IF’ing with Paleo Diet, or with Standard Diet?

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Paleo + Western?

Many people utilize intermittent fasting without concern for food quality. For example, they still enjoy pizza, pasta and bread.

Other people who utilize IF also focus on the quality of the calories, aiming particularly for whole, real food that’s also naturally low in the glycemic index (GI). This is one of the primary traits to eating the Paleo Diet.

So, we can divide users of intermittent fasting into two general groups: one that consumes the standard western diet, and one that eats whole, real food.

Does one group enjoy an advantage over the other? Let’s break it down.

Intermittent Fasting on Standard Western Diet

IF’ers who eat the standard western diet encounter fewer restrictions and enjoy a greater range of food and deeper connection during social celebrations traditionally centered around food.

And studies show personal preference and flexibility in diet may facilitate long-term adherence and weight loss success.

These IF’ers, however, tend to consume food that’s more dense in empty calories while providing less satiety.

High GI food may sharply increase blood sugar, resulting in the increased insulin response that plummets blood sugar level to below the normal range and  induces a hunger response.

Intermittent Fasting on Whole, Real Food

IF’ers who consume whole, real food (paleo/primal) face food-choice restriction — e.g. limited or no grains, legumes, processed foods, sugar, etc.

While many wonderful recipes utilizing whole, real food are plenty, food-choice restriction still curtails the essence of culture in its celebration of traditional meals during special occasions.

Also, the paleo diet eliminates most of the food that has been sustaining some of the world’s most healthy and long-lived people.

However, IF’ers who eat whole, real food also enjoy nutrient density while minimizing calories, a factor in weight loss and management. And adequate nutrient intake may be more important than calorie restriction for health and, in one study of fruit flies, longevity.

Whole, real food tends to be low GI, which has been shown to produce a state of hunger-resistance. This may help especially people who are new to IF.

Comparison Between Both Groups

Perhaps interesting is the reporting by both groups of IF’ers receiving nearly identical health benefits (weight loss, vitality, etc.), while one study on mice shows slight favor toward the IF group eating low GI food.

As mentioned, while low GI food tends to produce less hunger, it does not necessarily produce greater weight loss compared to higher glycemic index food, calorie-per-calorie. Perhaps this is why both IF groups often report the same weight loss; it has more to do with total calorie intake.


It seems IF, no matter the food type consumed, is ultimately effective for weight loss, weight management and health. The inclusion of standard western food may help with adherence, while consuming mostly whole, real food is helpful for the control of hunger.

However, those who have done intermittent fasting for a while experience fewer frequency and less magnitude of hunger.

Practice in The Real World

From this information, my usual recommendation of IF’ing with mostly whole, real food while enjoying some non-paleo food can be a sustainable way to manage weight and stay healthy.

Basically, if you use intermittent fasting, you can play around between 100% Paleo and Standard Western diet. Beginning IF’ers may do better closer to 100% paleo to control hunger, while the more experienced can slide back and forth on this scale to enjoy the essence of culture and help with adherence, while averaging closer toward paleo.

Of course, the increased nutrients in the paleo diet is always a good thing, but enjoyment, adherence, and keeping things simple are keys to being lean year-round.

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13 Responses to IF’ing with Paleo Diet, or with Standard Diet?

  1. Nicole R says:

    Hi Johnny. I’ve always appreciated your perspectives on intermittent fasting. It’s why I keep visiting. I can tell you that I’m part of the IF group that does NOT eat a paleo diet and just eat things that I enjoy, and yet I’ve lost well over twenty pounds, leaner than ever, and I feel perpetually great and full of vitality. We only need to look at the studies on IF, and the improved markers of health as a result — you’ve already shared many of those studies! Thanks again, Johnny, great post.

    Nicole R

  2. Jake says:

    If I eat a lot of carbs at my evening meal, I am hungry the next day when I fast.

    However, if my dinner is high in protein and low in carbs, I can easily fast for 24 hrs without hunger.

    I would think that people on SAD, would have a hard time doing IF.

  3. Rob says:

    “If I eat a lot of carbs at my evening meal, I am hungry the next day when I fast”
    Did that last night.. Hunger is up this morning, more than usual.
    But man that XL BLT was awesome!

  4. Mallory says:

    IF can be used for bulking and weight gain or muscle gain as well. the same theories and benefits hold true. i have used it for weight gain with Paleo. it really is not as hard as people make it out to be, esp following martin’s protocol

  5. Geoff says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I’ve enjoyed reading through your blog over the past couple months and appreciate your rigorous, yet balanced, approach towards defining optimal nutrition for human health. After years of researching the health effects of various dietary patterns, it’s become apparent that one’s dietary views are often as ingrained as their religous and political beliefs. Please accept my question as acknowledgement of you as a well regarded and respected proponent of the paleo movement. I believe that wrestling through our questions and differences in a respectful manner help sharpen our understanding of any subject matter.

    After a deep dive into the paleo approach to nutrition, which most proponents profess is grounded in science and evolutionary biologoy, I can’t help but question why the world’s healthiest people adhere to a diet that appears so contradictory in terms of grain consumption and macronutrient ratios.

    If we can agree that a fair definition of health is low obesity rates and high average healthy life expectancies, then it’s evident that Asian countries such as Japan, China, and Singapore as well as European countries including France, Sweden, and Italy rank among the top of the list. Commonalities include consumption of high-fibre carbohydrate (i.e. vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes) that comprises more than half of their daily caloric intake, with relatively low to moderate fat and protein consumption.

    As grounded as I find the paleo approach to be, I can’t help but be influenced by the overwhelimingly compelling evidence that supports a plant-based diet, including whole grains, with low to moderate fat and protein intake. How are the obesity rates and average healthy life expectancies of these countries not the ultimate scientific research that should be guiding our approach to nutrition?

    I recognize the value of your time but would appreciate hearing your thoughts in response.


    • Johnny says:

      Hi Geoff,

      Excellent comment and I appreciate you taking the time to express your view.

      Countries with the longest average life-span share the commonality of low-obesity rate. How they arrive at this can be through vastly different dietary styles. I believe that many people in the West fall into the logical fallacy of a false dichotomy. For example, the healthy Inuits eat only protein and fat, therefore carbohydrates must be bad.

      I believe that the avoidance of excess calories is healthy, independent of calorie types (high-fat Inuit diet, grain-based Mediterranean diet, etc.), but I also believe that diet is not the only variable in health and longevity. Lifestyle is a large factor. Stress, relaxation, mental outlook, beliefs, social factors, pollutants, environmental chemicals, etc., may have a significant impact on the health of the individual, or that of whole population.

      It’s difficult to isolate one variable, food, and use it as the magic pill for health and longevity, or a poison for metabolic derangement and premature death. But while other countries enjoy vibrant health and longer average lifespan eating grains and other food stuff outside the Paleo parameter, perhaps they also enjoy a certain lifestyle and living environment that have greater influence on their positive statistics.

      Most Western countries have vastly different lifestyle, outlook, and environment, ultimately leaving us conditions that are pro-inflammatory. It’s not a reach, then, to say that an anti-inflammation diet like the “paleo” may help counter the effect. There’s good evidence that chronic inflammation is a contributor to disease, overweight, and obesity. A decrease in, or a balance of, overall inflammation can be favorable, and perhaps diet can have an influence.

      Perhaps this holistic concept has a small influence in the benefits shown in studies of the Paleolithic diet. Perhaps not.

      I personally encourage a flexible form of the Paleolithic diet NOT so much for the health claims but more for its nutrient density and calorie-sparse offer. It aides in lowering overall calories (with IF) while taking in an abundance of nutrients and essential fatty acids.

      I believe that, in the end, eating whole foods that include even grains can be extremely healthy, if two variables are controlled: eat less, and improve overall lifestyle.


      • Geoff says:

        Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Johnny. I think you’re right on and make a number of excellent points. It’s refreshing to hear from a blogger who can support the upside of the paleo approach without being fanatical. Looking forward to future posts!


  6. Al says:


    My current daily schedule doesn’t allow me to follow your IF plan (4pm-11pm every day) or something similar to it. Could tell me and everyone else some other examples of IFing? The only other one that I have heard of is Eat Stop Eat but I am sure there are other ways to implement IF. Thanks!

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Al,

      Although the longer the stretch of IF, the more fat metabolism you accumulate, but in the end it’s going for a longer period between meals that count, not where the fasting window is placed. Whatever fat metabolism you get from the fast itself pails in comparison to being able to comfortably eat fewer calories; and if fat loss or weight maintenance is the goal, then it is overall calorie consumption that matters most. IF makes eating fewer calories simple, and easier.

      So, just chose an IF schedule that works for you, or you can also just go longer between meals, if that works better into your schedule.


  7. Yannick Messaoud says:

    Talk about one great blog, glad i stumble on this one.

    Sharing my IF experience, been doing a bit of on and off was around 231 pounds 3 months ago and now at 204 pounds, but this time putting lots of energy on dieting. I really want to get down to my ideal weight, i am currently doing the Adonis Effect workout, its great for posture and leaning out, doing the burn program. There is also a diet that comes with it but it requires you to eat 6 times per day, glad that myth got uncovered. I now try to do a Warrior diet type and eating once or twice a day, problem with eating once a day is that you might overeat and then you shoot yourself in the foot because you overate. The good thing about fasting anywhere from 15-20h a day is that the stomach will shrink and you will be less hungry. This is the first time that i do not use any bodybuilding supplements, i lowered my protein intake to silly amounts around 60g like Brad Pilon said in the book How much protein you really need backed up by science studies, i lost muscles for sure but you cannot lose 25 pounds like i did and retain only muscles while losing fat. Another myth. Well if everything goes well i should be able to get my gut and stomach small and get back to a healthier weight, back pain as been an issue for 9 years but with prolotherapy i can now train and lift weight again, lets see what this 38 year old body can do this year.

    Thanks again Johnny for your great blog and i will keep on reading for sure

  8. Another excellent post, Johnny.

    In line with Geoff’s comment earlier, I’d argue that the longest lived populations vary substantially in their base diet. Here is a graph showing the lifespan of Hong Kong, Japan, and Iceland, all 3 in the 82-83 year range (1 year difference is statistically minor, imo):Lifespan

    Japan and Hong Kong share a relatively similar diet (given their geographic proximity) but Iceland isn’t anywhere close by comparison. Iceland eats large amounts of meat (shark,fish, sheep, lamb, blood pudding, offal), large amounts of dairy, seasonal berries, and little in the way of veggies and grain. Bread might be used to carry a large chunk of fish, for instance. And yet, they live an enormously long time.

    So what’s my point: it’s all mostly real, minimally processed food. If you set that as the context umbrella, the content is going to be very different from person to person, just like indigenous diets are drastically different.

    Or to put it another way: don’t get so caught up in the noise of the paleo message that you miss the signal.


  9. Johnny says:

    I have been on IF for a little over two weeks. The first week was tough, but the second I was getting used to it. However, just in the last few days, I am finally feeling the energy people talk about. I went all the way till 5pm yesterday without eating or even feeling hungry. I ate a huge meal and it was great, and then I had a small second meal around 8pm. I really like this now, plus I have lost about 3-4 pounds since I started.

  10. Dan says:

    “So what’s my point: it’s all mostly real, minimally processed food. If you set that as the context umbrella, the content is going to be very different from person to person, just like indigenous diets are drastically different.”

    Well said, Skyler, but within that content, there may be certain people who need certain tweeks to undo what’s been done by their pre-IF lifestyle.

    So if someone is already trending towards diabetes, is overweight, is used to eating sugar (bread, etc.) 5-6 times a day; then they really may need something more drastic to bring them back to more normative health before transitioning to a “any foods are fine if they are real” type of eating plan…call it the Michael Pollan “Food Rules” plan.

    I’m not overweight (6’4″, 173lbs), but I have energy and digestion issues, which I believe are due to an unbalanced vegan/vegatarian diet combined with excessive cardio exercize over a period of 2-3 years. So I’m working on a more “paleo” diet now, really bumping up the fat/protein and anti-inflammatory veg. And I believe it is helping me achieve more stable energy levels as I’m not constantly snacking on higher-GI foods throughout the day. I’m also focused on a workout plan similar to Johnny’s (movement + resistence) and feeling overall a ton better. I used to get shakey and light-headed if I’d go more than 3 hours without eating…now I’m eating “breakfast” at 11a-12p, dinner around 6-7p and that’s it. I have the urge to munch after work around 4p, but water or tea takes care of that alright so far.

    One last thing, I believe the IF process is heavily supported by both the Iceland and China/Japan studies…that’s just how people used to do it. It’s also important to note that when they talk about China/Japan longevity, it doesn’t include all the modern additions of sugar, refined rice, vegetable “oils”, etc. The Chinese/Japanese peasant diet included a bit of animal fat, a lot of veg, and hearty carbs. A far cry from General Tsao’s Chicken…not that it isn’t delicious 😉 And as is mentioned, the early Taoists used to preach the avoidance of grain…saying it corrupted the mind…

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