Farewell, Paleo!

It’s been really, really great, but it’s time to move on!

First, let’s recap

Five years ago, my entire life changed: Along with my husband, I left college, packed all of our things into our Ford Taurus, and moved halfway across the country. Along the way, we stopped to see my father-in-law, I happened to mention that I wanted to lose weight, and he happened to tell me about his own weight-loss experience a low-carb program called Protein Power. No cutting out meat or fat? Sounded great to me, so I dove right in.

Three or four months after that, I thumbed through a book called The Paleo Diet at the bookstore and decided it looked easier than counting carbs all the time. Besides, I missed vegetables. I waffled for about a year, flip-flopping between low-carb and Paleo, but then I found Mark’s Daily Apple and I’ve not really looked back since.

Throughout the years, I’ve dabbled in intermittent fasting (both crazy and manageable), embraced the Perfect Health Diet, done GAPS, and experimented with WAPF principles, but in my heart of hearts, I’ve still identified as Paleo.

And Paleo has been good to me, especially in the early years: I lost 30 pounds in a year and kept it off for two, gained energy, started exercising again, and healed many chronic problems. It wasn’t a miracle cure — some problems lingered, some new ones appeared, and truth be told, a few got worse — but on the whole, life was great.

Which is why it came as such a shock the other day when I realized that I wanted to quit Paleo. My husband actually paused his Monty Python reruns and stared at me in astonishment. My diet was at the heart of who I was; how could I forsake it?

Evolving away from Paleo

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this has been a long time coming. I had started incorporating WAPF ideas into my diet beginning in late pregnancy. In the years following, I bounced back and forth between WAPF and the Perfect Health Diet, but never again was I strict Paleo (except, arguably, for a two month stint on GAPS, which did heal some things but also completely crashed my metabolism). Later on, I reidentified with the Paleo community in a fit of disgust over Sally Fallon’s bizarre and graceless straw man attack on Paleo, but after reading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and studying anthropology and evolutionary biology, I no longer bought into the Grok narrative the way I used to.

Since that time, about a year ago, a few more things have changed. Perhaps most notably, I fell head over heels in love with gourmet cooking. As a part of that, I promised my husband I would learn to make artisan sourdough bread using home-ground grain. (“Life is too short to go without bread,” said he, and I decided it was a reasonable compromise.) Ever since I put my first loaf on the table, it has seemed like a bizarre and senseless distinction to have wheat here but to eschew it everywhere else, even a tablespoon here and there to thicken a roux.

Also … the truth is, Paleo doesn’t appear to be working for me anymore. I have really struggled to rebalance my hormones and lose weight after pregnancy. It hasn’t escaped my attention that many of the leading Paleo bloggers have had ridiculously easy roads to health. I’m not saying their problems weren’t serious or painful, but in many cases, they resolved within a few months of going Paleo. I’ve been Paleo for five years, and I’ve been really banging my head against a wall for the last two. It is increasingly feeling like an exercise in the definition of insanity: Paleo not working? Try harder! Doesn’t sound anything like the vegan community, right?

Lastly, over the last few months, due to an out-of-state move and a vacation, I’ve spent several weeks eating a normal, non-Paleo diet: omelets for breakfast, paninis for lunch, chicken and dumplings for dinner. Guess what? I felt fine! And I was happy.

After making my decision, I did a Google search and was astonished to find that there are a couple of prominent Paleo quitters, and they have written some very good critiques that I encourage you to read. Myself, I prefer the anthropological approach over the nutritional science one: If traditional cultures all over the world, both agricultural and hunter-gatherer, have been eating forbidden foods like grains, dairy, and legumes for tens of thousands of years in perfect health, then why can’t we? (And yes, evolution can happen that fast.)

So this is goodbye. (And thanks for all the fish!)

I really want to emphasize the positive because there’s a lot of it: I leave Paleo with nothing but gratitude, as it led me to my life passion for real food and ancestral health. It picked me up at my lowest and gave me hope at a time when I had given up on ever being healthy. Paleo is still one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I will carry its spirit with me forever.

But going forward, I don’t want my world view to be based on fear anymore. Fear of gluten, fear of toxins, fear that one misstep and I’ll be doing permanent damage to my body (yes, I kid you not). I want to be able to partake in traditional cuisines without being nagged by arbitrary rules derived from an incoherent body of nutritional studies. I want to approach life with joy, enthusiasm, and artistry.

So I’m going to keep brewing kombucha, grilling steaks, and making bone broth. But I’ll also be able to pull out that gourmet sauce making book that has been languishing on my shelf because everything is based on roux. And once in a blue moon, I’ll make and eat a puff pastry. :) And that makes me really happy.