10 Undeniable Paleo Diet Truths You Ignore At Your Peril


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Have you smacked your face into the pavement recently? Got up, bleeding, maybe concussed? Or maybe you didn’t get up, but fell into a coma, to be carted away, people administering to you, applying machines to your chest, sticking needles in your arm?

When you get in your paleo groove, things come easy. Turning down food is easy, resisting sugar is easy, making 180 school lunches a year is easy. Life is good, even groovy. :-)

But slipping out of that groove is also easy, don’t you think? Holidays, skeptics, stress, non-paleo family members and the like can knock us off. Sometimes it’s just a trip or a stumble, we right ourselves and carry on our journey.

Train wrecks

But sometimes we go off the rails in a big way – we plough through hedges, steam across fields, and come to a stop only when we crash through the barn doors and impale ourselves on major farming machinery. (Okay, I’m taking the train metaphor too far but you get my drift. :-))

Whichever it is, a small slip or headlong sprawl, a slight deviation or a breathless detour taken at speed, it is the recovery that is most important. As long as we live to see another day, we can turn things around, start a new beginning, make the future stronger than our past. And that belief is what gets us back on the wagon after we’ve taken a tumble.

Spills and thrills

I’ve taken a few tumbles in my time. And I’ve tried a few things that haven’t worked out. Actually, a lot of things. But each time I’ve got back up, kept calm and carried on.

On the way, I’ve learned there are some universal truths about paleo. Unequivocal statements that prove themselves time after time.  They often appear paradoxical and sometimes it takes a few head butts before we’ll accept them but the sooner we do, the faster we’ll make progress.

If we can avoid the paleo train wreck scenario and, instead, press on, even a few diversions won’t stop us getting to our destination.

Truth #1: The speed you transition to paleo depends on the urgency of your need.

If you have a life-threatening health condition such as a nut-allergy, you do absolutely everything in your power to avoid them, right? Dithering isn’t an issue. If you have a child with severe behavioral problems such that he is on the verge of being expelled from school within the week, you change his diet overnight. A no-brainer.

But if you’ve been living with 50 extra pounds for a while now and you believe a slow, sustainable pace of loss is right for you, then do that. Or if you’re like me and nothing terrible happens if you eat non-paleo certainly in the short-term, perhaps going slow makes more sense. Don’t listen to conventional wisdom, even paleo wisdom: individual circumstances drive individual solutions.

Truth #2: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

There are some pretty magnificent paleo specimens out there and their example, and occasionally their words, can chastise you for going off-paleo.

It becomes easy to read paleo blogs and get down on yourself over the fact that you ate a bar of 60% milk chocolate last night. It becomes easy to forget everything you did right before and after that bar of chocolate. Or overlook that compared to a year ago, your ingestion of junk is down 50%. Or that last holiday, you ate six types of pie yet this holiday you ate only one.

Beating yourself up is garbage. And it’s worse than just garbage, it’s sabotaging garbage. By focusing on your negatives, you’ll get down on yourself. You’ll start to feel hopeless and prone to eating more unhealthy food in order to comfort yourself.

Instead, celebrate how far you’ve come. Look at what you’re doing right. Reversing lifelong eating habits is often about having confidence in your ability to control your eating. Build that confidence by noticing your progress. You are much more likely to stay the paleo course by feeling proud of yourself and gaining a sense of achievement than beating on your own behind to force yourself along.

Truth #3: Being kind is preferable to being perfect but sometimes perfection is important.

I like to be kind. Perhaps too much. But that doesn’t make me any different to many of you reading this.

Our kindness can trip us up at times but if we do it consciously with a clear understanding of our own behavior, it is valid, important and really necessary to our communities. As J.M.Barry says “Always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary.”

Being respectful and kind to the very young and the very old is particularly important to me. It is one of my core values. And I will often put the satisfying of their needs ahead of my own as long as the consequences of that kindness aren’t terribly damaging to me.

So what if I eat a cookie or two when offered to me by someone who’s older than me by four decades? So what if I eat a piece of pie made for me by a young child while she is watching me wide-eyed for my reaction? Nothing terrible will happen. I won’t break out in hives or not sleep for a week. Or get a coughing fit that leaves me irritated for hours. Or go on a chocolate binge that lasts two months.

But if I did? Then my needs trump theirs.

Truth#4: If you go too fast, you trip up.

Learning new ways of eating takes effort, education and planning. And as teaching practitioners know, relearning new ways of doing things requires unlearning the old ways first.

There is a transition to be gone through as we unlearn those behaviors and learn new ones. If we rush that process, we put stress on our minds and bodies, we get confused and we can, in a panic, go back to what we know because it’s familiar and comfortable. And that way leads to bloody messes and rusting farming machinery. :-)

If we force others to go through this transition with us, we compound our stress exponentially. So slow down…relax…breathe.

Truth#5: You manage what you measure.

It doesn’t matter what you measure, just that you measure. Something. Something that pertains to your goal, preferably. :-)

It could be inches, it could be pounds, it could be an item of clothing. It could be pull-ups, press-ups or chin-ups. Miles walked (more), time between mouthfuls (longer), or number of pies eaten at parties (fewer). :-)

If we measure, we’re noticing. We’re analyzing, we’re thinking. We’re slowing down and acting less on impulse. We become conscious of our actions and their consequences. We’re mindful. These things matter. You matter. Measure, manage, matter.

Truth #6: If in doubt, keep quiet.

Pay attention to that little voice that says ‘No, don’t say it.’ Once you’ve opened your mouth, it’s too late. You’ve stated your position, revealed your hand, exposed your position. Maybe you’re in enemy territory, maybe there’s danger at hand, maybe you need to pause and survey the lay of the land.

Millions of years of evolution have gone into embedding those warning signs of danger your brain is now signaling. Honor that evolutionary process by paying attention to what it is telling you. If someone is questioning your eating behavior and your senses are triggering, beware. Play safe, talk less, observe.

Truth #7: Selfish is selfless.

The old, rather worn but well-understood analogy of the oxygen mask works here. Put yours on first, then, and only then, turn your attention to others. You can’t help anyone unless you are in good condition yourself and here it pays to be ‘selfish’ – a word that is far too widely used and inappropriately applied.

Concentrate on your own health before you attempt to help anyone else with theirs. Doing anything different leads to burnout and is a guarantee of failure in what you are trying to achieve. Lead by example. Get your own skills down. Isolate yourself from negativity. Focus on you.

Truth #8: Many baby steps take you just as far as a few long strides.

If you’re a goal-setter, you can be hard on yourself. I bet you’ve set yourself some big goals in your time. Do you fail occasionally but succeed more often than not because you put everything into achieving your goals? Over time, however, that all-or-nothing attitude exacts a cost on our health and then our ability to achieve new goals and thrive.

Injuries, energy issues and a reliance on medicine to live our lives have to lead to a change in philosophy that is more sustainable in the long term. We need to be careful with our bodies. The all-out approach must be replaced with a more moderate one of taking a series of small steps, one after the other, towards a goal. On and on. As I said earlier, slow down…relax…breathe. There is enough time.

Truth #9: Less is more.

The idea that we should do less exercise for greater results is like being slapped upside the head for most of us. Disbelief, relief, and excitement all follow when we try it and find it to be true!

I first came across this idea when I encountered T-Tapp back in 2005. I dismissed it as I’d absorbed for decades the conventional wisdom that more was, well…more – more exercise, harder exercise, ‘feel the burn’. Heck, I’d worked out to Jane Fonda videos at midnight in my twenties. (I believe I may even have worn some stripey leg-warmers. :-))

Typically, I’d start programs full of enthusiasm, give 110%, crash and burn. Then I heard I only needed to do a small amount and be consistent instead. Homeschooling my son forced me to try this different approach and it worked!

So easy to do just fifteen minutes of targeted exercise 6 days a week plus a little walking. And I couldn’t deny the results were better. I have followed this guidance ever since but was particularly gratified to see Mark Sisson also advocating for a ‘less is more’ approach.

Truth #10: Lock down the keys to the secrets of life.

When you’ve struggled for so long under the weight of weight, pain, fatigue, and other aspects of ill-health, being relieved of those burdens is truly inspiring. Suddenly, dreams you didn’t even realize you had appear possible.

It feels like your personality changes – you see those perky people around you and, shocker, you know how they feel! And often, just like the being given the right key, it is so easy to access a wonderful life when you finally find out how. You might have tried a lot of wrong keys before finding the one that works but when you do, voila, open sesame!

Keeping on, trying new solutions to your problems is essential. You might have to go down many rabbit holes, even spend a lot of money on occasion, in order to find the answers to your problems. But none of your effort is wasted because each is a step taking you towards your ultimate goal – great health and a vibrant life.

Persistence and determination led you to this point and will take you further to wonderful places in life if you keep going. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Never give in, never give in, never give in.’ Keep course-correcting, testing, experimenting and when you find the combination that unlocks your safe, keep it secure so you never lose it again.

Have you uncovered any paleo principles that hold true no matter what? What guiding paleo principles do you live by? Tell us in the comments!

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Written by 

Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa K. October 16, 2012 at 7:11 am

Excellent article! You’ve captured it all and communicated your thoughts perfectly! Thank you!


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 7:16 am

Thank you, Lisa. And thank you for commenting. I’m glad you found it useful. :-)
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sallie October 16, 2012 at 8:01 am

Such great advice! Thank you. I needed this at this very moment!


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 10:29 am

You’re welcome, Sallie. Thank you for commenting. :-)
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NJ Paleo October 16, 2012 at 8:36 am

Thanks for another excellent post! I think we all struggle with some of these points at various times. I sometimes struggle with the “perfection” issue. Other times I struggle to lead by example, not to be a vocal zealot. I constantly struggle with wanting to work out too much — I guess I just love working out, but sometimes my body tells me it needs a rest break. I’m getting used to people asking, “Are you still doing that paleo thing?” or “Oh, yeah, I forgot, you don’t eat (fill in the blank)”. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to quietly be who I am and do what I do because it’s working for me.


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 10:30 am

“…quietly be who I am.” GREAT point, NJ. :-)
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Stefan October 16, 2012 at 8:57 am

Great post Alison.

I love your common sense approach to paleo living. As a nutritionist I sometimes struggle with the idea of giving people common sense advice over a programme of perfection. Your post has confirmed that I should stick with my instincts!


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 10:36 am

Hi Stefan: Yeah, I can see how you might feel conflicted in those circumstances. I think incremental progress is the most important and trying to be perfect is like climbing a slide, we get near the top, get exhausted and end up falling down to the bottom. Going at it slower and incrementally is more sustainable.
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Dara October 16, 2012 at 9:18 am

What a wonderful summary of so much wisdom. This goes along with several of your truths, and was an important distinction for me. I realized through eating paleo, going off the rails, and getting back on again, that it’s my metabolism – not a wounded psychological problem that needs to be healed. For the longest time I thought I was a “food addict” and had some horrible mental/emotional disorder that kept me craving sugar and carbs all the time. Then after eating paleo for a while and literally forgetting about sugar, it was clear that the problem was biochemical in nature and that I didn’t need to shame myself for being a broken loser of a human being. This is hugely liberating and as a result I’ve stopped beating myself up if I slip. Now if I fall off the rails, I analzye from a rational, scientific perspective what occurred in my biochemistry that led to sugar and carb cravings. There’s always something new to learn about how this body works and what it needs to function more effectively. Thank you for offering such a balanced, sane approach to change. We need voices like yours!


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 10:37 am

I couldn’t agree more, Dara. I noticed that in myself too. I realized the ‘weakness’ I perceived was actually a biochemical, and therefore, physical reaction. That realization took away the judgment.
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Disappointed October 27, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I just wanted to point out that just because something is mental in nature- such as an eating disorder (including binge eating disorder or “food addiction”)- that does not make the person living with that disorder “weak” or “a broken loser of a human being”. Not does it make the impact of such behaviour any less real than a physical affliction, or any less valid or less deserving of care.
To be honest, I find this sentiment to be really hurtful and pretty damn ignorant to boot and I’m surprised to see it being expressed here of all places, considering your promotion of kindness and recognition of how fallible we are as human beings.


Alison Golden October 28, 2012 at 7:51 am

Dear Disappointed:
I agree with your sentiments concerning the respect and care for another person living with an eating disorder, no question. The main point of the comment was to point out that there is often a biological component to cravings and that willpower is rarely a successful strategy in these situations. It was not meant to be a judgment on anyone suffering from an eating disorder and I’m sorry that is how it was interpreted. I think that the two comments also reflect that self-judgment (and those of others) can be the prevailing response in these situations and that is something I have personally experienced. It is this experience that causes me to promote kindness and a respect for the fallibility of humans. Really, I think we are on the same side.
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Karen (aka zot) October 16, 2012 at 9:27 am

On my wall, I have my favorite quotation:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Philo of Alexandria


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 10:37 am

Yes, I like that one, too. :-) And so true.
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Ian October 16, 2012 at 9:36 am

Great advice!
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Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 10:39 am

You’re welcome, Ian. :-)
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Roger October 16, 2012 at 11:25 am

I admire your 100% commitment to paleo. I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule. I can’t really fail and if I have bit of cheesecake or a pint of beer I can always adjust for it the next day. I am allowed feast days as well as fast days.
Keep up the good work. Roger


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Thanks, Roger. I think finding the right paleo balance for each individual is very important. Good for you for finding your own sweet spot.
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Paula October 16, 2012 at 11:44 am

Fantastic post. Striking the balance between being disciplined vs. too regimented is perfectly addressed, plus several great tips, strategies, advice, and perspective for wrapping your head around Paleo.


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Hey Paula! I think it is a multi-faceted thing but working out where paleo fits in your life rather than it *being * your life is very important for some people. Thanks for commenting!
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Ellen October 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Very good ideas. All of them. I’ve been living like that for quite a while myself, but I think you’ve said it all really well. I LOVE PALEO! I’ve felt so much better since starting this that I find it hard to believe. I’m now my old thin self again and in better shape than ever in my life. I do want to add, though, that I’ve found that chocolate (even VERY dark chocolate) and nuts are not my friends. I miss the nuts most of all :( but I’m on track again and doing fine. I really like your blog. Keep up the good work!


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I’m a sucker for chocolate and nuts, too. I even had nuts instead of cake on my birthday. I’m so glad you’ve found such great success with it. Lock down those keys to the secrets of life you’ve discovered and don’t let them go! :-)
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PaleoIrish October 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Great post, I’ve agreed or thought about each of these points at different times.
I think this is a great article for anyone who is starting to go Paleo or even thinking about changing how they eat, it might make the prospect of such a change a little less overwhelming.
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Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I think the change is overwhelming for some and I feel that is unnecessary. Even small changes can have big effects depending where you are starting from. BTW, I eat almond butter rarely but when I do, I eat it with a spoon. :-)
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Diana October 16, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I love your blog and find it so encouraging to a recent Paleo convert.
Truth 1: In August of this year I had an acute rheumatoid arthrithis flare to the point I couldn’t even walk. I didn’t even know I had arthritis. I had been planning on going on the Paleo for some time to lose weight, but suddenly felt like my very life depended on it.

Truth 5: As a Type 1 diabetic for almost 40 years, I had never had an A1C under 7. My recent lab test after just 7 weeks on Paleo was 6.4! I am overjoyed!

So far, I haven’t fallen off the wagon but I know that someday I will. Hopefully I will remember not to beat myself up and just bet right back on.


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 7:38 pm

That’s fantastic, Diana! Congratulations! I’m so glad it is working so well for you. With that kind of feedback, I suspect falling off the wagon will be a very rare occurrence for you. :-)
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Angela October 16, 2012 at 6:50 pm

This is such a timely article for me!! I have been “off and on” paleo (just beginning….slowly, and there is no rush :) ) for the last month and this is JUST what I needed to read!! Thank you for your encouraging words!!! I think I will “like” you for a long, long time. (sorry for all the quotes :) ).


Alison Golden October 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Keep plugging away, Angela, making incremental progress as you go. :-)
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MommyDanna October 17, 2012 at 11:55 am

Loved this article! Love your blog! Can’t wait to share it!


Christine October 17, 2012 at 9:00 pm

“If we rush that process, we put stress on our minds and bodies, we get confused and we can, in a panic, go back to what we know because it’s familiar and comfortable.”

This seems to happen to me a lot but I’ve never really thought about WHY I go back to my old (detrimental) habits. You’re totally right; I go back because it’s familiar and comfortable- it feels like home and home is safe. I need to find my new home.


Marsha October 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Thank you so much for such sound advice. It is so encouraging. I too have had a few train wrecks over the years because I was so rigid and regimented. This time I’m on a journey and I can be kinder to myself. Thank you so much for this article! I love your blog and I’m sending it to my friend right now!


Carol November 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm

I love your common sense approach too! I tell people all the time that sometimes a slow transition is better for them. It depends on the person.


Alison Golden November 28, 2012 at 7:20 pm

It does, Carol. It does. :-)
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Tanya November 29, 2012 at 9:35 am

I love this. I struggle with many of these daily. I’d love to share this on my blog…just have to figure out how to link it.
Thanks for all the great advice.


Alison Golden November 29, 2012 at 7:14 pm
The Crunchy Mama December 24, 2012 at 7:05 am

Thumbs up! Good advice!


jimmy September 28, 2013 at 2:28 pm

true. i think we need to apply patience in our lives whilst being considerate with others. everything you’ve mentioned is probably what our instincts whisper to us but sometimes we listen a little to much to the experts.


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