You may have noticed that the Paleo Diet has become wildly popular in recent years, You may also have noticed that the Paleo world is something of a boys' club. The pioneers of the movement -Loren Cordain (The Paleo Diet), Robb Wolf (The Paleo Solution), and Mark Sisson (The Primal Blueprint)-are all men. And that's led to speculation that the Paleo lifestyle is better suited to males.
But there's a new guru in Paleo town, and her name is Esther Blum, MS, RD, CDN, CNS. With her new book Cave-women Don't Get Fat, she's about to take the diet and health world by storm.
Blum doesn't fit the profile of a rebel. She comes from a family of physicians, pharmacists, and nurses. A registered dietitian, Blum's practice was completely conventional-until she got sick.
"After my son was born, I was rewarded with postpartum insomnia," she says. "It's very hard to function optimally on no sleep!" She had joint aches, pain, and a host of food allergies, and the standard-nutrition advice wasn't working. So she signed up for a four-month holistic training program with nutritionist Robert Crayhon, and from then on, nothing was the same.
Paleo-type diets are definitely not at the top of the list for mainstream dietitians. But the conventional wisdom wasn't getting Blum anywhere. "After studying with Crayhon, it became clear that the high-carb, low-fat approach I had been following religiously was the wrong way to go," she says. So she tried a Paleo diet. "In three weeks, 14 years of hip bursitis was gone. I had chronic yeast-also gone. Digestive issues cleared up. My energy improved," she says.
So why don't cavewomen get fat? "Because their diet is plant-based, rich in nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits, low in starch, and high in protein and quality fat," Blum says. In prehistoric times, "neither meat nor fish came from factories-the meats came from wild animals that grazed on pasture, and the fish were what we'd now call ‘wild-caught.' Both sources of protein are rich in fats that naturally promote the body's ability to burn fat."
Blum attributes the benefits of Paleo to the absence of sugar, processed carbs, grains, gluten, and high-fructose corn syrup. The Paleo diet is based on foods you could hunt or fish, supplemented with berries, nuts, roots, and the like. These foods are the natural fuel for the human species, and the foods on which we do best. They're also the foods least likely to make us fat, since they do not cause our fat-storing hormones to go into overdrive.
Blum brings a "sensual" approach to Paleo eating that has been absent in many of the stricter interpretations of the diet. In her view, there's plenty of room for variations and modifications. "It's not about eliminating carbs, but about finding your own unique carb tolerance," she says. "Focus on adding things to your diet instead of taking things away. If going grain-free feels too extreme, try to go gluten-free. You'll still see some pretty amazing changes in energy, digestion, mental clarity, and body composition."
It's a philosophy that's likely to resonate with women who find the "caveman" approach just a little ...caveman-ish. "It's a complete lifestyle," she says. "It's movement. It's quality sleep. It's a whole-foods diet. It's about being part of a community and working with the natural rhythms of the world. It's about getting our needs met-and I don't think we do much of that these days."
"In three weeks, 14 years of hip bursitis was gone. I had chronic yeast-also gone."
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, is a nationally known health, nutrition, and weight-loss expert. He is the author of The Great Cholesterol Myth and numerous other books. His website is jonnybowden.com.