Is Paleo Too Restrictive?

I recently attended a conference for fitness and health bloggers, and when asked what my blog is about I would say that it's a CrossFit and paleo blog. Most people recognized at least one of those words, but mainly I found myself explaining what a paleo diet entails and what I choose to eat and not eat.

The common response I got was, "That sounds too restrictive. I could never do that." I've been doing really well with it for four years, but I also consider myself fairly disciplined when it comes to food. So, it got me thinking - is the paleo diet too restrictive? Maybe, but isn't every "diet" restrictive? Vegetarians and vegans restrict meat. For anyone who eats meat, wouldn't that seem too restrictive? But vegetarians and vegans choose not to eat meat, just as paleo folks choose not to eat grains, legumes and dairy. Both groups choose to restrict certain foods.

Another common response was, "I could never eat like that because I would feel like I'm depriving myself." Depriving yourself from what? When someone says that they don't want to feel deprived I hear, "I want to be able to eat what I want, when I want, without consequences or repercussions." Basically, they want to have their gluten-filled, high fructose corn syrup cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. There has to be some personal responsibility and self-discipline. You have to make real, permanent lifestyle changes in how you approach food and the decisions you make regarding what you put into your body. That's why you shouldn't even think of paleo as a diet. To me, a diet implies a short-term change in your food intake generally for the goal of weight loss. Paleo is a lifestyle which implies long-term permanent changes and not a quick fix.

Meat, veggies, and good fats. It does sound really limited and restrictive until you've reprogrammed your brain to come back from the dark side. It takes some time, but eventually you realize that you don't need, or even want, most of those other foods because you've seen the light and know how problematic they will be. And what it eventually comes down to is if the cheat meal is worth it or not. If you're going to do some damage, it better be really good and worth the inflammatory hit.

So, what do you think? Is paleo too restrictive? Is your way of eating too restrictive?


  1. At first I did think paleo was too restrictive, but I was brought up on the standard American diet and if dinner didn't include a starch AND a piece of bread, then it wasn't a complete dinner. But now that I've been pretty much paleo for the past 7 months and gluten-free for almost a year, I can't tell you how much better I feel. It's 100% worth it and it works for me. Yes, I do still think paleo can be hard to manage in certain situations (traveling, dinner at friends' homes, work events, etc), but you are right -- this is a way of life, not a diet, and whatever complications come with it are worth the hassle.

  2. I think you are RIGHT on the money with this one! A "diet" is restrictive! Of course! How else would you lose weight (ha- if that even worked for half the people on diets). And I think that's part of the problem. They think, "Oh, it's a diet, I can't have X, Y, Z for M amounts of weeks but when I can I'm going to eat all of it I can."

    And then they're confused at why they can't stick to a plan.. it really is about changing lifestyle choices. Paleo, vegan, vegetarian is not (or SHOULD not) be about what you cannot have, it should be about all the incredible new, healthy foods you CAN have! You're right on.

  3. For me the restriction is a blessing. You can learn to cook meat and eggs and steam vegetables in an afternoon. I never use a recipe, and with digital in-oven thermometer meals are simple, healthy and stress free. I tried zone, but I'm back to the simplicity of paleo. Easy to shop, easy to store, easy to cook. I think one thing that stops people is we are taught in school to think that using a large diversity of foods is needed to be healthy, but paleo shows that simple works.


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