Paleo is one principle that you can interpret in all kinds of ways, and it’s not always easy to figure out which of those ways is right for you. Do you want to go high-carb, medium-carb, or low-carb? Dairy or no? High-fat or medium-fat?
Here are 5 questions to help you decide.
1. Am I a Moderator or an Abstainer?
Moderators feel anxious at the thought of being deprived of their favorite foods forever, and are perfectly happy to eat just a little bit at a time. Abstainers find it easier to just swear off some foods for good, and feel jittery or unsatisfied when they try to eat them “in moderation” or restrict their portions. Here’s a longer explanation if that doesn’t make sense.
What you’ll learn from the answer: how to approach Paleo “treats” like nut flours, honey, and dried fruit, and how strict you should be with Paleo overall.
If you’re a moderator, then you’ll probably do better with small quantities of treats in moderation. You may also do well eating “90% Paleo” while making small allowances for favorite non-Paleo foods (e.g. one of your grandma’s famous homemade cookies).
If you’re an abstainer, the “moderation” approach will likely drive you crazy; you might do better just not delving into the world of Paleo baking at all, and it will probably be easier to give up non-Paleo food cold turkey instead of trying to moderate it.
2. How Intense am I About Fitness?
Do you live in the gym? Do half your Facebook pictures show you covered in some mixture of sweat, dust, mud, and weightroom chalk? Or would you rather take a more relaxed approach where you go walking most days and rarely break a sweat at all?
What you’ll learn from the answer: how to approach carbs and portion size.
If you’re a fitness maniac, you’ll almost certainly do better with more carbs – carbs are important fuel for athletes! At the very least, include some kind of starchy vegetables (potatoes or sweet potatoes) with every post-workout meal. And make sure to eat enough food overall: it’s very common for active people to undereat on Paleo.
On the other hand, if you’re more sedentary or rarely do activities more intense than walking, you have more flexibility with the carbs in your diet. You may feel better with them; you may feel better without them. If you’re overweight or have metabolic syndrome, low-carb Paleo is often an effective way of healing your metabolism, but that doesn’t mean you have to go all the way into ketosis.
3. Am I a Breakfast Person?
Some people go to bed looking forward to breakfast the next day. Other people can’t stand to eat until later in the morning or lunchtime. Which one is you?
What you’ll learn from the answer: whether intermittent fasting is likely to be your thing.
Intermittent fasting is an effective strategy for weight loss (especially for men), but it’s not for everyone. Some people swear by it; other people can’t stand it. If you’re a breakfast-skipper naturally, then IF might be right up your alley. But if you’re naturally a big breakfast kind of person, don’t force yourself into a diet strategy that isn’t right for your body.
4. Have I Tried a Dairy Elimination?
Dairy is a constant bone of contention in the Paleo world, and saying it’s a “gray area” doesn’t really help you decide. A dairy elimination is exactly what it sounds like: eliminate all dairy products for a few weeks to a month and see how it affects you.
What you’ll learn from the answer: how to deal with dairy.
- If you haven’t tried a dairy elimination, try that first for 30 days and see if there’s any difference in your health.
- If you’ve tried it and noticed no difference, then it’s probably fine to eat some dairy. Dairy fat is a good source of healthy CLA and Vitamin K2, and butter is delicious!
- If you’ve tried it and your health improved, then the answer should be very clear: avoid dairy products!
5. Am I a Special Snowflake?
OK, everyone’s special in their own way, but are you special regarding food specifically? Do you have any special considerations or diseases?
What you’ll learn from the answer: whether or not you should consider a stricter Paleo protocol.
If you don’t have any particular special issues or concerns, then there’s no reason to follow any of these – in fact, you shouldn’t. They won’t make you healthier and they just restrict your diet for no good reason. But…
- If you have an autoimmune disease, consider an autoimmune protocol.
- If you have serious digestive problems, you might consider eliminating FODMAPs.
- If you have a missing gallbladder, here are some tips.
- If you have a histamine intolerance, here’s some help.
Summing it Up
Paleo is all about what works for you. It’s a little confusing to have so many variations on the basic diet, but it does allow for a lot of personalization, and lets you really make Paleo into your own thing. Use these questions as a guide towards the version of Paleo that works best for you, and don’t be afraid to experiment: if you’re doing something and it’s not working, or it’s making you miserable, change it up!