Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Paleo Solution

About a week ago I finished reading "The Paleo Solution" by Robb Wolf.  I got the book since I am one of the "six listeners" of his fantastic podcast.  Maybe I am listener number 13 or so.  I will go with that since 13 is my lucky number.  It was really, really good.  I highly recommend reading it to anyone interested in understanding more about what constitutes a healthy diet.  I have researched this type of stuff, on and off, for over 2 1/2 years and I picked up a bunch of things I didn't know or couldn't communicate effectively.

One of the things Robb notes in his book is that he is not a "linear" thinker and see the world as a bunch of separate things that are connected rather than a well organized hierarchy of knowledge.  This is a great observation for most people, especially smart people like Robb.  I tend to agree and thus have a hard time writing posts sometimes.  I kind of know what I want to say, but it is hard to organize it into a nice, clear post.  With that in mind I will review the book in more of a stream of consciousness style as a series of bullets and thoughts.

  • Overall the book is written in a casual, informal style.  I, as the reader, was called buttercup several times.  This made the reading a lot of fun and I laughed out loud to myself several times.
  • Robb starts out with a biography prologue where he goes into his past.  This is highly relevant since he has dabbled with many other methods of eating and found them lacking until he found Paleo.  Robb isn't someone who is just "naturally" lean and muscular as he is now.  He became scrawny, skinny-fat, and sick after eating vegetarian.  He tried it and it didn't work, making it concrete rather than some vague notion.  All this after he was a champion power lifter in one of the largest states in the country.  A major backslide for someone so accomplished athletically.
  • Robb is a trainer of others.  Thousands of others.  He is not a pure academic but rather a practitioner.  If he didn't have success with training others in ways that actually worked I wouldn't be writing this since his book wouldn't exist.  To me this lends much more credence to what he suggests.  This isn't a single person, self experiment but a large scale group test of his theories.  Quite compelling to me.
  • Robb is very much against gluten.  It makes him sick and he thinks it makes others sick as well to a lesser degree.  I have been even more trying to avoid gluten as a result and feel a bit better for it.  Much of this comes from the idea that gut permeability and flora are major keys to our overall health.  I have been taking this more and more seriously.  I have some auto-immune issues run in my family that I wish to avoid and am happy to limit some foods as a result.  Nightshades would be particularly tough to give up, however.
  • The section on success cases I found interesting, but not convincing.  Like on a resume, anyone can find 3 references of people who like them.  I am sure the low fat crowd has success cases too.  Always a possibility for selection or survival bias here.  I doubt that is the case, but throwing it out there.  
  • Robb takes down the usual arguments as they come.  He has heard them all and has answers for them. From whole grains to fiber to fat his arguments are compelling.  Anyone who switches and wants to discuss it with friends, family, or doctors will need to be armed and the book does just that.
  • All throughout the book Robb reminds the reader that all the geek science(pseudo-science :-) ) in the book need not be understood to get the benefits.  What does matter is that you do it.  He suggests a strict 30 days of Paleo to see if it helps.  I think this is a good one.  Easing into it makes less sense to me as well.  Only if you cold turkey go after it and feel the benefits can you then see if adding things back is worth it.  Genius.
  • Measurements:  Robb gives really good guidelines about how to measure before and after starting down the Paleo road.  These are really helpful and should make a big difference to compliance and to convincing Doctors you are on the right track, if you care about such a thing.  Waist to hip ratio as being key was a new one for me and made perfect sense.
  • I found the fat issue confusing.  I feel this in the podcasts and in the book.  On one hand the issue of fat being healthy is covered and covered very clearly.  On the other hand 9 out of every 10 times meat is mentioned it is described as "lean meats".  I don't get this.  Why is animal fat bad?  Why would I go lean?  I can see why with modern CAFO meats, but with a properly raised or wild animal why would I, or a distant ancestor, not have eaten the fat?  One thing I thought was good was a discussion on approximately how much fat should be in the diet.  His recommendation is different than some other high fat Paleo opinions where fat is in upwards of 80% of calories.  I think that artificially going beyond what is available through high fat dairy may work but it takes on an extra risk in that it is beyond our evolutionary experience.  Evolutionarily the high fat doesn't ring true and Robb's general suggestions seemed reasonable.
  • Overall, the technical details were written in a way that was understandable by me, a layman in terms of biochemistry.  I really appreciated this.  My guess is that this comes from years of discussing with clients.
  • Most of the book discusses reversing obesity and other issues.  My guess is that avoid derangement is a bit simpler and could allow more of the less damaging carbs like sweet potatoes than he recommends.
  • As is with his podcast as well he puts a serious emphasis on sleep.  Since listening to his podcasts I have been addressing this with removal of coffee to great results.  I think he is onto something with this if my experience is any indication.  I hear few others discuss this matter in detail.  As I got a comment from Rick recently, he thinks that sleep is more important than diet or exercise.  Something to think on for sure.  I think that there are strong interactions between diet, exercise and sleep in a possibly feed forward way.  Diet affects sleep which affects exercise benefits which further effects sleeps, etc.
  • The exercise portion of the book is fine.  What he describes is a strength and anaerobic type of short duration exercise along with some long very low intensity stuff like walking, etc.  It is more along the lines of the Primal Blueprint in that regard with out as much of the reenactment.  I think that there may be better ways of going about adding very intense exercise safely, but that is secondary to the overall message.
Overall I loved the book even if he was preaching to one of the converted.  I highly recommend that you buy the book, read it, and get copies for your loved ones.  



Andy's Blog said...

Thanks for the insightful review. Looks like I will be purchasing that soon. I was wondering if it was going to be a re-hash of a lot of the information that is commonly known, but sounds like it is more than that.

Chris said...

Good Review Jeff. I am about 75% of the way through it and really enjoying it. Neanderthin, TBK Solution, EvFit, Primal Blueprint, etc etc - all say much the same thing, but there is something new and nuanced in each of them.

I've really been challenged to give up gluten totally - i is upsetting my stomach more and more. I am also experimenting with giving up dairy for a bit - I have been getting a bit fat and am blaming all the cream

Skyler said...

Hey Jeff great review.

I found an old post about your lipids over at Free the Animal. I'm curious if you ever had a direct draw of your levels to see if your LDL's were better than freidwald was (erroneously) calculating.


Mark said...

I've been reading Robb's book as well. Overall I think it's decent though I think it could have been a lot more. I would have loved to have seen more concrete evidence presented for HG groups and study of remains and such - that stuff is probably in the references but I don't have time or the inclination to go thru those. I was hoping he'd cover stuff like the "why we evolved to eat meat" posts on Dr Eades blog.

I was really struck by his point about how most science starts with a theory and then devises experiments to test the theory and how nutritional science doesnt do that at all. It would have been cool to see him expand on that idea - perhaps present a theory based on evolutionary evidence and then suggest experiments to test.

Marc said...


I bought the book before my trip back home last week, but didn't crack it open once.

I did think A LOT about things when I was in Amsterdam in regards to "food".

Not a lot of "fat" people in Holland and people eat bread like it's the only food option available.

I will do a post tomorrow (hopefully) about some of those will include my take on coffee also.

Good review. Thank you.


Chris said...

Marc - I will look forward to reading your thoughts

Jeff said...


I never did a direct draw. I wasn't super worried about it and I had to go to my Doctor since I was in NY. Now that I am in SC I may revisit that. From my families experience all our LDLs went up once we started eating more fat. HDL went up too, but LDL did for sure. My older brother's LDL went up like mine did and his direct draw showed little difference. He cheats on his paleo-ness more than I do, however.

Any experiences you want to share?