Feb 08

It’s been exactly one month to the day since I started the Paleo diet and I wanted to share some factual results as well as some completely subjective observations. If you’ve not heard of the Paleo diet, this is all the rage right now amongst the startup community. It’s very similar to the Atkins diet only as best I can tell it’s more of an overarching philosophy that we should attempt to live more like cavemen. It’s seemingly based on the idea that our bodies evolved over a million years to process the food we’ve had access to in the wild. Since we’ve only gained access to farming, grains, dairy, processed foods, refined sugars, etc in the last 330 generations or so, we’re not evolutionarily equipped to handle those foods. So the gist is we should eat how our bodies are currently evolved to eat.

The Results

So first objective results: I’ve hovered around 210-220lbs since I was in college. On January 9th my weight was on the low side of that continuum at 212lbs. I did a bodyfat measurement that same day at my gym using a handheld Bioelectrical Impedance Method scanner and got a reading of 15.1%. This morning (for the first time since high schoo) I weighed in sub-200 at 197lbs on the same scale I used before. I registered 17.4% bodyfat measured on the same BMI device (at roughly the same time in the morning to equate for variables like water weight, food intake, etc). Those measurements are perplexing because I seemingly gained 2lbs of fat and lost a bunch of lean muscle mass.

Here’s the before and after photos taken on Jan 15th and Feb 8th respectively:

I can hear it already: “you’re just sucking it in on the after pic.” Trust me I’m not – a 15lb weight differential remember… so let me say that again for emphasis:

I’ve lost 15lbs in 30 days with only one visit to the gym and by maintaining my regular running schedule of 3-4x per wk.

Subjective Observations

Now here’s a brain dump of purely anecdotal and factually-unsupported observations:

  • General affect – I feel fantastic, noticeably more energetic and with more mental alertness than I can remember having felt in… well, forever. I’ve seen comments in various forums that remark on “a positive correlation between the paleo diet and douchebaggery” – lemme say this is not me being douchey. This is me relaying the subjective assessment of feeling more healthy than I’ve felt since high school.
  • Permanence – I had gone through Bill Phillip’s “Body for Life” program two years ago about this time and achieved decent results. That program however required fairly intense discipline and once finished I gravitated probably 60% back to my former eating & exercise habits. Having done only one month of Paleo I can attest this feels more like a permanent lifestyle change. Fresh foods and free-range meats are just more appealing now, which brings me to a weird observation…
  • Surreality of the average grocery store – The typical grocery store feels extremely false now. I only travel about 4 of the 30-some aisles when I visit, the rest of them seem… for lack of a better word, fake. Brightly colored boxes & cartons with obnoxious labels masking pseudo-food made mostly of corn products. It’s hard to describe but it’s similar to the foreign feeling I had when I stopped watching TV for a year and eventually came back to it.
  • Diminished need for sleep – This may not be entirely caused by the dietary change (this period happens to have coincided with an uptick in activity on two startups I’m involved with) but I now sleep about an average of six hours per night where before I required eight in order to feel rested. I have considerably more energy and sleep less.
  • Substantial weight loss despite no gym activity – The Body For Life program had me in the gym three days per week weight lifting, alternating the other three days running and taking one day off. I’ve continued the running this past year (barefoot style using vibram 5finger shoes – the ones that look like silly gloves for your feet) but gym-wise I only went once during this whole past month. I run approximately 3-4 times each week on avg of about 30min and 3mi each run. This has been a constant though over the past year leading me to draw the conclusion that the weight loss I experienced this past month is almost entirely driven by change in diet.
  • Concerns

    So as awesome as I feel right now, I also know I feel pretty awesome after drinking a bottle of champagne ;-) This isn’t all roses and my concerns are the following:

    • The average life expectancy of cavemen is estimated to have been around 35yrs. To my knowledge there’s been no longitudinal studies conducted that have tracked Paleo vs. control groups over time to compare the effect on life expectancy or prevalence of late-life diseases. Not having dairy was probably fine if you only ever lived to 35 and didn’t have to contend with later-in-life conditions like osteoporosis. I’m extremely interested if anyone has data on a study that speaks to the long-term health effects of this diet (even 5-10yr data for a related diet like Atkins). I’ve asked on Quora but no takers yet.
    • Riffing on that question: so how do Paleo folks get enough of key nutrients & minerals like calcium given the absence of dairy from the diet?
    • What is the typical impact on one’s cholesterol from being on Paleo? I would think consuming as much meat as this diet advocates would potentially become problematic cholesterol-wise for folks unless maybe the absolute amount is irrelevant given the right HDL/LDL ratio.
    • How and where are people finding the grass-fed meat advocated under this diet? I have yet to see it in any major grocery stores. I’m assuming there are butcher shops that specialize in this and that it will be pricy. My friend Bryan introduced me to a concept called “cow pooling” which sounds interesting.
    • Lastly, how are folks affording to eat under this program? Holy cow (pun intended) this is expensive livin’ – about twice of what I normally spend on food.

    At any rate, all in all it’s been a positive experience thus far and I’m glad my friends talked me into trying it. I have not yet read the Paleo Solution which I understand is sort of the seminal work on this diet. I did go off the rails last Friday for my friend’s birthday and have no less than 5lbs of pizza, some assorted cheeses, 2 slices of chocolate cake and a couple beers – all of which are not on the agenda for Paleo. And consequently I felt like ass the next morning as a result. I think having cheat days actually helps with diet compliance not just because it allows you to satisfy a craving but because it also negative reinforces the behavior you’re exterminating. I’ll share future thoughts as I get further down the road with this program.

    If anyone has some decent answers to the above concerns please do chime in and share.

    29 Responses to “Results and observations from one month on the Paleo diet”

    1. Many green leafy vegetables give you the calcium and other nutrients of dairy. I eat almost no dairy, but I blend up green smoothies and get some of my nutrition that way. And there are lower cholesterol ways to be on that diet — fish, beans, legumes, etc.

      • melanie says:

        Actually you can’t have legumes on the paleo
        but yes dark leafy greens and canned salmon (low salt/wild) with the bones you can eat have good amounts of calcium

      • Carol Orrell says:

        What makes up your smoothies?

      • laura says:

        I'm sorry Francine, but while yes, leafy greens do contain calcium , they do not contain enough of it to support your body. Don't forget it's not just in your bones. Your body requires calcium for every cell in your body. As women, we need more calcium than our male counterparts. Unless you are eating fish bones you are not getting enough elemental calcium in your diet. Have your calcium levels checked bi-yearly.
        While living paleo may sound like a great idea, developping osteoperosis in your later years would suck if you fell and spent the rest of your life with a broken hip.
        This diet is just not for me.

      • That Guy says:

        Francine-Beans and Legumes(beans) are not allowed on a Paleo Diet

      • Amanda says:

        A Calcium and Vitamin D and Fish oil Supp is Recommend to take .

    2. Awesome post Sean. Have you been avoiding wheat and anything that contains gluten? There's some massive disagreement right now on how much of the population is effected ranging from 2-25% depending on the study. It's possible a large amount of that weight loss is due to no longer retaining water secondary to gluten inflammation. It's possibly also contributing to the energy levels since you aren't expending the same energy dealing with wheat/gluten proteins. Actually, that last part can be extended to carbohydrates in general. Lousy inflammatory carbohydrates.

      Also, don't be surprised if your cholesterol improves. Cholesterol is largely regulated by insulin and since the diet is essentially low carbohydrate there's nothing provoking a hormonal response that would alter regulation of serum cholesterol levels.

      Lastly, the only place in Phoenix I knew to find grass-fed meat routinely was Whole Foods and grass-fed hamburger used to run about $6.99/lb as I recall. It's also kinda weird to cook with because it cooks differently because the tissue composition is surprisingly different. Cow pooling is also awesome. Phil did it 2 years ago and we had to get a secondary meat freezer.

      And yeah these kind of diets are expensive :-).

    3. Genevra Williams says:

      I’m very intrigued by this diet Sean, especially since you didn’t have to increae your time at the gym. There’s only room for one gym rat in the Williams family and we all know that isn’t me. As for calcium, I can tell you that there’s a surprising amount in veggies like broccolli. I have vegan friends who worry about the same thing when they cut out dairy and as fr why I’ve heard, youcam completely make up for with green veggies (of course I haven’t looked at the diet yet so I have no idea if veggies are in it). That, and there’s Aleta multivitamins. Ave has some extensive vitamin regimen so he could probably tell you more about it.

      • sean says:

        Thanks Gen. My calcium deficiency fear is probably unfounded since i know a lot of vegans manage to do it. I’ll hit Ave up for info on those vitamins. BTW congrats on your pregnancy – so excited for you guys.

    4. For further reading related to diet including low-carb/Paleo benefits, with excellent coverage of cholesterol, fat intake, and the terrible science behind the food pyramid, I can't recommend highly enough "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes. Very dense reading but it might change your life. Really.

    5. Sean Tierney says:

      Patrick Vlaskovits chimed in on Twitter here with a great nugget: http://twitter.com/#!/vlaskovits/status/352529417
      I'm cross-posting his comment here for the benefit of others. He maintains a site PaleoHacks.com which is essentially like Stack Overflow for Paleo. True to what he said it's got some solid answers to my concerns above.

      RE: Calcium deficiency – http://paleohacks.com/questions/8190/how-to-get-e
      Bone broth sounds promising. Also of note, the absorption rates of calcium on dairy vs. leafy veggies and the counter effect of grains/soy (when those are absent from your diet, you need less Ca)

      RE: cholesterol – http://paleohacks.com/questions/16596/paleo-diet-
      Interesting about studies on saturated fat intake and lack of pos correlation to cardiovascular disease. Feeling more and more like wool is pulled over our eyes w/ full buy-in from FDA in conjunction w/ big pharma.

      RE: expensiveness of the diet – http://paleohacks.com/questions/1989/least-expens
      cowpooling sounds like the way to go as far as cheap grassfed beef

      Still no longitudinal studies as best I can tell but then again I don't know that the Paleo diet has been widely embraced long enough in modern times to even have the prospect of having such studies exist. will be interesting to see if some emerge.

      Anyways, mad props to Patrick. Really psyched about this whole thing.

    6. Eva says:

      Blood cholesterol levels sometimes go up, sometimes go down, and sometimes stay about the same when people eat paleo. There really is no data showing saturated fat increases cholesterol levels. It was something they assumed and then later tried to prove scientifically, but then failed, but now they don't want to make a public display about their lack of evidence either. It's only when you actually try to find evidence that you realize there isn't any. Anyway, if your cholesterol is fine now, then I wouldn't worry. Remember that cholesterol is essential for life and it's not a case of lower is always better. Low cholesterol levels are correlated with increased cancer risk and in the elderly, it is correlated with increased liklihood of death. Cholesterol is an essential element of brain function, immune system function, cell wall architecture, vitaman D production, etc. So it's not some evil thing you want to try to totally get rid of.

    7. Angelo says:

      Yo, Sean. Great to see that you've given the Paleo approach a shot and seen such great results. Next time we see each other we need to compare notes. I've been on Paleo for quite some time and I host a weekly podcast called "Latest in Paleo" (http://www.latestinpaleo.com) which is now on the 5by5 network (http://5by5.tv). I've had tremendous success with the program as well, which you can see from my before and after pictures on the site.

      This is a good article by Mark Sisson on life expectancy: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/life-expectancy-hu

      This is also quite illuminating: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy#Life

      So, in Greece & Rome, life expectancy was actually lower than Paleolithic times. And as recently as the early 20th Century, the average life expectancy was only 30 – 45. So, our Paleolithic ancestors were actually doing great compared to all eras except for the last 100 years or so.

      Just to touch briefly on the other topics…we do bone broth weekly; i do not agree with the lipid theory and there are now several studies correlating *low* cholesterol with an early demise; there are local ranchers who sell grassfed…but the advantages are not clear. Don Matesz has laid out the Omega 3/6 argument: http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2011/01/practically….

      Good stuff — I won't be in town for the next AZD lunch, unfortunately.

      • Sean Tierney says:

        Angelo, wow great info. Cool that you're this into Paleo – let's definitely chat next time. FYI the guys from Arkayne across the st from Axosoft (Paul, Bryan and Darryl whom I believe you met at a previous TempeNerds) are all Paleo as well. Bryan is fairly well-versed – I'll let him know about your podcast. I've just subscribed to it and will check out past episodes.

        I'm actually having lunch Saturday in LA w/ Patrick Vlaskovits – the dude who runs PaleoHacks.com and wrote the CustDev.com eBook redux of Steve Blanks "Four steps to the Epiphany." Pretty stoked to meet him.

        BTW I feel like Paleo is the "red pill" of diet – it's a "welcome to the real world Neo, WTF have you been eating this whole time" feeling. good stuff.

    8. Angelo says:

      I love the "Red Pill" analogy! That's great. PaleoHacks is an awesome site. The StackEngine platform is so perfect for it.

      I'm amazed that you and the Arkayne guys are Paleo. I was at the lunch there a couple of weeks ago, and they supplied turkey wraps. It was really cold that day, so I just brought a homemade hot chocolate with me, pure coconut milk saturated fat with 100% cacao and some spices.

      I've done 3 episodes of Latest in Paleo so far, but before it was picked up by 5by5 I produced 21 episodes of "This Week in Paleo" — it's still available on iTunes, too.

      We might have to start a Paleo Techie meetup in the Phx area…

      • Sean Tierney says:

        Definitely up for a Paleo user group in Phx – we need it. You should lobby Hamid to have a Paleo-friendly option at the next AZ Disruptors lunches. I think between the 5 of us we'll have a significant presence there.

    9. West says:

      I took the "red pill" about 45 days ago. Have lost over 25 pounds and feel all of the "benefits" you mentioned above, and more: My skin has magically become clearer, and I look a full 10 years younger (so people tell me). I went from a size 36 pants to a 32 (haven't worn that size since college, I'm 41). My only "cheat" is cream in my coffee, and I'm looking for a good alternative (I drank it black for a month and never quite got used to it).

      Like you, my 1st month I didn't do any gym work. I've started to, but only quick 20 min sessions, 3 times a week, and enjoying the improved definition.

      And yes, the grocery store is now surreal. Even luncheon meats are filled with wheat/corn/sugar! Not to mention the sixteen syllable chemical additives… How did I never read the labels before?! I eat more greens in a day (spinach/kale/brussel sprouts/asparagus/california mix/etc.) than I used to eat in a month.

      I have an identical twin brother, who about 2 years ago became really fit. Now we actually look the same again! Before, I looked like his fatter, older, sicker brother.

    10. Christian says:

      If you can tolerate dairy there’s no reason to abstain from cheese, cream, etc., unless you are a purist about the paleo. Humans are mammals and for all of our evolutionary history every person on the planet started out life drinking full-fat rich milk. The fact that we get weaned eventually, and that now most of out milk comes from cows doesn’t mean that we need to give up that awesome blue or cheddar cheese, or cream in your coffee. Just try to make it organic, and grass-fed. I think being too strict with a diet leads to inevitable failure. Myself I follow the 80/20 principle, while actually trying for 90+. If I don’t do sugars and grains most of the time, then I don’t freak out if every once in a while I grab one of my wife’s chocolate chip cookies that she made for the kids.

    11. Jedha says:

      Hey Sean, great post and insights into your paleo diet results. I've just gone through my first 30 days and lost 9 pounds without too much effort. I love the program but I like the points and questions you brought up because it is important to think about the long term nutritional consequences. I'm not sure that there is enough research long term, but then the modern western diet obviously isn't working and there are alot of false truths out there. Guess we just have to trust our instincts. All I know is that I feel so much better all round and that's saying something for sure!

    12. […] You can catch the rest of this truly excellent post on Sean’s blog page Paleo Results […]

    13. Anon says:

      Hey Sean — I just started the diet myself. Looking forward to the results.

      One thing I wanted to mention, which I don't believe anyone else commented on, is that those devices that use electrical impedance to calculate body fat percentages are WILDLY inaccurate. If you want an accurate measurement, it needs to be done with calipers — nutritionists, personal trainers, and doctors usually know how to do this.

    14. Ann Potschka says:


      Loren Cordain's video on You Tube answers many of your concerns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dw1MuD9EP4

      Also, The Paleo Solution Diet by Rob Wolf is excellent.


    15. ema says:

      you actually still can have dairy but limit it and there is always calcuim supplements if there is a concern always talk to doctor says it right in paleo book if u read it instead of just doing recipes etc.

    16. matt says:

      Sigh…. laura your body actually loses calcium from dairy. Leave the milk for the baby cows. Leafy veg is enough.

    17. Alison says:

      Check out the Caveman Doctor website. I know that dairy is not actually Paleo but I have been eating it along with healthy fats like coconut milk and coconut oil and avocados and I still have been loosing weight and having the amazing clear mind and great energy. So as long as dairy doesnt cause an issue for you such as over eating then you could probably add it back in. Personally I wouldnt go back to the fake way of eating just for the fact that I am not giving up this amazing natural high feeling that eating a more Paleo style of diet has given me.

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