Paleolithic Diet Consumes Students

April 3, 2015

Over the last few years, the Paleolithic diet (a diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food) has grown in popularity, as many have become curious about the benefits it has to offer and the theory behind the diet.

People have turned to eating like cavemen because the eating of grains, dairy and processed foods is so new to the human body that the digestive system hasn’t had time to catch up and properly use the processed carbs to create useable energy. Humans in the Paleolithic era are said to have generally eaten a healthier diet comprised of natural foods like fruits, grains, and pure protein. Humans from that time were typically taller with stronger bones and better teeth.

People have been on Earth for about 2.5 million years, and only changed their eating habits to today’s diet ten thousand years ago. According to, if 2.5 million years was scaled down to a 40 year old person’s lifetime, that person would have only been eating today’s diet for two months of their life.

Several students from Albemarle have even partaken in the diet. Before it had grown largely in popularity, senior Leah Riccio partook in the diet from July 2012 to June 2013 because her father was very adamant about trying it and seeing the benefits.

“Both my parents had been doing it for a month and I’ve never really had any dietary restrictions so I thought I might try it,” she explained. “My dad told me the science behind it. You can eat as much fat as you want but if you take in the carbohydrates, that metabolizes it, and that’s how you develop adipose tissue.”

By cutting out bread, sugar and other processed foods, Riccio was able to lose 12 pounds throughout the 11 months.

“It was challenging, but it was very rewarding. My mood was a lot better and even after I stopped doing the full diet, I’m still doing a gluten free diet, and I’ve been able to maintain a weight that I’m happy with,” Riccio explained.

Senior Selena Perez-Reyes did a modified version of the diet called the Whole-30 diet, in which the participant goes paleo for a month but is allowed to eat potatoes and different starches. The diet is designed as a cleanse and allows the participant to see the results on the body of the different food groups that are restricted from the diet. She noticed that pretty immediately she lost five pounds, her acne was reduced and she overall felt better in terms of her mood and energy levels.

She decided to do the diet because she wanted experience with different dieting methods.

“I’m planning on studying dietetics at Virginia Tech next year, so that’s part of what sparked my interest. As a dietitian you have to tell some people that they can’t eat sugar, for some people that is extremely hard to hear and I get it now,”  Perez-Reyes said. “Sugar is my biggest vice, that’s the one thing that I really learned about myself. I have a bad reliance on sugar so I would definitely crave that and also grains a lot. I just wanted to eat bread all the time.”

Riccio said that her biggest craving was pasta, and still is, since she has continued doing a gluten free diet. However, she had a lot of options in what she could eat because both of her parents were participating in the diet, her father is now on his third year.

Perez-Reyes was alone in this diet however, “ I pretty much had to cook my own meals. My dad was so opposed to the diet, like he hated me for doing it. And my mom was normally relatively supportive.”


The challenges didn’t stop at just cravings or having to prepare personal meals. At the time when Riccio participated in the diet, it wasn’t largely popular and she faced a lot of scrutiny for trying a diet at a young age.

“My friends would make fun of me a lot because my dad would always say ‘the paleo diet isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle,’” Riccio said. “My friends would always say that when I would reject the food that they were serving.”

Even getting past judgement from friends and family members, the diet was not all smooth sailing. Riccio and Perez-Reyes faced temptation everywhere they went.

“One of my friends had a birthday party and they had pizza and chips and ice cream sundaes, and I was sitting there with my chicken soup that I brought from home,” Perez-Reyes said. “It was sad. I almost broke that night, but my mom kept me strong.”

Riccio found herself in a similar situation on the way home from a trip to Florida with friends. “We were going to Subway and I really wanted a sandwich, so I called my dad and I was like ‘DAD, I really want sandwich, but the only other thing is soup,’” she said. “He was just like ‘don’t do it, get the soup, just do it.’ So I did and it ended up being really good.”

Although they both agree that it would be challenging to do the diet while in college, they would consider doing the diet later in their lives, for longer but not adopt it permanently.

Riccio took the advice of her father to start the diet, but has her own theory of why the diet has gained popularity over the last few years.

“The problem with processed foods is that carbohydrates aren’t so bad, but when you mix it with so many unnatural sugars, it will cause you to gain weight, that’s why the paleo diet is so good because it helps you stay away from those processed foods,” Riccio explained.

Perez-Reyes did the diet of her own volition, but thinks it’s been trending because, “all the manufactured and processed foods that we eat right now, they’re not doing us any favors. And we don’t realize it because it’s so built into our culture but if you go back to the foods that are going to provide you with the nutrients that your body needs, you’re just in a much better place psychologically, and your hormones are in check and you feel much better.”

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