The Ever Changing Face of The Paleo Diet

Exactly what the Paleo diet is, and what it means for everyone is a question that has been asked many times. With any named lifestyle, there is always a group of puritans who believes that the Paleo diet is embodied by a very specific set of guidelines that people should stick to without question in order to identify with the lifestyle. There also exists a group of people who believe that the term “Paleo” is a very dynamic and fluid one, that can be adapted and altered to fit each individual. The Puritans believe that people who don’t 100% embody the lifestyle should not call themselves “Paleo”.

The question is, what do the people who are the veritable figureheads of the movement believe is the correct nutritional philosophy?

Mark Sisson

Robb Wolf, writer of “The Paleo Diet Solution”, and famous “Paleo Solution” podcaster is arguably the leader of the modern Paleo movement. Mark Sisson, writer of “The Primal Blueprint” and the “Mark’s Daily Apple” blog, is the beloved leader of the “Primal” movement. Both men have their own books, and their own take on the ancestral health topic. Sure, each man is making money selling their own personal flavor of a lifestyle that is based upon evolutionary dietary lessons, so you wouldn’t think that they would agree on much, right?

Beginning with an impromptu podcast, recorded on Robb’s ancient (Paleo?) laptop, while in attendance of the 2011 Ancestral Health Symposium, Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson joined forces for the unified “greater good” of the Ancestral Health community (Oh, Mat LaLonde was there too, by the way). It seems that the collective message here is, “Paleo is not a religion”. I recommend you listen to the podcast in its entirety here.

“So for me this is an example of how we got to now start drilling down even deeper, and it does get - Mat and I were talking about this earlier - it does get back to individual biology. It ultimately comes back to, yeah, we all process food the same way. We digest the same way. We build muscle and burn fat the same way. It’s Just the degree to which we do all these things and differs among individuals. Let’s each discover for ourselves where that line is, where that reference line is.” – Mark Sisson, 2011.

These are words of wisdom, from Mark. What works for each of us is indeed highly individual and subjective. What it means for me to be Paleo, might be completely different from what it means for you to be Paleo. There are no hard, fast rules here. If you are a person that handles eating some dairy products well, then eat Dairy.

Robb Wolf

Don’t avoid eating Dairy just because someone says that Dairy isn’t Paleo. If Dairy makes you feel horrible, or makes some kind of autoimmune condition flare up, then don’t eat it. It’s your choice, not Mark’s choice, and not Robb’s choice.

As a recent follow-up, and a continuation to the collaborative theme being fostered by Mark and Robb, Mark featured Robb on a August 23rd “Mark’s Daily Apple” blog post titled “Robb Wolf Answers Your Paleo Diet Questions”.

The first question posed to Robb was “What is your take on dairy? Why isn’t it part of your Paleo Solution, even in moderation? You’ve said that if you have any sort of metabolic derangement or autoimmune disease, you must stay away from dairy. Could you explain? to which Robb answered:

“Try this paleo thing, strictly, for 30 days and see how you look, feel and perform. Track biomarkers of health & disease (before and after). Now, once you are healthy, non-inflamed and suffering from no autoimmune diseases you get to tinker. Is dairy a problem for you? Well, you will never know until you try eliminating it and reintroducing.”

“Personally, I use a fair amount of grass fed butter, some cheeses, a little whey protein (Mark’s Primal Fuel to be exact). If I use something like a low quality cheddar cheese I get acne, my joints ache and I get congested. If I use a LOT of whey protein (2 large doses per day for many days) I might get a little acne. So, I’m actually the “paleo” guy that in reality eats “Primal.” Am I a sell out? Is my information inaccurate? No, but different people have different needs, and I recommend a tight, “Orthodox paleo” approach in the beginning. Mark takes a different approach…we both seem to be reasonably successful with this stuff, and I think that is because we have tight rules for the folks who need it, provide plenty of latitude to the folks who can tinker more broadly.”

So there you have it. Is that what you would have expected Robb to say? I think this quote would comes as quite a surprise to a lot of people. Robb Wolf, writer of the Paleo Solution, eats butter, some cheeses, and whey protein. Personally I think this is amazing. It perfectly illustrates that the Paleo lifestyle is a fluid, dynamic, and personal thing. Robb’s 30 day challenge was purely designed to help people cut out virtually every possible offender in a person’s diet. It was not however intended to be the way a person should live the rest of their life. As mark said earlier, if we cut out every single item that had anti-nutrients or phytates, we would be left with nothing to eat.

I think that this shows that neither Mark nor Robb are stuck in their ways, and for that I am glad. I would never wish to see a “you’ll have to pry my beliefs from my cold dead hands!” type of assertion from people such as this, because that would detract from the inherent scientific nature of the whole thing. Science adapts and changes as new data emerges and so should the Paleo lifestyle. So should we.

My flavor of Paleo includes some white rice, and some white potatoes, as well as a little cheese whenever I feel like it. Does that make me a Paleo outcast? It shouldn’t. I do what works for me. What’s your flavor of Paleo? What is your idea of the ever changing face of Paleo?


Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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3 Responses to The Ever Changing Face of The Paleo Diet

  1. Maryann August 31, 2011 at 7:22 am

    Thanks for the write up, Barry. I agree that “Paleo” is far from being classified as a religion. It evolves into different things for different people. The longer we eat “clean”, the more we learn about our bodies!

  2. Hank Garner August 31, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Great post, Barry!

  3. Tim August 31, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Great post as always Barry!! I like my flavor with a little more bacon!! Nice job man!!