So you’ve decided to commit to eating like a caveman have you? Well put down your club, lose the loin cloth, and stand up straight, cuz’ you’re in for a wild ride! In this article I’m going to go through 8 tips to get you started on the Paleo diet.
If you’re switching from eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) to Paleo, then yeah, cutting out all grains, dairy, legumes and pre-packaged foods is going to be a challenge. But start dropping pant sizes and notice that your arthritis has suddenly became non-existent and we’ll be doing a virtual high-five!
That being said, jumping into the deep end of the pool can be scary, so consider this a lesson in dog paddling that will help you get started on the path to not only losing weight and feeling great, but solving major health problems forever.
Here are eight tips that will help you ease into what will hopefully become a lifestyle change instead of just another fad diet.
1. Start the Paleo diet with the mindset of a cleanse or an elimination diet.
If you have aches and pains, unexplained rashes, headaches, post-nasal drip, or just don’t sleep well, now is the time when you can get answers! Simply take 3 weeks and strip everything that you’ve usually been eating from your diet (with the exception of fruits, veggies, healthy fats and some meats). Being ultra strict at this time is key. Is there soy sauce in that beef jerky, are those nuts roasted in canola oil? Steer clear, any little bit will mess up your results later. At the beginning of week 4, start adding foods back in that you think may be an issue for you.
It is very important to only add one food at a time. So when you try wheat, just eat Cream of Wheat, not a slice of bread (that also contains yeast and other ingredients). What I’m saying is, keep it pure.
When you eat a bowl of oatmeal does your knee begin to hurt again? When you try dairy (on a separate day) do you suddenly have a runny nose? Often it takes a day, or even 3, for a reaction to a certain food to occur, so take it slow, pay attention to symptoms, and keep a food diary.
If you find out that certain foods cause you health issues, I’m here to tell you that that makes those foods a lot easier to stay away from. For example, I get horrible headaches when I eat wheat (actually any grain with the exception of rice). So now, when I see a brownie, I no longer crave that sweet luscious chocolate fudgy-cakey bite that will make me feel bliss. Nope, I see three days in bed with a heat pack over my eyes, ice behind my neck, and my kids creeping around me wishing their mommy would get up and feed them dinner. I’m serious. I can now look at, smell, or even bake a brownie with no cravings whatsoever.
2. Set yourself up for success and be reasonable
Did you know that 90% of smokers who go “cold turkey” fail? As if that statistic isn’t bad enough, a whopping 93% of dieters who go “cold turkey” fail? So, let’s not be dictator’s about the whole thing by going “cold turkey,” let’s just be smart/reasonable about it.
Side note: Now that being said, I know in the above paragraph, I basically told you to go cold turkey. What I’m saying is, if you’re trying to figure out food intolerances and health issues, then now is the time to go all out and just do the elimination diet protocol. If you’re thinking of this as a “lifestyle change” then cold turkey will likely lead you to failure. Also, once the elimination diet is over and you have answers in your back pocket, then consider the turkey thawed and move on to the easing in portion of the program.
When I say “ease in” I do not mean finish that last box of cookies in the cupboard while eating a few extra veggies. Take all the junk to the food bank, or put it into the compost bucket and call it done. Once you’ve cleaned out the junk, it’s time to add foods back in that will keep you full, satiated, and that you like. This will help you “ease” into the water versus cannon balling into the deep end of the pool.
That means stock your fridge and freezer with pastured/grass fed meat and eggs, organic (preferably) veggies and fruits, butter, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and a little dried fruit (In a hard to reach place. The back of the freezer works well).
Look up Paleo recipes online of foods that you really love. Do you think you’ll have a hard time giving up bread? Make Paleo bread. Think you’ll miss pasta and meatballs? There are plenty of people who have gone before you, have fantastic recipes, and are willing to share (me being one of them ;-).)
3. Have 3 options for breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and dessert ready to go:
Apple slices with homemade almond butter
Hard boiled egg with salt and a spoonful of coconut oil/butter
Pork chop, sweet potato fries, and broccoli sauteed in plenty of butter, coconut oil, a squeeze of lemon and salt.
A few berries and some homemade dark chocolate from my dessert eCookbook, The Paleo Sweet Tooth
A small glass of red wine
4. Be ready for cravings and food emergencies
Easing into the Paleo diet means that if you are craving sugar, then eat a piece of fruit. Eating much fruit will stall weight loss, but if it helps you get over the hump, stay away from the bagel, and get you towards your goal. Eat the fruit!
If you’re dying of hunger, you’re at the store and you’re about to buy those chips, turn around and look at the beef jerky. Not organic, pastured beef jerky? It’s still better than chips! Remember that protein and fat are your friends. They keep you full and your blood sugar steady. Whenever I need to make it to the next meal, I look for anything that has fat and protein. Beef jerky, a banana and almond butter have saved me on numerous occasions and can often even be purchased at the corner gas station.
Even better, be ready for these emergencies and cravings. Have a bag of mixed nuts and seeds in the car, put an emergency ration of beef jerky in your desk, carry a small bottle of liquid stevia with you. When a sugar craving hits, get some unsweetened iced tea, put a few drops of stevia in it (a packet works as well, but try to get the least refined as possible), and enjoy.
5. Old habits die hard
If you go to the coffee store every morning and get a coffee and croissant, it’s going to be hard to break that habit. We only have so much will power stored up (no, really, it’s like a tank of gas, it gets used up and needs to be replenished) so we want to be careful just how much of it we use up at once. Sometimes it’s best to just stay away from old haunts (like an alcoholic cannot generally go enjoy a club soda at a bar they used to frequent. It ain’t gonna happen).
It’s really best to ask yourself why you like going to the coffee stand every morning. Do you like visiting with the staff? Maybe it’s just the feeling of having someone make something special for you. Maybe it’s because you’re always starving by this point in the morning and you’re hungry. Maybe you didn’t drink any water since you woke up and you’re really thirsty. Maybe it’s that hit of sugar that your brain is addicted to. Whatever the reason, it’s best to really assess why that habit has become….a habit.
Often there’s a simple solution. Maybe you just need to make yourself a batch of Paleo muffins that you can grab from the fridge each morning and eat in the car. Maybe you need to have a big drink of water when you get up. Maybe you need to visit with a friend on the phone while you drive (hands-free of course!). Maybe you’re not ready to give up caffeine, and you can still stop, but you change your drink to black coffee, and carry a small amount of canned coconut cream to put in your coffee (this is what I do. I have found no better replacement for cream than full-fat canned coconut milk. Boxed coconut and almond milk ruin coffee IMHO.)
6. This is NOT a low-calorie diet, a low-fat diet, or the Atkins Diet
If you want to buy a pound of pastured bacon and eat it until you feel sick, you can definitely do that under the guise of it being Paleo. In fact, if you love bacon that much, do it! Your fat receptors may be seriously depleted and need a little extra attention. Pretty soon a pound of bacon will sound like too much, and you’ll just want a few pieces.
That being said, this is not an excuse to eat only meat and fat. You still need carbs (sweet potatoes, yucca, plantain, and squash are some of my favorite choices), and you still need a wide variety of vegetables and a little fruit.
If your goal is weight loss, then you’ll want to keep your fruit to a bare minimum, and your carbs pretty low as well. I generally recommend between 20 (women)-30 (men) grams of protein per meal (3x’s per day) when weight loss is the goal. However, a high protein, low carb diet can be hard on the liver and is permissible for only a short period of time (3 months). It is imperative to include plenty of fat with that protein so as not to deplete essential vitamin A stores. I also recommend drinking lemon water to help detox the liver both while eating a high protein diet, as well as when losing weight.
7. This is not a starvation diet!
Whatever you choose to eat, just make sure you are full. If you are trying to restrict fat, or stay low calorie, then pick another diet. The Paleo diet is not about counting calories and having a spray of olive oil on your salad. After all, it’s the fat that helps us absorb the vitamins from the vegetable. I like what Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation says “…broccoli is the perfect vehicle for butter.” In other words, have a little broccoli with your butter, not the other way around.
Fat helps us to feel full, satiated, and keeps our blood sugar steady and even. Fat does not make you fat. Bad fats (such as industrialized, highly processed oils like canola, corn, and soybean oil) make us fat, sick and impairs brain function. Good, healthy fats (saturated or not), such as coconut, palm, butter, and olive oil are wonderful, healthy fats that tell your brain to quit eating when it’s full, and help your blood sugar to be solid and consistent. Fat is the most efficient fuel you can feed your body, and once your body remembers that, it will start using any excess fuel strapped to your belly, hips and thighs to burn off before it demands any more.
8. Do NOT start a strenuous exercise plan at the same time you start the diet
Strenuous exercise is one of your worst enemies when trying to get rid of sugar and carb cravings. That’s because both sugar and carbs are quick and easy fuel. So if your body is already used to running off of easy-to-convert-to glucose fuel such as bagels (yes, even whole grain bagels) and soda, and now you’re adding insult to injury by revving the metabolism and withholding that easy to convert fuel, it’s not only going to want that same fuel, it’s going to DEMAND that fuel.
Instead, just get moving. Park further away from your building at work, or the grocery store, take the stairs, stand up and stretch every hour or less. Best of all, simply start working a daily walk into your routine.
The Paleo Template
You may be starting the Paleo lifestyle because you want to lose weight, or because you want to address certain health concerns, but whatever the reason, remember that just because eating this way works for me, or your sister, or Mark Sisson, does not mean that it will work for you. I really like Chris Kresser’s approach, look at it as a template and tweak it to work for you on a personal basis.
To your health!