From a reader comment — “I’m interested in trying Paleo/primal-style eating. How do I start?”
Good question. Here’s my advice, expanded from earlier comments.
Start small. One step at a time.
In this order:
- Add more fresh fruits and veggies to your diet. Expand the variety that you do eat. Get some diversity in there. Make them colourful if possible — dark leafy greens, blueberries, purple beets, etc.
- Make sure you have a good roster of lean, ideally animal-based protein sources: chicken, turkey, duck, fish, eggs, seafood, lean red meats, game, etc. Get accustomed to having a bit of this protein with every meal.
- Eat only whole, unprocessed foods — again, fresh fruit/veg, fresh meats/fish/poultry, etc. Get used to eating these foods. Make sure you know how to shop for, prep, and make them taste good. (Not hard to do, luckily.) Learn where your food comes from.
- Once you have #1-3 solid, THEN remove ALL sugar. For carbs, have fruit or starchy veggies such as yams or butternut squash. I’m a hardass about sugar; some folks will say honey or maple syrup is “primal”, but unless you’re willing to climb a tree and stick your hand into a beehive, or suck on tree sap, I’m not buying that argument. (Here is a step-by-step guide to dumping sugar.)
- Remove ALL processed vegetable oils (e.g. corn oil, safflower oil, soy oil, cooking spray, margarine, etc.). Replace with small portions of good fats from whole foods: whole avocados, butter, fresh coconut, extra-virgin cold-pressed coconut oil (not the hydrogenated/refined crap), fattier cuts of grassfed/pastured meats, fattier fish, olives and extra-virgin olive oil, high-fat raw dairy, raw nuts, etc. But keep your portions moderate — one or two “thumbs” of fat per meal. Many a primal eater has “mysteriously” packed on a few pounds after heeding the siren call of cashews and bacon.
- Once you nail steps 1-5, only THEN remove ALL wheat and wheat gluten. (Read labels. But if you’re eating whole foods, there should be no labels.)
- Once you’re comfortable with both the no-wheat groove and carbs from veggies/fruit, take out all other grains — oats, rye, barley, etc. (Rice is usually well tolerated so the occasional sushi probably won’t break you.)
- Take out all non-fermented or non-raw dairy (e.g. raw milk cheese). Some purists say “all dairy” — I say take it all out, add fermented stuff back in slowly, and see if your skin breaks out or you get sniffly. Butter is usually OK, as is real whipping cream (read the label — often it contains milk.)
- Optional — take out beans and legumes such as lentils, soy, black beans, chickpeas, and peanuts. Personally, I find a few lentils or a bit of hummus now and again is no big deal, especially if the beans and legumes are soaked, sprouted, and/or fermented. So it’s your call on this one. But definitely chuck out soy.
- Add some fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.
I suggest doing it this way because it’s easier to add first, then take away. It’s also easier from a practical standpoint to learn one small step at a time. I suggest one week per step. If you need more time, take it.
Understand that you won’t really be rocking “primal” till step 7, but that steps 1-6 are a “primal warmup”, if you will. And understand that you will see improvements with each step, but usually not massive changes until you get rid of grains, sugar, and dairy.
Still, if you only ever do steps 1-5, you’re way ahead of most people.
Don’t get too hung up on fiddly details. Get it in the ballpark for now.
Other folks advise just leaping in and going full-on primal for a month. They argue that you need to remove all the crap right away so you’re hooked on how good you feel, and you get a lot of the junk out of your system immediately.
I don’t dispute that; I just prefer the one-thing-at-a-time method because it works better for the vast majority of my coaching clients.
It can be so overwhelming to learn, prep, cook, and live on a new diet, it’s easy to go off the rails. Then you feel like a screwup. Or you start nurturing a nascent eating disorder. Not really what we’re going for. So let’s keep it real, go slow, and make this work!
However: if you absolutely love the “cold turkey” approach, go for it! Check out RobbWolf.com and grab the Quick Start guide. Mmmm turkey.
Then let ‘er rip. Set yourself up for success with this experiment!
Don’t be intimidated — you’re probably farther ahead than you think. If you already eat pretty healthy, then you only need to make a few small changes and substitutions.
Keep a food journal as you do this. You don’t have to be obsessive. (In fact, you shouldn’t be obsessive with your food, ever, and if you are, UR DOIN IT RONG.)
Just write down what you’re eating and how you feel. The point here is to connect food with experiences and feelings.
You might discover things like “trigger foods” for health issues such as allergies, joint pain, migraines, depression, GI upset, etc. Notice how you feel after eating — even the next day. See if you observe any connections.
Keep it real. Don’t go down the rabbit hole of “Paleo products” just yet. Eat real, whole, fresh, unprocessed foods. Whatever your ancestors could have hunted, gathered, or dug up counts. (But it’s OK to cook things. Our ancestors had much tougher stomachs than we do.)
Portion size still matters. Ignore the folks who say you can eat anything you like and get ripped on primal eating. Folks who say that are usually 22-year-old dudes who are Crossfitting 15 times a week. The laws of thermodynamics still apply, so if you’re looking for fat loss, eat slowly and only until you’re just satisfied (not “full” or “stuffed” or “in a groovy bacon coma”).
Use this project as a way to connect with your own food history. Quite likely your family heritage involves traditional recipes that can easily be modified to suit a primal way of eating, and/or ancestral cooking techniques such as making real bone broths (soup stocks) or oven roasts. Heck, take the kids berry picking or something.
Above all: HAVE FUN! Don’t make this about restricting or controlling or being “perfect”; make it into a fun game and self-experiment.
Old school, baby!