What are all these diets with crazy names and acronyms?

Not that it’s any surprise, but our family follows a “real food” diet. And I don’t even really think of it as a “diet,” at least in the sense that we are restricting ourselves from certain foods, because we honestly love to eat this way. All those packaged foods that contain artificial flavoring taste, well, artificial to us now. And since we’re a little more particular about what we put in our mouths thanks to our “new and improved” taste buds, it’s actually pretty easy to avoid the processed stuff when you don’t even want it anymore. Now my kids are a completely different story and while they eat mostly “real food” at home, they’d be happy to indulge in bright blue packaged cupcakes tomorrow if someone offered them up (and just for the record – we would let them participate, within reason).

But let me get back to the topic at hand. While eating “real food” is somewhat self explanatory, I am finding there are a lot of other other diets out there that don’t tell you much by just the name.  Some of these I was already familiar with and some are fairly new to me, so I did some research.  For everyone’s reference you’ll find a list with some general explanations below. And if I left anything pertinent off the list please feel free to share with us in the comments below.

Note: Just to be clear I am not necessarily promoting or demoting any of these diets…I was simply curious and wanted to share my findings.  Think of this as a vocabulary lesson!

  • Paleo a.k.a. Caveman Diet:

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    According to Wikipedia, “The paleolithic diet (abbreviated paleo diet or paleodiet), also popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years duration that ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture …Centered on commonly available modern foods, the ‘contemporary’ Paleolithic diet consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.”
  • Feingold Diet:
    Developed a few decades ago by Dr. Feingold, a pediatrician and allergist, the Feingold Diet actually exhibits some overlap with our “real food” diet. Here’s an explanation from the Feingold Association website, “Numerous studies show that certain synthetic food additives can have serious learning, behavior, and/or health effects for sensitive people. The Feingold Program (also known as the Feingold Diet) is a test to determine if certain foods or food additives are triggering particular symptoms. It is basically the way people used to eat before ‘hyperactivity’ and ‘ADHD’ became household words, and before asthma and chronic ear infections became so very common. “
  • GAPS diet:
    An acronym for “Gut and Psychology Syndrome,” this diet is a bit more complex than some of the others because you avoid certain foods for a period of time then slowly reintroduce them later after your gut has had a chance to “heal.” From what I understand you can eat most of the same foods as the Paleo diet (listed above), with the addition of certain dairy products. Here’s another explanation from Nourished Kitchen, ” The GAPS diet is a comprehensive healing protocol developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a neurologist and nutritionist who specializes in healing of issues like autism spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia and schizophrenia by treating the root cause of many of these disorders: compromised gut health.”
  • Vegetarian and Vegan:
    These terms are obviously used more frequently, but just to make sure we are on the same page vegetarians do not eat meat (and in some cases avoid fish as well) and vegans avoid all animal products including meat, eggs, milk, and even honey.
  • Gluten-free:
    Ahhh, the hot topic of the moment, which I addressed in my “food misconception” post earlier this week. According to Wikipedia, “Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue”) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and to keep its shape, and often giving the final product a chewy texture.” So in short it’s a diet that does not include wheat or any other gluten containing grains.
  • Grain-free:
    This takes the gluten-free diet a step further by avoiding all grains including wheat, corn, and rice. This approach has some overlap with two of the other diets mentioned, Paleo and GAPS.

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  1. Paleo diet is the short for Paleolithic diet(also called as caveman diet) which means the food eaten by the human species in the Paleolithic age which was some two million years ago. Early humans at that time usually consumed wild animals and various plant species in order to survive as there was no agricultural practice developed at that time. Some of the contents of a Paleo diet include nuts, roots, fruits, fungi, fish, meat and vegetables and eatables like dairy products, legumes, grains, salt, sugar etc. are eliminated from the diet plan.

  2. In the past two years I have completely eliminated all processed foods and wheat/gluten from my diet and added in tons of fruits/veggies and heathy meats and, really importantly, healthy fats, and it has reversed so many health issues I’ve had, particularly with digestion, headaches, and joint pain flare ups, but most importantly being my lifelong struggle with debilitating depression and anxiety. I feel best on a paleo diet, so no grains and no dairy, and I cook this way most often throughout the week. I really have to limit my dairy and grain intake or I can just tell how sluggish and ill I start to feel. With any wheat consumption I feel immediate negative effects, with other grains and dairy its more of a build up. But I find that when I stick to the no processed foods & wheat free and limit my grain and dairy consumption, it makes a huge difference in my physical health and mental well-being and for me, this is huge! It’s literally the difference between functioning and non-functioning.

  3. TRIM HEALTHY MAMA!!!!! Did you hear me? TRIM HEALTHY MAMA! It’s an excellent way to eat good nutritious food and lose weight. I lost 20 lb. of baby weight. Men and women family members of mine lost their share of weight too. THM is the way to go! Enjoy carbs, enjoy fat, enjoy protein… just prepare your meals according to the 3 meal types. So worth it! I lost weight without being deprived! Lots of great information out there to get you started on THM, and an excellent support group on Facebook.

  4. I follow a much stricter diet than any listed here: AIP – Autoimmune Protocol. I heard about it through a naturopath doctor but blogger Sarah Ballantyne at thepaleomom.com has a ton of resources and a book about how to follow it. I follow this due to having an autoimmune disease. I had found your site about two years ago before I was diagnosed with my disease and started trying to eat a real food diet, which was a good transition to start to be prepared for AIP. I have noticed over the years of following that sometimes this site can have a critical tone to people who cut out whole groups and advocate that isn’t necessary. Please remember that while your family is blessed to be healthy and took this journey into real food by choice, many of us get into this journey because we have health problems and we do have to restrict entire food groups to heal from them. I love this site and all the resources you all provide so this is not a criticism, just a gentle reminder from a kind place.

  5. Just to be clear, there is no diet which “cures” autism. There are diets which claim to do so but cannot. Some people find dietary changes helpful in managing certain issues but does not change the autism itself.

  6. Feingold was a FODSEND for us back in 1986. Our first grade daughter was out of control, so I was willing to try anything. The BIGGEST surprise when we stuck with it was after the first week she no longer suffered from constipation. She had NEVER had a normal bowel movement since food was introduced at 6 months old. Turns out she was highly sensitive to apples, or anything with even the slightest amount of apple, apple juice or apple pectin. Till this day (she is 34) I can tell if she has anything with apple (and she avoids it all like the plague!). I helped several other families through the initial Feingold period, and found one boy who reacted to cucumbers, one to raisins (grapes) and one to oranges. And, yes, your real food eating is the closest thing I have found to Feingold!

  7. One thing I always note is that all of these diets (except maybe vegetarian) eliminate processed foods. They all can be successful in making us healthier, and that seems to be the common thread. Personally I considered Paleo but more meat doesn’t feel good to me, and wheat/grains don’t seem to have any negative effects on me. So I follow a balanced Real Food diet with some modifications to support my weight loss goals. Some people are more sensitive to grains and feel better when eliminating them. I think its necessary to really understand what balance works for your body, but the bottom line is that the fake stuff probably doesn’t really work well for anyone.

  8. The Caveman Power Diet increases energy, the ability to burn fat, and gets you in touch with your natural instincts. It’s not just a way to lose weight, it’s a healthy approach to making your body indestructable.Doing the the Caveman Power Diet is a very natural state for your body to be in, and you will feel the results immediately. Embrace it for what it is; animal motivation. It is a very open do-it-yourself diet, that encourages you to feel content in a way that suits you personally..

    My favorite blog page

  9. In the last month my family has cut out A LOT of processed foods and we have noticed a huge change in our boys (ages 4 and 15 months) behavior. Our 4 yr old is much calmer and is not having the anxiety he was having before. We aren’t 100% real food but we are close to 85% real food and even that is making a huge difference.

  10. My husband and I just started this week with gradually adding organic produce to our diet. We have also switched to whole milk and took our first trip to Whole Foods, a 45 min drive from where we live but seeing how beautiful the organic produce looks and the large selection compared to what little our grocery store has makes it worth the trip. Switching to the grass-fed meat is going to be a challenge because of the cost hike so we’ll have to see about working that in. We are both overweight and I have PCOS so our goal is to not only get healthy within but to lose weight and look good on the outside too and get pregnant! We felt out of place at Whole Foods so I hope that feeling will subside.

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Neely. Best of luck to you and your husband with your health and pursuit of a family. Stick with it, you’ll quickly start to feel the benefits and you’ll be a pro in no time at Whole Foods :-)))!! Jill

  11. We did the Feingold plan FAITHFULLY with NO cheating for a year about 3 years ago. Our second child had anger and other behavioral issues that this totally fixed. But after a year of no eating out, not even at friends homes, because we couldn’t be sure that their food was “clean” we did some modifying. We started slowly adding back things one a time that were forbidden…just like starting a baby on baby food…until we found his trigger foods. Now we still follow the Feingold-which is very similar to a real food lifestyle- at home but know we can go somewhere and as long as we don’t eat “color with a number” that our child won’t have the horrible side effects. We also find that if we are staying on plan 99.5% of the time and someone gives him a few m&m’s or gummy bears that he will likely be ok….he is also learning to say no to “feisty foods” because he doesn’t like how they make him feel (he is only 6) and for myself they have lost all appeal to me. Plus this was another healthy winter with no serious illness apart from a few runny noses. And our oldest child who has always needed allergy meds in the spring didn’t take a single one this year. There is power in the food we put in our body….it can literally make us or break us. After all, we are what we eat, right? :)

  12. I’ve tried every way of eating mentioned here (except GAPS and Feingold). I enjoy studying nutrition very much and have been doing so since my early 20s (over 25 years ago). My body loved being raw vegan the best, but I found it so challenging to eat that way long term. It was too restrictive when socializing, and I never felt warm in the winter time. However, it was amazing in the summer. My least favorite was Paleo. My body did not like the meat, which I had to eat more frequently than I like.

    Now I occasionally eat grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish, along with raw dairy. I became a member of the Weston A. Price foundation a few years back. I still continue to read books on nutrition for fun. All I know is that you have to listen to your body. It’s unique and won’t respond to a program the way another person’s body will.

  13. Thank you for your website & sharing your family’s journey with us all! I began your 10 day challenge last Aug (2011) & I was hooked!!! My 10 days turned into a 100 days, but morphed into a Paleo “diet” & I feel FANTASTIC!! I’ve experience tremendous improvements in my health! Eating whole, real, clean foods has been so tastey & much easier than I ever imagined! Absolutely no cravings or desire for processed foods! I’m coming up on my 1 year anniversary & I want to thnk you! My diet doesn’t include grains, dairy or legumes, but it’ FILLED with whole, real foods & your story played a small part in that – thanks!!

  14. My sister and her family does the “paleo” diet. Luckily, since I started doing the “real food”, I can at least exchange recipes with her. I just have to make sure that if I suggest any recipes to her they are grain, dairy and legume free. I applaud her for going paleo, but I won’t give up grains, dairy or legumes, LOL! She has PCOS and going paleo is what her doctor suggested for her. She also had a VSG procedure done last year which is safer than a lot of the weight-loss surgeries. So she is at least ensured that she doesn’t lose any nutrients in the foods she is eating.

  15. I’m surprised WAP(F) hasn’t been mentioned.
    WAP or WAPF stands for Weston A. Price Foundation. They’re an organization and type of diet/lifestyle that advocates nutrient dense whole foods such as: raw milk including whole butter, cream, cheese, healthy fats like coconut oil & lard, they also advocate eating organ meats, seafood, and cod liver oil. They also teach people about the dangers of processed foods like white bread and sugar. Here is their website if you want to check it out.http://www.westonaprice.org/

  16. Thanks for the list! My son is on the GAPS diet. He is allergic to most everything and I have seen a lot of improvement in his little body since being on the diet. I don’t like to say “diet” because the food we eat is becoming a way of life to us. My family is on a whole foods, traditional diet and I am loving it. I’m getting to the point that I don’t even like to eat artificial food anymore.

  17. Thanks for sharing this. I would like to point out that vegetarians do not eat fish in any case, because fish is meat. People who eat fish but no other meat are called “pescatarians”.

    1. yup! that’s what i was going to say. people who call themselves “vegetarian” while consuming fish are not really vegetarian in any way shape or form.

  18. I refuse to diet. I don’t like counting calories or fat grams or carbs. With eating Real food, I’ve lost quite a bit of weight (I don’t really weigh myself either, but can tell with how my clothes fit). My husband has too. Just like those in other comments, the processed stuff we used to eat doesn’t seem to taste as good.

  19. I would really like to do this – eat just real food. I know it would be better for us and our health. We already eat a lot of fruits and veggies and limit sweets. I have 2 issues though – I work 3 different jobs so I am very busy. Just getting the grocery shopping done is a challenge each week. I will be expanding my garden this year so that will help! :)

    The other issue I have is that I have 2 boys – one is 13 and the other 10. My 13 year old eats like a bottomless pit! We regularly go through 3 loaves of bread and 3 packages of english muffins plus the large 48 oz. peanut butter every 5-6 days. We do not have any kind of bakeries here in town so I have to buy store bought bread. I read labels and pay more for bread with more than 3 grams of fiber, but I know it isn’t really the “best” choice. However, I really don’t have time to bake bread at this stage in my life.

    Any suggestions? I looked over your meal plans and while that would satisfy ME, the males in my life would still be hungry. Help!!! Cost is an issue here too as well as availability. We don’t have places like Trader Joes or Whole Foods. Thanks!!! :)

    1. Rosanne,

      Would you be opposed to getting a Zojirushi bread maker? You can just throw in your fresh ingredients and set the timer and come home to fresh bread :) A grain mill is another very essential item to getting the most from your grains. A great resource for baking for a busy family is http://breadbeckers.com They sell stuff, but if you click on the “learn” button, and then on “videos”, you can find a cooking class all about baking for the busy family. I’m sure you’d find it very interesting.

    2. 100 Days of Real Food

      Do you find that “real food” that’s 100% whole grain fills up your boys more than the processed stuff?

    3. Rosanne- check out Ezekiel 4:9 breads. I get mine at Kroger, which has it cheaper than Whole Foods. I make bread when I can, but with a baby and a toddler and no bread machine, I had to have another option. Ezekiel breads have only necessary ingredients (grains, yeast, sea salt, gluten…), with nothing you can’t pronounce or haven’t heard of, and are actually made from sprouted grains, not flour. They are all delicious in my family’s opinion! They are also not much more expensive than “healthy, natural, whole wheat” breads in the bread aisle. Btw, you won’t find Ezekiel bread in the bread aisle. It doesn’t have preservatives, so you will find them in the freezer…It is in the freezer in the “natural” section at Kroger. Hope this helps! :)

      1. Jennifer, thank you! I have looked for Ezekiel bread and have never found it. It didn’t even cross my mind to look in the freezer section. :)

  20. Thanks for putting this together! We most closely follow Feingold, because of the connection between neurotoxins in food dyes and behavior. The rest of it overwhelms me and never make complete sense to me – I studied anthropology so the Paleo diet doesn’t correspond with what I learned folks ate during the paleolithic era, etc. But if it works for people – whatever works for people – I’m glad to hear there are programs they can use to guide them along to wellness. I also heard about one and it’s something like GNOWLFINS, I don’t know what that is exactly though :)

    1. @ Jen: I believe what you are referring to is GNOWFGLINS, another real food blog: gnowfglins.com
      Stands for “God’s Natural, Organic, Whole Foods, Grown Locally, In Season.”

  21. I know that you have talked about his a lot, but I am having a really hard time finding the “right” place with my kids. Our neighbors have 5 children and have nothing but boxed cookies, muffins, donuts, chips, etc in there. No joke, it looks like the junk food aisle in the grocery store. And they don’t care what or how often their kids eat it. I’ve noticed when my three year old goes over there, he claims that he is hungry just so that he can get into their pantry and get the junk. Even my 19 month old daughter asks for cookies as soon as she enters their house! I don’t want to forbid these things as I really, truly, believe that causes major problems with them wanting it even more. (I guess it’s that natural rebellion thing) But, I am at a loss as to what I SHOULD do. Any ideas or suggestions?

    Luckily, the time spent over there goes in waves, from a couple days a week to once every other week. The times where it is more frequent are really when it’s hard for me to hold my tongue and get through it.

    1. Jennifer, Have you ever thought about making a batch of “healthy” cookies as a neighborly gesture and bringing it over when your kids go play? I agree with you that its hard to avoid these scenarios. Maybe suggest the kids play out front or pack snacks for them if they are going to the house. You can also try to have all the kids play at your house. I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be for you! good luck:)

    2. 100 Days of Real Food

      I would be frustrated as well. Do your kids have to play inside their house? Or can it be an outside playdate or at your house more frequently?

  22. I refer to our real food journey as a “lifestyle” and not a diet. Diet implies weight loss and temporary. We don’t need to lose weight and we want to eat and live like this for life. I appreciate your perspective of not demonizing any particular food groups, just assessing how each and every food is produced.

  23. We are 13 weeks into your food challenge. We feel great. We have three small kids and they have been completely healthy since October (aside from one very minor cold) despite everyone around us being ill. We all feel better and enjoy eating again when we know everything going into our body is nourishing.

  24. My husband and I have been moving towards a more real food diet over the last few years. We are about 90% there, and I love and feel good about the way we eat now, but I have to say, I never lost my taste for junk food. Blue cupcakes, orange cheezits, kraft macaroni and cheese… I still think they are all delicious! I wish I had lost my taste for junk food because it would make our real food diet that much easier.

  25. Thanks for all the wonderful information you have shared. We are slowly switching our diets over to whole foods. For the most part we eat mostly whole foods, but we aren’t strict if we go out/over to a friends house for dinner. The challenge for me has been to shop economically with a different mindset now, but we are slowly getting there. :-)

  26. We cut out processed food awhile back. I started the Paleo diet a month ago when I started Crossfit training at my gym. I love the diet and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. I haven’t missed whole grains and the best part is that I’ve lost my desire to snack. That feeling I used to get in the middle of the day (“I’m hungry for something, but I don’t know what, I guess I’ll have some triscuts”) is gone. Paleo has made me more in tune with my hunger signals. I eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full. I might add brown rice or oats back in at some point in time, but for now, I feel great!

    Another thing to note, Paleo isn’t necessarily a weight loss diet. It is easily modifiable to the individual whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain weight.

  27. Lisa,
    Thanks for sharing all of this in a concise post. I’m glad to hear your kids will still happily eat the blue food. My oldest can tell a difference but my younger is still happy with all the processed stuff. Hopefully time and our continued real foods at home will work with her as well. My husband happily reminds me how I’ve “ruined” his taste buds (with a smile on his face though) and I always respond how thrilled I am about that.

  28. CJ,
    Thank you for the links….and yes, those ‘gross’ ingredients are absolutely disgusting!!! I’m such a picky eater to begin with and now, this just adds to it!! If I ever needed a ‘kick in the pants’ to eat real food, this would certainly be it!!! ha!ha!

    I love this website – thank you for making eating real seem so easy, so natural and so do-able!! :)

  29. I find this so very interesting. We cut out most processed food at the beginning of the year and there has been very little sickness in our home since then. My children are less hyper than before and we have all changed the way we think processed foods taste….GROSS! It was alot easier making the switch to real food, than I thought it would be and I truly think all the junk we were eating was working against us in so many ways. We are sticking to real food now! Thanks so much for your blog! It is my go to place when I make my menus each week.

  30. My brother & his family are all on the Paleo diet. Christmas with them was interesting, to say the least. He freely admits that he cheats on the diet on a weekly basis. I’d much prefer not to restrict myself on the grains side and just eat in moderation. I have to admit that the Paleo cookbook I received for Christmas has some great recipes in it though! Thanks for sharing the other diets – very interesting.

    1. Fromscratchmom

      I’ve been finding really good stuff through cookbooks for various “special diets” as well. I think a lot of what I can add into my personal eating from several of these plans and even from raw-food folks is better for me than bottles, cans, boxes and packets from the grocery store.

  31. Off topic but wanted to share this.
    Thought you’d be interested in these 2 sites/articles The 1st is 15 gross things in store bought food including things labeled as natural. The second is an article about honey. I also would recc. the documentary “The Vanishing Bees.” Because you are looking to honey as the “real” choice I figured this would be interesting. I enjoy your blog!