Top 5 Road Blocks of The Paleo Movement

Top 5 Road Blocks of The Paleo Movement

paleo movement

I have been an active member of the Paleo Movement, and a big advocate and follower of the Paleo Diet for years now, and often ‘prescribe’ it to clients as a healthy diet to supplement their training or health goals. Because I immerse myself into the studies, communities and organizations that embrace any lifestyle approach that I promote, I’ve become an active participant in the Paleo community myself, and I consider it my family!

As I become more involved with the community itself, I’m witnessing is this progressive development of cult-like followings within the community—rebel tribes, if you will. I don’t need to extend myself too far to illustrate this, you’ve all seen the 1,000+ bacon memes. Three out of four of your friends are currently talking about bombing the 15th day of Whole30 with Krispy Kreme binges or telling you—in detail—about their “sick WOD” yesterday. The other 25% think we’re all crazy and have begun the implementation of a nationwide intervention.

This is why:

1. Health & Weight Loss: The Identity Crisis

Once you have cultivated an identity with how you eat and apply it to every aspect of your life, and it’s all you talk about, you become the David Koresh of Paleo. There is a fine line between choosing a healthy lifestyle and becoming the “Sinful Messiah” of a healthy diet. (I might get in trouble for that) Read further… Then ask yourself: Is there something I can do to change this?

When I first began taking a proactive step towards my education on nutrition, I was a big advocate (and still am) for SCD (Specific Carbohydrate Diet). There’s very good science behind it, and everyone is very supportive. I think because it’s mainly developed for those trying to reverse more serious digestive diseases, it’s remained more stable and constant.

Who wants to change something that works? It’s different because it’s not a diet identified with weight loss, which I think the Paleo Diet has become known for despite it’s historical beginnings and early work which clearly states a premise of meat, fish, nuts, vegetables, fruits and healthy oils.  And that’s it!

But we have somehow tied a rope with this premise using other commercially-driven, non-scientific, conflicting theories and tried to call it Paleo. Then we argue about it. Too many people apply this dogmatic label onto an otherwise very healthy and successful lifestyle prescription. And I say that because Paleo started out very simple.

The philosophy was so easy to understand, and frankly—hard to argue with. But as it gains momentum, the population of people adopting this lifestyle reporting massive weight losses and life transformations increases and becomes more wide-known. And we begin reaching people who aren’t exactly out for a health-fix.

If this were just about health (like it was in the beginning), sadly, no one would really know about it. It’d still be off the map like SCD, Wahl’s, GAPS, FODMAP diet, etc, which most people do not learn about UNTIL they enter the Paleo scene.

But with popularity and success of something gaining a weight loss reputation, such as Paleo, we are seeing stampedes of people entering this as if it’s the new “pill” that will just fix everything if you rigidly apply it to all parts of your being. And then when it doesn’t give you the instant gratification you were expecting, you take heavier doses.

Next thing you know you’re at CrossFit 6x a week and eating a pound of bacon each day saying, “Ermagerrd, my SAD friend posted a picture of her SAD chicken fried steak and I’m all, Ewwww that’s so SAD….. she should eat more bacon like me… uggghhhh I’m so sore from Fran yesterday….hey…Why can’t I lose weight?”

Paleo works, and everyone who has tried it for at least 4 weeks will agree. But, in conjunction with this identity crisis I’m witnessing, I notice that it stops working the second we begin to add our “expert” 2 cents about whether you should, or shouldn’t have milk, cream, rice, bacon, alcohol, 40% carbs or no carbs, or whether or not we should get stitches since “Grok” didn’t have doctors offices, right?

Just rub some coconut oil on there, you’ll be fine. Bucking our horns back and forth —with our elitist tones— over someone taking medicine for their thyroid (because we listened to a few Balanced Bites podcasts, we’re suddenly experts on hormones), or a jacked bodybuilder bragging about his weekend ice cream binders.

A percent of us claiming that milk, white rice, and pure cocaine are legit and totally paleo, another percent of us saying you’re not paleo unless you eat roots, dirt, raw liver and the anal glands of male unicorns (found only in New Zealand).

But you know why you don’t see this happening among the SCD, GAPS or Wahl’s crowd? Because they have remained using their dietary strategies as an approach to health. It’s a method. Those protocols don’t have this illustrious fame for turning you into a fitness model or making your penis grow 3 inches.

They are simply a way of being and doing. No one has ever mentioned “diet”, calories or macros in those crowds because they are not focused on weight loss, they are focused on health gain. No one-second guesses the need for an epidural because they aren’t sure if it’s “wahl’s enough” or goes on self-hating “confessions” about their cheat meals in SCD forums, or asking people (random strangers) to tell them how many carbs they should be consuming. But guess what?

You’re not gonna find very many overweight, hormonally imbalanced & oppressed, cumbersome, burned out, neurotically confused and/ or metabolically exhausted people over there. Why? Because (a) it’s not about weight loss to them, it’s about health which is very cut & dry and (b) they don’t sit in large forums arguing over the protocol and whether the adhesive on bandaids fits into the philosophy of their lifestyle. Their goals are to reverse and prevent disease, and if it’s not working 100%, they adjust things on their own.

That doesn’t mean we have to change the weight-loss reputation that Paleo has, but I think that just highlights an important variable that we should pay attention to. This variable could be why there’s such inconsistency in Paleo truly working and improving the lives of those who embark on it and also completely resulting in frustration & confusion on the opposite end of the spectrum.

2. Industry: Voting with Your Clicks, Pins, Likes, Shares

When I start seeing hundreds of bacon memes passed around Facebook, and people are making these memes their PROFILE PICTURES, getting bacon t-shirts, screen savers, underwear, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and air fresheners,  joining trendy commercialized exercise programs (because if you eat Paleo, then you have to perform CrossFit… and vice versa… it’s the rule), and obsessively re-pinning “paleo” desserts and cutesy memes about bacon and… dun-dun-dun…vegans on pinterest, I begin to wonder, “Does anyone even know WHY they started this journey? Or did they get distracted by the glitz, and are now too busy chasing after & reaffirming their acceptance in this modernized rock star subculture of holistic eaters?”

Bacon glamorization has reached such shameful popularity, so much that I felt stupid typing that sentence, to begin with. But examine this: anytime you start idolizing a person, idea or tangible thing, it eventually begins to lose value. The cause & effect is that the growing popularity gains the attention of people wanting to make you their consumer (or get your attention), who then highlight that very thing even more to grab your attention, which then snowballs into this strange worship mentality, and you are being conditioned to keep it up with all your likes, and shares and pins. And aren’t cavemen supposed to be “anti-consumerism”? The irony! Once we all go to the little league games in our “Bacon Gives Me a Lard-on” t-shirts, eating bacon wrapped sausages and sporting car tags that say “United States of Bacon”… People (normal people) begin to think we’ve all lost our minds, and I don’t blame them! You don’t see anything wrong with the fact that you chose this lifestyle to get healthy, reverse diabetes, lose weight or enhance your performance on the field… and suddenly began acting like a monkey released from a zoo every time you saw, heard, or smelled bacon? And literally eliminating friends from your life because they eat bread and cereal, or separating people into categories of “paleo friends” and “SAD friends”? Ask yourself this question:  would you have even done that if everyone else hadn’t? And that is how we are dragging Paleo through the mud, and the effect is that we risk its VALUE and credibility.

Listen, people, I like bacon. I eat it occasionally. I get some GOOD stuff here locally and don’t see a problem if others eat it or if my clients enjoy it now and then. But put it this way; if I had a client show up to my studio wearing “bacon” knee socks, with a bacon keychain and a bag of bacon for their PWO… I would have an intervention with them for sure. Bacon + CrossFit + Paleo should not be synonymous. But it is because our likes, shares, clicks and pins (for whatever reason we do it) have created an industry that is watching closely.

Challenge: when you are done reading this, go on Facebook and click on 2 or 3 of your favorite “paleo” pages… then count how many recipes there are for cakes, pastries, desserts and chocolate-covered ANYTHING…. and then count how many different bacon memes are sitting in the “timeline photos” section. Seriously… Go do that. Then ask yourself, “Does this serve me positively in my journey to health, fitness, weight loss or strength gain?” Listen, I bet it’d be really fun and interesting to spend a day with Charlie Sheen but what would I get out of it but embarrassing photos and a bad hangover? #bacon #winning

This goes for other culturalistic-branding within this community: go search “paleo” on Pinterest. That’s fun.  Do you see ONE recipe for a chicken leg and a side of garnished bone broth? Probably not! It’s FILLED with “paleo” desserts, cookies, cakes, cupcakes, muffins, waffles, pancakes, french toast, brownies, pies, and every other shitty SAD recipe that is fried, breaded or ‘casseroled’ that can be converted with almond flour and coconut oil. Imagine that. And remember this: “vote with your dollar”! <— Right? We KNOW what that means.

Every time someone purchases anything; it’s been voted for. And the more you “vote” with your dollar, the more popular it becomes, widely distributed, marketed and inventoried… and the more VERSIONS of that thing suddenly get created.

So when you like, share or pin something- that’s your vote. This means that the more you “like” something, the more exposure you give to that thing. And the person, thing, or entity that is competing for your attention will take notes of that, and produce MORE of that thing to get your attention and gain wider popularity. Keep this in mind when I discuss the idolization of food below.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I asked a mentor of mine what his thoughts were on the growth and evolution of the Paleo Diet, and if he had any key observations about it based on the last 3 years or so. He said, “Paleo began as a scholarly work of new discovery. Soon listservs and bloggers got going, the amateurs and autodidactics coming out of the woodwork, often confusing opinions with evidence based facts.

From there Commercial Paleo developed like wildfire, unfortunately widening the gulf between evidence based science and money grubbing. The situation has become laughably pathetic with almost weekly announcements of new ‘paleo’ and ‘primal’ foods, myriad deserts, the bacon obsession, and primal paleo exercise and health care gimmicks coming out of the woodwork.” ~Ken ONeill, SmartFIT

3. Idolizing Food

Let’s examine this. On one very popular paleo page on Facebook, (we’re talking… like 80k followers) this photo received almost 1,300 “likes”. And a photo of a recipe for chocolate covered mini-muffins had 669 “likes” and 481 SHARES. (Holy shit! 481 shares! On Facebook! 3 out of 4 of the people that Liked it – Shared it.) That means 481 people said “look how healthy I eat, I’m making these “clean” cakeballs that have been re-named chocolate coated mini- muffins.”

Then on another very popular paleo Facebook page (around 50k followers), a post about fermented foods got 79 “likes” and 11 shares. So another post enshrining the image of bacon received 16x more the attention and 100x the exposure than a post that was actually about something healthy, and legitimately “Paleo”. Granted, we could do the math-work and say that 80k followers present about 50% (ish) more direct visibility than the page with 50k followers, so the contrast is not fair.

However, the fact that a page which comparatively posts recipes for desserts and 100’s+ memes on bacon has 1.5x MORE followers & likes and 100x exposure (6 degrees rule) to others than the page that only posts about actual whole, health foods and health issues- exposes its own contrast. And that is how we are spreading the message to others?

4. Idolizing Lifestyle Figures

Speaking of idolizing food, how about the Paleo ‘figures’ themselves? Have you noticed this? Memes, photos, spoof videos, and newly-coined terms don’t stop at bacon or bulletproof coffee. They’ve made their way into people, like, human people… who just so happen to be larger-than-life figures within the Paleo community.

The major heavy-hitters I consider great voices are the ones who present information from a scholarly platform and don’t necessarily associate themselves with Paleo, but rather supportive of the Paleo lifestyle… The ones who do the research into real foods, nutrition, health and health issues, and then present it to us! The elite coaches, doctors, scientists, and researchers. But I have yet to see a Paul Jaminet “hey girl…” meme. Have you?

Even if there was one, I’d probably still feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s that whole idolizing, enshrining thing PERIOD. In some portions of the paleo community, people are acting like (pardon the term)- Twihards towards the food and “paleo figures”. This is not only creepy, but it exposes a pretty obvious problem that everyone is trying to pretend doesn’t exist: a very disordered relationship with food, and some very disordered thinking… that Paleo did not “fix” (nor has the responsibility or capability – within reason- to fix, that’s an inside job). Would you agree? We get so offended when the lifestyle is attacked or critiqued, but have you SEEN some of the idolizing going on? That would obviously open the doors for critics to shed doubt on this method of living.

These popular trainers or chefs do not sparkle in the sun, they will not protect you from enemy SAD vampires. I apologize for any perception that could be received offensively here (and I’m also sorry if you’re a Twihard). But, as a health coach, I work with a lot of the social issues surrounding healthy lifestyle transitions, and the struggles people go through.

So when you “vote with your likes” (or shares, pins, comments, etc), you are inviting that to be your reality. There are intelligent algorithms that Facebook & the media, companies, corporations, bloggers, and sellers use (and can pay top dollar for) to get you exposed to MORE things that THEY want you exposed to. It’s social conditioning at its worst (but it can be good in some cases).

The more you like “paleo” chocolate chip zucchini bread, the more ads you’ll get for bakeries, processed foods, and vegan products (they caught your keywords: vegetables!). True story! And what happens when you’re trying to change your lifestyle, but you still have all that shit around poking you in the face when you’re hungry? That’s right. I just want you to know about this!

Bottom line though: Food, nor people, should be idolized. The choices YOU make to better yourself, improve or enhance your health, increase your fitness or reverse disease have NOTHING to do with a piece of bacon or some person who gifted you a loophole (ahem- recipe) into eating waffles again. This is about YOU. You don’t let your passengers steer the car when you’re driving, do you?

5. Religion (and Veganism)

It blows my mind that people can be such elitist weirdos about their particular evolutionary eating lifestyle that they (really?) believe they have a rightful platform to point a finger and laugh at those who believe in Dharma, mythology, a God or Gods (plural).

Or those who find it cute to slash and criticize vegans with all these condescending memes, jokes, and dedicated blogs.  We’re talking about (mostly) personal, spiritual beliefs here. If you believe that someone’s spiritual beliefs or moral code for their particular lifestyle are harming them or others, then the point is to educate them (if you actually care as much as it appears you do), inspire them, open their minds… not ridicule and put them down.

The most widely practiced religions (on this planet) are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Islam and Christianity differ from Hinduism and Buddhism in that they believe in God. There is a supernatural element to the two former religions. But they are all similar in that they each have institutions of sub-religions (or denominations) branched off from the original. Also, each of these 4 major religions spans a very similar message, which is basically:  insatiable desires will become the fall of man.

PAUSE:  This all sounds… so… familiar. What else could we compare that to? Class?

Granted, all of these religions (and their texts) have been tainted and tarnished and a bit manipulated throughout all of history by man throughout history. Humans are sinful, selfish, greedy and hungry, so no matter the religion or belief, they (we) will muck it up if they (we) are motivated to do so. (hello- research health studies? anyone?) But in the end what REALLY matters about religion (or NON-religion) is the basic, fundamental messages that were generated in their purest beginnings (if you care). And that is: “don’t be a greedy, selfish dick-head”. It’s true.

If you want a quick historical rundown of all religions, in contrast, open another tab and google it right now. Or check this out… it’s a mid-level explanation with good resources. That is the baseline message across all religions. Humans do manage to screw it all up one way another… throwing bags of flour at celebrities, protesting military funerals, murdering children, war, etc. That has everything to do with being a dickhead… not a Christian, Muslim, Vegan etc. And if you had an open mind- you would already know that.

I see too much time wasted on this argument. WHAT DOES IT MATTER what religion people are? What business is it of yours (if this is you) to dictate, joke about and/or condescendingly dissect another person’s spiritual and/or religious beliefs? And then implying that their faith makes them ineligible to eat clean, or worse: a hypocrite. Is that how we encourage others? Having faith, practicing faith, prayer, meditation and spirituality etc, produces positive enlightenment, mental and emotional clarity, healing, emotional advancement, as well as an overall balance in health, that serves the person practicing it, and it has nothing to do with YOU.

Unless they are starting wars, dancing around with venomous snakes, shaving peoples’ heads, begin telling others “I am the Messiah”, or beating kids “into submission” because the Bible or Quran told them to. If a persons’ beliefs make them dangerous or separated from reality so much they are a risk to YOU, then by all means, take action. But if someone is on a paleo forum discussing their Ramadan, there are zero valid reasons relative in Paleo to rip them apart.

Note: over 50% of the WORLD POPULATION is Christian or Muslim, and 20% Hindu or Buddhist, about 15% “Other” around 14% are Athiest or Non-Religious. So if you want to inspire & encourage others to get healthy and help expand the growth of Paleo lifestyle, you might want to keep your greasy trap shut about religion. No offense.

As far as vegans, well a Gallup poll taken last year reported a rough 2% of the population are living a Vegan lifestyle. 2% y’all – That is not significant enough, in my opinion, to raise as much of a fuss as we do about it. Sheesh.


Check out this Mark Sisson quote from his interview on here:

“The biggest challenges are  [sustaining the current growth and momentum without becoming divisive over silly peripheral disagreements] (Fruits? Safe starches? Dairy? Supplements?)…” And I agree there; we all should, eh? I would argue this point towards religion, too. All of this distracts us from our GOALS, and from progressing toward something positive.

Glorifying food and people within this Commonwealth of Paleo is actually just a slippery slope toward disordered thinking and behavior. From a psychological perspective; I notice how much it enhances the preceding, deep-rooted & disturbed belief systems about food and body image that we had before entering this lifestyle. If you do not address those things FIRST, then all this reverence and enshrining of paleo food and people will expose those weaknesses within yourself, and eventually be the fall of you.

I believe in this lifestyle for so many reasons, we’re expanding, growing, and changing lives. Don’t forget that. None of us have to agree with all (or any) of the gurus, scientists, authors, speakers, coaches, bloggers, doctors, cooks, or podcasters. I don’t. But recognize that they are all so important for you; don’t confine yourself to ONE speaker or author because they say what you want to hear (or think you need to hear). Don’t confine yourself to ONE way of eating, or one food, because – believe me- variety is the spice of life. Right? Last, don’t identify yourself with just one form of exercise.

Nothing is more healthy than expanding yourself from what you know. This is more than CrossFit, Paleo pastries, bacon, sweet potatoes, bulletproof coffee, butter, adrenal burnout, Kinesio-tape, vibrams, coconut oil, and making jokes about vegans. I promise you: there is an amazing world of health outside of these promoted stereotypes. Expand your reading, listening, moving and tasting. The Paleo stereotypes are fun… cute…. catchy…and tasty. I guess. But don’t take something as profound & life-changing as this can be, and dumb it down into some cartoon character.

“Think of Paleo as a template, not a rigid prescription. There’s no one size fits all approach,” Chris Kresser.



13 Responses

  1. Thanks for the thought provoking article Sara. On the popular TV media side, I also see the fundamental scientific discoveries and important evolutionary health principles that could be helping many overlooked, dumb’d down into just another “diet” and/or misrepresented. Hopefully, with time, even the mainstream media will shift towards more interest in covering the long term health benefits available… authentically sharing (to slightly rework your phrase) “something profound & life-changing” to their viewers… (as this CAN be!)

  2. Wow, Sara. Just wow. There is a lot of hard truth here. I see a lot of things that I myself have been guilty of. Maybe it is “fun” to fall into a community and at the same time have success but reading this, I have to ask myself, what aspects of unhealthy thinking have contributed to the anxiety I’ve dealt with lately? Every time I see another ‘Paleo dessert’ recipe I get frustrated and think “I didn’t think the point was to sanctify the old ways of eating, but change them”. I know, its nice to have an option once in a while to make and take to a party, but that definitely isn’t what I’m seeing. I think there’s a reason why the Hartwigs say during the Whole 30 not to try and shove your old foods into a sanctified method of preparation. “Paleo pancakes” are still pancakes. And having a former binge food that tastes “just like the real thing” doesn’t do me any favors. That would be my ‘diet heroin’.
    The bacon thing, I guess, has just become the caricature for ‘everything you thought you knew about healthy food is wrong’…but it does send the wrong message, and one that I admit I’ve used to overindulge. What I take away from this article is that my WOE needs a big dose of something I have been neglecting…humility.

    • I’m glad you took something away from this. I want everyone to approach their journey with a healthy mindset focused on their OWN needs and goals. I wish you luck and health!

  3. So well said.
    I needed to completely give up all sweet things even if it was only sweetened with Stevia.
    It would just provoke the sweet tooth in me and I would start to crave more.
    It’s so much easier in the end to just go cold turkey.

    I didn’t start this diet even knowing it was called Paleo either. I started using it to combat a bad case of bacterial overgrowth in the bowel. It certainly worked for this and worked in many other areas of my body and brain health.
    I was so excited because of this that I wanted the Paleo movement to succeed but unfortunately it has become a circus. What a shame that something so healing for the body is lost in hype. So now the Paleo diet is only really known for weight loss when in today’s world health issues abound and so many of them could be eradicated using this protocol.

  4. @GabbysGFree pointed me to this article after I asked a question on Twitter/Facebook “What makes people choose elimination diets (i.e., “no carbs” or “no solid food” or “nothing that rhymes with orange”) over moderation/food logging?” I dunno… some of it all just smacks of the whole Grapefruit Diet thing…. and we know how much BS that was… I’ve always viewed elimination diets as a MEDICAL tool to help determine what is making a person SICK. And i think that with weight loss getting into the mix (i.e., people experiencing weight loss as a side effect to an elimination diet such as Paleo), people start self-diagnosing as food making them sick, when it isn’t making them sick — the amount of a particular food/food group was more to blame than the actual food. **shrugs** I dunno…

    And as someone that studied hominid evolutionary biology, I roll my eyes at the whole caveman thing. Being omnivores are what made us who we are today — a diverse diet helped us increase our cranial capacity giving way to the ability for us to change the world around us (tool use, communication, society). Part of me feels in my bones that “Paleo” is a misnomer.

    • Yes, but Robby- our cranial capacity has actually shrunk significantly since it’s peak, and it coincides with agriculture. Many theories are out there, I tend to side with the theory that agirculture didn’t ruin us, but more-so GMO’s, pesticides and the disruption of healthy gut flora. And you are correct- self diagnosing is never a good thing.

  5. Thanks for a great article. One correction, the male anal glands of unicorns can also be found in Scotland. It’s their national animal

    • Ashlynn, I humbly thank you for that additional information and proudly stand corrected. I was thinking, this whole time, that CareBears were the national animal of Scotland. <>

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