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Paleo Gone Wrong: Why Paleo Diets Don’t Work & What to Do Instead

by Benjamin Nutt
Home/Blog/Protect Your Mental Wellbeing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Why did you go Paleo?

It’s the first question a lot of people in our community ask. 80% of people will answer with one of a few things:

We all started in much the same boat, and found Paleo to be the saving grace we were looking for.

The inevitable next question is “How did you go Paleo?”

How did you go about “going Paleo?” For most people, the first step to Paleo is some form of elimination diet.

Whether it was a Whole30, Paleo Challenge at the local CrossFit gym, a Primal Blueprint Challenge, etc., elimination diets are a great way to get away from poor nutrition and move towards a diet rich in real food, leaving you feeling pretty damn good…for a little while.

Healthy Eating Gone Wrong

Unfortunately, after several months of “eating strict Paleo,” some people find themselves not feeling so great: bloated, constipated, low on energy–many of the same symptoms they were trying to get away from.

“What gives?!” they cry.

Answer: Sure, you’re eating healthy, BUT NOT all healthy foods are good for our unique body chemistry or body type.

Enter: The need for a customized Paleo diet, not just a one-size-fits-all elimination diet.

Elimination Diets Don’t ALWAYS Work

We do elimination diets to get away from problematic foods like allergens, hyper-palatable processed fare, and foods that are dense in calories but lacking in nutrition. We also do them to get away from problematic behaviors, like food addiction and unstoppable cravings.

But problematic foods don’t stop with grains, sugar, and dairy.

Depending on context, your real-food fare could be doing just as much damage as what you were eating before. The following common Paleo foods can be just as problematic as some non-Paleo fare:

Check out the 4 “Horsemen” of Paleo for more along these lines.

Furthermore, your behaviors with food don’t go away just because you cut out certain things, such as emotional eating or unexplained cravings.Beyond sugar and coffee, you can develop just as much of an addiction and problematic cravings for seemingly healthy foods.

Case Study: My Strange Paleo Food Addictions

I’ve been there, got the t-shirt.

I’ve been Paleo since I was 16 years old. Stemming from a childhood filled with cereal and pasta, it was the exact change I needed to become healthy. It’s been great, but once every few years, I find myself becoming a little too comfortable, and entrenched in behaviors that really stack the odds against me.

For instance: my addition to sweet potatoes.  I feel stupid even saying this. Sweet potatoes are nutritious, and about as far as processed as it gets. I strength train and do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so the carbohydrates do me good. However, too much of a good thing is NOT always a good thing. 

Well, one day I just kind of realized it…I felt shitty.

I was over-consuming sweet potatoes to the point where I could barely walk around: bloated, foggy brain, lethargic. Oddly, I’d think about sweet potatoes all day, specifically doused in coconut oil. Nature’s candy. I was addicted.

Sound familiar?

However, just because I was eating high quality foods did not mean that I was doing myself any favors. Problematic behaviors and thought processes made what’s essentially a healthy food into a really bad choice for me.

The lesson is that a Paleo/Primal/real food diet is a great starting point, but you might need to make additional tweaks based on your individual needs.

How to know if you need a (further) elimination diet

How do you know if your Paleo plan is working for you? Step back for a moments and ask yourself if you suffer from any of the following symptoms:

If any of those sound like you, it might be time to re-consider what you’re doing and make some small tweaks. Let’s go about this systematically:

  1. Start with introspection



  1. Create a plan to take care of it




  1. Execute the plan



Take it to thee Next Level

Maybe you don’t just have one problematic food – maybe it’s an entire category of things. Maybe your diet needs a categorical overhaul. If that’s the case, then an even stricter elimination protocol might be just the ticket you need. Here are a few of my favorites for when I need a hard reset

  1. Autoimmune Paleo: This plan cuts out LOTS of common “Paleo” allergens – stuff you might not have even known you were allergic to! Dr. Sarah Ballantyne is my go-to resource for educating people on AIP – check out here introductory guide here.
  2. A Ketogenic Diet: This plan cuts out carbohydrates, a source of digestive stress for many of us. Also has been shown to improve cognition in certain people. Ketogains is a great resource for the whys and hows of the diet.

None of these plans are silver bullet, end-all-be-all-all-things-for-everyone-all-the-time. Nothing is. Approach all of this stuff with relentless honesty until you find a plan that is sustainable and works for you.

What are your problematic foods? Do you have a strange Paleo addiction? What’s your plan for taking care of it? Let us know in the comments, and best of luck to you!

Salmon image licensed under the Creative Commons.


The Paleo movement incorporates several different optimizing perspectives for helping you improve your health, all based on the latest science. Everyone is different. We want to support you in understanding your unique genetic makeup, symptoms and health goals so you can choose the path that is right for you.

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Benjamin Nutt

Benjamin is a fitness enthusiast with a passion for human health and happiness. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado with a BA in Anthropology. He’s been implementing and experimenting with Ancestral diet and lifestyle protocols since 2010, driven by a passion to optimize his health and lifestyle. Benjamin is thrilled to join […]