I’ve learnt that there isn’t just one way to “do” paleo. After canvassing forums and reading blogs, I’ve realised that everyone varies in their approach to this lifestyle. As Robb Wolf says, paleo is not a religion. He recommends that each person start with the basics and experiment until he finds something that is comfortable. I found a great blog post from Robb Wolf regarding the different types of paleo (don’t you think there’s something very American about his writing style?):
The Official 7 Shades of Paleo Classification System
First Shade of Paleo –The Militant Paleo (Also known as “That Guy”)
We all know at least one of these dudes or dudettes – these are the people on the forums that can find fault in every paleo diet – except their own. They hunt their own meat, gather berries, climb trees to harvest nuts, and make dinner outside over the fire pit (or at least that’s what they tell you). This is all well and good, but for most of us – their reality is not one that we can live in. I liken this to the raw vegans or better yet, the fruititarians – a little over the top, and slightly insane. **Disclaimer** If this you I apologize – please refer to the “That Guy” post linked above and know that we love you, but we just can’t live like you. Have mercy on us. And PS – the internet is SO NOT PALEO!!
Second Shade of Paleo – The Autoimmune Paleo
For some people just being paleo, although great, is not enough to optimize health and really start feeling good. Individuals with autoimmune conditions or advanced health issues often need to take things a step further and this is where the paleo autoimmune protocol comes in. For those in this shade eggs, nuts, and nightshade vegetables are added to the list of foods to avoid. It is more difficult for some to follow – but trust me it works!
Third Shade of Paleo – The Low-Carb Paleo
The low-carb paleo approach is also fairly popular and is a great shade for improving many health issues and for getting lean. This approach consists of eating primarily meat, healthy fats and non-starchy vegetables. You won’t find ‘safe starches’ (sweet potatoes, yams, roots and tubers, etc.), fruit or high amounts of nuts and avocado. This is a protocol that is often cycled in and out of based on goals and individual response.
Fourth Shade of Paleo – The Lacto-Paleo (Also known as Primal)
This one is exactly what the name implies. The lacto-paleo follows a traditional paleo style of eating but includes dairy products. Now, we’re not talking just any dairy products (READ: Cheez-whiz, Coffeemate, Kraft Singles, and Ben & Jerry’s, do not fall under this umbrella). The optimal choices here are organic, grassfed, whole (full-fat) dairy products. Skim milk and Yoplait light need not apply.
Fifth Shade of Paleo – The 80/20 Paleo (Also known as the Weekday Paleo)
This is my personal favorite shade and I would guess it’s where the bulk of us probably fall. Basically stated, we eat clean paleo about 80-90 percent of the time and the other 10-20 percent we eat what would be considered non-paleo foods. This could mean some cheese, wine, ice cream, etc. This is a SANE and healthy approach as long as the 20 percent is kept under control (this does not mean a 4 hour food fest that starts with Dunkin Donuts, moves on to Dominos and ends with Dairy Queen).
Sixth Shade of Paleo – The Vegetarian Paleo (Also known as ‘Difficult’)
As paleo becomes more highly publicized for its health benefits we’re starting to see greater interest from vegetarians and even vegans that want to go paleo. This is a tough bunch for the obvious reason – NO MEAT! Yeah, the protein options just got up and left. In some cases eggs are a go – but in others – no animal products at all. I know you’re all thinking – “Well there’s no way this is even possible.” And from an evolutionary standpoint you’re likely correct. However, there are still some individuals that want to ‘be paleo’ without meat. To make this work; properly prepared beans and legumes, fermented soy, nuts and seeds make up a bulk of the protein. On a ‘textbook’ paleo diet this wouldn’t fly. Is it possible to be vegetarian or vegan and be ‘paleo’? Well, not really – in fact, I would say not. What is possible is to eat whole, clean foods, (this means no Tofurky, Boca Burgers, or hybrid vegetarian/vegan processed foods). This is going to look similar to a raw vegan approach. Is it ideal? No, but it’s a start.
Seventh Shade of Paleo – The “I Decide” Paleo (Also known as the WTF Paleo)
Yeah, we all know this guy (gal), or maybe it’s even you sometimes… It goes something like this – the WTF paleo says, “Yeah, I’ve been strict paleo for like a year now but I’m just not seeing or feeling the results.” Okay, maybe… But let’s consider an ‘average day’ of ‘strict paleo’ for this person – Breakfast: Eggs and Bacon. Mid-morning – Starbucks latte with 3 sugar packets and a Kind Bar. Lunch – Burger (no bun) with mayo, ketchup and mustard and a side of sweet potato fries. Mid-afternoon – Gluten free cupcake and a handful of trail mix. Dinner – Order of wings, steak, mashed potatoes, 2 Bud Lights and coconut ice cream for dessert… So, I think you get my point on this one. It’s sort of like saying you’re a vegan but eating steak every other week and wearing alligator skin boots – questionable at best.
I fall under the fourth and fifth shade of paleo. I do eat cheese and milk so I’m more primal than paleo, it seems. I order salted egg yolk bun when I go to dim sum restaurants (the more flowy the yellow liquid, the better). I have an obsession as well with nai huang bao. These indulgences make up less than 20% of my diet but it also means that I do cheat from time to time when it comes to something I really like.
Source: Lady Iron Chef
I’ve also tried low-carb paleo but quickly realised it’s not for me when I ended up overeating to compensate for the lack of fruits and vegetables. I felt deprived and bloated and after reading some anecdotes of women on ketogenic diets, it seems like that low carb may be more suitable for men than women. Also, it seems to work better for people with a lot of weight to lose.
One thing I’m interested in trying is to incorporate more vegetables into my diet. This is the sixth shade of paleo – vegetarian – that Robb Wolf calls “difficult” because it would be tough to get enough protein. I don’t have to go full vegetarian – that would be too restrictive – but I can certainly try to eat more salad and spinach in place of a daily steak. I’m inspired to do so after reading about the incredible endurance feats of Scott Jurek and Rich Roll, who do them on a plant-based diet.
There you go! I really like that he tackled the issue of the different types of paleo as everyone is different. We don’t have to all conform to one method, although it is definitely important to be aware of the basic tenets and to be aware when we stray.
The important thing to take away is that everyone should feel free to experiment and settle on a “shade” that is suitable for them (although I must say that the seventh shade shouldn’t even be considered paleo).