I’ve been on the Paleo bandwagon for a while. From a health perspective, I think it’s the best way to eat. Ethically, I’m torn, but I’ve tried the vegetarian thing for a few months and felt terrible. I could try again and do it better but, based on my understanding, humans are meant to eat meat.
[Edit: I’ve since jumped off the Paleo bandwagon, for various reasons, although my diet still consists of mostly meat and vegetables.)
The problem is, I’ve never stuck with Paleo for months on end and my meals have never been balanced. I usually fall into eating a narrow subset of meat and vegetables and, while that’s healthier than grains and sugar, I could do more.
Unfortunately though, the book wasn’t very good.
An Honest Review
I had big plans for my transformation. I was going to empty out the pantry, get my family eating Paleo, and even record daily videos on YouTube to share the process with the world. I was already sold on the diet. I just needed an action plan and I thought this would be it.
But that’s not the case. This isn’t the action plan I needed. There are alright parts about the book but it’s mostly:
- Thin on content.
…and better sources of information can easily be found on the Internet. (I’ll be sharing links to some of that information in this review.)
Part 1: Real Food & Real Life
The book opens with an overview of Paleo, covering topics like:
- What a day’s worth of meals might look like.
- The importance of sleep (and it’s correlation to stress).
- A quicker primer on what to expect from exercise.
There’s not a lot of detail but, since the book isn’t meant to be an overview of Paleo, the introduction didn’t affect my opinion of it.
Part 2: Nutrition
In this section, Wolf talks about what to eat, what to avoid, and tips on how to shop. The tips are useful for beginners but they’re nothing new and don’t justify the cost of the book. It’d be a better use of your time to read:
For a free (and concise) introduction to Paleo, read The Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet by Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness.
Part 3: Exercise
When getting started with something like Paleo, I think one of the biggest mistakes is trying to change food and exercise habits at the same time. It’s often too much of a change and people are more likely to fall off the bandwagon. Can I fault Wolf for talking about exercise in this book? No. But I will say that:
- The section is very short at just 2 pages long.
- The training program doesn’t seem interesting.
- There are much better resources available.
For cardio, read The Definitive Guide to Walking by Mark Sisson. Then for strength training, which is more what I care about, I can recommend:
I’d still say it’s best to focus on diet for at least the first month though — maybe even longer. You don’t have to rush everything.
Your First 30 Days
This is the part of the book I was excited for. It’s where Wolf breaks down what to eat with a month-long meal plan. I don’t love food and was therefore keen to be told, “Just throw these ingredients together and shove ‘em in your mouth…”
Before we enter into the verbal beat-down though, I will say that Wolf’s “Food Matrix” idea is brilliant. Basically, to keep Paleo interesting and simple, you can make meals by combining these ingredients:
But while the Food Matrix is featured in the book, everything you need to know about it is available online for free.
As for the official meal plan, let’s break this down…
First, we have the recipes. There’s four per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack), all of which are detailed in an included PDF. But there’s a problem:
These recipes are not unique or tailored for the book. They’ve simply been “curated” from well-known Paleo blogs.
The recipes are used with permission and their inclusion doesn’t invalidate their value but I paid for the book with the expectation that Wolf had taken the time to plan a month’s worth of meals that were balanced to improve my health and well-being. That’s not what this is.
Maybe I’m wrong but it feels like Wolf had an assistant throw together a list of recipes and slap a price tag on it. I’d love to believe the recipes were chosen for precise reasons but I doubt it. Rather than buying the book:
- Search for popular Paleo recipes on Google and make your own plan.
- Generate a plan with the EatThisMuch.com tool (there’s a setting for Paleo).
- Check out the /r/primalmealplan section on Reddit for inspiration.
You can also go straight to the source and read the blogs that have their recipes included in this meal plan:
- Everyday Paleo
- Food Lovers’ Primal Palate
- Jen’s Gone Paleo
- The Lazy Caveman
- Sleep. Love. Eat.
- Paleo Girls
- Nom Nom Paleo
- My Aim Is True
- Balanced Bites
Next, we have a shopping list for each day of the meal plan that exemplifies the two main criticisms of Paleo:
- It’s expensive.
- It’s time-consuming.
Just the first day of shopping was going to cost me over $50. Some items like coconut oil won’t need to be bought again during the month but the list remains a harsh foe to a tight wallet.
But while the post includes useful tactics, they wouldn’t be needed if the meal plan was made with actual care. By default though, it expects too much and the reader is forced to do work they shouldn’t have to do.
Consider this note that appears right before the meal plan:
Serving sizes on these recipes will vary. If the recipe serves 4 and you only need one serving, just do a little math. Divide all the ingredients by four, and make a note on the shopping list.
This alone isn’t a deal breaker but it’s another flaw of lazily compiling other people’s recipes. Again, the reader must do work they shouldn’t have to do. Didn’t I buy the book so I didn’t have to think about this sort of stuff?
Time-wise, I can’t be sure of how manageable the plan is because the cost was too restrictive to even get started. However:
- There’s a lot of ingredients to work with.
- I couldn’t find all the ingredients at one store.
- Ordering online wasn’t possible.
So it appears time would be a notable casualty long before you step into a kitchen, and this is coming from someone who has a lot of free time. I can’t imagine what someone would do if they had an actual job or a family.
Part of me wonders if I’m whining. Maybe I’m the problem. But when I think about it for longer, it seems so easy to make a better shopping list:
- Have fewer ingredients, with options for people who want to go the extra mile. The plan would default to simplicity though.
- Sacrifice variety for practicality. This plan is only for getting into Paleo, after all. It should be approachable instead of intricate.
- Assume a serving size of one for all recipes. It’s easier to multiply consistent quantities than to divide varied amounts.
- Be displayed in a way that accounts for the fact that you might only shop once or twice a week. Don’t make anyone think.
These are not difficult things to do. They just require a little more time and effort than what’s on display in this book and that’s so very frustrating. Wolf has the know-how to make a fantastic meal plan. He just didn’t.
9 Ways To Make Paleo Realistic
I haven’t cracked the Paleo nut as of yet. It is simply more expensive and more time-consuming than other ways of eating. The long-term benefits do account for that to a degree but long-term benefits mean nothing if you can’t reach them through short-term efforts. To combat this, I have a few ideas:
- Plan ahead with Robb Wolf’s Food Matrix. Simplify it further so you’re not overwhelmed with choice but the matrix idea is handy.
- Slow cook 1-2 meals per day. This is one of the easiest ways to prepare meals that you actually want to eat. I’d suggest using this slow cooker.
- Order food online. Even if it costs a little more, the amount of time (and petrol) saved easily makes it a worthwhile investment.
- Learn about food theory. Books like The Science of Good Cooking will help with making better meals using just a few ingredients.
- Have a real plan. At the start of each week, write a list of every meal you plan to eat during the week. Keep the meals simple and attractive.
- Prepare food in bulk. You could, for instance, hard boil a bunch of eggs so they’re available as snacks during the day. Batch your tasks.
- Drink smoothies and shakes. These allow you to pack a lot of nutrition into something that’s easy to both prepare and consume.
- Think about snacks. The easiest time to fall off the bandwagon is between big meals. Always have something Paleo-friendly to nibble on.
- Do the best you can. You don’t need organic, grass-fed beef, or even a crazy amount of variety. Being imperfect is better than nothing.
In the coming weeks, I hope to put these into action and start seeing some real results. I’ll make sure to share any progress on this blog.