• 7 Common Paleo Mistakes to Avoid

    Today is the 7th anniversary of when I “went paleo,” and to celebrate, I’m sharing 7 paleo mistakes I’ve made along the way…

    …with the hope that it’ll help you during your journey to better health.

    How it Began

    Harder to Kill Challenge | StupidEasyPaleo.com

    I first learned about The Paleo Diet™ way back in 2009 from my friends. As the story goes, I decided I didn’t have much to lose by giving it a shot. So it decided I’d have my holiday fun and start eating paleo on January 10, 2010. (It was 6 months before the middle photo was taken.)

    As I recall, I took the “rip the Band-Aid off” approach and gathered up all the grains in my cupboard into a trash bag. I cleaned out the fridge and just got started.

     
    I had no idea what I was really doing, and Stupid Easy Paleo wasn’t even a thought in my brain at that point. But after about 18 months of eating paleo and writing recipes that I posted to my personal blog, a friend encouraged me to start a paleo blog instead. I did, and the rest is history.

    A lot has changed in 7 years. I’ve made a lot of paleo mistakes along the way, and I’m sharing them with you so you can avoid them. Part of the journey to better health is finding your own way, blazing your own path.

    Your story won’t be exactly like mine, and your life circumstances won’t be either, but there are some best practices that can really help.

    7 Paleo Mistakes I’ve Made

    Paleo Mistake #1: Treating it like a strict diet long-term.

    Stuffed Sweet Potato Recipe | StupidEasyPaleo.com

    Look, The Paleo Diet™ is a thing. It’s one person’s interpretation of a movement that was loosely conceived by a group of different minds. Yet, people assume that anyone and everyone who eats “paleo” should be doing it exactly by the rules of The Paleo Diet™.

    That’s one of the biggest paleo mistakes.

    Yes, The Paleo Diet™ was created to remove the most allergens from people’s diets and give them a chance to really get to the bottom of their health issues…

    …but it’s tough to make a permanent lifestyle change by following a very strict “diet” forever, whether it’s therapeutic or not.

    I treated paleo like a strict diet for about the first year. I was preoccupied with following “the rules” and “doing it right.”

    If you want to make a lifestyle change, you have to find what works for your body over time…

    …and that’s rarely summed up in strict rules written by someone who doesn’t know your circumstances. It certainly doesn’t take your bioindividuality into account, either.

    My point is, you may have certain foods that don’t work for you, foods you decide to avoid long-term. That’s fine.

    What’s not cool is eating foods that aren’t really working for you – or avoiding others that would work for you – because a diet protocol said so.

    Case in point: I eat white potatoes now. 2010 me would have shouted, “BUT POTATOES AREN’T PALEO!” Luckily, I’ve educated myself.

    Paleo Mistake #2: Being afraid of carbs.

    Ugh, this is a huge one. Back when I started paleo, I was really preoccupied with my body size…specifically, I was obsessed with making my body smaller.

    Looking back, I already was pretty lean and pretty “small,” but to be competitive in my sport – at the time, mountain bike racing – I thought I needed to get even smaller.

    Of course, I read all sorts of things about how eating fewer carbs would make me lose body fat, so I went for it.

    My paleo mistake here was not eating enough carbs to fuel my training. I was riding 10-15 hours a week on less than 50 grams of carbs per day. And I wasn’t low carb enough to be in ketosis, so I ended up in energy limbo.

    I lost a lot of precious muscle mass from the combination of undereating food in general, too few carbs, and no strength training.

    In fact, between my 2010 and 2016 photo, there’s a 20-pound increase in my body weight and a huge gain of strength. Plus, the woman on the right is so much happier.

    It seems that now-a-days, fat is less feared, but it’s the carbs that keep tripping people up. What I see is folks really cutting way back on carb intake but then training really hard, and sometimes their thyroids and adrenals pay the price.

    Remember, your context matters.

    For recipes with healthy carbs that’ll help you perform better, check out my Performance Paleo Cookbook.

    Paleo Mistake #3: Not doing a proper elimination protocol.

    I strongly recommend my clients do a proper elimination period so they can really learn about which foods work best for their bodies.

    This is one of the paleo mistakes I made during the first year and a half of eating paleo….I simply didn’t do one.

    Doing an elimination of potentially troublesome foods followed by a period of reintroduction helped me get really clear about which foods are a no-go (cheese and milk)…

    …and which ones I could relax about (the occasional white rice, for example).

    For elimination protocols, check out The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf or The Whole30 by Dallas & Melissa Hartwig.

    Paleo Mistake #4: Not eating enough food.

    Broccoli Salad Recipe | StupidEasyPaleo.com

    Niels Bohr famously said, “The opposite of a great truth is also true.”

    Is it true that a lot of people in the world are overeating? Yes. Is it true that a lot of people in the world are undereating? Yes.

    Therefore, the old advice of, “Eat less and move more,” isn’t appropriate for everyone.

    The problem really comes down to food quality. Often, the cause of overeating – from a caloric standpoint anyway – is the consumption of very nutrient poor processed foods that are stuffed full of refined carbs and devoid of protein.

    Processed foods like these are low on the satiety scale and still rich in calories, so it’s easy to eat too much. (And at some point, calories do matter.)

    So let’s say you go paleo and eliminate processed foods. Great! But you’re cutting way back on portion sizes because you’re applying that ol’ diet heuristic to your paleo plate. Not great.

    I made the same mistake.

    My portions were tiny because I thought I needed to cut back to lose weight.

    And while I don’t encourage you to overeat, you’ve got to get real about how much nutrition you’re getting. I get tagged in hundreds of food photos on Instagram, and while I don’t know how those plates of food fit into someone’s whole day, the extrapolation is grim. One or two eggs for breakfast plus a tiny pile of veggies is not enough for a meal.

    Paleo is not meant to be a “diet” where you severely cut back on food intake in hope of losing weight fast.

    Paleo Mistake #5: Skimping on protein.

    This is really a corollary to #4, but it deserves special mention. I definitely made this mistake when I first went paleo…

    …and I ended up being really hungry just an hour or two after eating.

    It wasn’t until I upped my protein intake that I stayed fuller, longer. And I finally began to put on muscle mass.

    If one of your motivations to eat paleo is to lose body fat, getting enough protein is especially important. Too many people focus on the balance of carbs versus fats and not enough on adequate protein intake.

    This is one of the most common paleo mistakes that can have wide-reaching implications.

    Here’s a video about 3 things to know about protein intake and fat loss:

    Women, you’re especially guilty of skimping on protein, and I see this mistake in my clients all the time.

    And while I can’t prescribe you an exact protein intake here, I can say that a common range for optimal wellness is in the ballpark of 0.8-1.25 grams protein per pound of bodyweight daily. You’ll have to experiment to see what works best for you.

    If you’re cutting back on meat for sustainability reasons or because meat is supposedly bad for you, I urge you to read this first.

    Paleo Mistake #6: Too many paleo desserts.

    I’m not against treating yoself…truly I’m not.

    But when I look out into the paleo world in 2017, I see so much food porn, way too many desserts, and not enough staples like meat, veggies, and healthy fats.

    From a blogging and social media standpoint, desserts and treats are what get the clicks. I get it. Website traffic is part of how I keep a roof over my head.

    I think many consumers are just window-shopping these paleo desserts, double-tapping on Instagram or hitting like on Facebook as part of a foodie fantasy.

    But, I’ve worked with many clients who eat too many paleo desserts just like I did at the beginning. It’s one of the most common paleo mistakes.

    I’ve taken a pretty hard stance on the fact that paleo junk food is still junk food and should be consumed sparingly. Paleo baked goods and treats may be the only way you can enjoy the occasional sweets that doesn’t flare up your autoimmunity or make your guts twist into knots. Fine.

    But when desserts become a central focus of your attention or frequent features of your diet, don’t expect to make the progress you want to see. Sugary treats – even if they’re technically “paleo” – can still be problematic.

    Paleo Mistake #7: Ignoring other lifestyle factors.

    7 Paleo Mistakes To Avoid | StupidEasyPaleo.com

    I used to sleep 5-6 hours a night. I’d hit the snooze button 17 times each morning, drink several cups of coffee, and feel super drowsy every afternoon.

    And while changing what I ate helped a bunch, it wasn’t until I started focusing more on sleep and cutting down on cardio – while adding strength training – that things really kicked into high gear.

    If you’re just starting your paleo journey, it’s logical to start with food.

    Just know that it’s a common paleo mistake to think all your issues can be solved by what’s on your plate.

    True health and wellness is a multi-faceted pursuit. It’s a synergy between factors like nourishment, building strength, renewing your energy, and practicing positive mindset.

    I don’t want you to get too overwhelmed by trying to change your entire life when you first go paleo. But I do encourage you to look beyond food and make simple changes in your lifestyle beyond your plate.

    Here are some of my best articles for exploring more:

    To Sum It Up

    While this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the paleo mistakes one may make along the way, these are some I’ve definitely made.

    And it’s my hope that sharing my own learning process will help your journey be smoother.

    Everyone makes mistakes. And hindsight is always 20-20. It’s important to not beat yourself up for getting it wrong, and to keep taking action so that you forge the best path for you.

    Your journey will have ups and downs, and it’ll never be exactly like anyone else’s. The more you can commit to doing what’s best for you, the more successful you’ll be at sustainable, long-term lifestyle change.

    Which paleo mistakes have you made on your journey? How did you turn it around? Share in the comments below.

    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 “7 Common Paleo Mistakes to Avoid

    1. This was a very good article. I’ve probably made all the mistakes. I’ve been following the Paleo diet since 2012 and still am not doing something right. I see all the posts with the sweets and stuff and think, “how can you eat all that ?” I still may not be eating enough protein even though I thought I was. I do eat white potatoes and rice but other than that I’m gf, df, sugar, alcohol and soy free. I struggle to stay at my scrawny 135. I’ve not ever done an elimination diet. I would be hesitant to do that without guidance. None on my Dr’s here are competent enough or knowledgeable enough to lead me through that. I love your articles Steph. Very interesting and helpful

      1. Hey Sarah,

        That can be so frustrating. If you don’t have a baseline of how much protein you’re eating, it may be helpful to track yours for 5-7 days to get an average intake. You can pretty easily do that with My Fitness Pal and a simple food scale. You may be eating a lot less than you think…or maybe not. If you’re having a hard time keeping weight on, it could be a digestive issue too. Sometimes, even though you’re consuming enough, patchy gut health may make it hard to absorb and assimilate the nutrition you’re doing. You can find simple 30 day elimination protocols in the books I mentioned.

        Sincerely,

        Steph

    2. Thanks for taking the time to educate all of us on paleo. My family has lost a ton of weight doing it….without exercise….for some reason, it doesn’t come off that easy for me…..I’m working on quitting my diet coke and trying to stop the sugar free creamer in my coffee and sticking with almond milk but thank you!!!!!

      1. Hi Tara…I know it can be frustrating when others around you seem to be dropping weight and you aren’t…but I want you to remember we are all different, even if you’re related to someone. There can be lots of stuff going on under the hood that’s makes it hard for people to lose body fat…anything from insulin dysregulation to high cortisol levels to PCOS. If you’re really stumped, I recommend finding a nutrition coach or other practitioner who can give you an objective assessment of what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s really tricky to be objective about our own behaviors. Wishing you lots of health…keep making those healthy changes!

    3. I love what you have written! I love the encouragement to eat and not be scared of food…..which I have been for far too long. I recognise the paragraph on 5-6 hours sleep, snoozing and trying to wake up with coffee.
      I now weight train and try to eat more protein, good fats and less carbs but I am a ‘scared food addict’ in that food feeds all my emotions, so I think I overeat whatever my mood!
      I’m 52, feel full and flabby and wonder everyday if I can turn this around this late in the day????
      Wendy (Tunbridge Wells UK)

      1. Hi Wendy! Thank you so much for all your kind words. It sounds like you’ve made a lot of positive changes, so give yourself some credit for that.

        It’s never, ever too late. I promise. <3

    4. Great post!! I too have made most of these mistakes in my Paleo journey and I really appreciated reading this from another fellow paleo-er’s perspective. I’m so glad you mentioned the overuse of paleo treats and how they’re usually just click-bait instead of the foods we should really be basing our diet off of. Thanks for posting!

      1. Hey Amy…super glad the post resonated with you, and I’m glad we have folks like you around to keep up the discussion about healthier habits. Thanks for stopping by!!

    5. Hi Stephanie! Love your blog, its down to earth and always easy to read while giving good information. I definitely have been down a few of these paths, with my biggest mistake being Paleo dessert binges. It’s all just so fantastically yummy! Eat all the desserts! Over time (been doing Paleo for about 3 years now??) it has become much easier and I have found that if I keep key ingredients involved in making Paleo desserts out of my kitchen, then they don’t get made as often. I try to be super mindful with every meal, focusing on protein, fat and a veggie. Most the time when I do this I am full and can’t even think about a sweet or treat. If I still feel I need something else I try to eat a fruit, but even that can be overdone, in my experience. After 3 years I am still finding out what works and doesn’t work for me and still tweaking my Paleo journey even on a daily basis. It’s a learning process and I’m so glad I’m here because the benefits totally outweigh everything negative that is said about Paleo. Preventative medicine is the best kind! It starts in the kitchen!

    6. Great article Steph! I have made every one of these mistakes on my 18 month Paleo journey.
      Your statement about following strict forever really resonated with me. I still struggle with emotional eating, but have finally started to not “feel bad” about eating some Pho or Pad Thai once a month…or so 🙂

      Thanks for the great advice!
      Carrie

      1. Thanks so much Carrie! I’m glad it resonated…and I know that feeling too of “feeling bad”. I think there’s a delicate balance between our emotional and physical health…and food can be so central to that. It’s one of those things that I’ve found I’ve just had to work through over time. My point is, you’re exactly where you need to be. xo Steph

    7. Hi Steph

      Love the article. I am not a naturally sports enclined person but have always tried to keep active anyway. Some years are better than others. But after 2 and a half years of intense whole body workout and mma based training, and not a lot of weight loss, I decided to go Whole 30. It completely changed my perception and relationship with food. Whole 30 morphed into paleo and 10 months later, me and my man each lost 40 pounds. I still have some to lose but man can I do a whole lot mor than I used to!! Jogging 5 minutes was unthinkable for most of my life and now I do 30 minutes for fun! But the best part of reading your article is confirming I am doing this right. I am not super hard on myself and this makes this journey so comfortable. I have the occasionnal whote potato, that great Pho at that restaurant once in a while, and don’t limit my proteins. I train good but not too much. I am gluten and dairy free, and I feel amazing. I too focus on sleep (fitbit is great for that), moving and eating enough. Your sharing of your experience is enhancing mine. Thanks for taking the time to help.

      1. Hey Christina! Wow, I just wanna high five you all over the place. Super progress on your part. Well done. Above all, you sound HAPPY…that’s the most important part. Keep up the great work!

    8. Thank you, this is very helpful. I’m only recently started paleo and the carbohydrate thing was confusing for me. I’m a cyclist and am used to carbs so I’m now trying to find the right balance.

    9. Hey Steph,

      Thanks a lot for all this interesting informations! I’m a ultimate frisbee player and do also lot of sports besides that. I used to have post migraines after working out or a game and since I started eating paleo, I do not have any more migraines. But i’m a bit concerned about my carbs intake. I can’t figure which carb should I eat besides of sweet potato. If i’m correct all fruits and vegetables (excluding starchy vegetables like sweet potato), they are not high in carbs for training. How many time a weeks should we eat more carbs? every day? at each meal? what’s the balance between high carbs and low carbs? Even if we’re not training? I’m a bit lost here. Also is plantain banana a good carb intake?

      Which one of your book should help me? The paleo athlete books or the cookbook? I’m not an athlete just someone who’s sporty.

      Sorry about the mistakes, english is not my first language! Thanks a lot and keep up the good work!

      Vero

      1. Hey Veronique! Carb intake varies a lot for each person and the type of carbs can be different as well based on your individual tolerances. Most people do well with carbs each day unless you are purposely trying to be in ketosis which I don’t recommend for most athletic and active people. I would aim for at least 100 grams a day but you’re doing to need to play around with it. It’s not really possible to give you a specific answer here.

        The Paleo Athlete is probably your best bet for understanding how carbs affect your workouts: http://stupideasypaleo.com/product/the-paleo-athlete-ebook/

        Take care!

    10. Hey Steph! Great quick little read. About #2, I am wondering what to eat on the (road) bike when doing long training rides, and I also have a 62 mile gravel race coming up in about 4 weeks. It appears gels and waffles and bars should be out. I just ordered your Paleo Cookbook, but wondering if you have some quick hits on fueling while riding.
      Thanks!

      Eric

      1. Don’t change anything at this point, Eric. I’d wait until after your race is over. Of course, if something is causing you digestive distress, that’s another story.

        For some people who are training a ton, gels can still work. I’d still recommend going gluten-free if you can in the future. It may be worth a shot to play around with removing that stuff once you’ve returned to the start of the next training cycle.

    11. In the beginning, I chose to follow a Paleo lifestyle, because my other half wanted to after being given some of Mark Sisson’s books by a friend.

      It wasn’t to do with losing weight for me but more about eating a more healthily. What I didn’t realize then was it would actually prove beneficial to me as it has helped me with dealing with symptoms associated with the menopause. I love this article and at some stage have made mistakes like this. But have quickly overcome them.

      These days I don’t rely on any kind of prescribed medication (as I did during the first year) I solely look at what I am eating and making sure that I exercise regularly.

    12. Oh jeez, getting into this blows my mind, do this don’t do that. LOL Having said that, thank God for my husband of 42 yrs., where I get information overload, he is practical, analytical. We have been working on improving our eating habits for about 6 months. Moving to the better oils etc. 15JAN2017 we cleaned out the cabinets of ALL sugared spices, processed foods etc. Luckily we found we had been getting more of the good spices so there were still plenty in the cupboard.
      Major improvements, my sweetheart has battled major acid reflux for years, just in the few weeks of seriously changing our eating habits……no more issues that the occasional one tums doesn’t settled down. Morning 60yr old aches and pains, gone. Some improvements are kind of subtle and your like, “Hum, energy is up, I feel great, let’s get going”. We started this to get away from all the processed junk and get some weight off, don’t do scales so no clue and can’t make the, “I lost 4 pounds the first week”, claim, LOL, can say that some clothes aren’t as snug. Still trying to figure out some type of light work out schedule.
      Just happened on your article and page, glad I did! Great article! Still so much to learn, i.e. common sense told me dessert is dessert thanks for corroborating this for us so we didn’t fall into the, “it’s all good for you ingredients” hole. May sound silly but our “dessert” in the evening is one medjool date. Put the seed in a pot and you too can have a date palm.
      Please forgive me for going on like this but, the couple of folks I’ve mentioned it to did the invisible eye roll. LOL. Look forward to reading more of your links and info but, energy level says get off of here and get moving.

      1. One day at a time Janet 🙂 Sounds like you’re doing a lot of things right…and feeling much better for it. Keep making that forward progress…well done!

    13. I’m having a real hard time eliminating creamer from my coffee otherwise dairy free and I use a little honey. Any recommendations?

    14. Hi Steph!

      I love this article!

      I’ve been paleo for about 5 years now, starting it with a whole30 years ago, but have been battling an eating disorder as well. I can’t seem to wrap my brain on cutting cardio. I usually spend 60-90 mins in the gym each morning with lifting heavy and running or some type of cardio component. My fear is in not doing it and “gaining” weight.

      I’m currently doing another Whole30 to reset my mind to gain a better relationship with food and my body and my mental state, which I fear I’m completely lacking!

      But I came across your blog and have been searching article after article as much as I can with two young boys and a husband who travels for work each week.

      Would either of your books be beneficial to grab in my case? I’m not necessarily an “athlete” for profession, but am a very committed body builder style woman that is looking to gain more knowledge on how to get my mind around what types of exercises I could be incorporating or doing more/less of to reach my goals: stay strong, lean, and healthy. (I currently look like your 2010 photo).

      Thank you and so glad I came across your site!

      1. Hi Abby…just want to acknowledge you for your candor and honesty.

        I’m not an ED counselor or specialist so wanted to preface that. It sounds like you have a lot of demands (and stress) in your life, and I know what it’s like to be afraid to gain fat. But I also know a lot of women, much like yourself, who are really seeking some kind of permission to cut back a bit on the exercise front so that they can find a better life balance.

        It’s interesting…3x (ish) of strength training each week is actually way more efficient at building muscle and burning fat than cardio. There’s probably nothing I can say that will ease your mind, and really, the only way to know for sure is to try it, even for a month. I think you’d find that you’d be way less stressed and probably maintain your body comp (or improve it) with fewer sessions in the gym each week.

        Just some thoughts. If you’re looking for a strength program, I would recommend The Bigness Project since you said you like body building: http://stupideasypaleo.com/bigness.

        Hope that helps.

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