Why I *Heart* Paleo, Primal, and WAPF Diets

What do the Paleo Diet, the Primal Diet, and the WAPF Diet have in common? A love of ancestral health. In their own ways, each of these diets is committed to eliminating processed, industrial foods in favor of the traditional diets that humans have been eating for thousands of generations.

I spent this past weekend at the Weston A Price Foundation 12th Annual Wise Traditions Conference where I was honored to speak in a small capacity as part of a Real Food Bloggers Panel. I also got to catch up with old friends, make new friends, and rub shoulders with people from all parts of this growing community. I ran into many different kinds of eaters, too. Paleo eaters. Primal eaters. WAPF eaters. GAPS eaters.

You know what? We all got along just fine. In fact, we were downright friendly. We had far more in common than you’d think — particularly if you’ve been reading some of the more divisive blog posts and Facebook conversations of late.

First, let me offer up a few clarifications:

  • Paleo Diet — These eaters want to mimic the sorts of diets our paleolithic ancestors ate. Sometimes called the “Caveman” diet, the Paleo Diet eschews all grains, legumes, and dairy. They also avoid all processed foods, including modern refined vegetable oils and refined sugar.
  • Primal Diet — These eaters also want to mimic ancestral diets, but they allow a little wiggle room for raw and fermented dairy and the super-occasional traditionally-prepared grain (strictly for those with no related digestive or metabolic issues). They also allow limited room for “sensible vices” like the occasional glass of red wine, nibble of dark chocolate, or slice of raw cheese, and place a large emphasis on getting plenty of rest, natural movement exercises, and eating “clean” foods from organic, wild, or pasture-raised sources.
  • WAPF Diet — These eaters are strongly influenced by the research of Dr. Weston A Price and his work studying the diets of healthy traditional cultures. As with the first two diets, they eliminate all processed industrial foods from their diet including modern refined vegetable & seed oils and refined sugar. They emphasize a diet rich in the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K-2 from animal foods raised on pasture or caught in the wild. They also emphasize other dietary commonalities among traditional cultures such as the inclusion of bone broth, fermented foods, and organ meats. If grains are eaten, they are traditionally prepared. And, of course, nuts, seeds, and legumes are all soaked or sprouted prior to eating, too. If dairy is eaten, it’s from pasture-raised cows and is as unprocessed as possible (raw non-homogenized milk, raw cheeses & butter, naturally-fermented kefir, yogurt, & buttermilk).

Among all these groups, you’ll find various subsets of adherents dedicated to healing various digestive and metabolic maladies. They may prescribe slightly more stringent dietary rules, such as fewer carbs, more “safe starches,” complete elimination of grains, or healing protocols of probiotics.

When I look at these groups, I have a hard time seeing all these so-called differences. That’s because each label is a “Big Tent” — a sort of umbrella term that accepts various iterations of the “perfect diet” based on individual biochemistry.

For example, there’s no reason why a self-proclaimed Paleo dieter couldn’t add more nutrient-dense seafood, organ meats, broths, tropical oils, and fermented veggies to their diet. If they did, they’d suddenly fall well within the norm for a WAPF dieter. Would that person then refer to themselves as a WAPF dieter? A Paleo dieter?

My point? We’re all ancestral eaters, all completely dedicated to eating Real Food. So, why the infighting? The needling? Are we just that competitive?

This is the main reason why I started the Fight Back Friday blog carnival a couple of years ago. I love that each Friday we get a collection of recipes, news stories, and anecdotes from all around the blogosphere. I love that there are Primal dieters, Paleo dieters, and GAPS-dieting WAPFers all posting in the same space.

I don’t expect us all to sing kumbaya around a campfire anytime soon, but I sure did enjoy picking apart conference lectures at the lunch or dinner table this past weekend as we all chowed down on the Exact. Same. Meal. together.

The exact same meal.

We have more in common than we think.

(photo by cheeseslave)


  1. says

    Yep! We do have A LOT in common. My blogging partner is Paleo and I am a WAP follower (same blog!). We both agreed that the hub bub about who was right was C-R-A-Z-Y. Does it matter? Even vegans, who I don’t believe get full nourishment have common ground with our efforts for sustainability and real, whole, clean foods. This is a movement that WE ARE ALL in together! AMEN!

  2. says

    I’ve stumbled onto the world of wapf, paleo, &gaps/scd via autism’s gfcf diet, which, coincidentally, did jack to “heal” my son’s gut. It merely removed many a processed food without addressing the core deficits in my son’s GI issues.

    Prior to this transformation, I was a organicSAD eater for a few years after growing up on all 1980s processed foods.

    I think these groups are prone to abusing each other, but with good intentions…I look at these groups as a spectrum, much like autism. Some are more extreme than others, but fundamentally, we are all in pursuit of real, wholesome, unprocessed food, not foodstuffs.

    If it comes from a bag, box, or drive-thru window, you shouldn’t be eating it…

    • KristenM says

      Isn’t it sad that you can be an “ORGANIC SAD” eater? Organic does not equal healthy or unprocessed, by any means.

  3. says

    Some of the first Paleo diets were low fat, and even included canola oil. But most of the Paleo /Primal diets have really evolved since then, and have moved in the direction of eating traditional foods, and recognizing the worth of animal fat.

    At least three of the healthy peoples studied by Dr Weston A Price ate diets that would fit the definition of Paleo given in the above article. One of them, the Native Americans in the interior of northern Canada, ate only wild game, usually moose, though they ate the whole animal, innards, back fat, bones(in the form of broths and bone marrow.)

    You cannot get more Paleo than that!

    It makes me happy to read that a number of Paleo people were at the WAPF conference. We do have a lot in common, and we all know that SAD is BAD!

    • KristenM says

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s fair to judge the movement by where it’s been. Right now, Paleo dieters consider themselves part of the ancestral health movement. And they are! There are plenty of historical, healthy hunter-gatherer groups. As you pointed out, Dr. Price even studied a few of them!

  4. says

    I’m a WAPF girl, for the most part, but Hubby is transitioning more to Primal for some weight loss… I’ve been newly researching this, and I found myself surprised to see (and correct me if I’m wrong) that Paleo (or the author of the book of that title) recommended canola oil and NOT tropical oils? And that he had allowances for artificial sweeteners… This made me swing more to the Primal side of things, because those two items (tropical oil and artificial sweeteners) are decisions *already made* in our household.

    But, like you, I’m thrilled to see another ‘branch’ of demography seeking out farmers, grass-fed animal proteins, and all that! It’s not all hippies! :)

    • KristenM says

      Dr. Cordain did originally hold those positions, but has since recanted in the face of growing evidence. Contemporary Paleo dieters tend to eschew all modern veggie oils (although I’ve seen a few argue for Canola oil, which mystifies me).

    • Mike says

      I think it should be clarified that “The Paleo Diet” has become an umbrella term for several diets.

      1. The original “The Paleo Diet” from almost 10 years ago I believe. Dr. Cordain, at the time, still believed that saturated fat was bad. However this diet, I believed, spurred other diets.

      2. The Paleo Solution. This diet by Robb Wolf is what most people these day’s consider “The Paleo Diet”. While I haven’t read it I believe that Robb encourages saturated fat from grass-fed cows.

      3. The Primal Blue Print is similar to The Paleo Solution but also talks about fermented foods, bone broth and allows raw dairy. Also talks about proper human ‘exercise’. I think the only real difference between Primal and WAPF is grain consumption.

  5. says

    LOVE this post! I’ve been feeling a little disheartened about the in-fighting lately (ironically since the Ancestral Health Symposium). Of course healthy debate is a great thing, but there’s been a lot of “paleo-on-paleo” negativity in the blogosphere. I think unfortunately it is competitive; on the interwebs, I see a lot of smart folks with a lot of passion & big egos that want to tear down each others’ theories.

    We are far more alike than we are different- real food FTW!

  6. says

    I totally agree! My family falls somewhere under the ancestral diet umbrella, with little to no grain but some raw dairy and properly prepared nuts and legumes. There are so few differences, really… why can’t we just ditch the labels? (I was vegan for a good while, eating whole foods, and honestly everyone who eats real food is somewhere on that spectrum… even the raw folks!)

  7. Duv says

    The reason for the fighting is sales…book sales, ebook sales, product sales & money for advertising on the various sites promoting the various diets.

  8. Andrea says

    Amen! I have been so frustrated because I started eating grains again (after 6 months on GAPS) and have come across quite a few blog post that give me the impression I will die and untimely death, despite all my efforts, because I enjoy sourdough bread, soaked oatmeal and mashed potatoes. I’m eating like my 95 year old Polish great great grandmother with 14 children ate (or close as I can these days) – and I’m proud of the fact!

  9. says

    Great comments! As a teacher I find that people are far too influenced by what they “read in a book” (which has obvious limitations) vs their actual experience,(which has the potential to be expansive.) Yet I can understand that decades of a horrible SAD diet in our culture has pushed people in this limited direction…. a direction we are finally coming out of due to direct experience and activism about food production. Side-note: I had a dream last night of coming upon a huge and growing group of people gathered outside in a circle… singing….kumbaya! ; )

  10. says

    Awesome post! I’ve been reading Mark Sisson’s Primal blueprint and find myself agreeing with most of what he says with the exception of a few things: I personally don’t take supplements, and I know for a fact that protein powder is considered junk food because it’s oxidized – but since Sisson has a supplement company, he obviously doesn’t share my view. I also don’t think one should completely cut out ALL grain. I don’t eat bread these days, and have very few traditionally prepared legumes, but one day soon, I plan to make sprouted bread made of soaked ancient grains – that I hope to sporadically eat. I also eat a lot of dairy – all unpasteurized (raw) and beyond organic (meaning 100% pasture-raised and 100% grass-fed) from a small family farm and it helps greatly with digestion. Other than that, I stick to Sisson’s recommendations (i.e. eat organic meats/eggs, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds). Anyway, I love that there’s more common ground between the three ‘ancestral diets’ than most people realize! All that matters is that people eat REAL food.

  11. says

    I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, but just revisited this post, because we’re trying to eat Paleo for 30 days. This post makes so much more sense now!

    I’ve created an ancestral hybrid diet without even knowing it — we’re following Paleo, with the addition of red wine and dark chocolate just to keep our sanity, and I made a gut-healing broth, because it seemed like a good idea.

    It’s so nice to embrace the freedom that comes from following ancestral ideas, rather than seeing it as divicive, restrictive and burdensome!

  12. says

    Just found this article and it made me smile so much! We’re all just after some real food aren’t we? I just want to put in my mouth what my body wants to eat. The less I pay attention to what type of diet I’m following, and the more I listen to those infallible signals from inside, the better I eat. Raw cream and eggs for breakfast one day and a plate of greens the next? It all balances out to something fairly instinctively primal (especially if I eat with my fingers, hee hee).

    Keep on worshiping in the great big tented church of real food! x x x

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