The Paleo Flu: An Apology

So the last post ended on a pretty sour note. I am sort of used to it because everyone I talk into  going Paleo has a pretty rough start. Unfortunately for me, these are usually people who know how to get into contact with me like my Mother and my roommate.


I usually do not include the “Paleo Flu” in my elevator pitch. Probably a bit of a shady salesmen move on my part, but I know that once people can get over that initial agony they will reap all of the benefits.


JB was pretty mad about the cravings and especially his times getting worse. I tried to mollify his concerns as best I could, often failing. I do talk often and frequently about going Paleo and about how it is not easy. Maybe I’d save myself a lot of angry friends if I lead with it instead of hiding it like a footnote on a car commercial.


One of the points of profiling JB is to show that the transition to Paleo is not sunshine and bacon. I’ve gotten pretty good at wooing people in with promises of endless feasts of ribs, jerky, and fruit. I am less good at dealing with people who are holding on by a thread.


I guess its been so long since I went Paleo that I forget or really never even had that rough transition experience.


When you start Paleo you go through a pretty sever physical and physiological withdrawal. This sucks.


There’s no way around it. When gyms do the month of eating strict Paleo no one ever calls it a Paleo vacation. Its called a challenge, lock down, gulag, or I hate you Matt. There is a reason for this, because it is hard.


You go through what is the dietary equivalent of puberty during this Paleo transition.


This is something that’s difficult physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Its even harder when you have no real motivation behind it.


Pretty much everyone agrees that this would be a lot easier to do to people at Ranger School or in prison. I agree.


I started Paleo as I was deploying to Iraq. Truth be told, I was going to start it a few weeks before, but my boss at the time told me something wise and profound: “you’re not going to have anything good to eat in country, so you may as well try to eat healthy.”


Its really easy for me to be compliant because I have sort of shut myself into a Paleo bubble. I do almost all of my own cooking and when I do go out its mostly with people from the gym or family and friends who are either Paleo themselves or just used to me at this point.


This means that I probably unreasonable expectation for people, especially people who start in America.


The point here is that I relish in being a jerk, I actually feel pretty badly when people are struggling with this stuff. I hate seeing someone feel bad or get decreased performance.  Its why I wouldn’t let anyone start Paleo while they are within a two or three months of a major competition. It’s simply too close to go through that kind of mental anguish and stymied training.


If you are doing a Paleo challenge than you have to expect a rough transition and believe that it is worth it in the end. The change is not overnight. 30 days was not chosen arbitrarily, it takes time for your body to adjust, heal, and change.


This goes back to one of the first questions that people asked JB: “why are you dieting.”


If you are not fat, already performing at a pretty high level, and not sick than it will be nearly impossible to stick purely to the diet.


This does not mean to give up or to do anything other than the best you can, but maybe a slower transition than the one that I recommend to most people is in order.


While most people either want or need results as fast as possible, for some people the sacrifice is just too great to go whole hog all at once. I hate admitting to being wrong, but in some cases my approach is probably too hard or unsustainable.


For me, I was fortunate enough to choose a time where I was preoccupied with things like deploying, being in Iraq, and work to notice. Granted the dining facility in Arifjan had more ice cream than Baskin Robbins headquarters. There was ample opportunity to eat whatever I wanted, but I had enough intrinsic motivation and enough distraction that it never really became an issue.


I guess that is the positive side of doing poorly, you have plenty of motivation to get good. I really do not have any ‘been there done that’ to give to someone who is surrounded by good food that they love and crushing me in the gym.


Maybe I should save all of my draconian rebukes for the people teetering on the edge of diabetes and let people who are doing well figure it out slowly and for themselves.


At the end of the transition everything will get better. You will (to steal a phrase from Robb Wolf) look, feel, and perform better. Your amount of buy in will have to depend on your situation. A 30 day transition will prove the point enough that when you need something to put you over the edge, you know what the answer will be. Until that point, stay as clean as you can.


Like JB says: Not everyone makes every choice based solely on health. Certainly neither of us did when we decided to go to war, jump out of airplanes, or eat a piece of chocolate cake.


Bottom line is, your diet is just the same as the work you put in at the gym. If you want to see results you need to put in the work and its going to be hard.



JB’s Comments (Editor’s Note: while this is  not an official chapter in JB’s saga, it was basically directed at him)

You’re right, this did turn out apologetic, but honestly the most reasonable
thing you’ve written. I really like how you acknowledge the counter
arguments in this. It actually makes your argument more persuasive. I am
extremely turned off by the “fire and brimstone” of accusing me of killing
myself with my food. Even if it is true, it’s better to encourage rather
than criticize. You don’t have to sell paleo like a used car… you just
have to get people to make better choices. I haven’t had a soda or any
alcoholic beverage in over a week, that alone is probably worthwhile.



  1. I think the idea of working into eating Paleo is the best approach. We don’t just jump right into doing RX with the Crossfit WOD’s. We work our way up to it. I think the same approach with Paleo just makes sense. Also, I’m not a fan of torturing our bodies. (Matt, I’m not trying to say that Paleo is torture; just that the Paleo flu can maybe be avoided?) Being a massage therapist, I am all about telling people to listen to their body. Some people just decide not to listen. I may not be the best person to give dietary advice, but I think it’s important to find what works best for you as an individual because every “body” is different.

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  3. Hey! So I’m not looking for an instant solution, and I understand you feel crappy and sluggish, but one thing I have not heard a single person talk about is upset stomach and cramps. I started paleo about 7 days ago and for the last couple of days I have been in agony. If my stomach doesn’t feel like I’ve swallowed a brick, I am rolling on the floor because my stomach hurts so badly. Is this something associated with the transition into paleo? I’m about the bag the whole process because I really think there is something harmful going on inside of my body from the amount of pain I am in. I am drinking 8 or more glasses of water a day and following Robb Wolf’s paleo meal plan, I don’t know what is going on!