Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Paleo, Primal, and Dukan Diets

I've been looking over the links and websites many of you left for me and have been learning about what seems to be the latest new trend in diets: eat like a caveman. Now, I'm not sure than Dukan fits this description, but it's interesting nonetheless and I wanted to share a little summary of these three eating plans and what I think about them. If I get any of my facts wrong, please correct me. I am still a little confused about what exactly these diets look like in real life.

First, Paleo. The Paleo (Paleolithic) Diet is very popular these days. There's a website where you can get started by doing something they call the Whole 30, which is basically 30 days eating only very specific foods. For 30 days, your menu looks like this:

Say YES to:
meat, fish, eggs, lots of vegetables, some fruit, good fats (coconut oil, olive oil, avocado) as well as nuts and seeds, and water

sugar in any form including honey, artificial sweeteners, agave nectar, and maple syrup
processed foods, alcohol, white potatoes
legumes including beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, and any form of soy
grains including wheat, rice, oats, corn and any other grain or grain product
dairy including butter, cheese, yogurt, milk products, whey powder

There is NO room for a cheat on this program. You have to 100% eat from the YES list and have nothing from the NO list for 30 days. You also cannot weigh or measure yourself during that time.

After 30 days, you can add some things back in, but I am not totally clear on what is allowed. You're still supposed to avoid processed foods, legumes, grains, and dairy. Forever.

Next, Primal. Apparently this is called The Primal Blueprint and originates from the website Mark's Daily Apple and its author, Mark Sisson. From what I gather, this is a more flexible, less restrictive version of Paleo. Primal also focuses on eating meats, fish, eggs, bugs (!), vegetables, and some fruit as well as nuts and seeds in moderation. But Primal also allows some other foods in moderation that are forbidden on Paleo, most notably dairy. The dairy should be full fat and raw or at least from grass fed cows. And Primal also gives you a lot of wiggle room to eat other stuff that isn't on the "yes" lists, because of the 80/20 principle (stick with the Primal Blueprint at least 80% of the time). Mark does warn against the inclusion of any processed carbs though and says they should be completely avoided.

Between the two, I see a lot of good. I don't think anyone can argue with eating a lot of vegetables and some fruit in moderation. Protein is important and both plans focus on good protein sources with a strong preference for pastured, grass fed animals or wild meat and fish. Healthy fats are essential and both include those.

I would not be opposed to trying the Whole 30. It sounds like it's basically an elimination diet, which is what my allergist may advise me to do anyway; we'll see. I don't think anyone will suffer by cutting out refined carbs, sugar, grains, legumes and dairy for a month. However if I were to take up this kind of eating, it would lean more towards Primal (minus the bugs) because it seems more doable to eat right 80% of the time rather than always striving for 100% and falling short. And I like the flexibility.

Then there's this Dukan Diet I have been reading about. It has four phases and from what I understand its focus is on weight loss (Paleo and Primal seem more concerned about health, appealing to people who are already at a normal weight).

In phase 1 (attack) you eat only proteins. This includes not only meat, fish, eggs, and seafood but also nonfat dairy products and tofu.

In phase 2 (cruise) you add lower carb veggies.

Apparently for weight loss you eat from this list of 100 safe foods and alternate protein days with protein and veggie days.

In phase 3 (consolidation) you reintroduce foods you cut out before, like grains and legumes.

In phase 4 (stabilization) you keep eating like that but add 3 Tbsp of oat bran per day, and have one day per week of "pure protein."

It's basically a low carb diet. I don't like the idea because in the end nothing seems to be changed (well, of course you'd not want to add back in junk food) and I am really turned off right now by "diets" that focus on weight loss rather than health. In other words, if you tell me not to eat grains, I want a good reason besides "to lose weight." That's the point I am at, personally, but I also think if YOU are ready to knuckle down and just lose the weight while figuring out the rest later, that is fine. Your choice, and I've done it myself, but I just can't take it anymore. I am so done with the diet mindset that I really need a drastic change. I am still working through Medifast Transition (week 3) and doing some thinking and reading in the meantime. I am really NOT interested in anymore diets, but the Whole 30 Paleo thing interests me as a way to determine what foods might be healthiest for me, with Primal in there possibly for the long term. I want to eat in a way that results in good health, lost weight, and avoiding food triggers that cause me to overeat.

So what do you think?


Anonymous said...

As a long time reader, someone who cares, and someone who has successfully lost weight - the past few blogs are intensely detailed, maybe too much so, and you're forgetting something huge. Exercise.

I know it's hard, I know it's not enjoyable, and I know it's difficult because of your injuries. But if you're serious about finding a healthy way of living, you have to find a way to make it a part of your life. It'll jump start your metabolism, increase muscle and calm your mind from all the obsessive food thinking. And I don't mean a couple of walks around the block, I mean real significant workouts (in any shape or form) that get your heart rate up. You've been so good to yourself with your food choices and made huge positive changes - it's my opinion (for what it's worth) that now you need to focus on getting you body into high gear (health, not just weight loss).

Best of luck :)

Lyn said...


Thanks, yes you are right about the exercise. I am focusing on my PT exercises right now, but I do want to add cardio. I keep re-injuring myself because of my knee problems, but I do think once I have done these PT's for awhile I will be able to bike daily. Maybe some other things, too, if my ortho surgeon approves. I think biking and strength training will be the core of my exercise program until I have my knee replacements done.

Marilyn said...

I think you're wonderful is what I think, Lyn! You continue to blog through what is the most challenging aspect of your journey: finding what fits you NOW, what will work for you NOW! While I was initially drawn to your blog by your 100-pound weight-loss triumph, I come back every day to find out what you're thinking NOW! And you never disappoint me.

And I'm SO glad that you update so frequently! Most of the other blogs I visit don't write that often, which makes me feel like a chump going back to see what's new day after day... with you, there's always something new!!

I have to mention how nice it is to read something as literate as your blog - your grammar, spelling, syntax... it's obvious you put a lot of thought and care into the WAY you share your thoughts... and I appreciate it!

BTW - I'm leaning towards the Paleo thing myself!

Kara said...

As someone who has a degree in history and anthropology I can tell you that the "science" behind these diets is a complete crock.

If you want to try them and do the whole elmination process and so forth, I say go for it if it works for you.

But don't do it because someone has convinced you that this is the way paleolithic humans ate and therefore it's "genetically encoded" in us or any garbage like that. Because it's not.

Bunpoh said...

Yeah, I just came off the "Slow Carb" diet myself, because it wasn't working for me AND I hated it. Three weeks with a bunch of fat gain and stomach troubles, I suspect from beans starch. Went back to eating in a way that works for me, that I KNOW at least keeps my fat levels steady, or hopefully even shrinking. I eat mostly primal, as I've said here before. I feel like it's my happy medium, it keeps my weight steady and I feel good on it. This with the right kind of exercise has been helping, in between the rounds of serious dieting. Hopefully this is my forever way, now that I refuse to do that ever again.

Right now, to drop some fat, I'm eating primal with less fruit/nuts/dairy than I would normally would, and no alcohol at all (I'd usually have 6 - 8 glasses of red wine a week.) I've tried strict paleo, and personally, it seems unrealistic. I don't drink milk, though, or even eat yogurt, as I find those ALWAYS make me gain fat, which sucks, because I love yogurt. Grass fed cream is okay. Grass fed butter is ok. A little honey, or xylitol, or yacon syrup is okay. And I always have to be mindful of my fruit and primal "treats" consumption to lose, or even keep from creeping up. And I eat til full, not stuffed.

Honestly, trial and error is what led me here. I think all of the diets you named seem sensible and similar enough. But if you have the diet fatigue, my advice is to try primal first and see if you start moving in the right direction. It's the least restrictive, IMHO.

Bunpoh said...

Hey Kara, sure, I agree, no diet with the foods available to your average american consumer could approximate the way any given "paleolithic" group ate. Our food sources are altered beyond previous recognition through ages of selective breeding, everything from corn to broccoli to potatoes. I'm sure there are a million ways that this way of eating is not historically accurate, and this has been detailed and debated right on the paleo/primal sites.

But if you're denying that people might have less adaptive genetics for certain types of food based on their own individual heritage, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. Otherwise, please try to explain to me that it's a coincidence that Native Americans (such as my family) have amongst the highest diabetes rates in the world on the Standard American Diet. Just one instance where I can see diet matters, because of adaptive genetics. Most of us would not do so well on an Inuit diet of seal blubber and such, I am told.

I believe that there IS some solid science behind why these diets work for some people, though maybe not from the most purist anthropologic historical standpoint. I have read the studies, not just the abstracts, on both sides of the debate, as well as the supporters and detractor's books and sites. I see what makes sense to me. This has been the subject of raging debate all over the freaking internet, so rather than hijack the thread, I'll leave it at that.

Suffice to say, ONLY on such a diet have I ever gotten to/stayed a normal weight, become relatively free of the worst of the ravages arthritis and autoimmune disease, and become athletic at all. It may be just what many of us need in this GMO nutrient deprived chemically laden world, regardless.

Anonymous said...

Dukan is a fad diet which is not a sustainable way to eat for the long term. Even Dr. Dukan, when I saw him profiled on Nightline, didn't claim it was. He said people should not be on it more than a few months.

So it is very unlikely to result in sustainable changes to your diet or your weight. Not worth the time and effort in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Lynn, have you ever heard of or tried the Shangri-la diet? Interested in your thoughts, as someone who seems to have put a lot of thought and research into proper eating

Lyn said...


I have heard of it, but haven't tried it. The idea of 300-400 calories of olive oil per day (alone, and not with food) is something I have a hard time thinking would make me want to eat less. I understand the premise, I do. I also think my own issues have a lot less to do with hunger and hunger signals and a lot more to do with eating to fulfil an emotional need or just because I FEEL like having something sweet. Hunger has very little to do with my own eating issues.

If you've tried it I'd be glad to hear about your experience if you'd like to come back and leave another comment.

Anonymous said...

"You're still supposed to avoid processed foods, legumes, grains, and dairy. Forever."

Just wanted to chime in and say that you don't have to avoid them forever, but they usually say that legumes/grains should be reserved for cheat meals, and that dairy should be in the form of ghee/heavy cream from grass fed cows since it's mostly milk fat without the lactose that bothers people.

They say many, many times that it is not a whole 365, but rather a Whole 30- after that, it is your choice when/how you want to cheat, and to cheat well according to what won't make you feel awful.

After the Whole 30, their plan is basically 99.99% the same thing as Primal.

I think the Dukan diet is more of a fad/crash diet than anything else.

Also, many people have lost significant amounts of weight on the Primal/Paleo plans, including people I have known who have kept it off for several years.

Anonymous said...

Re: Shangri-la diet. No, I don't know anyone who has tried it, and so I thought you might have some info on it. I can sorta see where the idea is coming from, but that said, if it was a perfect solution for everyone, then I am sure it would be more popular.

birchgirl said...

For me personally, I am done with anything that has "phases". The next phase is the rest of my life. It doesn't mean I don't plan to improve in any way, but it will not be complicated and be more or less the obvious like "eat little sugar".

Jill said...

Hi Lyn - I've been a longtime reader but very infrequent commenter on your blog. Kudos to you on all the research you've been doing on different ways of eating, and also on your honesty with all of your struggles. Losing weight is so incredibly difficult, and it's refreshing to read about someone who doesn't sugarcoat their struggle!

As for the diets you mentioned, I have a few thoughts. They seem to be pretty restrictive and have a lot of rules to follow. Which suggests to me that they might be hard to follow in the long run - setting yourself up to feel bad if you aren't able to follow the rules as closely as they say - which can then turn into taking 'breaks' from the plan, and potentially regaining anything that has been lost.

I've done this more times than I can count, and 'dieted' my way all the way up to 270 pounds. The one and only thing I've found that really works for me (I've lost about 70 of those pounds slowly over the past 2 years) is to follow the 3 simple rules of Michael Pollan, from his book 'In Defense of Food':

1. Eat food.
2. Not too much
3. Mostly plants.

When I started eating real food (i.e., cutting out virtually all processed foods), started counting calories regularly (but not obsessively), and began replacing some of the refined carbs and protein in my diet with fresh fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, the weight started to come off and most of my cravings went away. I still enjoy plenty of treats, but I make them myself so I know there are no mystery chemicals or preservatives in them. I am still slowly dropping weight at about a half-pound each week and it no longer feels like I'm on a 'plan' - it just feels like eating what I want to eat.

In Defense of Food was a life-changing book for me, and if you haven't read it I would suggest you borrow a copy and check it out. I was completely and utterly addicted to high-fat, high-sugar and high-sodium junk food and when I finally made the connection about what those foods do, not just to my body, but to the environment, they started to become much less attractive.

Just my 2 cents - you certainly need to do what works for you, and clearly you've managed to keep off quite a bit of the weight you lost so you are definitely doing something right! Wishing you all the best as you continue on this journey :)

Vicki said...

Hi Lyn,

People use the Whole30 to eliminate all inflammatory foods from their diet to feel better and then generally eat paleo/primal afterwards.
basically you can add whatever you want back into your diet, in a slow and controlled way. Similar to what you've done in the past, It helps you figure out what your body and digestive system can tolerate.
Good luck.
Personally I've been eating paleo for sometime now and doing the whole30 when I feel like I'm slipping with too much sugar from fruit and cheese

Anonymous said...

just want to chime in in support of trying a whole30. i have done it 3 times, and it's very educational and helps set some really good habits. My one tip is to make sure to stick it out for the full 30 days. the first time i tried it i caved and drank alcohol after 2 weeks. the next time i completed it, i realized around halfway through is when some of the benefits start to kick in, like clear skin, reduced inflammation, hormonal stability (getting through a whole cycle is also important), and lack of cravings. good luck whatever you decide!

beerab said...

I think the Dukan diet is crazy, BUT it's only supposed to be short term.

I like my fiber thank you very much lol ;)

Beth@WeightMaven said...

I'm familiar with both Whole30 (a traditional paleo diet) and Mark Sisson's primal diet, which is essentially paleo+dairy.

You may also find the Perfect Health Diet interesting. This isn't exactly accurate, but it's essentially primal+rice.

I've been doing the PHD for a year now with a cheat meal once a week and have been doing great. I'm in the middle right now of doing something closer to the Whole30 just to see if I can tell a difference between the two.

Julie Lost and Found said...

Hi Lyn,

You asked what we think so I'm going to be honest. Your blog is one of the first ones I've ever read and I admire you and totally understand your struggle.

I REALLy think you are way overthinking this, making it much more difficult than it has to be, and consequently, perhaps sabotaging yourself?

Eat whole foods, eat 5-6 small meals per day, every 2 1/2-3 hours. Lean proteins, salads, vegetables, whole grains, lots of water, some fruit.

Do you have a YMCA nearby that you can swim at? No stress on your knees, and great exercise!

Good luck with whatever you decide.

blondie said...

As a long-time reader, I've seen you struggle, and appreciate you being so open. I think there are certain foods that are bad for you, in that you're allergic to them or that they trigger you to eat. But I don't know if now is a time you can really figure out what triggers you, because I think many things will because you haven't had them lately. You've just come off a diet where you eat set meals in packages a certain number of times a day. Now you're considering the other extreme? Maybe try something in the middle? Just have five small meals a day, green tea, nothing artificial, go to the farmer's market? Plan meals for the week in advance, or have set menus that are "ok"? Then later you could cut out things or have them in moderation. I second those who don't feel like it should be so complicated. You may not lose 20 pounds a month, but you could start losing a little bit every week instead. And exercise is such a key part of that. Otherwise, your body adjusts.

Jac said...

Lyn, I'm currently on day 7 of my Whole30, and my plan is to slowly reintroduce things that I'd *like* to be able to keep eating (dairy, rice, but not gluten, etc), and see how I handle them. Ideally (if my body's happy!), I intend to end up on the Primal side of things, more than strict Paleo. What I've found with the Whole30 is that it's really helping me get a handle on my sugar cravings, emotional eating and learning to truly read my body's hunger cues (since there are NO guidelines about how often to eat, how much to eat, etc). Also, it's done wonders for my energy level, and helped further reduce the inflammation in my joints (even more than just going gluten-free). If you want to read about my personal experience with it, I've been blogging here:

Karen said...

I'm really loving my Primal/ paleo switch. No wheat or grains has made maintaining my 73 pound Medifast loss a snap!!

It is more work in the kitchen, but with good cook books and resources out there along with batch cooking it's manageable. Eating healthy motivates me to do moderate exercising ( no joint pain!!!) and now I'll start really light strength training.
No cravings, no joint inflammation ( auto immune thyrroid disease 15 years ago. I so wish I would have cut out the grains, especially wheat, long ago.

One thin Sarah Fragoso really hit home is if you stop eating Paleo/primal for a meal, DON'T choose wheat gluten. Takes 15 days or so for your body to recover and feel good

From a dietary elimination , I think trying foods post a whole 30 would be awesome. I have a co-worker who's wife is using an elimination diet for auto immune disease managment remind me that I should introduce foods and wait 72 hours before knowing how it effects my joints.

72 hours is a long time and without a really structured plan , I think it would be hard to pin point which food was causing the pain.

Good luck and it's always with the try. Once you find out what works, your path will become crystal clear and you'll know it. Or you can choose the same path, and get what you've gotten in the past.

Totally your call , but cheering you on for your quest for the path that works. Karen P

Anonymous said...

There's enough diet advice in these comments to make my head spin... everyone wants to push you into doing what they're doing.

How annoying.

Lyn said...


I don't feel pushed. I feel cared about.

Honestly it is SO nice to know that there are people out there reading who care and want to help me. It's only natural to share what's worked for you, right? I used to get annoyed if people told me to try XYZ (especially if I'd already tried it), but now, as cheesy as this might sound, I see each caring comment as a flower in a vase on my table. I am just glad there are people who care, and I am even more touched by those who understand what I am trying to do.

Thank you :)

Diandra said...

I read about a specific version of the caveman diet where it was actually forbidden to drink anything because "cavemen did not need water" - yeah? Who told them?

I think all these eating strategies sound pretty scary. It is one thing to exclude some things you know are not healthy for you, but there are so many scientifically proven benefits to eating legumes, for example (or dairy - especially for women!) that I simply cannot imagine why anyone would want to exclude them from their diet, except for health reasons (my older sister cannot eat legumes more than once or twice per month without getting an ugly, itching rash on her arms and legs).

By the way, if you eat no/little carbs and lots of protein, your body breaks that protein down into carbs.

Anonymous said...

I aim for 80 high quality carbs, whole foods and 1,600 calories as I lose about 2 pounds per week. I love this blog and am thankful you write so well. But you need to take a break from overthinking this. I walk 5 miles every day; half with dog, half alone. It's not always rigorous but it takes me out into the sun and air and away from the kitchen, tv, and my FITDAY and I return calm and proud. It also tires me out so I can get to sleep earlier. I think we are happier when we move our bodies and get out of our heads. Friends tried more strenuous efforts and got injured and set back; so walking and yard work is my gym.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for adding some common sense to this discussion. Humans are designed to eat a wide variety of foods. Scientists may not agree on everything, but they do agree we need a varied diet.

I hope all these women who are completely cutting out dairy (hello osteoporosis) are at least taking calcium supplements.

Jac said...

The thing about eliminating food groups is more about the way we process them than about some sort of historical re-enactment. You have 2 choices in how to decide if a food is healthy or not: what it contains (nutrients), or how it acts *in your body*. Sure, milk has calcium, but if it gives you stomach upset, bloating and problems with your bowels, wouldn't you rather get your calcium elsewhere? Sure, wheat is a high-fibre grain, but if it causes inflammation and leaky gut, wouldn't you rather get your fibre from vegetables instead?

And "a varied diet" does *not* need to include *everything* that the so-called experts claim is good for us. Just ask people with Celiac or severe food allergies.

(Lyn, might I suggest that in your reading up on Whole30/Paleo/Primal approaches, you take the time to read as many of the reader success stories as you can - and instead of focusing on how many pounds they dropped, focus on the parts where they eliminated diabetes meds, lowered their blood-pressure, etc. We all know we can lose weight eating nothing but Twinkies, but if their HEALTH is improving, maybe it's not such a "scary eating strategy" after all.)

*end rant*

Holly L. said...

Hi Lyn,
While it seems that there is a lot to be said about what one "should" be doing or how they "should" be doing it, my two cents is this: go, explore and learn whatever you like however you like. I love seeing someone else who also ponders, wonders and tries. We'll eventually get it right!

Anonymous said...

I followed shangri-la strictly a few years back...I would take a bottle of olive oil to work, haha. I think it worked to a very small extent, nothing great. I also think my issues are more mental/addictive. I say try different things and don't be worried about following a plan 100%. I borrow ideas from low-carbers but I eat carbs. I'm a vegetarian but I watch carbs somewhat. I'm not strictly low-fat but I generally don't eat high-fat foods. I avoid cereals and breads but eat potatoes. See? I've found a way that us my own personal way that works. It takes
trying things out and keeping an open mind, which I think you have. Just don't go in too deep too soon. I think diving into a diet right now when you're generally struggling as is, AND trying to eliminate entire food groups at the same time, would be overkill.

Anonymous said...

"I hope all these women who are completely cutting out dairy (hello osteoporosis) are at least taking calcium supplements."

I highly doubt that our bones would have evolved to need the breastmilk of another animal, especially one we only managed to domesticate a few thousand years ago. We are the only mammal that drinks milk after weaning, and we are the only one who got the bright idea of drinking other animals' milk. Also, if dairy prevents osteoporosis, how does one explain the high rates of osteoporosis in America, where we eat truckloads of dairy (thanks, Milk Mustache Campaign!) and take tons of calcium supplements? And how does one explain the low incidence of osteoporosis in Japan, a country that ingests far *less* dairy/calcium supplements than we do?

If you like dairy, eat/drink it- I love the stuff. But the scare tactic of "your bones will turn to powder without it!" has never made much sense to me. Again, it just doesn't seem evolutionarily advantageous to make us dependent on the breastmilk of a totally different species...

Caroline said...

Hi, you know me from the 3FC forums. I just completed a Whole 30 to reset my system, basically, and clear out all the junk. Aside from losing 15 pounds, I feel tremendously better and I'm completely free of cravings for carbs and sugar. I'm committed to paleo now, mostly because I know (despite conventional wisdom) that I can't eat grains and lose/maintain weight.

The best thing about it is that I'm not starving all the time for the first time ever. I didn't think cutting out wheat would make such a huge difference, but it has. I don't even miss creamer in my coffee, and I thought that would be the hardest part for me.

So I'm here to say that it really does work, and it's not miserable. If you're still searching for the right plan for you, it might be worth a try. I've noticed over the years that we have a lot of similarities in our diet issues, so you might have a similar experience to mine.

Carole said...

Good luck. Nice post. For a bit of light relief you might enjoy this cartoon about the food pyramid.

Anonymous said...

I just started the dukan diet a few weeks ago and can't believe how well it works for me. I've lost 7 pounds (have 13 to go of 1.5 year old baby weight), feel great, have no constipation (actually cured my previous constipation from carbs), have more energy, feel clear headed and healthier. I thought this might be a fad diet too, until last weekend while traveling I fell off the diet and ate "regular food". So I gained 5 pounds back in 3 days, felt tired, bloated, comatosed, brain fogged, constipated and starving. Started the dukan diet again and once again feel 100% amazing. Additionally I have always ran but very slow, like a 12+ minute mile. Now for the first time I am running 10 minute miles. I just fell upon your blog because I was researching if possibly I have had celiac or something because I can't believe how this change in diet has dramatically effected my everyday functioning for the positive. Even if I did not have weight to lose I would follow this diet, I can eat when hungry and stop when I am full, and never feel bloated or tired from eating. Before my pregnancy I used to fast until dinner, because I could not afford the horrible bloating, tiredness and brain fog to decrease the productivity of my day. Now for the first time ever I can eat breakfast and lunch without it negatively affecting me. And i have always eaten healthy grains, quinoa, rice, barley, kasha but just one bite and i want more and more, they just trigger me to overeat, then i feel stuffed and exhasted, then crave sugar or sweets to give me a boost of energy, and on and on the vicious cycle continued. I just wanted to share all this because it seems the dukan diet gets a bad rap but I have tried many diets in my life and have never felt so amazed as by this one.
Every body is different of course I just want to share that this has worked for me.