• Why the Paleo Police are Like Ghosts

    paleo police ghost

    1. Everyone’s scared of them, but
    2. they don’t actually exist.

    The Paleo-sphere’s been a-rockin’ lately: from Paleo Police Halloween costumes to all out declarations of jumping ship and leaving the “paleo” label behind, things are getting cuh-razy up in here. Some of it’s funny and lighthearted and some of it’s downright nasty but one thing’s for certain:

    Paleo’s finally a teenager…bigger, crankier and moodier than it used to be. 

    It started off so new and gentle, but now it’s growing (fast) and changing (faster) and feeling out its place in the world. And sometimes, it’s highly unpredictable and angst-ridden.

    But, back to ghosts.

    I see so much social media with captions like, “Yeah, I’m eating ice cream…come get me, #PaleoPolice!”

    Guess what? It doesn’t freaking matter. There are no Paleo Police. They aren’t real. Ghosts…busted. (There, don’t you feel a whole lot better?)

    You create them in your head (I’m speaking about anyone here…perhaps not actually you). You let them get to you. You walk around fearing – or fearing judgment from – something that doesn’t really exist. Sometimes, others may actually condemn you for what you eat but they don’t matter either. What’s more upsetting is their judgement of you and not what they’re actually saying, right?

    It’s okay to eat “non-Paleo things”. It’s your own prerogative; your own life; your own health. Do I eat a Cordain-style, uber-strict Paleo diet? No. It doesn’t fit my needs and goals. I’m an athlete, so I need some extra salt and sometimes I eat white rice and white potatoes as carb sources. I like butter. I eat dark chocolate.

    And if someone disagrees with me, that’s not my problem. I don’t walk around pre-emptively defending myself against the (fictitious) Paleo Police because it’s pointless and drains my energy. However, if someone asks why, I’ll happily explain with my personal experiences and with science.

    I’ve done my homework. A couple squeaky-clean 30 day Paleo experiments were enough to tell me loud and clear that milk, cheese and gluten wreck my tummy and making tons of Paleo treats awakens my dormant sugar addiction. As an athlete who’s trying to get as strong as possible, I know protein’s a priority and eating a bunch of junk doesn’t help my recovery. I’m clear about what different foods do to me and why. If you’re just starting out with Paleo, do a strict 30 days to reset your system, and then reintroduce any foods you want in a systematic way (don’t tank a whole pizza on day 31 because you won’t know if gluten or dairy gave you a bad reaction…if you have one).

    When I went to Paris in September, I ate cheese.

    I’ll pause for the collective gasp.

    Why? I like how it tastes and I was in France for goodness sake. I wanted some fromage while picnicking on the back steps of Chateau de Versailles on a warm, robin’s egg blue sky day. (My stomach was pissed later, but I expected that). I avoid it the rest of the time, but on that day, it was part of a special moment.

    So, when some bloggers and authors recommend strict Paleo or say you shouldn’t eat certain foods, aren’t we just judging others? No, we’re not trying to be Judgy McJudgerson jerks…I promise. Trying to educate the masses about why certain foods (like grains, legumes and dairy) are problematic is not an easy job. Trust me, some folks are reeeeealllllyyyy passionate about things like peanuts and cheese. When folks advocate avoiding bread, for example, we’re not saying you’re a bad person for eating it; rather, we’re communicating scientific, physiological information about what a protein called gluten does to your small intestines. Sounds less threatening, right? It’s not judgment; it’s science.

    So what to do? It’s simple: focus on you. That’s it. At the end of the day, be honest with yourself about whether your food choices are getting you closer to your health goals. If so, rock on. If not, time to reevaluate. The good news is the power’s in your hands, not the fake Paleo Police.

    What to do when someone attacks your food choices? See below.

    • Be responsible for your food choices. Know how foods affect you and why you eat / avoid certain ones. If you still don’t feel healthy, it’s time to take a good hard look at what you’re eating. Some foods may not be serving you well. If you’re trying to heal your body, avoiding inflammatory foods 100% of the time might be necessary until you’re on the road to better health.
    • Tell them to MYOB and move on….or
    • Ignore. Delete. Ban. Unfriend. Don’t be a masochist. Remove offending people. They suck the life out of you.
    • Send them to a website that explains the science behind your food choices, like this one or this one or this one or this one or this one.
    • Know that eating food only comes with good consequences or bad consequences. Guilt or happiness about eating it has little to do with how the food affects you physiologically.

    What’s your take on the Paleo Police?paleo police ghost

    Steph Gaudreau is a certified holistic nutrition practitioner, weightlifting and mindset coach, and the author of the best-selling Performance Paleo Cookbook. Her recipes and expert advice have been featured in SELF, Outside Magazine, Elle, and Greatist. Steph loves barbells, cats, and anything Lord of the Rings. She lives in San Diego, CA.

    29 thoughts on “Why the Paleo Police are Like Ghosts

    1. Here’s the thing: I totally agree that you should not police someone else’s food. I would not go to someone’s blog or to someone’s face and say, “Hey! You said you were paleo. Well that cheese is not paleo!!”

      ON THE OTHER HAND…I was a member of a paleo recipe group on Facebook. The rules were very clear: Post only paleo recipes, which are recipes that exclude grains, legumes, and dairy. One poster frequently posted very NON-paleo recipes. Recipes that included rice, dairy ice cream, ricotta cheese, peanuts, corn tortillas, wheat flour, etc. Recipes that did not say, “This looks good–how do I make it paleo?” or anything like that. Recipes that said, “This is delicious!! I love lasagna!! I used whole-wheat noodles so it’s healthy!!”

      So finally (after this girl been posting non-paleo recipes for weeks) I left a comment that said, “I love that you’re so excited to share recipes with us and this does look yummy, but since this is a paleo recipe group, could you post recipes that don’t include dairy/grain/legumes?”

      And I got ripped a new one by a dozen members in the group who said stuff like, “Paleo isn’t one size fits all!” “Maybe HER paleo diet does involve cheese!!” “My nutritionist said that I needed to eat rice to meet my goals! Maybe it’s the same for her!! You’re not a nutritionist!” “Here comes the paleo police!!!” And then some other poster started posting recipes with cheese and tagging me in them. Because “her paleo diet” included cheese and she is fit and healthy and blahblahblah. For the record, I am not against cheese, I like cheese very much, but I try to have it only occasionally and seeing as how there are a zillion recipes with cheese, why would anyone need to get a recipe with cheese from a paleo group??

      It was SO frustrating because #1 I asked nicely, #2 I only asked after she had posted a ton of totally non-paleo recipes (without even a suggestion of how to make them paleo or anything like that), and #3 IT WAS A PALEO RECIPE GROUP. Which should mean PALEO RECIPES ONLY. I can find a whole-wheat lasagna recipe or a rice pilaf recipe on any other website. In fact, her recipes would have been perfect in a clean-eating group…but this was NOT a clean-eating group. It was a paleo group. Finding paleo recipes is a little harder and having a paleo-specific group made it easier. If I went into a vegan group and started posting recipes with meat because “my vegan diet” involves bacon, I would not expect people to okay with that.

    2. I really needed this today. I’m struggling with food choices (peer pressure) and not knowing if I can defend my choices. But the point you make is going to make it easier. Breads and dairy makes my tummy angry. And one bite of something sweet, causes the ugly sugar monster to come out and I can’t stop. Thank you for posting this today!!! Again I really needed it!

      1. I have found in some cases, especially with people I don’t know its easier to say….I am gluten intolerant, lactose intolerent, sugar gives me diarrhea. I am allergic to fish, because I HATE fish, and get tired of people telling me how good it is and I need to try it! And my favorite. ..I can’t have children, not I don’t want them. I know that’s not food related, but it gets old..you fint always have to defend your choices. Just sayin lol

        1. Hi Sheri! Thanks for weighing in. I like that tactic and I use the same one often…gluten and dairy products upsets my stomach so I usually say that and it quiets folks down.

    3. This was great! I had a vegan friend give me a whole lecture on why paleo isn’t a healthy diet and how my body NEEDS whole grains and complex carbs “not available in the paleo diet” complete with a link attacking paleo as “fake” science cooked up by an exercise physiologist posted to my FB wall. Do I attack her for her choice of not eating any animal product whatsoever? No. But something about saying you live a primal diet lifestyle really gets people’s panties in a wad! But I politely listen to the naysayers and continue on my way. Like you said, it’s a lifestyle choice. And no one’s opinion but your own matters.

    4. Well, they may not ACTUALLY exist, but there sure are some nasty, Pecksniffian (it’s a great word, look it up, lol) people out there that feel the need to chime in to every Paleo blog’s comment section about how “You can’t call yourself Paleo, blah blah blah…” I’m not much of a Debbie Downer usually, but to pretend that those people don’t exist isn’t very realistic. While what they say doesn’t TRULY matter, it is very real, hurtful, and in some cases I’ve seen, downright humiliating. On a bit of a lighter, Paleo Police antagonistic note, the Paleo Pazookie recipe on Clean Eating With A Dirty Mind is friggin epic. 😀

    5. You know that no matter what you are into, be it diet/lifestyle, or hobbies, politics, etc, there will ALWAYS be Trolls. They spend so much time worrying about what others do that they are probably no paying attention to what they are actually doing. A rather miserable existence if you ask me. To trounce a newbie for asking a basic question or someone for admitting they’re not perfect should have no place in this community. But however, we are all human. And unfortunately, we will forever have to deal with them.

      Thanks Steph for telling it like it is. Now where’s my stick? There’s a troll in need a beat down… 🙂

    6. Awesome post, thank you! As a breastfeeding mama, I’ve found that having a bit of oatmeal and rice is optimal for me and my paleo, and allowing a little of each makes my body happy, not sad… Such a good reminder that it’s okay to make adjustments based off of your body’s needs at a particular time in your life.

    7. Wasn’t it Thomas Jefferson or Edison, or one of those old dead guys named Thomas that said something like:

      “It’s harder to change a man’s diet than it is to change his religion.”

      I could append the sentence, “And man is way more psycho preachy over his diet and what he thinks everyone should be eating.”
      Where psycho = passionate.
      Those two terms are pretty much interchangeable.

      You shouldn’t be eating dark chocolate, because it contains that one thing that makes it hard for your body to do something.
      I forget the specifics.
      Just don’t eat it any more, OK? Thanks.

    8. Great post! Sad but true that it needed to be put out there. Thanks for your honesty and all your great posts and recipes. When it cones down to it, it really is just about real people…and real food.

    9. haha, oh girl this was suuuuuuuch a good post. like suuuuuuch a good one! i need to share this with my friend because we were just having a convo about the same topic. we hate labels. like something that really bothers me is people labelling their recipes as “paleo-ish” like, why!? why does it need to have a label!? can it not just be a “recipe”???? a “healthy recipe”!? why paleo-ish!? it’s so silly that there needs to be labels. i think it’s just so important to eat to fuel your body and your needs. like you said you consume rice on occasion for your goals! that’s amazing! i love it! it works for you so do it, girl! i would really like to choose a time to do 30 days paleo, though. i eat bread, but don’t actually feel it affect me in a negative way; however, i know you can’t really feel all the symptoms really apparently. the same goes for dairy… i’d love to see how my body would do without it. i am going to choose a time to just do the 30 days, but when that will be i don’t know. gotta finish the cottage cheese in my fridge and then stop buying it hahaha

      1. To clarify, the first time a person comments on the blog, I have to approve it. After that your comments will automatically show. That’s why some folks’s comments showed up right away. Not to worry!

    10. I so needed to read this! I’m currently silently boycotting a forum for this very reason. I’m PISSED that moderators seem to be attacking me for legitimately trying to understand a distinction that seems super arbitrary. DON’T QUESTION US! WE’RE THE MODS! WE’RE THE PO-LICE! (dash inserted because I’m currently living in the Southern US…)

      That said, I did a Whole 30 at the beginning of the year and just finished a (mostly) Whole 14 last week (allowed white potatoes for breakfast because the place I eat at work has the option of powdered eggs with sauteed veggies OR fresh fried eggs with yummy goopy yolks and hashbrowns, and they look at me like I’m crazy for turning down grits, biscuits and gravy, etc.).

      The Whole 14 has helped me see a little more how sugar and dairy affect me. I didn’t have any reaction to dairy after my Whole 30. None. This time, I had a Klondike bar yesterday evening (gasp! Paleo police!) and my stomach’s been gurgling and talking since yesterday night. It was a little annoying at my workout this morning (when you feel your stomach gurgle every time you do a jumping lunge…yeah…). Sugar…same effect. Lots of stomach gurgle, plus I feel the brain fog setting in.

      I usually label myself as paleo-ish, because I do include soy sauce for Asian food (I’m about to move to Korea, so I know I won’t get around that one) and sushi, corn tortillas (I’ve got a gluten problem, for which I get to set up an appointment with a gastroenterologist tomorrow to say “no, I know I don’t have Celiac, but I really do need intolerance put into my medical records so when the Army tries to feed me glutinous MREs I have a reason to say on”), etc. And dairy, but much less this time than before the W14. Maybe I’ll make it cultured dairy, and hope that settles the gurgly gut. I don’t eat a lot of grains. I don’t eat a lot of sugar. I’d say that I just eat real food, but that rules out some stuff.


      1. I totally feel you on this one, Emma. Labels are a natural human thing…it’s so much easier when things are nice and neat and fit into categories. Humans operate well that way.

        As for the forum you’re boycotting, if all it does is cause you stress, your positive energy is probably better spent elsewhere, ya know? 🙂

    11. I think, in the end, it’s probably that we are social beings. We want to fit in, which means we want to know WHERE we fit in. The 100% Paleo people wouldn’t like my soy, sugar, or dairy. The “Just Eat Real Food” people would hate my non-homemade ice cream the other night, or the fact that sometimes I do end up eating at restaurants and get things whose ingredients I may surmise to know (i.e. no gluten, since it’s not worth it for me) but not totally – who knows what preservative might have been in the provolone on my philly cheese fries? I definitely don’t fit in with the SAD people, since I eat grains less than once per day on average.

      Whatever. I’m me.

    12. I get soo confused. When I started paleo, I read a whole lot of different blogs and they all listed paleo as no dairy, grains, sugars, processed foods. So when I see something that says its paleo but includes those things I don’t think of them as paleo. If you eat dairy or grains on a paleo diet, are you still following a paleo diet or something else?

      1. Hi Robin, Great question…a lot of folks would call what you’re describing a “real food” diet (but just like Paleo, the definition is usually decided by the person who is writing about it). Some do follow strictly, though. Hope that helps, and I agree…it is super confusing!

    13. I can resonate with this article. I get so sick of people saying, “is that gum PALEO??!” No dude, it’s not but guess what, I want to eat it. I don’t know which is more annoying, being a picky order when going out to eat and seeing the look on people’s faces, OR people asking me “is this beer paleo?” of course it’s not, dummy!

      I’ve learned a lot about my body the last year + and I know what I should and shouldn’t do. Sometimes I feel like drinking a bottle of wine. Then I realize the next day it was a terrible choice and I don’t do it again for a year. Everything is good in moderation. Even the paleo comments. Rock on sis!

    14. Love your sense of humor! HAHAHA. This is a great article and good reminder that we are all human and eat *gasp* cheese once in a while 🙂

    15. Great post!! There are no real paleo police, just self appointed ones. People who love to nitpick and slam others. I guess they have nothing better to do with there lives! I feel kinda bad for them. 🙁
      Striving to b the best that we can be is all that matters. 🙂 it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks and also it’s not a competition!

    16. Can I just tell you how much I love you? I just finished getting reamed by the “Paleo Snobs” about ‘pread’ I made for CHEAT DAY, for heaven’s sake! I felt so down and icky after my argument with them…Condescending attacks on my intelligence and common sense. It made me want to throw in the towel. Paleo is a struggle for me, as I’ve voiced before, because, let’s face it, I’m a FOOD WHORE! I’m an Italian, Irish, Greek with a family that did EVERYTHING around food! So, ever food that I grew to love had a memory, emotional,or sentimental attachment for me. So when someone comes at me with their words and SHAMES me over a Paleo treat on cheat day, it kills me. But, after reading this, I’m gonna eat my treat on cheat day and they can blow it out their shorts. I like my ‘pread’…it’s my Sunday morning reward for a week well hacked from the wilderness!! ♡♡♡ Thanks for EVERYTHING you do!

      1. High five, Amanda. You know, the thing that kills me is that nobody eats perfectly, not even the so called high-horse riders or even the experts. We’re all human and life happens. Shit happens, too. We all do the best we can and we all have an individual tolerance for including treats / desserts that may cause us to come undone and begin the cycle of unhealthy choices.

        I also call them treats not cheats because cheats gives a negative connotation when, really, no food is inherently “bad” or “good.” Assigning morality to foods just leads down a slippery slope for many people because we start judging ourselves for selecting certain foods.

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