist, but still I'd like to see one of those centenarians to whom Willard Scott wishes a Happy Birthday on the Today show take a stand for bread, pasta and milk. Just for argument's sake. I won't hold my breath.

Does this look like “DIET”
food to you? No? Well, it's
“Paleo Solution” food, folks!

The goal Wolf sets out to accomplish with “The Paleo Solution” is to simply have you try this way of eating and living for 30 days. If you really do what he recommends, he's confident that your results will be compelling enough that you'll likely stick to the Paleo way of life. While he presents information from countless scientific studies (cited extensively in the References section of the book), he follows them up with highlights of real-life stories from the hundreds of clients he's helped at his gym and testimonials from the thousands more he's helped from afar with his website/blog, podcast and seminars.

Wolf gives you the tools you need to make this lifestyle a reality for yourself in what he calls “Your Paleo Solution” by offering up a 30-Day Meal plan with recipes. While many people tend to think broadly about “this way of eating” and say “but I don't know how to shop this way” or “I don't know how to cook this way,” Wolf responds with the following questions:

“Have you ever eaten some eggs and bacon for breakfast?”
“Have you ever eaten a salad with some chicken or grilled fish for lunch?”
“Have you ever had some meat or seafood with veggies for dinner?”

If you answered yes to those questions, which it's likely you have, Wolf says “Well, kiddo, you have, on separate days, already eaten several weeks, if not months, of “Paleo meals.” You simply have not strung them together to the exclusion of crap food. You do know how to do this. You can do this. It's simply a question of will you do it.” (p. 214)

While some of the science in “The Paleo Solution” may be enough to put you into a fetal position (Wolf's words, not mine) for a good hour (that is, if you haven't already zoned out and started daydreaming about the pasta, pie and ice cream he's asking you to forego), most of what Wolf presents is easy to read and understand for anyone interested in improving his or her health. He lets us know right up front that if we don't care about the “whys” of it all, we can jump right into the practical application chapters (I'd say from Chapter 8 on) and read up on just how and what to do. If you already know something about a Paleo diet, well the science that Wolf presents is enough to not only make your head spin with terms like gluconeogenesis, advanced glycation end products and non-insulin mediated glucose transport, it's also what you need to know in order to explain your newly caveman-like ways to friends and family. Though I'll say from experience that unless you think someone really wants to know why you're eating what you're eating, it's best to just stick to the basics in explaining your approach if at all possible, then throw a copy of Wolf's book at them. (Hi, Mom! I hope you enjoy the book I'm sending to you shortly.)

Gluten-containing foods
are on the “never eat” list,
according to Wolf.

Clearly Wolf believes wholeheartedly that the recommendations he makes will improve your health, and he's willing to “throw himself in front of a bus,” as he said on one of his recent interviews, to keep you from eating gluten. That said, he understands that there will be times when people will want to “kick up their heels” and enjoy something a bit indulgent. To this he responds, “Let's not turn this into a religion, OK?” and maintains that the notion of something not being “Paleo” therefore we should never consume it (in this case he's talking about alcohol and his infamous NorCal Margarita recipe) represents exactly the type of group-think mentality that he's trying to avoid. (p.139) He wants us to think for ourselves and question and debate his ideas, but not without really doing it first in order to accurately prove him wrong. I appreciate this approach since something I pride myself on as a nutrition coach is understanding and supporting the idea that there will need to be ways of cutting loose from time to time. That said, I agree with Wolf in that cutting loose doesn't need to mean completely falling off the wagon and damaging your digestion and health in the process.

Along with dietary changes, Wolf presents his lifestyle recommendations of getting plenty of sleep in a dark room, (Wait, I thought this was a DIET book and now you're telling me to sleep?!), reducing points of stress in your life, perhaps working a little less and playing a little more, engaging with family and friends in a fun and social way and moving. No, not your home, your body. (p. 135-140) Wolf calls it “activity” and outlines a program that's useful for anyone who may not have done much exercise in years in his chapter entitled “Ancestral Fitness.” Following the section on sleep, stress management, fun and movement, came one of my absolute favorite parts of the book, and likely because I was pleasantly surprised to be reading it in a “diet” book. It's a part entitled “Do You Own Your Things, or Do Your Things Own You?” This is a concept that's been pretty close to my heart lately as I've moved three times in the last three years, each time purging my space and my collection of stuff, useful and otherwise, exponentially as I've moved from a two bedroom apartment to a one bedroom apartment, and most recently to a studio. I love that Wolf poses this question to readers to get them to sit back and really THINK about how our stuff impacts how we feel on a daily basis. He even goes so far as to lay it all out there and say that “Having more shit (cars, TVs, houses, shoes… you know, crap) does not make you happier. In fact, it makes you unhappy and whittles away your life and causes stress.” (p. 140) Here, here! That's just it, folks, taking on a new diet isn't just about the food. It's about making a mental and physical shift. It's about changing your mind, your environment and your entire life to be healthier and happier.

With none other than Robb Wolf himself
at CrossFit South Brooklyn.

Robb Wolf's “The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet,” is definitely a book I'll be recommending that all of my clients read. As a fan of his previous work, a regular reader of his blog and a regular listener of his podcast, I've come to regard Wolf as one of my mentors on the subject of nutrition, health and performance. It's not often that you find a person whose recommendations align with your own general notions of what is “right” for people to be eating, but also someone who recognizes that we are more than molecular beings and that we are entire physical and emotional systems working together to create either health or illness within. Knowing that caring for the human animal is both a science and an art is something I think that Wolf gets and it shows in his work and his passion for not only the subject, but for creating health in the lives of people who look to him for guidance. A “diet book” shouldn't leave you feeling miserable and with a list of bland, unsatisfying foods to eat. It should get excited about all the great things that there are to eat, and motivate you to take charge do some work and make it happen for yourself; create “Your Paleo Solution,” as Wolf would say. Now it's time for me to go cook up a big grass-fed steak.

Enjoy & be well!



Diane Sanfilippo
BS, Certified Nutrition Educator, C.H.E.K. Holistic Lifestyle Coach
San Francisco Nutritionist & Paleo Nutritionist serving the Bay Area and beyond via phone & Skype consultations


Comments 10

  1. Diane- Great review! Bet Robb is happy to get the accolades :o) My copy is on order and just waiting for the arrival- been anticipating his book for a while and glad to hear it lives up to the hype. Keep spreading the good word and hope to see you at the Whole 9 seminar Oct 9th here in the Sacramento area!

  2. @Rod- thanks very much. Of course you can share this review anywhere, just be sure to clearly credit and link back to the original post! 🙂 Enjoy!

  3. @Alex- sure, just be sure to introduce it with a link back to my site and a credit. If you feel inclined to add my site to your list of recommended sites as well that'd be awesome. I was at Robb's seminar at your gym back in March 🙂

  4. Well, sorry for not being part of the cheerful choir but I thought I was following the diet pretty well for at least 2 weeks (out of the book). My personal trainer checked my stats and found I lost 4 pounds. Sounds good! But two of those pounds were lean body mass. My trainer thought it was because I wasn't eating enough carbs. That was very discouraging. Another bummer with the book is no index in the back to look up things with.

    The book was interesting and funny though I must admit I wonder a little about what seems to me to be a one size fits all prescription to diet and exercise. What about a person's blood type or other factors? Don't these affect the way a person processes their food?

    For the Paleo diet, is there any sort of ratios of how much meat/protein items as opposed to fruits and veggies? I want to lose fat not lean body mass!

    I will say the book was entertaining, interesting, but at this point I am confused and discouraged in regards to following its diet.

  5. @Orville-

    Two weeks is certainly not 30 days of a legitimate effort. And yes, it's common that a trainer would recommend that you're not eating enough carbs. I am not at all surprised by that reaction. I imagine that trainer has little nutritional training outside of his or her training certification- or am I wrong? That said, a Paleo approach isn't necessarily a low-carb diet, that depends on the foods you choose.

    How was your weight loss type determined? Calipers? A Tanita scale? Over 2 weeks time and with 4lbs change, I am not sure I think either of those methods would be accurate enough to make a call.

    I agree on the lack of index- one of my biggest complaints as well! Maybe a future printing will have one.

    As for getting enough quality calories in for your specific needs, that's where sometimes getting a 1:1 coach to look at what you're eating, your activity and your constitution (your specific body type/needs/etc.) can be the most helpful. Dialing-in on your own approach certainly takes more than 2 weeks.

    And I disagree wholeheartedly that it's a one-size-fits-all approach. Why do you say that? Because it's recommended that you avoid commonly irritating foods that you currently love to eat? Many, MANY factors affect the way a person digests and absorbs the foods that they eat, no doubt about that.

    As for ratios of protein/carbs/fat- that depends on the person, their size, their goals, their activity levels, their health status, on and on…

    If you are confused and discouraged, that is certainly not the fault of an approach to eating that focuses on whole, real foods but rather the lack of effort on your part to question why it may not be working for you and what you can do differently. This isn't a religion and there IS NOT a one-size-fits-all for any diet approach.

    When you give it a go for 30 days with some calculated efforts on getting the right quantity and proportions of calories in and don't look, feel and perform better, please come back and let me know about it.

  6. Hi there, I discovered your blog by way of Google whilst looking for a similar topic, your website got here up, it appears to be like great. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

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