The paleo diet was easy for cavemen: They didn’t really have any other choice. And whether or not the modern paleo diet is actually what our primal ancestors ate, it’s gained some serious popularity in the nutrition industry… and it’s also not quite as easy to follow today as it was back then.
While every diet has its challenges, there are some common problems that people run into on the paleo diet specifically. Many of these problems cause people to give up on the diet after a few days, weeks, or months of committing to the rigid plan.
Whether you plan to go paleo and never turn back, or you just wish to dabble in this ancient way of eating, here are some common reasons why people quit the paleo diet, plus expert tips on how to handle these potential obstacles.
Paleo Diet Struggle #1: Eating Out
These days, it’s not uncommon for restaurants to list menu options for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets. But paleo-friendly dishes can be harder to identify when you eat out, which means you need to be that person and ask the waiter a million questions: What’s in the sauce? What are the vegetables cooked in? Can I get this without the breading? All the fuss might make you decide to just eat at home and miss out on fun nights with friends.
Solution: You have a few options here. One is to simply get comfortable with asking questions. Another is to stick to restaurants that tend to be more paleo-friendly. Think steakhouses where you can get your protein with grilled or steamed veggies or a salad (just being sure to check about any oils and dressing).
Paleo Diet Struggle #2: Having a Social Life
Restaurant dining isn’t the only hurdle. Food and drinks are a main way we bond with our friends and family, and since the paleo diet bans many common foods (looking at you, sugar) and most alcohol, following the plan can make happy hours, weddings, birthdays, bachelor parties — basically every social event — incredibly difficult.
Solution: Take a tip from many weight-loss toolboxes and eat before going to an event. If you’ll be out for a while, then opt for bringing something with you, suggests Denis Faye, M.S. and Openfit’s executive director of nutrition. If you feel awkward having your jerky and egg muffins while everyone else is downing pizza and cake, sneak off somewhere to eat it alone, he adds. Or you can wave your paleo flag proudly, and maybe even attract the attention of someone else who’s interested in the diet!
Paleo Diet Struggle #3: Your Family Doesn’t Understand
Going on a diet often opens you up to criticism from your loved ones, no matter what that diet is. But the paleo diet introduces the more complex problem of completely cutting out something that might be the backbone of your food heritage. Odds are, your Italian grandmother will have some thoughts when you come over and don’t have any of her spaghetti.
Solution: Cook your own dish so you can bring something that’s paleo-friendly and also in-line with your family’s traditional fare. Or, give yourself a break and have a slice of Nonna’s lasagna, even if it’s just a small one. “That one night isn’t going to make or break you,” Kubal says. “Have something you enjoy.” This doesn’t mean you can’t hop back on the paleo train the next day! Plus, if you stop obsessing over the food you “can or can’t” have, you’ll likely enjoy the company more, too.
Paleo Diet Struggle #4: Living With Others
If you’re the household chef and decide to go paleo, then you have to decide: Is everyone you live with also going to be paleo, too?
Aside from cooking, you may open up the cabinets to grab canned salmon, only to be greeted by packages of cookies for the kids. This can be a daunting temptation even for those with the strongest willpower.
Solution: If you live with your partner, talk to them about going paleo with you. If they don’t want to and you typically cook for them, discuss each week’s meal plan ahead of time. Then you’ll know which nights to make enough for two and which nights they’ll do their own thing. Are you cooking for kids as well? The same solution applies, as it’s OK for them to eat paleo, too, Faye says.
As for any tempting foods that may be hiding in your house, respect the other person’s right to eat what they desire (after all, they are respecting yours). And to minimize your risk of running into it, suggest they have a particular shelf or drawer where they keep foods that tempt you so you can avoid that part of the pantry or fridge.
Paleo Diet Struggle #5: It Takes a Fair Amount of Work
When you go paleo, you can’t just grab a bagel and run out the door in the morning. You can’t always find snacks in the airport to hold you over when you don’t have time for a meal before your connection. Simply put, although any diet requires planning, paleo can be less convenient than others due to its many restrictions.
Solution: Meal prep is your friend. Plan out your meals and snacks ahead of time so you can avoid getting stuck with a hunger pang and nothing paleo (or healthy) in sight.
And be realistic! You don’t need to plan out extravagant dishes for every meal of the entire week. Instead, start by picking three easy meals and make sure you always have the ingredients for them on hand, Kubal says. That way, on the inevitable super busy night, you can make dinner simply by cracking open some cans of tuna or a few eggs, cooking some frozen vegetables, and drizzling on some olive oil.
Paleo Diet Struggle #6: You Don’t Feel Great… Maybe
Some people who follow the paleo diet for extended periods of time report experiencing side effects such as poor sleep, lack of energy, changes in mood, and problems with concentration. However, others say going paleo improves these problems. The key here is to listen to your body.
Solution: Most of these issues may be tied to cutting back on carbs, Faye says. “Recognize that all macronutrients play important roles in your body. You can be paleo without making carbs into the enemy,” he says.
Or these side effects may be caused by not really paying attention to what you’re eating. “So many ‘paleo products’ out there — cereal, granola, bread, cookies — are all processed food,” Kubal says. “Or I see people who only eat fruit, smoothies, and sweet potatoes, which causes their blood sugar spikes and crashes throughout the day.” Even if you’re only eating paleo foods, make sure you’re still eating a variety of wholesome foods that provide the right balances of nutrients.
Try talking to a registered dietitian or other nutritionist you trust who’s knowledgeable about the paleo diet before starting it, or at least if you begin to experience any issues. You might find that with a bit of professional troubleshooting, you can make this diet much more bearable.
Paleo Diet Struggle #7: You Miss Comfort Foods
“On a paleo diet, many of your comfort foods are gone, and that can be trying,” Faye says. And sometimes that paleo banana bread or cauliflower “mac” and cheese just doesn’t cut it.
Solution: Embrace the 80/20 rule and, rather than eating processed paleo treats or faux versions that don’t really satisfy you, have the real thing once in a while. “Paleo isn’t a religion. Follow it when you can,” Kubal says, but don’t be afraid to let loose every now and then.
“A lot of people think paleo needs to be zero or 100, but there is a sweet spot in the middle where you feel happy and feel your best,” Kubal says. The key is to find your sweet spot. And maybe that means taking some parts of the paleo diet to heart, while easing up on some of the restrictions and adding in some grains here and there.
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Faye adds. “Don’t fall back on old, unhealthy bad habits, but if you take the lessons of the paleo diet and move on to your next way of eating with those lessons intact, that’s smart.” The cavemen won’t be offended, promise.