Ready to give this paleo thing a try? Not sure where to begin? Well then get ready, we’re going to break down how to implement it and some tips to help keep you on track.
What Paleo Is
Paleo is lifestyle change with four main components. The first is eating real food that is nutrient dense from naturally occurring vitamins and minerals while avoiding processed foods, meat from poorly raised animals, and foods that promote inflammation. In a nutshell, eat real food. That means eating meats, vegetables, fruits and some nuts. If you really want the basics you can check out our introduction to the paleo diet.
The other three components of the paleo lifestyle are (in no particular order): getting adequate sleep, exercise, and reducing stress. It’s about being healthy overall, not just losing weight. While this post will primarily discuss food, we will touch more on these topics in a bit.
The Fine Print
Okay, okay, I realize that “meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts” is not a comprehensive list of paleo foods. There is some ambiguity on certain items. To be absolutely clear as to what you should and shouldn’t eat, we’ve put together the following guidelines. If this is too much information too soon, or you’re prone to information overload, you can skip to the TL;DR version.
- Lean Meats – Beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, eggs and organ meats – ideally from local, properly raised animals (grassfed beef, pastured chickens, etc.) but don’t sweat it if it’s not available or is too expensive. Choose meats that have not been processed aside from butchering.
- Vegetables – Eat lots and lots and lots of vegetables, ideally a good base of green leafy vegetables accented by the various other colors of vegetables.
- Fruit – Fruit is 100% okay, however, moderation is wise. Fruit is high in sugars so be careful not to go overboard – especially if you want to lose weight.
- Nuts and Seeds – Macadamias, almonds, brazil nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are all perfectly fine but be cautious of overeating them. It’s easy to lose track of how many you’ve eaten, and with the high fat/caloric content of nuts it can derail your goals. Additionally, they are higher in omega6 fats and if you overeat them it can negatively effect your omega6-to-3 ratio.
- Fats and Oils – Avocado oil, lard, coconut oil and milk, duck fat, ghee, macadamia nut oil, olive oil, tallow and walnut oil are all fine provided you make sure if heating them not to go beyond specified temperatures (example: avoid heating olive oil beyond 350 °F (177 °C.)
- Ghee/Clarified Butter – Ghee, or clarified butter, is allowed while regular butter is discouraged as it still contains milk proteins. You can buy ghee or buy a high-quality butter and clarify it at home.
- Minimally Processed Foods – There are some minimally processed foods that are okay, such as vinegar(Balsamic, red wine, apple cider, etc.), coconut milk, tomato sauce, and others that are totally okay, just be sure to read ingredient lists to ensure there are no nasty additives (including but not limited to: grains, gluten, sugar, vegetable oil, canola oil, carageenan, and MSG.) Just because it says “gluten free” on the front of the package does not mean it doesn’t have grains.
- Fermented Foods – Provided the ingredient list checks out, feel free to eat saurkraut, kimchi and other pickled foods.
Dont Eat This:
- Grains – No grains in any form whatsoever. No wheat, rye, oats, buckwheat, barley, sprouted grains nor gluten-free grains like rice (even brown rice), corn and quinoa. Make sure you read labels as grains have a way of sneaking into many foods.
- Legumes – No beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts (including peanut butter,) nor any soy products (soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy lecithin, etc.)
- Dairy – No dairy including cow, goat or sheep milk or cream, cheese, yogurt, kefir, nor sour cream.
- White Potatoes – For the purposes of the quick start, no white potatoes. See the faqs at the end of the article for an in-depth explanation.
- Processed Food – Processed beverages and foods are often full of sugar and added chemicals (nitrates, nitrites, sulfites, carageenan, MSG, etc.) and thus are on the no list..
- Added Sugars – Do not consume added sugar of any kind, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, stevia, etc. Be sure to read labels, as it has a way of sneaking into everything.
- Bad Oils – Hydroginated, partially hydroginated, and vegetable oils are all to be removed. This includes margarine, corn oil, soybean oil, crisco, peanut oil and sunflower oil.
- paleo-ified Junk Food – While things like paleo banana pancakes can be a part of a sane and healthy diet, if you are just starting your journey toward health, wellness and/or weightloss, don’t even think about it. This will just aid sugar addiction or could lead to derailment and the consumption of even worse foods.
Too long, so you didn’t read it? We understand. If you want the most simplest guidelines possible, then these two graphics by FitBomb sum it up quite nicely:
I Have All This Information, But Where Do I Begin?
This is a lot of information all at once, and I know it can feel overwhelming, but we’re going to help you sort it all out and get started today. Why today? Well, because there is simply no better time to start down the path toward health and well being than today. So, we present to you a challenge: eat 100% paleo for just 30 days.
The Paleo Challenge
Challenges are a great way to build new habits, initiate lifestyle changes, and stay motivated. So, we want you to just try paleo for 30 days. Only 30 days. You can do this! It is just 30 days that you can and will make the choice to eat healthier and live better. No cheats, slips or “special occasions.” In order to experience the full-effect of paleo you must be strong and commit to at least 30 days. What you do afterward is all up to you. To help you stick with it for the full 30 days, we’ve put together the following guide to help you plan and prepare.
And remember, if you cheat, you have to start all over again.
Adequate preparation can make or break your success with this challenge. Plan for success and set up safeguards to protect yourself from slipping.
Begin with a complete pantry purge: remove all bread, rice, pasta, cookies, crackers, ice cream, juice, sodas – everything non-paleo – from your house. Donate, give away, or toss out all the bad food and start clean with a trip to the farmer’s market or grocery store to restock with fresh, healthy food. You (and your family) can survive just fine on 30 days without snacks and junk food.
This is about making it easy on yourself and not having to suffer temptation (and the subsequent regret.) Purging will make it easier for you to choose healthier snacks above junk food, thus altering your habits.
Mark on your calendar, draw a large box with 30 squares within it, start a food journal, whatever you find easiest method to stick to that also motivates you is what you’ll use to count the 30 days. It will be up to you to keep yourself honest.
In the Bedroom
Remove all sources of light from your bedroom – all LED lights, alarm clocks, TV’s and block your windows. You’ll get a much better night’s sleep with a completely black room. Additionally, don’t watch TV or surf the internet for at least an hour before bed, and ensure that you get at least 8 full hours of sleep. When you wake up, you’ll feel refreshed, relaxed and prepared for anything.
It’s impossible to remove all sources of stress from your life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fight it. Make time for yourself to relax, and de-stress. Not all techniques work for everyone, but try various breathing techniques, stretching, meditation, light exercise, etc. to help relax and unwind. I particularly enjoy about 10 minutes of stretching in the morning and at night reading and doing a little bit of yoga right before bed.
If you’ve already in the habit of exercising, then congratulations, stick with it. If not, don’t worry about exercising until the last week or two of the 30 days. Since you’re making several changes all at once, just focus on going for a roughly 30 minute walk every day for the first two to three weeks. It’s possible that your energy levels might be weird for the first two weeks (due to sugar/grain withdrawal and getting used to the new dietary changes) and since you’ll want to keep your stress levels down, so only begin a smart exercise plan when you feel energetic and 100% ready to begin.
Pick a variety of recipes that look appealing and fit your lifestyle. If you don’t enjoy cooking, then don’t pick complicated recipes that take forever to cook. Love to cook? Then have at it. Plan ahead for busy schedules and for those days when you just don’t feel like cooking by choosing recipes that can be made in large quantities or quickly. Additionally, chop your vegetables as soon as you get home and store them so you can make meals/salads much more quickly.
For example, say you go to the grocery on Saturday morning and buy a lot of food for the week. When you come home, pull out a handful of the chicken thighs you bought and full a baking dish with them. Season them and toss them in the oven. While they cook chop up the vegetables (or the ones that need to be) and then store them. Save those chicken thighs for salads and times when you just don’t feel like cooking. For dinner make a huge soup, stew, or giant meatloaf (it doesn’t have to be in the shape of a loaf.)
Eating For Your Goals
How you eat (calories, macros, etc.) should align with your goals, be it weight loss, maintenance, or athletics. For example, if you are looking to lose weight, keep starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, etc.) to a minimum and make sure you don’t overdo it on high-calorie foods. Athletes on the other hand can pile on the protein and carbs post-workout.
Need help with ideas for food? A quick Google search will help you find loads of great paleo food websites.
What To Expect & FAQS
What To Expect
Everyone’s experience is going to be a little different. If your diet has been bad you’ll likely feel lethargic and possibly even downright terrible for the first couple of weeks. It’s common that people experience withdrawal from grains, excessive carbohydrates and/or sugars. It’s not going to last. If you can tough it out the benefits will be plentiful.
Once the adjustment period is over you’ll experience increased and stable energy levels, better sleep at night, changes in body composition, and improved performance. Your overall health and wellness will see improvements too.
Why Only 30 Days?
Because you’re more likely to do it. While it can take a long time to heal from years of a bad diet, the 30 days is simply because this is a trial, and you need to be on it long enough to get over the ‘low-carb flu’ and into the healing phase, but not so long that it’s daunting and you refuse to try it out in the first place.
Change doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time. Weight loss, food addictions, are tough suckers to beat. You may even hit plateaus. Things like mental and emotional attachments to comforting foods full of grain and sugar, and chemically altered, processed foods can take a long time to heal and will be a tough battle to fight. But, if you can stick with this for just 30 days, you will begin to see positive changes and prove that you can do anything.
Having Trouble Going Cold-Turkey?
Moving into an ancestral diet can be tough – especially for those who have very busy lifestyles, have kids or who have picky eaters in the house. A sudden change in diet might result in fights, crying, and tantrums – and trying to avoid those is the goal.
If you’re having trouble going cold-turkey and jumping straight into it, then start slowly. Try making just one dinner without grains, legumes or dairy. Is everyone happy? Were those things missed? Probably, and probably not. So, go for one week making just paleo-approved dinners. Eventually, pull it out of breakfast. Then, after another week or two, transition lunches too so you’ll be full-on paleo.
This method has not only the perk of easing into it so kids and picky eaters won’t notice – but also the added benefit of time. By gradually switching this gives you more than enough time to plan and prepare so you will be able to transition smoothly and sustain the transition.
Once you’ve completed the transition, then start the 30 day challenge as laid out above.
Why no White Potatoes, Sugar, Alcohol, etc.?
Part of this challenge is to change how you see food, and your relationship with it. We want you to break food addictions and get your hormones under regulation, so these foods are thus excluded. Once you are healthy, regular and free from any addictions, then these can be added back in moderation as part of a reasonable and completely sane diet.
100% Commitment Is Required
Don’t shortchange yourself. If you don’t commit 100% then you wont be able to see the full effects that paleo has to offer. Planning and lots of preparation will be the foundation of your transition, and will help you ensure that you won’t fail. Keep things around you to remind yourself why you’re doing this and motivate you to stay on track.
This is not a “quick fix” or a diet in the common definition as “something you do for a short while to lose weight.” Weight loss, strength gain, and greater health all take time. Paleo is about changing both how you eat and how you live. Just try this for 30 days and see how it makes you feel. If you like what you see, then commit to making permanent changes to your lifestyle. If not, then feel free to go back to what you were doing, or trying something else.
Just try eating exclusively fresh meats, fruits and vegetables for one month – that’s all we ask.
Help Us Help You
I’m sure you’ve got questions – and we want to help you. So feel free to post any and all questions, comments and your experiences in the comments.
Stay tuned as I’ll be going in depth into some related topics such as sleep in the coming weeks.
Update: We’ve written a follow-up post to help you continue the journey beyond your first 30 days.