The History Of The Paleo Diet

history of the paleo diet

Let’s talk about the history of the paleo diet, AKA, the caveman diet or the palaeolithic diet.

What Is The Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is actually a modern diet – yes, modern diet – that claims to mimic the eating habits of humans from the paleolithic era.

So that’s 3.3 million years ago to around 13,000 years ago.

The diet consists mainly of whole foods – namely fruit, vegetables, animal proteins, nuts, and roots.

It excludes dairy, sugar, pretty much all processed and refined foods, and most grains as well.

On paper, it sounds like a good way to eat and to live, but I’m not going to talk about the pros and cons of the paleo diet for now. You can treat this content purely as trivia about the history of the paleo diet for your curious minds.

The First Paleo Diet Book

The first recorded proponent of the paleo diet was a man named Emmet Densmore.

He was an American businessman and doctor. He qualified from the New York school of medicine in 1885. So the modern idea of the paleo diet can indeed trace its roots back to the 19th century.

His diet was mostly meat and fruit and he called bread “the staff of death” and he called cereal “unnatural and disease-inducing”.

Around the same time, you had John Harvey Kellogg (yep, the cereal guy), who said that grains are what our ancestors ate.

Densmore published his book called “The Natural Food Of Man” in 1890. And that’s the first recorded book, which suggests the idea of a paleolithic diet.

He was largely accused by his peers at the time of trying to start a new fad diet. He didn’t gain much traction and died in 1911.

Fast Forward To The 1950s

From here, we jump to the 1950s and another American named Arnold DeVries.

In 1946, he published a book called “The Fountain Of Youth”, which promoted a raw fruitarian diet.

Then in 1952, he published his paleo book called “Primitive Man And His Food” which promoted the consumption of meat products and distanced him from his first fruitarian book.

Next up was Richard Mackarness in the UK who released his book in 1958, called “Eat Fat And Grow Slim”.

It promoted a high-carb low-fat diet, which suggested avoiding dairy, sugar, grains, and cereal in general.

He was heavily influenced by a man named William Banting.

William Banting released the first-ever recorded diet book in 1863. That book is called “A Letter On Corpulence¬† -Addressed To The Public”, which you can actually still buy today.

He was heavily criticized at the time for his thoughts and his research, having no basis in scientific fact, and again, it didn’t gain much traction.

Getting Noticed In The 1900s

Since then until this century, there were some other publications with limited success.

The main one of note was in 1985 when Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner published their findings in the New England Journal Of Medicine called “Paleolithic Nutrition: A Consideration Of Its Nature And Current Implications”.

That was the first time it really started to gain attention amongst scientists and medics.

21st Century Revolution

Where it really started to take off in the form that it’s in today was in 2002, when a man named Loren Cordain published his book, which is just called The Paleo Diet.

I’m not sure why this took off in a way that other previous attempts at promoting the diet haven’t. But I have a suspicion.

Coming straight out of the eighties and nineties, where we were all about low-fat foods and fat being demonized as being bad for you, this was so radical and ” out there”, that it got a lot of attention.

Also, it’s probably worth bearing in mind that this was the first time that this happened in an age where we have the internet. So it was much easier for radical ideas to spread.

It started to gather attention in 2002 and then really started to pick up over the course of the early 2000s.

And then from the 2010s, it really started to skyrocket.

If you’re wondering why it took from 2002 to sort of the 2010s to really start to gain momentum, there was this little thing called the Atkins diet, which came out in the early 2000s, which kind of stole a lot its thunder. That’s my theory anyway.

It was an eating plan that a lot of CrossFit athletes turned to. So as CrossFit grew in popularity, that also helped propel it.

In 2013 and in 2014, it was the single most searched weight loss term on Google in the US. And in 2019, it was estimated to be worth over US$500 million in the US alone.

The Paleo Diet Today

In the later part of the 2010s and coming into the 2020s, it started to decrease in popularity a little bit.

I think as generally, we’ve all become a little bit more eco-conscious and climate-conscious we started to look at reducing meat consumption.

So it started to come down from its peak, but that doesn’t mean it’s going away anytime soon.

history of the paleo diet

Free Binge Recovery Cheatsheet

Enter your email address below and get instant access to my cheatsheet to help you recover both mentally and physically from a food binge. You'll get my 5 top tips and the number 1 WORST thing you could do too!

Your information will never be shared with any third parties.