Is it just me or is Paleo f#%@king hard

Photo by: J Sheree Johnson

So there were some interesting posts that came out this past week from a few women who run in the Paleo space. Hayley Mason of Primal Palate has shared the fact she has some thyroid problems that are making her Paleo journey less than enjoyable at the moment.

Melissa Joulwan put out a post earlier this week [–>Click here] where she talked about her recent weight gain and how she is trying to deal with it. And Laura, who runs Ancestralize Me, put something out titled “Paleo Women are Phat” based on a comment a male made about the women he saw at Paleo FX.

I realize women are held to a ridiculously higher (and stupid) standard than men are in this regard (boggles my mind that fat guys sit around and point out the flaws in women who look 10 times better than they do), but my experience at Paleo FX was that that Paleo People are Phat.  And I don’t say that like I have arrived and others haven’t (will address this a bit later) nor do I say that to mock the efforts of those who I know are desperately trying to change how they look.  It’s worth repeating again, even though I have had some good success with the Paleo lifestyle, I still find it f#$%king hard.

Ok that’s the last time I will drop the f-bomb in this write up. To be honest, I seldom swear. I usually reserve it for those moments when I do something completely idiotic like yesterday when I was talking to a gurl at Starbucks and then proceeded to dump my coffee onto my  crotch. My self talk would have made Howard Stern blush.  Or like the time where I took out $80 from the cash machine (on two separate occasions) and walked away without taking the money. [That story can be found–>here.]

Fortunately on both occasions someone was kind enough to take my money and find a way to spend it without me. On joyous occasions such as these I do find a few colorful adjectives to use to sum up what I think of my actions.

But I digress.  As a male I want to weigh in with my own personal experience that may seem un-male-like and in many respects un-paleo-like. Just to be clear, I am not bashing Paleo. In fact it is the complete opposite. I KNOW it is the optimal diet for me to lead, as Jack Kruse would say, “an optimized life.

I also believe that it’s core message [-->eat real foods, get sufficient sleep, reduce stress and move<--] is vital to anyone and everyone who is looking to improve a lifetime of sh*tty health and immense frustration of possessing a body that does show the return on investment that most people sink into it to change how they look and how they live.

Why I find Paleo hard…

Before I share why I find this hard let me tell you what I DON’T want you to do. DON’T use my write up…

  • to rationalize why you haven’t been doing what you know you must. You and I have done that our entire lives.
  • to lower your standards or personal expectations. In fact I want you to do the opposite.
  • as ammunition against others who see things differently. This is my perspective only based on my expectation that I will be the EXPERT ON ME.

OK lets explore some of these bad boys.

1. The volume of information is overwhelming…

There are over 300 active Paleo-like blogs out there that are bombarding us with information every stinkin’ day. And we all falsely believe that that the more information we have the more likely change is going to happen.

I have since discovered it is the exact opposite. The more information we have the less likely we are going to act at all because we are being pulled in a million different directions. The reality is very few of us actually act at all on the information we get.  Barry Swartz talked about this in his book, The Paradox of Choice.

To illustrate the point, he refers to a study of jam choices (so un-Paleo Barry).  Given a choice between choosing a jam from an offering of 6 compared to an offering of 24 jams, it was discovered that people were less likely to make a decision at all when trying to wade through 24 different jams.

What does this mean for you?

Well for starters back away from the free jam!!

I can tell you what I have done. I have unsubscribed from almost every blog I was once subscribed to. I now only focus on a few with a message that resonates with my outlook on this. What I am more interested in now are people who have gotten results by testing and following their own ideas. I don’t care if they are an MD, PhD, or a Harvard grad, if they were never fat or they can’t make this lifestyle work for themselves then I’m probably not going to follow their stuff. (Remember that is my criteria…this doesn’t mean it should  be yours.)


1. Unsubscribe from most of the blogs you currently follow and focus on those who have solved a problem you are struggling with or look for those who have helped people solve a problem you are struggling with. That includes my blog. Unsubscribe if you find you are not acting on the stuff I write about. It’s wasting your time that could be better spent elsewhere.

2. Pick one blog, read one article and then act on one thing that was mentioned in the article. DO NOT read anything else until you put your action into motion and have come to some sort of conclusion on the action you have taken.

2. I see dead people my flaws

This is not a Paleo issue, but it relates to my success with Paleo and I believe this is a big problem for many of us, male or female.  I have struggled with my body image for as long as I can remember. Now I don’t mean that in a, sit in my room and bawl my eyes out kind of way. I simply mean I am very critical of my own appearance and focus on what’s wrong rather than what is right.

Consequently I default to what I haven’t accomplished rather than all the positive strides I have made.

Case in point…when I first posted the after pic below, I would get emails about my “6-pack”.  I would be thinking, “Are you freaking kidding me. Are you even looking at the picture? At best I have a 2.34 pack. Unless there is a new metric-imperial conversion system I am unaware of, there is no way that translates into a 6 pack.”

But the other thing that I see every time I look at the pic is (see the white circle below)…

What isn’t working!

And quite frankly that is my biggest challenge on this whole journey.

For 30+ years I have had a default setting in my head that immediately points to everything that is wrong with me. My mission is to blow up that mechanism in my mind that controls this. That will be a lifelong battle, but the tide is turning. I am winning more of those battles then I lose (provided I continue to remain consistent and do those things I know I must to have success).


1. This is a bit unconventional, but I will tell you something I never did in the past. I started helping others even though I didn’t have all the answers myself. The faster you stop making this all about you and committing to paying it forward, the faster you will begin to change how you see yourself.

2. I talk about my problem in the past tense. The brilliance of this is I continuously reinforce the fact that I have solved this problem; that I know I control it. It does not control me. I am not a victim to weight gain.  You can start that now with something as simple as changing the message you put out in the world.

3.  Create an elevator pitch that re-frames how you talk about your challenges. Tony Horton (from P90X) uses the phrase, “I presently struggle with…” I love that phrase because it implies the struggle is not permanent. It will be overcome.

3. I still get cravings…

There is this myth out there that once we go Paleo cravings vanish. That has NOT been the case for me at all. I get cravings all the freaking time. In fact last night I was watching an episode of Grimm and one of the main characters was eating a big-ass cookie. I suddenly felt like I was in an episode of Sesame Street channeling the Cookie Monster. My inner sugar heckler was like, “Cookies! We want cookies!”

I didn’t go get cookies (I had blueberries instead) but there was a big internal battle raging inside my noggin. And this happens frequently. I have had days where I find myself at a local corner store prowling the isles looking for something that I can have. Sometimes I cave and buy something, but I have many occasions where I will spend 10 minutes in a store fondling various treats only to leave empty handed.

My point here is to make you aware that while I get cravings a lot, I have taught myself to deal with them more effectively so I don’t abuse my 3 treats/week rule I have for myself.  You can see that video –> here and here.


1. TV is a huge trigger that most people totally underestimate. TV activates a lot of unconscious triggers and mindless eating (I also talk more on this in my book in shift #11 when I talk about “Losing your Mindlessness”.) While NO ONE ever discusses this on the Paleo journey, if you are looking at leaning out your life, drastically limit the TV you watch.  And when you are watching start tracking what triggers it activates in you and begin to create strategies to deal with those.

2. Some people are more predisposed to cravings than others. Don’t accept this notion that your cravings will magically disappear. It really depends on your genetic make up, mindset, and the stress you have in your life.  All of these play a role in cravings. Cravings are normal for many people when you factor in the other triggers that set them off.

3. Don’t lean on your cravings as an excuse to justify your crappy eating choices. What I mean is STOP telling your poor me victim story. What I have taught myself to do is simply accept the fact I will have cravings. No tantrums. No drama. It just is what it is. Now I aim to find  strategies to deal with cravings. For instance, the best thing I ever did was put systems in place that allowed me to deal with them. I cover that in Shift #4 in my book in fact. That chapter is titled “Abort! System Failure.”

4. Remember most experts talk from their own experience and the ONE big mistake I see many make is assuming, “Well this is how it was for me so this is how it should be for you.” That is horribly flawed thinking, but when we are desperate for solutions to our problems we by-pass our common sense lobe (look at me, I am making up new parts to the human brain) and buy into faulty logic. So tread carefully my amigos and realize we are all as unique as your DNA.

4. Paleo success doesn’t travel in a straight line

This is something I have just recently discovered. Paleo success is not like calculating monthly interest on $5000. In some ways it resembles something that looks more like the stock market because it is very volatile at the beginning.

But what I now know to be true is that whatever we start out doing with our particular Paleo template is only going to take us so far and then we are going to plateau. That might be 10 lbs from our ideal look or it could be 100lbs from our ideal look.

My main point is to say that in my case, what I did for the first year is NO LONGER enough to get me to the next level I want to achieve. And this is where the art or dare I say an alchemy of Paleo comes into play. BUT lets not kid ourselves. That is also where IMMENSE FRUSTRATION lies as well.

Most of use approach body transformation like a fly on a window pain. We just keep butting our heads against that pane thinking, “I just need to be patient.” But I have learned in my case at least, patience is a nice way to say I am idiot to keep doing the same stuff over and over again for years on end in some cases, thinking something miraculous will happen.


1. Think of Paleo like software design. You put out your BETA-version of YOU 1.0 and then you test it for about 30 days and then tweak accordingly. Then put out YOU 2.0.  Just remember that this is a lifelong journey so there is no cap on what version you will become. This is about constant lifetime improve. [Example...Think Apple and the iPad. The third generation is now out, but that third generation could not exist if the first generation didn't exist to be improved upon.]

2. This is not a 30-day problem. You need to wrap your head around the idea that you are embarking on a lifelong journey of continual renewal.

3.  Assess what you have been doing to this point. How long have you been doing it? Has it worked? Honestly if you have been doing something for 30 days and you can’t see any tangible benefits then one of two problems exists. You either don’t have any indicators in place to accurately assess your progress or what you are doing isn’t working and you are in need of a pivot (not abandoning of the Paleo philosophy.

5. Some Paleo Conventional Wisdom is incomplete…

In their efforts to help people, experts (myself included although I should NOT be considered an expert) tend to give out some misguided advice. Now let me preface this by saying their intentions are completely noble, but they do understand the complexity of the very solution they suggest.

Case in point: Listen to your body.

I heard that a lot at Paleo FX and I agree. We need to listen to our body. But here is the problem…

What does that mean? This is an example of giving good advice which is completely useless for most people.

Let me give you an appropriate analogy to help put this in perspective…the car or specifically my car (that I have since sold).

Every time I would take my car in to my mechanic, he would always jump in and take it for a test drive. I would accompany him on these trips and this is how the conversion would almost always go.

Mechanic: Do you feel that? There is a slight pull to the right? Your wheels are out of alignment.

Dean: They are?

Mechanic: Did you notice your brake pads don’t grab right away when we stop. Your pads are running thin.

Dean: They are?

Mechanic: The clutch has a lot of play in it.

Dean: It does?

Mechanic: You feel that vibration when we stop suddenly. There might be a warp in your rotors.

Dean: There is?

I think you can see the pattern here. I don’t know jack about cars.

Now what my mechanic could say is, “Dean you need to listen to your car.” But here is the conundrum. I have no idea what I am listening for. I know nothing about cars so even if I listened, I wouldn’t know what I was supposed to be listening to unless it was “punch me in the face” obvious which includes things like…

  • it won’t start when I turn the key
  • flames blast out from underneath the hood
  • a tire comes off while I am driving

Aside from those situations, asking me to listen to my car is terrible advice until you break down scenarios and break down what I need to be listening to in each situation.

So back to the Paleo crowd. Most of us have bodies that are so out of whack (like my poor car) that we no longer know what normal is.

For example, I have mentioned on numerous occasions that I had no idea bloating wasn’t normal. I was bloated after every meal when I was a vegetarian.  One of the first things I discovered when I went Paleo was that my bloating ceased. But I didn’t discover that right away because no one told me I should be looking for that.

Now if I was asked to listen to my body when I was still a vegetarian it would have been a complete waste of time. I had been living with a body that was so badly aligned for 20 years that I did not know what was normal and what wasn’t anymore.

And that is the crux of the problem with that advice. People have no clue what they are supposed to listen for.  What needs to happen is someone has to breakdown that very general (but good) advice into something tangible that people can act on.

Here is an example of something that I just recently discovered for me. I had ice cream as a treat. While I love ice cream it is a food that makes me fat so it isn’t something I can have often. But here is what I noticed the last time I had it.

  • I awoke with a slight headache (which I rarely ever have)
  • I had pain and stiffness in my surgically repaired left knee which I have not had happen in ages

Now I can’t assume that this is a direct result of my diary intake, but now I have something to listen for next time I have it. If this turns out to be true, I will tell you know ice cream and I will be dividing our assets and going our separate ways (sorry Ben and Jerry don’t even ask me to take you back. You are literally a pain!)

The bigger picture…

I actually have 12 other points I didn’t write about so if you are interested I will follow up with a few more posts in this series. You can let me know if this is worth pursuing by doing the following…

  • tweet this bad boy
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  • leave a comment

Just know that we each have our own path in Paleo.  NO ONE and I mean NO ONE can tell us what that path will look like. That is for each of us to determine as we go forth with this. This is NO right way to do it and your results and experiences are worth 1oo times more than anything I or any other “expert” can tell you.

Now go, make shift happen.


Dean Dwyer is the founder of Being Primal and the author of the book, Make Shift Happen: Change how you look by changing how you think. When he is not making shift happen, he is helping others do just that.