“Paleo” Is An Exclusive and Not Inclusive Diet: What Are You Eliminating Rather Than Including, Next?

One way to chew on that title is to realize why Low Carbers have had success infiltrating Paleo Ranks. They merely restrict a macronutrient (carbohydrate); so, if they have no allegiance to paleo, They can eat as much cheap soy-oil mayonnaise as they like, while scoffing at your super expensive grassfed butter.

It’s an extreme example, but serves to illustrate the difference between just excluding a macronutrient (carbohydrate) and going Big, excluding lots of bad stuff (anything bad, all macronutrients). In other words, it’s arguable that paleo is more restrictive than Low Carb—even with plenty of carbs—in a quotidien context.

Food for thought.

In everything I saw this afternoon—after 30 hours of zero Internet—this interested me the most:

Depressed (Updated)

Depressed today. Ate starches several days this week. I’ve been feeling dull the last few days, and today it’s full-on depressed. I’m sure it’s because of the starches…because this is what happens. But you know what? I’d really like to be able to eat a slice of home-cooked gluten free bread now and then without it having such a dramatic effect on my mood. I’m tired of having to stick to such a restrictive diet in order to feel ok.

After reading this post over at Free The Animal, I’m asking myself if my current restrictive diet (basically just dairy, coconut oil, butter, meat, eggs, fruit, juice, seafood (1x a week), liver (1x a week), and sometimes chocolate) is really just symptom management. I feel great when I’m able to stick to it for a string of consecutive days, but eating the same 9-or-so things is monotonous and isolating. I don’t feel like I can eat at restaurants or sit down to meals with my family, because most often I’m having something weird like juice and cheese for dinner.

I think you all need to be policing yourselves a little better. You’re creating a culture of exclusion, of catechism, and of doctrine. At the same time, you can’t police everyone, nor can you help everyone.

This is why Culture matters so much and I’m suggesting to you that the whole paleo food culture of exclude, exclude, exclude is not right; or, you’re not really going out of your way to emphasize the importance of reasonable amounts of sane carbohydrate via starches and fruit.

What’s above is only posted as “what’s going to happen more and more,” and it’s just that this one person looks a bit beyond help, to me. An update to the post.

It occurs to me that I should really put some effort into learning how to cook with the few ingredients that make me feel awesome so I can learn to tolerate a restrictive diet. I’ll share the recipes I come up with.

I’m suggesting that anti-grain, paleo folks really take to heart the neuroses they may be encouraging. I’ve been guilty myself, so this is a wake-up-call for me.

Ever heard of the east meets west metaphor? Vegan meets paleo. Head that shit off, please.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Lanie on April 13, 2014 at 20:57

    Hm…Paleo? Orthorexia? Sad? Interesting the interpretations you guys are drawing from reading one post out of the 342 I’ve written on that blog over the last 2+ years.

    It’s not Paleo (right you are, GTR – thank you for paying attention) – it’s my version of a diet based on Ray Peat’s work. It’s particularly restrictive right now because I’m finally – after years of low carb, Paleo, Jack Kruse, and numerous other failed experiments – feeling happy in my life. I feel joy to have no fatigue, very few mood swings, and the energy to play with my daughter for the first time in years. I get depressed about once a month now, instead of every day. That once a month was yesterday, and I vented on my blog. Not everyone who follows Peat eliminates starches or most vegetables. I suspect I need better gut bugs, and I’d be able to tolerate more foods and still feel good. That’s why I visit here – for information on that topic.

    I tried resistant starch. Here’s my resistant starch experiment: .

    Thank you, Harriet, for your compassionate comment.

    Richard, you really took that post out of context.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 14, 2014 at 06:57


      It is out of context, because it’s not about you, per se. It’s used as an object lesson. Namely, how many things is one going to eliminate until one is left with water.

      I could have just as easily called you a Peatarian or a Bulletproofer and it would mean the same thing.

    • Justin Jordan on April 14, 2014 at 16:18

      So, taking her post and implying that she is depressed because of orthorexia and is trying to be restrict just because she wants to hit some restrictive ideal, rather than what it is, which is a woman trying different stuff to feel better, is okay?

      Not admitting you misinterpreted something is intellectually dishonest. That’s assuming that’s what happened, because otherwise it’s just dishonest.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 14, 2014 at 19:20

      Think what you want, Justin.

      Because I don’t care in the slightest.

      I used her as an example, misrepresented nothing, and eliminating and being restrictive is a bad idea. The post is not about _her_.

  2. Michael44 on April 13, 2014 at 23:34

    Richard, this is unrelated to this thread, but I’m hoping you might allow it to be posted:-

    Feds forced to surrender to American Citizens


  3. Cathy on April 13, 2014 at 16:32

    Gosh that post (of the poor paleo/low carb person) made me sad. Full blown orthorexia! I feel for that person. True, I need to do more to encourage people to eat the starch and be healed. Lead by example that’s what I say. Hopefully, this person will just get tired of eating the same things or the social isolation of eating a certain way to give it up and try something new like resistant starch. Talk about feeling better from what you eat!!

  4. Edster on April 13, 2014 at 16:49

    “is really just symptom management”, yhep that just about sums it up. I was feeling pretty pleased with my Paleo diet in comparison to the trolley loads of plastic wrapped beige pseudo foods I see folks pushing around the supermarket, but in comparison to the breadth, depth and richness of true ancestral eating it’s looking like I’ve been stuck in diet dogma too. I’m hoping for a new nutritional renaissance to really get underway; it’s pre and pro-biotics that look like the way to make that happen.

  5. Harriet on April 13, 2014 at 17:10

    Been there, done that. Back in 1985 I cut out food after food which gave me trouble till I ended up eating lamb, beef, carrot and potato and even they gave me trouble! Plus the tap water was a problem and this was before the days when you could buy bottled water. Plus I got symptoms with everything I could smell and some things I couldn’t smell, but I knew were volatile. It is not a pleasant place to be – especially when some foods and smells sent me suicidal – one anti-perspirant was particularly difficult as one whiff as I was walking down the street meant I had 20 minutes to get myself and my children to a safe space before I lost control. Unpleasant to say the least.

    Good news: there is a way out (I had to believe that or I wouldn’t try something different). I did it by focussing on relaxation, meditation and mentally retraining my body as I added foods back into my diet, safest ones first such as pears and other meats.

    Nowadays, of course, I would deal with it slightly differently. If at all possible I’d get a stool analysis and hair analysis done and be guided by a health practitioner who actually knew what they were doing. If it wasn’t possible then I’d do what I’m doing anyway (my health pract appointment is still 16 weeks away), I use my intuition and trial and error.

    Plus I know about resistant starch and prebiotics, a little about probiotics, in addition to the importance of good naturally grown foods.

    So to those of you who don’t have bad problems, for whom information is freely available and who are just ever so slightly supercilious just remember that it could have been you and your problem in a different set of circumstances. People whose health is really broken are in a difficult enough place without feeling judged for doing the best they can given their resources.

    Cathy, the person has got tired of limited eating. They just don’t know how to move on. The question I would have is to ask is what about vegetables? There were none mentioned in the list. And what has worked or not worked in relation to the recommended pro-biotics and resistant starches?

    My advice for someone in the middle of an horrendous situation with lots of symptoms is sometimes I had to go right through the middle of them and retrain my body and mind along the way. Take charge as you can’t control your body, but in as much as you are able given your condition, take charge of your health and make it a top priority.

    • gabriella kadar on April 13, 2014 at 18:15

      Harriet, I noticed the lack of vegetables except carrots. What’s wrong with vegetables now? Maybe some people have no imagination about using them in delicious food. My week-end was full of artichoke hearts, asparagus, brussel sprouts, okra, and an amazing East African style fresh lemon pickle. Oh yeah baby! Baked haddock with two kinds of artichoke hearts (marinated and canned) plus lemon pickle and lemon juice and olive oil and I was in heaven. I had an intimate dinner for four except there weren’t three other people. 🙂 A bit of self control would have gone a long way. Ouch. Baked a second batch for lunches during the week.

      My downfall: delicious REAL food. ARghhhhh! My friend said ‘eating fish is like eating air.’ She was trying to make me feel better about being an oink.

    • Harriet on April 14, 2014 at 17:02

      Gabriella, my description was for way back in 1985. What was wrong with other veges was that they all gave me bad symptoms.

      The point I was making is that we all do the best we can with the knowledge and resources we have/had available at the time and because I’ve been there I feel for anyone who hasn’t yet found a way out.

    • gabriella kadar on April 14, 2014 at 17:41

      Harriet, when I tried romano beans and lentils last summer I thought ‘I was gonna die’. Bloat, pain, strangulating gas.

      Then I started with a probiotic yoghurt that contains two lactos and 1 bifido. Added a bit of potato starch. Surpisingly (and I was not taking probiotics other than the yoghurt and some kefir), I can now eat pulses without any issues. Initially the potato starch gave me gas (2 weeks). Then the guts settled in and I continued with the potato starch for several months before venturing into pulses again. No problem. I’m really perturbed, actually, that even rough gruff red kidney beans don’t make me fart. Where’s the gas going? Is it being super fermented by a tag team of gutbugs? Or am I getting gases into the circulation and breathing them off? I don’t know.

  6. Amy on April 13, 2014 at 17:16

    Disempowered and forced into a corner by a starved microbiome. Sadder than a SAD thing.

  7. GTR on April 13, 2014 at 18:06

    The described diet is not paleo – it mentions dairy – it also has no vegetables mentioned (just fruit). A paleo diet by definition should include lots of variations, with some randomization – a described diet isn’t.

    • Danny Grayson on April 13, 2014 at 19:48

      I think the point is that restriction for the sake of adhering to a diets dogma is unnecessary/stupid.

    • GTR on April 14, 2014 at 01:27

      I don’t see any dogma stated in the post on . The site “sanscarbs” looks like a blog of a self-experimenter, with titles like “High Sugar Low Fat Diabetes Experiment”, “Labs and Many Variables”, “Reconsidering Options” etc. With this person trying some paleo, some Ray Peat unofficial diet etc. So if this person is restricted this comes from self-restriction rather than some publicly published dietary guidelines from some expert (what you call “dogma”).

    • Richard Nikoley on April 14, 2014 at 06:54


      To quibble about whether she’s Paleo or not, or what she calls herself is to miss the point of the post.

      And I wish her well regardless of what she calls her eating habits.

  8. millie on April 13, 2014 at 18:08

    I am vegan (not ethical – I’m pro-choice which doesn’t sync with the ethical vegan non-violence principle). I am fed-up with this assumption that all vegans claim that their way is the only way. Personally I couldn’t give a flying f*ck what people do with/feed their own bodies (or consciousness for that matter).

  9. Cameron Michaels on April 13, 2014 at 19:24

    Variables are seemingly unlimited. The exact same meal I eat out with friends digests/reacts completely different than if I get it To-Go and eat at home. Social Interaction? Environment? Sitting Position? etc…We’ve got to suspect everything has it’s own unique impact on our own unique flora.

  10. Natasha v. Potato on April 13, 2014 at 19:26

    Well written Richard.

    I was doing all the extremes and working at it really hard. I am pretty talented at limited my food. 🙁 Each extreme diet failed to make improvements. My husband refused to do any of them. He has multiple auto immune illnesses (type one diabetes, sarcoidosis, likely thyroid issues and questionable with gluten). While it disappointed me that he didn’t join me, it also made me research more and work harder to find a solution…

    Taking potato starch in water is the first thing he has ever been willing to do. He is also loving the foods that I have reintroduced.

    My weight is 188. With low carb/ low cal the best I could do was 170 – and I had to stay on the diet or gain weight. Got married, slowly crept up to 188. Previously, when I was 190, I became vegetarian and gluten free, which got me up to 274.

    Once, many years ago, I was 145 pounds. At 5’6 it is a good weight. Interestingly, that was accomplished on a “candida” diet where we had to eat fresh vegies, butter for fat, no dairy, meats, homemade beans and rice. The rice we froze and put in to portion sizes. I think there was enough RS to feed our gut. And the limitations on sweets and junk food, starved the bad guys. We only did that diet for a year, not knowing which parts were beneficial.

    I am still gathering ingredients to fully implement your RS program. In the meantime, it is such a relief to be rescued from the sad isolation of diet restrictions hell.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 14, 2014 at 08:55

      “Once, many years ago, I was 145 pounds. At 5’6 it is a good weight. Interestingly, that was accomplished on a “candida” diet where we had to eat fresh vegies, butter for fat, no dairy, meats, homemade beans and rice. The rice we froze and put in to portion sizes. I think there was enough RS to feed our gut. And the limitations on sweets and junk food, starved the bad guys. We only did that diet for a year, not knowing which parts were beneficial.”

      WAIT! Are you claiming to have discovered RS FIRST!

      Looks to me like you may have. And now you know. I presume it’s a combination of deals but it’s funny to me how my pants keep getting bigger, the more omnivorous I am, but with plenty of at-will cooked and cooled, then reheated sometimes beans, rice, potatoes.

  11. Gina on April 13, 2014 at 20:28

    I think Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof diet is where the crazy train is headed. From what I can tell, the only foods allowed are Lindt 90% cacao dark chocolate and grass-fed butter. He does eat salt, but I think only that derived from virgin tears or something.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 14, 2014 at 13:01

      Yum, butter and chocolate.

      You’ll feel amazing.

  12. James N. on April 13, 2014 at 20:54

    I basically have eliminated the foods that make me feel like crap; wheat (makes me feel like I have one foot in the grave), a1 casein (frequent colds, flus, sinus infections, etc.), Pork and shrimp (lethargy and arthritic symptoms), soy, vegetable oils and numerous chemicals/preservatives that were migraine triggers. Both the probiotics and prebiotic/resistant starch foods appear to be the missing puzzle pieces in turning around my health for the better.

  13. Laf | Against The Grain on April 13, 2014 at 21:08

    […] Hey Look – Richard Nikoley thinks I’m one of those Paleo people! […]

  14. GTR on April 14, 2014 at 02:17

    How do you quantify restrictive/exclusionary? What is the limit number of allowed food items, or food substrates for receipes in a diet that makes less of it “restrictive”?

    As of now the claims of diets being restrictive look a lot of like a First World Problem:
    Doctor: The diet I propose to you allows you to choose from 10 000 types of food!
    First World Patient: That’s so restrictive!

    It’s not like restrictive diets don’t exist – some diets tell you to only drink their diet shakes for some time, or only a cabbage soup etc. Because of the sheer number of allowed items Paleo is not one of them.

    It’s also a mistake of thinking to think of Paleo as objectively based on exclusions. You can create a list of Paleo approved foods, and when you start from this list then Paleo is descriptivie. The list is in fact open – so the diet is inclusive of new stuff that follows some guidelines.

    And then you have to look at this from the other persepctive – it’s the other diets that are restrictive. For example junk ecosystem puts sugar, MSG, wheat, artificial colorants, taste enhancers, preservatives into everything so it’s restrictive – it results in restricted access to clean foods within this ecosystem, by excluding them. Traditional diets are also exclusionary in the sense of being not much open, and resistant of novelties to the particular diet. A particular traditional diet might promote millet and buckwheat, but exclude quinoa and amaranthus as they doesn’t fit a particular tradition. Which by the way has never been perceived as a strong point in criticizing them – everybody just has known that these are just like that: include some products, don’t include other products.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 14, 2014 at 13:07


      Masturbate in public all you want, but five foods is restrictive.

      Now, continue your public stroking.

    • GTR on April 14, 2014 at 16:12

      It’s not “five foods”, but five food groups – the word fruit alone encompasses the following list:

      with meaningful differences between the items on the list – eg. blueberries, pomelo and avocados have different characteristics.
      Same with category like dairy – goat yogurt being a different product than hard cow cheese. Seafood is a broad category in itself.

      The biggest gaping exclusion there is the the whole category of vegetables. That’s a big one. Strangely the cravings are not for thaem – ” I’d really like to be able to eat a slice of home-cooked gluten free bread now and then”. Weird.

  15. rob on April 14, 2014 at 05:51

    Avoiding wheat cured my goiter

  16. Alie on April 14, 2014 at 06:55

    I could have written that post three months ago. In fact, I have said almost those very words. My frustration level was soaring from doing everything “right” according to paleo/primal principles and then noticing depression after eating potatoes and getting a blood test done and finding out my thyroid wasn’t performing optimally (which had never happened). Instinctively I knew that new food sensitivities and health issues should not be happening if I was giving my body what it needed. But I went ahead and started cutting out nightshades and becoming more restrictive.

    By mid January I got so frustrated one day that I literally yelled “Fuck it! Something isn’t right here and I’m done!” The hubs was startled of course, but wisely stayed out of my way as I tossed all our supplements and cleaned out the fridge and the cupboards in a frenzy. That was the day I stumbled across FTA and learned about RS. I had read about RS before but ignored it because of wanting to stay in ketosis. As I’ve mentioned previously, the potato starch made me depressed, so I started eating rice and green bananas. Now three months later I’m back to eating potatoes and pretty well anything else I want and I feel amazing. In fact, I didn’t know how bad I felt on low carb until I stopped it.

    In my experience, just like with religion, it is so easy to check our brains at the door when we feel like our way of eating is “right.” When did food become right or wrong? Now I refuse to label my way of eating so as not to align myself with any diet group and therefore close my mind to healthy eating. Each food is included or excluded based on its merits, not on dogma.

    • Lanie on April 14, 2014 at 10:24

      Alie – I truly enjoyed the visual in my mind of fist shaking and cabinet ransacking. No one (at least not I) said that food was “right” or “wrong”. As the person Richard believes to be “a bit beyond help,” I have done extensive self-experimentation, the results of which have led to to the conclusion that some foods make me feel like utter crap (starches of all kinds – resistant or not lead the pack). I know which ones they are….now I’m working on the “Why?” and the “Can I fix it?” This isn’t about morality or dogma. This is just me trying to cope with poor physiology, a poor-quality food supply, and lots of misinformation disguised as “Dr.” and “Science”. Glad you’ve found what works for you. I hope to soon.

    • tatertot on April 14, 2014 at 22:10

      “Glad you’ve found what works for you. I hope to soon.”

      Good luck to you.
      I mean that.

  17. McSack on April 14, 2014 at 15:37

    Hi Richard. This is something I give a lot of thought to as well. But I don’t know if there’s a way to avoid it. Ironically after starting Primal/BP Paleo, my initial limitations actually opened me up to a wider variety of food than I had previously eaten. With a lot of the filler off my plate I replaced it with much more colorful, flavorful, nutrient-dense alternatives. And it was fun! Looking back I think I was fortunate though. I was seeing very positive results and that really locks in the belief in the narrative (or perhaps dogma) that Paleo/Primal defines itself by.

    But I’m a pretty curious person by nature, and I think that helped me explore the “why” rather than just take for granted that I found all of the answers. Of course, the deeper you look, the more answers you’ll find, and in many cases the answers always seem to have exceptions and contradictions. It’s like the more you try to develop the framework, the more often something doesn’t fit and that leads to more answers, etc.

    I think I’m fortunate though. I feel like I have the luxury with the knowledge I’ve gained over the last couple of years to experiment more and slowly build on what I know. I really enjoy the intellectual pursuit, and I am lucky enough to be in a position where I can test the boundaries pretty casually as I have a good foundation that works for me.

    For others who are starting out and are confused about all of the conflicting information, or just can’t seem to find the right fit, it’s a different story. Without the narratives, they don’t really know where to start, and when the narrative doesn’t help them find the answers, it’s very easy to get lost toiling away in “Analysis Paralysis” while they’re struggling to find help.

    Anyway my point is that it’s a journey and you can’t really avoid it. Sometimes some of us (or maybe all of us to some extent) just have to go through the neuroses to find your way out of the confusion. I think our framework will get better with time which should hopefully make it a lot easier. But for me at least, some amount of exclusivity gave me the perspective I needed to develop the inclusivity I can now bring back in. In some ways I think everyone needs to start with the right set of limitations so that they can get their bearings straight before they can adapt and mature. The bitch is finding the right ones, and then not getting stuck in dogmatic horseshit along the way. Kinda like I’ve read on one of your posts, to “get it” you have to know at what point something is a metaphor and at what point it’s ignorant hubris.

  18. Moreorless on April 14, 2014 at 22:08

    I thought it was disturbing the way people cut out foods on a restrictive diet, then later eat the same foods that once caused them no problems only to feel sick. What’s disturbing about this is the fact that it’s seen as a badge of honor in the paleo world. As though it’s confirmation that those foods really were evil all along. When in reality all they really done was make themselves intolerant of a food via a restrictive diet.

  19. Tammy on April 16, 2014 at 07:28

    I did it once. Back in 2002, the old version of Atkins, by the book for six months. Worked wonders for me since the “Induction” phase was very restrictive but for only two weeks, then by systematically adding foods back I was able to really see how I reacted to each. What I’ve found over the years is wheat is the only true demon for me and so I don’t eat it. Everything else is fair game. I do like those in the Paleo/Primal community who advocate testing foods on yourself, everyone is different. I like learning the why/why not and then deciding for myself rather than being branded under one specific dietary convention.

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