Today is the 7th anniversary of when I “went paleo,” and to celebrate, I’m sharing 7 paleo mistakes I’ve made along the way…
…with the hope that it’ll help you during your journey to better health.
How it Began
I first learned about The Paleo Diet™ way back in 2009 from my friends. As the story goes, I decided I didn’t have much to lose by giving it a shot. So it decided I’d have my holiday fun and start eating paleo on January 10, 2010. (It was 6 months before the middle photo was taken.)
As I recall, I took the “rip the Band-Aid off” approach and gathered up all the grains in my cupboard into a trash bag. I cleaned out the fridge and just got started.
I had no idea what I was really doing, and Stupid Easy Paleo wasn’t even a thought in my brain at that point. But after about 18 months of eating paleo and writing recipes that I posted to my personal blog, a friend encouraged me to start a paleo blog instead. I did, and the rest is history.
A lot has changed in 7 years. I’ve made a lot of paleo mistakes along the way, and I’m sharing them with you so you can avoid them. Part of the journey to better health is finding your own way, blazing your own path.
Your story won’t be exactly like mine, and your life circumstances won’t be either, but there are some best practices that can really help.
7 Paleo Mistakes I’ve Made
Paleo Mistake #1: Treating it like a strict diet long-term.
Look, The Paleo Diet™ is a thing. It’s one person’s interpretation of a movement that was loosely conceived by a group of different minds. Yet, people assume that anyone and everyone who eats “paleo” should be doing it exactly by the rules of The Paleo Diet™.
That’s one of the biggest paleo mistakes.
Yes, The Paleo Diet™ was created to remove the most allergens from people’s diets and give them a chance to really get to the bottom of their health issues…
…but it’s tough to make a permanent lifestyle change by following a very strict “diet” forever, whether it’s therapeutic or not.
I treated paleo like a strict diet for about the first year. I was preoccupied with following “the rules” and “doing it right.”
If you want to make a lifestyle change, you have to find what works for your body over time…
…and that’s rarely summed up in strict rules written by someone who doesn’t know your circumstances. It certainly doesn’t take your bioindividuality into account, either.
My point is, you may have certain foods that don’t work for you, foods you decide to avoid long-term. That’s fine.
What’s not cool is eating foods that aren’t really working for you – or avoiding others that would work for you – because a diet protocol said so.
Case in point: I eat white potatoes now. 2010 me would have shouted, “BUT POTATOES AREN’T PALEO!” Luckily, I’ve educated myself.
Paleo Mistake #2: Being afraid of carbs.
Ugh, this is a huge one. Back when I started paleo, I was really preoccupied with my body size…specifically, I was obsessed with making my body smaller.
Looking back, I already was pretty lean and pretty “small,” but to be competitive in my sport – at the time, mountain bike racing – I thought I needed to get even smaller.
Of course, I read all sorts of things about how eating fewer carbs would make me lose body fat, so I went for it.
My paleo mistake here was not eating enough carbs to fuel my training. I was riding 10-15 hours a week on less than 50 grams of carbs per day. And I wasn’t low carb enough to be in ketosis, so I ended up in energy limbo.
I lost a lot of precious muscle mass from the combination of undereating food in general, too few carbs, and no strength training.
In fact, between my 2010 and 2016 photo, there’s a 20-pound increase in my body weight and a huge gain of strength. Plus, the woman on the right is so much happier.
It seems that now-a-days, fat is less feared, but it’s the carbs that keep tripping people up. What I see is folks really cutting way back on carb intake but then training really hard, and sometimes their thyroids and adrenals pay the price.
Remember, your context matters.
For recipes with healthy carbs that’ll help you perform better, check out my Performance Paleo Cookbook.
Paleo Mistake #3: Not doing a proper elimination protocol.
I strongly recommend my clients do a proper elimination period so they can really learn about which foods work best for their bodies.
This is one of the paleo mistakes I made during the first year and a half of eating paleo….I simply didn’t do one.
Doing an elimination of potentially troublesome foods followed by a period of reintroduction helped me get really clear about which foods are a no-go (cheese and milk)…
…and which ones I could relax about (the occasional white rice, for example).
Paleo Mistake #4: Not eating enough food.
Niels Bohr famously said, “The opposite of a great truth is also true.”
Is it true that a lot of people in the world are overeating? Yes. Is it true that a lot of people in the world are undereating? Yes.
Therefore, the old advice of, “Eat less and move more,” isn’t appropriate for everyone.
The problem really comes down to food quality. Often, the cause of overeating – from a caloric standpoint anyway – is the consumption of very nutrient poor processed foods that are stuffed full of refined carbs and devoid of protein.
Processed foods like these are low on the satiety scale and still rich in calories, so it’s easy to eat too much. (And at some point, calories do matter.)
So let’s say you go paleo and eliminate processed foods. Great! But you’re cutting way back on portion sizes because you’re applying that ol’ diet heuristic to your paleo plate. Not great.
I made the same mistake.
My portions were tiny because I thought I needed to cut back to lose weight.
And while I don’t encourage you to overeat, you’ve got to get real about how much nutrition you’re getting. I get tagged in hundreds of food photos on Instagram, and while I don’t know how those plates of food fit into someone’s whole day, the extrapolation is grim. One or two eggs for breakfast plus a tiny pile of veggies is not enough for a meal.
Paleo is not meant to be a “diet” where you severely cut back on food intake in hope of losing weight fast.
Paleo Mistake #5: Skimping on protein.
This is really a corollary to #4, but it deserves special mention. I definitely made this mistake when I first went paleo…
…and I ended up being really hungry just an hour or two after eating.
It wasn’t until I upped my protein intake that I stayed fuller, longer. And I finally began to put on muscle mass.
If one of your motivations to eat paleo is to lose body fat, getting enough protein is especially important. Too many people focus on the balance of carbs versus fats and not enough on adequate protein intake.
This is one of the most common paleo mistakes that can have wide-reaching implications.
Here’s a video about 3 things to know about protein intake and fat loss:
Women, you’re especially guilty of skimping on protein, and I see this mistake in my clients all the time.
And while I can’t prescribe you an exact protein intake here, I can say that a common range for optimal wellness is in the ballpark of 0.8-1.25 grams protein per pound of bodyweight daily. You’ll have to experiment to see what works best for you.
If you’re cutting back on meat for sustainability reasons or because meat is supposedly bad for you, I urge you to read this first.
Paleo Mistake #6: Too many paleo desserts.
I’m not against treating yoself…truly I’m not.
But when I look out into the paleo world in 2017, I see so much food porn, way too many desserts, and not enough staples like meat, veggies, and healthy fats.
From a blogging and social media standpoint, desserts and treats are what get the clicks. I get it. Website traffic is part of how I keep a roof over my head.
I think many consumers are just window-shopping these paleo desserts, double-tapping on Instagram or hitting like on Facebook as part of a foodie fantasy.
But, I’ve worked with many clients who eat too many paleo desserts just like I did at the beginning. It’s one of the most common paleo mistakes.
I’ve taken a pretty hard stance on the fact that paleo junk food is still junk food and should be consumed sparingly. Paleo baked goods and treats may be the only way you can enjoy the occasional sweets that doesn’t flare up your autoimmunity or make your guts twist into knots. Fine.
But when desserts become a central focus of your attention or frequent features of your diet, don’t expect to make the progress you want to see. Sugary treats – even if they’re technically “paleo” – can still be problematic.
Paleo Mistake #7: Ignoring other lifestyle factors.
I used to sleep 5-6 hours a night. I’d hit the snooze button 17 times each morning, drink several cups of coffee, and feel super drowsy every afternoon.
And while changing what I ate helped a bunch, it wasn’t until I started focusing more on sleep and cutting down on cardio – while adding strength training – that things really kicked into high gear.
If you’re just starting your paleo journey, it’s logical to start with food.
Just know that it’s a common paleo mistake to think all your issues can be solved by what’s on your plate.
True health and wellness is a multi-faceted pursuit. It’s a synergy between factors like nourishment, building strength, renewing your energy, and practicing positive mindset.
I don’t want you to get too overwhelmed by trying to change your entire life when you first go paleo. But I do encourage you to look beyond food and make simple changes in your lifestyle beyond your plate.
Here are some of my best articles for exploring more:
- 7 Fitness Best Practices for 2017
- 5 Mindset Traps That Kill Motivation
- How to Fall Asleep Faster: 5 Simple Tips
To Sum It Up
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the paleo mistakes one may make along the way, these are some I’ve definitely made.
And it’s my hope that sharing my own learning process will help your journey be smoother.
Everyone makes mistakes. And hindsight is always 20-20. It’s important to not beat yourself up for getting it wrong, and to keep taking action so that you forge the best path for you.
Your journey will have ups and downs, and it’ll never be exactly like anyone else’s. The more you can commit to doing what’s best for you, the more successful you’ll be at sustainable, long-term lifestyle change.