Are you paralyzing others with Paleo Perfectionism?

Diane Sanfilippo FAQs, Lifestyle & Mindset, Monday Motivation, Most Popular 63 Comments

I visited my local lululemon athletica shop last week wearing my “WILL WOD FOR PALEOKITS” T-shirt and was kindly greeted by the cashier,

“Are you Paleo?”

Am I Paleo? Hmm… well, I certainly eat Paleo, at least according to my own set of standards. I quickly informed the lovely cashier (whose name I did ask for but now forget, darn it!) that I do, in fact, eat Paleo. And that I teach Paleo-oriented workshops around the country. And that my book on Paleo nutrition will be released in a matter of weeks now! I think I blindsided her a bit.

She explained to me how one of the managers of the store had recently “gone Paleo,” but that she had tried it for a week herself but that she just couldn't do it. I asked her why not (of course). She said it wasΒ too expensive. I continued the conversation, asking her what about this new way of eating it was that she found expensive.

It was the grass-fed, pasture-raised, all-organic food that was too expensive.

I quickly explained to her that she absolutely did not need to be eating the most perfectly-sourced foods 100% of the time if it's not affordable for her. I assured her that, yes, she could in fact glean the vast majority of the health benefits of eliminating processed and refined foods from her diet without buying 100% perfectly raised and sourced food all the time.

This lovely Lulu was paralyzed by what I like to call: Paleo Perfectionism.

If you are a Paleo Perfectionist, your approach (and, subsequently, how you explain Paleo to others) may look something like this:

  • Never touch a grain, grain-derived food, grain-derived ingredient or even something that ever touched a grain.
  • Never eat meat that hasn't been raised perfectly on its original and evolutionarily appropriate diet.
  • Never eat produce that is not organic and locally grown.
  • Never eat refined seed oils.
  • Never eat sugar, or anything that looks, tastes, or or acts like sugar.
  • If you break any of these rules, you're doing it wrong, you fail, and you may as well not even bother.

That's a whole lotta nevers!

I was both saddened and encouraged by this exchange. I found it sad that whoever explained this way of eating to her neglected to mention (perhaps because s/he wasn't taught):

  • That the foods you eliminate or avoid as part of a Paleo approach are the ones that are doing the most harm to your body. So, the first steps of simply eliminating grains, beans, refined seed oils, sugar/sweeteners, and grain-fed/pasteurized dairy products takes you at least 80% of the way towards achieving optimal health on a Paleo diet.
  • That Paleo is more about eating foods that are real, whole, unrefined, unprocessed, and nutrient-dense than it is about striving for some (non-existant, if you ask me) level of perfection.
  • That the largest benefits of Paleo are not about having access to food of optimal qualityΒ 100% of the time.
  • That fussing over the minutia of optimizing every aspect of your diet (some call this hacking) may actually do you more harm than good. You do realize that stress can undo everything you do nutritionally, right? No? You didn't know that? Well, now you do. It can. Stressing over your diet may actually be making you far less healthy than those few bites of dark chocolate or that non-organic banana. Or that (gasp!) grain-fed flank steak. You likely take great pleasure in that dark chocolate (or insert other imperfectly Paleo food here). Life is about not just being healthy, but being able to enjoy being healthy!
    (Yes, I'm a gluten-free purist to a degree, but I eat sub-par quality meat when stuck in an airport or on the road when I'm out of PaleoKits (again, gasp!) or my travel-sized EVOO and my usual sourcing efforts are side-swiped in an effort to Just Eat Real Food.)
  • And last, but not least, that if you create a list of rules for people that seem so overwhelming that they just can't imagine turning their lives upside down to adhere to them, you ‘ve likely lost any chance you had at helping them. (Note: I talked about this in my recent Paleo Magazine article entitled “Mind the Paleo Gap.”)

I was encouraged because the conversation gave me the motivation to (finally) write this post.

Let me be perfectly clear: I'm not saying that you should humor someone and allow them to think that gluten-free oats are healthy, because they're not.

But, in the context of their lives to this point, making a switch from a donut, Pop-Tart, croissant, or boxed/highly-processed/additive-laden cereal covered in pasteurized milk from grain-fed cowsΒ every day to that bowl of something they had to take time and effort to prepare, well, it's likely a huge first step. Even if it's not “Paleo-Perfect.”

It is not your job to create rules for someone else to eat and live by.

If you're a nutrition or health coach and they've hired you to do so, well, then that's different (duh). If you're a writer on the topic and someone finds you, your teachings, and a nutrition program you've created and wants to follow that information, that's their decision. And, guess what? When people choose to take on changes for themselves versus rules being forced upon them, they typically stick to the plan a lot better. Imagine that.

I can't stress this enough: You have to understand where people are coming from before you can throw a list of rules and dos/don'ts at them thinking it'll be possible for them to “just do it.”

Of course I love a strict, go-for-it kind of plan. I wrote The 21-Day Sugar Detox with this idea in mind: Ditch the sugar, sweets, (most) dense carbs, and sweet fruits. JUST DITCH THEM. But, in the overall landscape of a person's life, it's a lot to change. And so, I have a graded approach and levels people can choose to buy-in on based on their own level of commitment to themselves! This doesn't mean that people are not strong enough to make big or even huge changes, and to really commit to themselves to be healthier. It simply means that you are not the boss of them, and if you try to be the boss, you had better be sure that you're not setting them up to fail.

Know this: When you're sharing information about healthful dietary and lifestyle changes with other people to whom this may all be super shiny and new, it's about them. It's not about you.

Ask more questions than you think you should. Offer some information, then ask them how they think they might be able to incorporate (even small) changes into their daily routine – if they want to! Forcing the issue won't help. I don't even force 1:1 clients into changes they aren't ready to make. That's a recipe for failure at least nine times out of ten.

I hope this post serves as a wake-up call for some of you who have made people feel alienated by your approach, or perhaps, who have tried and “failed” to follow the rules you've given them. Be aware of when your Paleo Perfectionism is doing more harm than good, and try to see the benefit in small changes here and there that a person may make if they're not the type who wants to go cold-turkey on their pack-a-day-like grain habit. Not everyone makes changes at the same speed, but if a person wants to change, they will.

A person has to want to change before change will begin.

In that process if change, Paleo Perfectionism is often alienating and unnecessary. Find out where you can, and should, bend in what you teach others about this way of eating. Have compassion. Listen, listen, listen – and then ask strategic questions. Then, present ideas for change rather than hard-and-fast rules. People come around if they want to.

You did, didn't you?Β 

Comments 63

  1. We try to follow the 80/20 rule. We’re very good at home but unfortunately very bad when we’re out, so we tend to be more 60/40. But that’s better than 0/100! πŸ™‚

    I really appreciate all your practical advice and tips. Can’t wait for the book!

    I’m wondering if you would consider doing a very comprehensive FAQ about Paleo. Like, a place we can send friends or family who are interested. And along with your answers, some links to various blog entries (Chris Kresser, MDA, etc). I don’t have the memory capacity to remember all the science behind everything about Paleo, but I would love to point people to a place where all the main doubts/questions about Paleo are addressed. I have a ‘bookmarks’ folder in my browser with all kinds of web pages to point people to regarding specific aspects (such as ‘autoimmune disorders and wheat’ ‘the problems with soda’ etc.)

    I know the Paleo FAQ has been done (e.g. Chris Kresser) but I’d love to see a resource that points to lots of studies, different writers, etc.

    Because of your writing style, practical tips and of course beautiful graphics, I think you are the best person to put together a growing resource of Paleo knowledge. πŸ™‚

    Hmm… maybe even a wiki!

    1. I love for testimonials on getting healthy and transformations for anyone trying to lose weight. That would be a great site to send someone to for answers.

  2. Unfortunately I don’t think I have the time or resources to be able to compile that information all right here, as it’s VAST!!! I do answer a LOT of questions on my podcast and in my book. This post that was recently shared on my FB page has a really great combination of information in varying media formats —

    A wiki is a great idea… I do also have a START HERE page that’s helpful.

  3. It seems many of us tend to be so enthused about whatever has caught our fancy or touched us intimately that we may gush to excess. I doubt that the intention is to demand allegiance to a specific set of real or apparent criteria as much as an expression of that enthusiasm. Of course, it is unfortunate that people may misunderstand and believe it is out of their reach.

    Mostly, I think people are just doing the best that they can.

    1. This is very true! It’s why I posted this. When I was first taught about Paleo, it was by someone jumping up and down about how bad quinoa was for me… while I was EATING QUINOA. His approach was all wrong for me, but then I learned in another way that was RIGHT for me. It’s all a process!

  4. I often say to people starting out “health is a spectrum”, we are all on the spectrum and we just need to start somewhere and work our way TOWARD health. Not toward perfection.

  5. This post could not have come at a better time for me. I just got my sister on board following the Paleo diet; she has rheumatoid arthritis and already feels better in the month she’s been eating this new way. But she ran into a road block (a tough week at work, sleeping away from home and subsequently some achy joints) and had a bit of a break down. It came down to one of my favorite quotes: “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I spent the weekend with her, came up with a game plan, took her to the grocery store and cooked her some Paleo friendly meals. When I left this afternoon she said “I feel like I had my own personal weekend-long Balanced Bites seminar!” I attended your Charlotte, NC, seminar and, while I am in no way qualified to be anyone’s nutritionist, I was able to pass on some of what I learned to my sis. Many thanks!

    1. This is amazing! I have some meal plans and notes in my book that will help her out. Lots of recipes with substitutions for nightshades, which she should be avoiding– along with other items as you know: eggs, nuts, seeds. But, yes, perfectionism, even with a serious condition, can sometimes get in the way! She’ll get where she wants to be on her own – with your guidance πŸ™‚ Good job!

  6. Awww Diane…
    You know I love ya! This is a great and timely article! I love eating (mostly) Paleo…doing the best I can because, and only because…
    I Look, Feel and Perform better…

    But…you are so right…people get so intimidated by not being able to follow at 100% compliance that they don’t do ANYTHING!

    We each have to find our own personal level of compliance to promote:
    Realistic Living (ease of lifestyle)

    Paleo for me seems to be primarily about balancing our blood sugar and limiting the midsection growth that is so prevalent in our modern society. It can be done choose Paleo foods, even NOT at the highest quality afforded. Granted, we may want to limit the red meat to times we CAN afford the grass-fed variety!

    We are not cavemen, we have modern tools and tastes which we have to work with and work around. Anything that adds stress to our already crazy lives is counter productive to the Paleo life anyway…so why not find that “sweet spot” of personal compliance and get out there and LIVE!

      1. In my experience, I do a lot better eating the red meat and avoiding the *poultry and pork.* Guess which meats have more PUFA in them? Whereas cow only suffers slightly in terms of fatty-acid ratio, and mostly in losing omega-3, though the overall PUFA ratio does not change significantly. And I can make up the lack of omega-3 by eating fish occasionally.

        I think it is misguided for people to shun red meat. Even if arachidonic acid is inflammatory for you, it’s likely because you’ve got elevated insulin or some other abnormal thing going on; AA is a weird fatty acid that can be either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory but it all depends on your individual biochemical context.

        Besides, until finishing time, beef cattle spend more of their lives in a species-appropriate diet than do chickens or pigs. And you get more meat with less killing, in case that matters.

        Just some points to consider.

  7. I do about 80/20 Paleo. I will never give up chocolate. But I do choose dark chocolate when I have it. I love fruits, but also try not to over do them. Baking is also something I don’t think I will ever give up, but I’ve made changes in the ingredients I use when baking for myself (swapping in almond or coconut flour) even though “baking” is forbidden in the elitist Paleo world.

    I think good ingredients are key, and it doesn’t matter if you’re eating something that may be called a cookie *gasp*. If it’s all Paleo ingredients that are normally included in your diet, who cares if they’re mixed up into something that resembles a pancake or muffin? I realize for some it’s about breaking the habit of relying on the processed junk such as the typical sweets made from refined flour and sugar. But I will continue to eat what makes me happy, and what works for my digestion. And sometimes that means eating something resembling a cookie πŸ™‚

    One of my other modifications, or addition, is rice. I do eat rice occasionally. Most followers of the Paleo lifestyle quit eating rice cold turkey and that’s fine. Rice has been a staple of the Asian diet for thousands of years, and they are known for having some of the longest longevity on the planet. Can it be because of rice? I can’t say. I’m not a scientist or a doctor. But I don’t think a serving of rice every few weeks will kill you.

    That’s my 2 cents. I do my best to influence people to eat more real food, instead shoving a list of things down their throat of what they can NEVER eat. Keep up the great advice. πŸ™‚

    1. Asians do suffer health damage from rice. It is not always obvious. We were talking about that over at Mark’s Daily Apple some months ago. Apparently Asians suffer a high rate of nearsightedness. You wouldn’t think that was due to diet, but several people in the comments claimed their eyesight got better when they ditched the refined carbs. Asians also tend to have a higher rate of stroke and I think also pancreatic cancer. Just because someone’s not fat doesn’t mean they’re okay. And if I’m not mistaken the longest-lived Asians also eat a fair amount of *pork*.

      It is also worth pointing out that when forced to eat nothing *but* rice, and particularly white rice, Asians (and everybody else) start suffering deficiency diseases.

      I’m Cajun, and have every reason in the world to want to continue eating rice, but I can’t justify the strain on the body versus the nutritional benefit derived. I will probably still eat small amounts of it occasionally, but no more than small, no more than occasionally and never by itself.

    2. I agree that it shouldn’t be a staple. But I do think it’s one of the ‘cleaner’ Paleo no-no foods. i.e. I’d probably choose a little rice over a heaping plate of pasta or bread, if it came down to it.

      I was also raised in a culture that eats rice several times a week. Some probably eat it everyday, and it shows on their waist line. Grits are another favorite of mine that I’d eat for breakfast everyday if I could.

      But I’ll continue to enjoy a little rice with my sushi every few weeks. Is it something I’m going to stock in my kitchen? Nope.

      PS. Asians also tend to eat a diet high in a variety of fresh produce and greens, which I think contributes to their longevity.

  8. Grest post Diane. You make some very good points here and truly, our goal is to spread the paleo word in a positive, doable way so that others are encouraged, not intimidated. Great perspective. Will share on my Facebook page as well!

  9. nice post. i always find it interesting that proponents start from the POV of what you should eat, rather than what you should start trying to avoid/reduce. a point you make. i think we ate are way into this problem, we will need to eat our way out. if we want an ecological perspective – both and ancient and modern – to grow even faster, we need to meet people half way and create and easy on ramp. it’s about education. once empowered with the tiniest bit, they will see their own path and at whatever speed – economic, health, etc – that makes sense to them. need to create one big tent and invite everyone into it.

  10. Love this article. I am a health coach who is a Crossfitter, who eats Paleo, who healed herself by eating whole foods, who absolutely 100% believes in this way of eating.

    With that said, as a health and wellness coach, though I educate on the Paleo way of eating, I absolutely abhor the word “paleo”. The resistance I encounter from clients the minute they hear the word, always leads back to conversations like you had with your Lulu girl. I am convinced it is because of the paleo perfectionists out there who have given it a bad reputation. There is a reason the term orthorexia was coined.

    I approach my clients now by talking about a whole food, clean diet with certain eliminations. Once they are on board and seeing the results, it is at that point that I start introducing Paleo websites, blogs and books. They are always amazed that what they have been doing is actually Paleo.

    Keep up the good work. BTW… eagerly awaiting your book which I have several on order for both myself and clients.

    1. Sandra – I completely agree with your abhorrence of the word “Paleo”! It is so polarizing and instantly puts people on the defensive about their current food habits in relation to “paleo”. I love Paleo, however, because it gets the conversation started. We use 30-day Paleo challenges in our gym as a structure for getting people closer to a whole food, clean-eating diet because it puts the focus on F-O-O-D: “Fruit & veggies”, “Organic lean protein”, “Omega-3 fatty acids”, and “Drink water”. After 30 days of even partial participation, we see great results with new habits that stick long after the challenge ends.

      Thank you Diane for this awesome post. I’m definitely directing our current Paleo Challenge participants and athletes to this post. It puts the whole nutrition conversation in perspective and really gets at making those small, daily changes that lead to HUGE changes in the long run.

  11. Sometimes I think that people who are very passionate about paleo (or any lifestyle) get very into the minutia. They are 100% bought into the basics, so much so that they often either take it for granted (“of course you don’t eat bread”) or fail to see how it’s the basics that are providing the most benefit.

    Often the focus of blogging and discussion is on the details of optimization. As a new-comer it can be difficult to distinguish between optimization (or paleo-hacking) and the basics. I love the attitude that the most bang for your buck doesn’t come from the little things (grass-fed vs grain-fed) but from the big hard decisions like “I will eat eggs instead of coco-puffs for breakfast”.

    1. YES!!

      I could just hug you.

      Those of us who’ve been at this awhile like to debate the ultimate-ultimate minutia. Exactly how many grams of n-3 vs n-6 do I need to increase my lifespan by 45 minutes? How much more beneficial is it to fast for 16.2 hours than only 16.0? Oy vey! No wonder the newbies run for the hills.

      We really can’t emphasize enough that people get the most mileage out of the most dramatic changes — dropping the grains, sugar, and industrial fats. Arguing about whether organic broccoli is better than conventional can come much later on, after the training wheels are off.

  12. Wow this couldn’t have come at a better time! I had a similar realization yesterday, for my way of eating. I did the 21-day sugar detox and finished day 21 last Sunday. The very next day I was in Yosemite for a few days and on the road with my family and went to eating (and feeling) like Cr#p. I didn’t go back to the “sugar” per se because I didn’t NEED it, but did eat what was available and convenient. Ugh. What a difference a week makes! I realized yesterday that I am jumping back on the wagon, not the full sugar detox wagon again (yet), but eating real, whole foods and my big, meaty salads at lunch. I was on the all or nothing train this past week and realized that isn’t the way it needs to be.

    I have really missed eating good and feeling the same way. I know, it has only been a week, but the difference in my moods and how I feel throughout each day is all the proof I need. It’s such a personal journey for each of us and if you let the perfectionist in you run the show, that part will keep you frozen and keep you from actually DOING it.

    Thank you for all you do!

  13. I believe one of the most powerful statements made to me regarding a transition to Paleo was “purchase the best food you can afford,” because up until this time, I too suffered from Paleo Perfectionist related paralysis. My family certainly eats better than most, and 90-99% of what we purchase is organic or grass-fed, but I stressed more than I needed to over that 10% that wasn’t ‘perfect’.

    This is a great article, Diane. Thank you! xoxo

  14. Perfectly said, Diane.

    Any step in the right direction is progress. People shoot themselves in the foot with choices. Doing one small thing that is better than the previous day is a step.

    See you tomorrow?!?!?!?

  15. Diane, THIS. POST. ROCKS.

    THANK YOU for being a voice of reason here.

    Sorry for the long reply, but I’m 2 months away from finishing my master’s in nutrition, so this really struck a chord with me. How to talk to people about this stuff is very much on my mind these days.

    I’ve been “on my journey” for about 7 years now. I started with your basic, run-of-the-mill low carbing. I never had any glaring health issues — just a size 16 body and about 158 pounds on a 5’2″ frame despite doing “all the right things,” like eating very low fat and doing a ton of running. (Insert eye roll and regretful sigh.)

    Anyway, I could not agree with you more: the vast majority of the benefits someone will see by “going Paleo” don’t necessarily have anything to do with “Paleo,” but just eating REAL FOOD. Even if it’s grain-fed and non-organic. Even if it’s shipped in from 1000 miles away. Because a grain-fed steak is still a steak, and conventionally grown eggplant is still eggplant. When I started out, I stayed with what I knew and what I could afford. I ate a ton of soybean oil-laden mayo and store-bought salad dressings. I ate all regular ol’ meat, full-fat dairy, and produce from the regular ol’ supermarket. (Hello Planter’s containers of nuts roasted with safflower oil…or corn…or cottonseed…)

    And you know what? My results were damn good! Just dropping the sugar and refined carbohydrates, and getting back to meat, vegetables, nuts, and full-fat dairy was enough to improve all my biomarkers significantly AND get the weight off! Who would have EVER thought I could *lose* fat while eating enough of it to make any conventional doctor run away screaming? πŸ˜‰ And all while eating the stuff you can find on sale at any grocery store.

    Over time, I have made a gradual transition to where my food *quality* is very important to me. I do buy what I can at the farmer’s market and do organic at the store — but not always. Ultimately, I still have to stick to what I can afford and keep to my own priorities. But I agree with you so wholeheartedly — the difference between regular supermarket eggs and eggs from truly pastured, grass-foraging, grub and bug-eating hens is far less than the difference between a supermarket egg and say, a bowl of Cocoa Krispies! We’ve got to give people something they can work with and not scare them away!

    Robb Wolf often says things like not being able to afford everything grassfed and organic is simply NOT an excuse to not try this way of eating. “I can’t afford grassfed beef, therefore I have absolutely no choice in the world but to stick with bagels and pasta” is just plain B.S. (And infuriating!)

    Knowing what I know now about the food processing industry, n-6 seed oils, responsible farming practices, etc., sometimes I wonder how it’s possible that I *was* as healthy and fit as I was *before* I started paying attention to food quality. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist: the biggest bang for the buck came from simply eliminating the worst of the worst and eating REAL, WHOLE, unprocessed FOODS, and cooking them myself.

    And let’s say you’re at a chain restaurant. Is your steak or chicken at the Olive Garden gonna be grassfed or pastured? NO. But it beats out the bottomless bowl of breadsticks and fettuccine! Ordering a regular ol’ pork chop does not mean someone’s “failed” at Paleo.

    Like you said — it’s a SPECTRUM. From 0-100…maybe someone’s only at 60, and they feel bad because they feel like they should be at 95. But being at 60 is better than being at 20! And we *all* started at zero! My parents sure as heck didn’t raise me to eat “Paleo.” Jeez, when I was in college, I lived on bagels with light margarine, for crissake! Or sugary cereal with skim milk! πŸ™‚ I thought I was “eating healthy” five years ago, when I was still doing lots of low-carb wraps (made with soy flour usually!), LC bars, and other processed junk. (I didn’t care about the ingredients as long as it was LC or sugar free, of course.) And the funny thing is, I looked and felt great. *Now,* I wouldn’t touch that stuff. But would I tell someone they’re “doing it wrong” if they switched to some of those products? No. Are there better choices? Of course. But we have to meet people where they are. If someone’s drinking a 6-pack of soda a day, heck, just getting them to cut that in half would be a step forward. Insisting that they have to quit altogether overnight and brew their own kombucha is just nonsense. (I mean, it would be *nice* if people could transition that quickly, but we have to be real.)

    We’ve all gotta do what we can. For some people, this’ll happen overnight. For some it’ll take years. We *want* people to do it all cold turkey because we “know” how amazing they’ll feel (especially if they’re very sick and/or overweight to begin with). BUT…most of us have had a gradual transition in one way or another. Little by little, over time, we’ve tweaked things here and there. Like I said, I’ve been at this 7 years and I’m *still* tweaking things and experimenting as I learn more.

    The people at Precision Nutrition have a great coaching strategy: one of their tools is to gauge potential compliance. When they suggest a change to someone (ex: eating leafy greens with dinner at least 4 days a week), they ask, “On a scale of 1-10, how CONFIDENT are you that you can do this one thing?” They start working on the changes the person is most confident with *first.* That builds momentum, and as results start coming, people are generally willing to go further and further outside their comfort zones because they can see and feel the difference things are making. That’s when they can start tackling the more difficult things that they were less confident they could stick with. It’s brilliant. Someone might not be confident that they’ll go to the farmer’s market every week or pay $5 for a dozen eggs, but they might feel strongly about their ability to eat a ham steak instead of toast for breakfast.

    You can give somebody the greatest, most effective advice in the world, but if they’re not willing or able to *comply,* it’s worthless. We have to figure out where people are starting from, where they want to go, and what they’re willing to do to get there. (And which steps they want to tackle first.)

  16. This is a well timed article. When I first learned about Paleo and experience the benefits for myself and my family, I wanted to shout it to the world. I was so excited and motivated to share this with others. A number of people that know and trust me were motivated and excited too. Not everyone was excited though, in fact, I unknowingly offended some vegetarian in-laws and others that stood behind them. They turned against me and turned the tables on me and my family. They began to tell us what we were doing was unhealthy based on family history. I tried to address their concerns w/compassion and gave them the science to back me up. It backfired and got totally out of hand-the anger, hurt, etc. I’m not one to be in the middle of conflict. It has been very painful on so many levels. I hope nobody else makes the mistake I made. What sucks is that I had gotten my health back in order, sleep, stress, etc. Now the stress is back full force and so is the lack of sleep along with it. Stress trumps any efforts of a good diet. Hopefully time will heal the pain and suffering that resulted from my initial over-exuberance.

  17. Love this! My motto since going “paleo” has always been “doing something is better than doing nothing.” I went from eating 80/20 processed foods to real foods, to now eating the exact opposite. I enjoy my time in the kitchen, and while I may not always get to buy organic and grass-fed, I believe what I’m putting on my plate is better than the heaps of pasta and rice dishes that were my weekly staples. My body agrees too. Thanks to you and others, I have become much more educated about the effects of food on my body and I’ve learned to listen to my body. I will never be a perfect paleo elitist and I never want to be. I’m happy doing what I’m doing.

  18. Great, great points. I have definitely learned that being happy and healthy and providing a good example (while not talking about it unless asked, unfortunately) is a better impression-maker. And, I like my ‘paleoish’ sweets, so I would be the last to judge someone else about organics. This is an awesome, joyful, primal lifestyle. We are lucky to have it!

    As someone who follows the various voices of the paleo community, I rarely hear about the organics as much as I hear people arguing about sweetners/baked goods. I love my almond flour chocolate chip cookies as much as the next guy, but it seems to me that the sweetners and large amounts of nut flour consumption is a larger cause of debate, or at least generates more heated debate. For example, someone who doesn’t have a background in nutrition can write a cookbook with the word ‘paleo’ in the title, and there are recipes with a higher sugar content than some processed foods. I am NOT knocking on eating that stuff- in fact, I eat it more than I should, for sure, and enjoy every bite! I absolutely love some of those very cookbooks. However, I think when one touts paleo for weight loss, it does become a cause of confusion for some people. I sense that there is some frustration among trainers because people don’t understand why they are not losing weight while eating almond flour muffins and coconut pancakes. Then the hardcore people decide to get all literal and say “well, the cavemen didn’t grind up almond flour and baking soda with chocolate chips” and suddenly we’re arguing about what the actual definition of paleo is. In “The Paleo Diet” I remember that Loren Cordain specifically said not to grind up nuts and add sweets and that they were not part of a paleo diet. Others who claim to speak for paleo write paleo cookbooks full of that stuff. Having zero nutritional background myself, it is not for me to say who is right and who is wrong- I am just pointing out that I think part of the problem is that there are a lot of people speaking for paleo that are saying different things right now, and some of them (i.e., many of the cookbook author voices of paleo) are telling them what they want to hear while some (the people who have the background in nutrition, biology etc) are a little less flexible. This really does confuse people, I think. And sadly, the person who said that ‘paleo’ has become a bad word is probably correct. It does seem to have turned into a really stringent literal interpretation. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even refer to myself as paleo anymore because I do enjoy baking almond flour bread, making coconut cream ice cream, almond flour cookies, etc.

    Great article. I agree that not being able to afford organic is a poor excuse; many people can’t. I am one:) And I would give my kids a non-organic banana over a bowl of Trix any day!

    1. I actually debated naming my book with Paleo in the title for a lot of these reasons, but, at the end of the day, it turns out that most of the issues you’ve expressed concern over are very engrained (no pun intended) in the inner workings of this community. The public-at-large seem to just BARELY be learning the word Paleo, and I wanted to put my own spin on the topic – and I’ve incorporated a bit of a Weston A Price/Traditional food slant in that I don’t tell people raw milk is bad for them, but educate them on how to figure out if they do well with it or not.

      Anyhow, I feel you for sure- but the reality is that a million people write books on things, and it’s up to the individual reader to decipher who they want to trust or not, ya know? I mean, you’ve got Giada de Laurentiis writing Italian cookbooks right alongside the Real Housewives of NJ πŸ˜‰ I think teaching people how to eat without grains is a tough job, and not every nutritionist is a creative cook! We need to make sure we allow room for everyone and let the public continue to self-educate, even if it’s not perfectly simple. There is no one perfect diet for everyone– we all need to find what works on our own in a way.

      1. I just wanted to leave a comment that one of the reasons I adore Practical Paleo over all the others on my shelf (I have most of them, LOL) is that PP speaks to the first nutritional wake up call I received in the form of Nourishing Traditions. πŸ™‚ Most of how to blend ancestoral food with WAPF concepts, I’ve sort of figured out on my own but Practical Paleo is on my counter nearly every day because it’s helping me to find the balances that work for our family.

  19. This post has just made my dark in so, so many ways. I’m so passionate about Paleo but a Paleo that’s tailored to each individual. We’re all very different complex beings, but what we all share is the need to eat cleaner for a happier, longer life. Paleo is an important lesson in trial and error, flexing the purse strings throughout the month accordingly and simply doing the best you can. Awesome, awesome, awesome. I will be sharing this far and wide. Thank you!

  20. I love this. This has been my approach from the beginning of going Paleo this year and this is basically how I explain it to my friends and family. I am just putting the final edits on a post about encouragement when it comes to making changes to your diet/lifestyle.

    My dad benefited by eliminating grains (almost 100%) but not really focusing on the quality of food – he lost 20 pounds and is about to stop taking statins as a result (per doctor’s orders, of course).

    My best friend lost 10 pounds effortlessly, cleared up adult acne, and has far less painful periods. For her it was about feeling healthier and about the quality of food and knowing the pastured meats and eggs she is eating comes from well cared for animals.

    Well done post, Diane. πŸ™‚ I’m definitely going to link to this!

    Also, can’t wait for the book!

  21. I consider my dietary approache paleo-esque. I eat like a cave woman who enjoys her dairy. I prefer that my meat be grassfed, but that doesn’t always agree with my wallet…Confession: I prefer the fat in meat that is created from a grain diet. However, I will go with grassfed whenever it is affordable for me. Not only do I find this lifestyle fun, it is second nature for me. I could have easily have been raised as a paleo kid.With the diagnosis of pre-diabetes, I have been able to use paleo to protect my pancreas by keeping my insulin/glucose in a healthy normal balance.

  22. I saw this post and have been wanting to comment but I could not cause I did not have access to my computer…

    As I am reading through this I can’t help but think of CrossFit and how dogmatic these concepts can be together or separate. Some of the people who call themselves coaches are set in their ways so much so that they cannot understand compassion. It is much easier to try to impose ones self on another when things he or she finds those things easy to do or give up. I hate seeing others try to regurgitate concepts that they learned over a weekend course and call themselves experts because they are good at something and have no idea how difficult it might have been for someone to muster up the courage to evan ask a simple question!

    I gave a “healthy life” survey when I was in school for a stats class that included basic questions about health and exercise and what I found was that my survey was very skewed. I opened it up to my Facebook list and was not surprised that everyone answered the questions pretty much the same. However participants surveyed on the campus at my school were completely opposite. Most of the people on Facebook knew what right looked like while participants from the university had no clue about what healthy even looked lie.

    This survey taught me that even in today’s age with all the information out there, it is difficult to know or even understand which way to turn, what to do, or where to begin. Most people just don’t even want to bother because being healthy is just to confusing!

    With this in mind, one can see how preaching “paleo perfectionism” can be chalked up to another thing that is just too hard and not worth the effort.

    Ok, I am dont ranting for now. Thanks for posting this Dianne! I completely agree with this!

    1. Good point! That’s why I don’t do Crossfit – I am afraid! (Well, that, and I don’t have $170 a month to throw around!)

      1. same here on the crossfit. the few gyms i’ve contacted all want me to commit to a daily/unlimited price and in my area it’s nearly $200/month or more. fewer are offering 2x/week options because they currently have a strong enough following that they don’t have to offer it. guess i’ll keep waiting.

  23. I LOVE this article. While my diet is probably about 70% paleo, I usually don’t tell other people that because I’ve met so many people who are “food snobs” about the paleo diet. I recently visited another CrossFit gym where one of the members who worked at a restaurant was loudly telling others in the gym “I see all of these fat people ordering bread, and they don’t even realize that’s what’s making them overweight!”. It came off as overly judgmental and cruel. If I wasn’t already aware of the paleo diet, after hearing her comment I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to learn more about it. Thanks for writing such a well-thought post about the perils of perfectionism! It’s definitely important not to obsess about your diet.

  24. Great article, I agree with you that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Compromise is part and parcel of life, and the question, it seems to me, once we give up on the pursuit of perfection is to draw the bright lines. Where is that we won’t compromise, ever, not matter what. And even though we’re all in pursuit of optimal health, we come to paleo with different ethical commitments, which means, we’ll draw those lines in very different places. For some, eating choices are guided purely by health concerns, so grass fed meat is chosen for its optimal nutritional profile, not necessarily for ethical reasons. I care about health too – like you, I stay gluten free no matter what. But I have a harder time juggling commitments to my own health and well being with the health of the planet and the well-being of the living creatures we share it with. So I’ll sacrifice my own health and eat, say, hummus, before I’ll eat “meat of unknown origin” (in, say, an airport). I’m not juding anyone for making different choices, I know legumes aren’t optimal. I guess it’s my biggest worry about the paleo “movement” – that it will drive meat consumption, not a transformation of the meat industry. The only way we’ll achieve the latter goal is people stop consuming factory-farmed meat altogether. That’s why I take such a hard line.

  25. I needed this today. I was sick this week and veered off my usual (Paleo-ish) eating style. Somehow being sick makes me super hungry, and I crave carbs. I decided to put out the fire with some ice cream. Then, I was not as discriminating about my dinner ingredients and used some soy sauce, which made me feel gross. But I have to find a way to put that “veer” in the context of my overall self-care, and not think of it as a failure. So, thank you.

  26. THANK YOU!!!!!!!! Great blog. That is what I try to tell people — something is better than NOTHING. Do the best that you can with what you have and with where you are! NO excuses! THANK YOU AGAIN! None of us are perfect 100% of the time. Thanks!

  27. This mentality has been one of the major reasons that I hesitate to call my current way of eating “paleo”. I cook all our meals at home, avoid sugar and gluten completely. Vegetable oils for the most part too.The only exceptions in the past year have been a couple of occasions on the road. We eat rice once or twice a week.I use the best quality of eggs, meat and diary we can afford in any given month. Very often it is not grass fed or organic.
    I have had more than one run in with hard core paleo enthusiasts over the last year . They always have the same argument that spending more now on grassfed and organic is going to save our health in the future . While I agree in principle , I have to point out that our lives will be shorter if the heating bill is not paid on time and we freeze to death. Graphs and charts are brought out to show how much money can be saved by not eating junk , which would have been good if we ate it in the first place. We eat the best we can on a limited budget and I see no point in going into debt to eat better. It always ends with the implied suggestion that may be we cannot afford this lifestyle as yet.

  28. This is a great post. I’m just starting out and there are ALOT of aspects of Paleo I’m not ready to tackle. Like, organ meats. I was telling my family (DH and 2 teens) about the bone broth process I read in one of Rob Wolf’s ebooks that suggests keeping a crock pot of chicken broth going 24/7. I wish you could have seen the looks on their faces. LOL! My husband said “That can’t be healthy. Please don’t do it”. So, even though we’re a family, we’re all still moving forward at our own paces. Teens can be more picky than toddlers at times, though πŸ˜‰

    1. As long as that crock is simmering away at full strength, it’s far more hot than any bacteria on this planet would care to settle in. πŸ™‚ I do chicken bones for 12-18 hours. I’ve been known to leave a beef “knuckle” (hock joint on rear legs) simmering for 72 hours! The joints just fall apart and the broth is amazingly rich. For most soups, I only need to use a cup for every 4 cups of water/other liquids. The first time I try new techniques, I rarely mention what I’m doing to my husband or children. Generally, if they don’t know going in, they’re more like to accept the results. πŸ˜‰ The chicken liver pate my little’s are scarfing down today is not “chicken livers.” It’s just “ground meat with coconut oil and parsley. Oh, and a little onion and garlic.” Little do they know that every bite is a vitamin bomb.

  29. Thank you so much for this post. It feels great hearing this from an expert. I’ve tried paleo but it’s exhausting, especially when people on paleo forums seem to have access to some private list of what’s fine and what is absolutely, unequivocally unacceptable. I particularly liked your comment about how stress undoes everything. I’m gonna just do my best using my common sense this time round! Forget the technicalities and minute details. πŸ™‚

  30. This is great, thank you! People routinely tell me they could NEVER commit to Paleo because they couldn’t give things up ie chocolate-I always respond, I cheat with my bit of dark chocolate! Perfectionism in all facets of life are joy killers, this is a great reminder not to fall into the perfectionism trap!

  31. When I first heard of Paleo I thought it made sense but the grass fed and all organic was/is beyond my budget. Your book has been such an inspiration and motivator to really trying to go Paleo. When I read how to do Paleo on a budget and how to prioritize what to buy I was relieved and even more motivated. I use your recipes almost every day and even my husband is very into our Paleo life. If everyone who might be interested in trying to go Paleo would read your book they might give it a try as well. I so appreciate your book and am thrilled that it is a best seller! I for one understand why!

  32. Standard rule that 80% of benefits coming with 20% of effort applies to paleo eating too. To be honest I do not see any of those perfectionists (dressed in animal skin, equipped with axe) running barefoot around. They must have 1. died out 10k years ago 2. fall back to the mainstream diet or 3. find their way eating and living paleo.

  33. Ow, I’m starting on Paleo and this post is what I badly needed. In the place I belong to, there is no awareness about organic meat. So, all we get is conventional grain-fed animal meat laden with hormones/antibiotics or both. I was so freaked out about how to go about it except for fish that I found was ‘clean’ enough…

  34. I consider myself as living a primal/palΓ©o lifestyle… and yes, I do have times where I will eat less than perfect stuff… My beef is not always pastured, I can’t find pastured butter here in canada but still get bio butter… I drink wine and the occasional beer… one has to enjoy life too… lol

    However, I am grain free, eat only real food (and yes, I consider an industrial production apple, banana or cucumber as real food…can’t always find bio…) and try to buy my food as close to where it is produced as possible…

    Paleo is fun, when I explain it I say I only eat real food… non processed and non industrial… people get it usually… when they ask about grains… I refer them to my previous statement… non processed / non industrial…

    I travel alot too for work… so its not always easy…I consider finding good food as my hunter/gatherer task… I go hunting for something to eat… I pass by what is not real food and pick the lesser poisons if I have no choice… have fun with it…what the hell, intermittent fasting is also fine in my book if there is no stress… that is if you don’t eat for too long you wreck havoc in your metabolism… that is not good… so eventually I will eat anything to sustain myself…

    I like your comment about stress… its true that stress is as bad a killer than some of the foods they sell… and I agree that paleo or primal should be fun…

    Relax! Its palΓ©o….

  35. Thank you so much for this post. I eat strict paleo (minus eggs) due to dietary intolerances. However living in the Middle East it would be nigh on impossible to do this ‘pure’. I can find grassfed New Zealand lamb and beef at reasonable prices in the supermarket but to pay $19 for an organic chicken is beyond my means. Most fruit and veg is imported here as the high temperatures make farming very difficult, so it is difficult to eat local or seasonal. Personally I don’t worry about it. I do the best I can to feel the best I can, with what ever means I can find. I dont preach paleo to my friends and colleagues, they can just see the amazing benefits it is having on my life and if they feel like having a go, well then, good on em.

  36. This is a really great reminder! Followers of our homesteading discussions are always curious about what is paleo, why do we eat this way, etc. They are baffled that we’re not all ‘grow your own grains’ and ‘bake your own bread’ kind of people. It’s hard to talk about your diet conversationally without coming across as preachy. Thanks for the reminder that being inquisitive in return to the questioner is just as important for the conversation to continue.

  37. Thank you for this post. This reflects my exact sentiments about paleo. I started out with paleo a few months back, and I could sa

  38. Yes I was! I have learned TOO MUCH about paleo and I wanted to do it perfectly and use all the tips and tricks so I couldn’t even start until I got it write. Then I decided 2014 was my year, so I started off with a whole 30 to get in the swing of paleo and I’m still going strong. πŸ™‚

  39. Amy B,

    Being as this comment by you was submitted three years ago, I highly doubt that you will ever see my reply but I was rocked by what you wrote. Three years ago you were two months away from completing your master’s degree in nutrition…… I bet you have gone on to help a slew of folks improve their health and wellbeing, a step and a tweak at a time! Some people can make changes at breakneck speed but most of us have to take a few steps at a time, become acclimated to those changes, take a few more steps…….how wonderful that you recognized that before you were even finished getting your degree! Rock on!

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