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Paleo vs. Vegan/Vegetarian Diets: Recidivism Rates

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created April 15, 2013 at 2:41 AM

Today I happened upon this link via Mark Sission:

http://kristensraw.com/blog/2013/03/17/my-vegan-diet-caused-health-problems-would-primal-paleo-or-real-food-be-better/

While it's purely anecdotal evidence, it's surely compelling anecdotal evidence. In a nutshell: a long time and well respected Vegan diet blogger decided to introduce meat back into her diet and subsequently saw an increase in her health as well as the health of her family.

After reading this, I noticed that I hold this opinion: recidivism rates for Vegans and Vegetarians are much higher than for Paleos. That is: in the long term, all other things being equal, Vegans and Vegetarians are much more likely to switch away from their diets than Paleos are

Yet: I have no conclusive evidence whatsoever. I just feel this way instinctively based on random personal encounters, articles, and blog posts (like the above) over the years. If I'm bringing any sort of intellectual honesty to the table, I need to admit that I'm jumping to conclusions and this "evidence" is insufficient compared against how strongly I feel.

Are there any notable Paleo recidivism anecdotes that you know of? Has there every been a study on the aggregate data related to what % of peoples stick to which diets? Assuming there hasn't been a useful study of this, how could one be structured?

Medium avatar

(10611)

on April 17, 2013
at 12:25 PM

There's a difference between choosing a diet for pragmatic reasons versus ethical/logical reasons. Diabetes was very much real, as are the IBS and celiac that many here suffer from. Paleo is not a perfect panacea, nor does it have to be perfectly practiced to see measurable improvements in both.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on April 17, 2013
at 12:01 PM

Meat to a veg*n is not the same as pizza to a paleo, in my opinion. Most paleos practice some sort of 80/20 rule, and they still get to be paleo. Veg*ns on the other hand don't. They are all or nothing, but paleos tend not to be.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on April 17, 2013
at 11:57 AM

A prime example of somebody who get trapped in the restrictive paleo mindset.

A08b210e4da7e69cd792bddc1f4aae4b

(1031)

on April 16, 2013
at 02:44 AM

I consider veg*nism and paleo to be orthogonal philosophies, so trying to making comparisons between then will always be challenging. Veg*nism -> "I won't eat anything with a face" v. Paleo -> "I use evolutionary science to inform my food choices to optimise for personal health". That's just my take on it, for what it's worth.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on April 15, 2013
at 03:35 PM

Vegetarianism has a huge ethnic base which ensures that it will never go away. Natural paleos are practically nonexistent.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on April 15, 2013
at 12:25 PM

He's paleo enough for his objectives.

32652cb696b75182cb121009ee4edea3

(5802)

on April 15, 2013
at 12:11 PM

I saw that one too. Which is funny, bc Cheeseslave was never paleo to being with, lol. I used to follow her for years when I was WAPF.

32652cb696b75182cb121009ee4edea3

(5802)

on April 15, 2013
at 12:10 PM

I haven't seen his wife's blog. Is he totally rejecting meat now? At first he was just moving the balance. "We can't claim everyone eating a whole foods diet is in the paleo camp." And therein lies the rub. So much of the discussion is WHERE do we draw the line? Or do we have to?

A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12682)

on April 15, 2013
at 07:27 AM

I agree with james. We can't claim everyone eating a whole foods diet is in the paleo camp.

5dd50f78f47b8848d93724d6eb38d4c1

(907)

on April 15, 2013
at 05:13 AM

Since when did beans, oats, wheat, rye and barley become paleo? I see those foods in his wife's blog a lot. He also doesn't eat meat or dairy. One of the other main point's is that he rejects the idea that saturated fat is harmless which seems to be pretty anti-paleo these days

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on April 15, 2013
at 04:07 AM

"Same for a lot of other people who consider themselves 'not paleo anymore.'" I'm in that group too. For me, I don't like the paleo label because there are too many "Is this paleo?" discussions. I want to talk about what works and what doesn't, what helps and what causes problems. I don't see value in "Is it paleo?"

7841848bd0c27c64353c583fb7971242

(7275)

on April 15, 2013
at 03:06 AM

One complicating factor is how you define the paleo diet. Free of all grains, legumes, and dairy, and that's it? Or a focus on eating whole food, and eating foods you tolerate well? Vegetarianism and veganism tend to be pretty strict. Whereas many paleos tend to be pretty relaxed about it. I also think that looking at people who grew up eating veg*n or paleo would be interesting. The only people I know who are long-term dedicated to vegetarianism are those who started as a young child. I wonder how their recidivism compares with people who started pale-type eating as young children.

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9 Answers

5
32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on April 15, 2013
at 12:15 PM

I think the folks who self-destruct on paleo (or veganism) share some common traits. They practice an extremely limited and inflexible version of the diet and when that isn't optimal for them, they crash and give up. They also tend to make it a central part of life, sometimes displacing other parts of their life.

These were my thoughts when Melissa McEwen recently wrote her farewell to paleo blog entry.

While veganism and paleo are both restrictive diets, paleo does have the ability to be flexible in its design; veganism can really only get more restrctive/dysfunctional in response to failure.

4
3ce6a0d24be025e2f2af534545bdd1d7

(26217)

on April 15, 2013
at 01:37 PM

First this is a pretty biased sample. Vegetarianism is a much bigger movement than Paleo so there are a lot more people who start and stop. Also when people drop out of paleo they just seem to disappear. Id imagine a proper bayesian analysis would show little difference, but that would be impossible to conduct.

Also I think most people who are "paleo" are not Cordian Paleo or Sisson Paleo or Wolff Paleo etc. Vegetarians and Vegans have much more black/white than Paleo which is grey all around the edges.

For me, most people probably would say that I am NOT paleo.

  • I consume dairy
    • Which is mostly yogurt and kefir, raw milk when its available (and I am too lazy to go to the farms regularly), cream for sauces, and cheese (occasionally). I would say that dairy makes less than 10% of my total diet, but DAIRY IS NOT PALEO
  • I consume alcohol
    • Maybe a drink a day, usually good hard liquors, wine, or beer.
  • I consume grains
    • OMG, grains are not PALEO! -- I eat rice (brown/white/wild/whatever makes sense for the meal). Corn, especially fresh corn when I go out to farms, but also occasionally grits (love them, maybe once a month), and I consume quinoa once a month or so.
  • I eat carbs -- lots of them, but if went strict with some of the specific denominations of paleo I am not paleo.
  • I consume legumes
    • Green Beans, Peas, Peanuts, Chia seeds (I'm actually not sure if they are a seed or a legume, but I do know "Paleo" is not on board with them), and chickpeas

So there is no single denomination of Paleo that fits my eating style, I eat whole foods -- as unprocessed as possible -- and I eat for optimal health. To me, that makes me paleo and I tend to feel kinship with this community. But I doubt many others would call me paleo -- which I was for the first 6-8 weeks and then I realized it wasn't optimal for me.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on April 15, 2013
at 03:35 PM

Vegetarianism has a huge ethnic base which ensures that it will never go away. Natural paleos are practically nonexistent.

3
32652cb696b75182cb121009ee4edea3

(5802)

on April 15, 2013
at 03:06 AM

The one big one I can think of is Don Matesz at Primal Wisdom:

http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2011/06/farewell-to-paleo.html

However, he confuses me bc I don't think he's not paleo anymore. He's just not low carb. His macros are skewed to plant based carbs, but he's still eating paleo foods.

Same for a lot of other people who consider themselves "not paleo anymore." They're basically just eating their own version of paleo, but don't want to be labeled.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on April 15, 2013
at 12:25 PM

He's paleo enough for his objectives.

32652cb696b75182cb121009ee4edea3

(5802)

on April 15, 2013
at 12:10 PM

I haven't seen his wife's blog. Is he totally rejecting meat now? At first he was just moving the balance. "We can't claim everyone eating a whole foods diet is in the paleo camp." And therein lies the rub. So much of the discussion is WHERE do we draw the line? Or do we have to?

A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12682)

on April 15, 2013
at 07:27 AM

I agree with james. We can't claim everyone eating a whole foods diet is in the paleo camp.

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on April 15, 2013
at 04:07 AM

"Same for a lot of other people who consider themselves 'not paleo anymore.'" I'm in that group too. For me, I don't like the paleo label because there are too many "Is this paleo?" discussions. I want to talk about what works and what doesn't, what helps and what causes problems. I don't see value in "Is it paleo?"

5dd50f78f47b8848d93724d6eb38d4c1

(907)

on April 15, 2013
at 05:13 AM

Since when did beans, oats, wheat, rye and barley become paleo? I see those foods in his wife's blog a lot. He also doesn't eat meat or dairy. One of the other main point's is that he rejects the idea that saturated fat is harmless which seems to be pretty anti-paleo these days

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on April 17, 2013
at 11:57 AM

A prime example of somebody who get trapped in the restrictive paleo mindset.

2
2964fd58f8618e6b397c126e3d84a011

on April 17, 2013
at 03:46 AM

So, I'm essentially a vegetarian - or "fish-etarian," since I do fish and eat fish. I became a vegetarian at age 14 when I learned about factory farming. I'm in my 40s now.

I'm transitioning into a fish-based paleo-style diet. No grains, no dairy. I frequently speak to the folks who work at my CrossFit box for dietary advice, since they're extremely knowledgeable.

They're also about as dogmatic as any vegans I've ever met! I'm actually shocked by how narrow their perspective can be at times. The vegan protein powder I'd been using (I don't do well with whey) was not acceptable because it contained brown rice protein. Quinoa is not OK. Ever.

Really, at the end of the day, we're talking about dietary choices and not religion. The stricter you are with your food choices, the more limited you make your diet, the less likely you are to adhere. The two strictest veggies I knew are both carnivores again. And I imagine that some of these paleo guys I know are going to give in to the lure of a slice of pizza one of these days.

In the end, that's OK. You do what's right for you and what's right for your body. Sometimes, I have to eat a cookie. I won't beat myself up for it. God won't strike you down for eating a pizza. Each to his/her own. Don't judge!

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on April 17, 2013
at 12:01 PM

Meat to a veg*n is not the same as pizza to a paleo, in my opinion. Most paleos practice some sort of 80/20 rule, and they still get to be paleo. Veg*ns on the other hand don't. They are all or nothing, but paleos tend not to be.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on April 17, 2013
at 12:25 PM

There's a difference between choosing a diet for pragmatic reasons versus ethical/logical reasons. Diabetes was very much real, as are the IBS and celiac that many here suffer from. Paleo is not a perfect panacea, nor does it have to be perfectly practiced to see measurable improvements in both.

2
Medium avatar

(10611)

on April 15, 2013
at 12:24 PM

Paleo is something I backed into, so being a recidivist about paleo is not a concern. What motivates me is not returning to obesity, and paleo is the meat/motion muse that holds me back. If I quit eating the healthy ancestral meats and return to being inactive the obesity will return.

1
2436f4e6d010656b346629a77e9599dd

on April 15, 2013
at 02:55 AM

One thing to note is that high carb, vegan/vegetarian was the diet that "everybody knew" was healthy back in the 1990's and Paleo is now starting to be the thing that "everyone knows" is healthy. So it makes sense that right now, you'd be seeing switchover from vegan/vegetarian to Paleo more than the other way around. In 20 years? Who knows?

I appreciate you asking the question. I think about this kind of thing a lot and would love to see what other folks have to say about it.

0
618fc5298c4a96b817c4918c795a875f

(1217)

on April 17, 2013
at 01:03 AM

Intense restriction in a diet would tend to breed recidivism, because disordered eating of the kind that strict veganism requires isn't sustainable over the long term. I imagine that the stricter members of the paleo world will move into a more flexible version of the hardcore dogma as they get older, when things like being "ripped" and having an eightpack aren't top priorities. For many young vegans I know, fertility issues move them away from their strict diets. Younger body builder paleo types might run into metabolic issues as they age on the VLC diets that keep their body fat in the single digits. I suspect many long term paleo people are seeing all things "paleo" become mainstream, and they just don't like it, so they disavow the term while keeping up the practice. Who wants to identify with the masses? The early paleo adopters are an iconoclastic, individualistic bunch - rabble rousers, definitely not part of the crowd! Like the older punks rolling their eyes as the poseurs started taking over the clubs... totally understandable!

0
7a6529ea25b655132fe58d793f95547a

(2040)

on April 15, 2013
at 07:36 PM

I thought the video below was interesting. It doesn't directly answer your question but I took from that talk that a diet similar to PHD would be the easiest to stick to for the largest number of people.

Low fat and low carb seemed to be the hardest to stick to. Makes sense as both diets are quite restrictive. I don't think there should be a competition though, you do what works best for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eREuZEdMAVo&feature=g-vrec

It's a long lecture but worth the watch. At the 15 min mark he discusses the differences in diets.

Spoiler alert:

Towards the end of the talk he makes an argument for the Paleo diet by looking at the diet's studies so far. I thought that was cool, him being open minded and all.

0
Fd7b128cf714044a86d8bd822c7a8992

(4292)

on April 15, 2013
at 10:39 AM

I think I remember reading a post about this on somebody's blog; they cited Cheeseslave, Matt Stone, Melissa McEwen, and I think someone else too...

32652cb696b75182cb121009ee4edea3

(5802)

on April 15, 2013
at 12:11 PM

I saw that one too. Which is funny, bc Cheeseslave was never paleo to being with, lol. I used to follow her for years when I was WAPF.

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