The Paleo Diet: Should You Try It?

Whether or not you’ve got your finger on the pulse of fad diets, chances are you’ve at least heard of the Paleo Diet. You may know it as the Caveman Diet, the Stone Age Diet, or the Hunter-Gatherer Diet, but no matter the branding, the concept is fairly simple: eat only the foods available to our cavemen ancestors (i.e. what you can hunt and gather) and you’ll lose weight, feel great, and come out a new and improved hottie. Or so the buzz goes, anyway.

But how does the diet stack up for collegiettes? It’s no secret that healthy eating and dieting are challenging in college. We have limited space and resources with which to cook our own food and are faced with temptations around every corner (free candy at club meetings, anyone?). But with more and more college women searching for a way to keep healthy and avoid the Freshman 15, Paleo might have a few good lessons to offer. We’re here to help you break the diet down and help you decide if it’s right for you.

How do you eat like a cave(wo)man?

Lucky for collegiettes who don’t have time to decode a complicated diet on top of their already busy lives, the Paleo Diet is pretty straightforward, with a clear line drawn between what you can and can’t put in your mouth.

Vegetarians and vegans, take note: this diet isn’t for you. Meat is an important part of the diet, and soy and bean products are eliminated. If eating meat isn’t a problem for you, check out the rest of the approved and banned items below.

You can eat:

  • Grass-produced meats (that means grass-fed)
  • Fish/seafood
  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthful oils (like olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, and coconut oils)

You can’t eat:

  • Cereal grains
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts)
  • Dairy
  • Refined sugar
  • Potatoes
  • Processed foods
  • Salt
  • Refined vegetable oils

The lists seem simple, so what’s the big deal? According to the official Paleo Diet Website, this combination of yea-and-nay ingredients leads to a diet with more protein, fiber, and potassium, as well as more important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and less carbohydrates and sodium.

It’s a mouthful, but according to registered dietitian Mary Hartley, it could add up to the healthy changes that some collegiettes are looking for.

“Eliminating processed foods, sugar, all grains, and dairy will most likely lead to weight loss,” she says. “Paleo supporters say that clinical trials have shown the diet can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, and markers of inflammation.”

Is it sustainable?  

All it takes is a bit of perusing through the ‘Paleo’ tag on Tumblr or a quick search on Pinterest to see that going Paleo is getting popular with collegiettes. Sure, some of these collegiettes might quit not long after their first excited “Decided to go Paleo!” posts, but some who have stuck it out reported success on the diet.

“After two weeks I saw pretty significant results,” says Seren Karasu, a recent New York University grad who went Paleo for two months near the end of her senior year before transitioning to a broader clean eating plan. “I lost inches from my waist, thighs, and arms. My clothes fit better and I stopped feeling so tired. Overall, it was a really positive experience, both mentally and physically.”

These kinds of results appear to be common for those who follow the diet – without cheating – by virtue of making us aware of what we’re putting into our bodies and making healthy eating something our body craves. Any veteran dieters probably know the feeling: once you start eating healthy, more healthy cravings follow. So, if you’re looking for a way to cleanse your system of dorm food and late night munchies, Paleo might be the way to go.

Even with the health benefits, though, going Paleo isn’t always easy for the average college student, especially for those who live on campus and can’t cook for themselves. More importantly, it’s more difficult to follow the diet in a healthy manner without losing valuable nutrients. Hartley suggests collegiettes keep daily food records and analyze them using a free online nutrition program like Calorie Count, SparkPeople, or MyPlate to look for any nutrient deficits to correct.

“It can be [safe], but the Paleo Diet requires careful planning and supplementation with calcium and vitamin D to make up for the lack of dairy products,” she says.

As for reintroducing the Paleo-banned items into your diet after you achieve your desired weight loss? You’ll have to be careful. According to Hartley, restrictive diets like Paleo tend to lead to binge eating after the diet phase is over, which could lead to gaining back the weight you lose.