Making a lifestyle change can be intimidating at first, especially when that change involves removing entire food groups from your diet. When looking more closely at the paleo guidelines, you’ll find there are plenty of options to choose from — even without consuming grains, dairy, or refined sugars. The key to success with paleo is to become familiar with the types of foods that are allowed on the paleo diet and to know which are clearly off limits. If you need help deciding how to approach paleo, start by learning basics with this Paleo 101 article.
Once you’re familiar with the basic guidelines of the paleo diet, you can think of how they apply to your life. Do you often cook for others in your household? Do you eat out frequently? Do you have a favorite food you know will be challenging to give up? By answering these questions, you’ll be better equipped to begin your paleo journey and maintain it successfully.
Despite knowing the main nutritional guidelines of paleo, no lifestyle change is easy. I’ve come up with a list of 5 steps to follow to help you be successful when starting a paleo diet.
1. Jump In Head First
There are some habits that take time to build, but eating paleo isn’t one of them. When starting out on the paleo diet, it’s best to set a date and jump in. You’ll want to take some time to understand the paleo lifestyle and remove non-paleo foods from your kitchen beforehand but don’t allow yourself to continue eating these foods once you’ve decided to start.
Most people struggle to change their eating habits, so it’s best to begin your paleo journey when you have time to dedicate to it with no interruptions. This means do not start paleo the same week you leave for vacation because you’re much more likely to be tempted by non-paleo foods in the beginning. Once you’re accustomed to eating paleo for a few months you’ll be better equipped to handle those situations outside your normal routine. Do yourself a favor and begin your paleo journey when you have limited distractions.
Paleo is not just a diet, but a lifestyle. When you begin following paleo, you’re committing to a lifestyle that focuses on whole, nutritious foods and avoids food groups that were not available to our paleolithic ancestors. A lifestyle is a long-term commitment, not something you switch up after a few weeks. When you set a date to start paleo, mark that date in your calendar and track your progress over time. This gives you a solid visual of ‘before’ your paleo lifestyle, and will help you stay committed by seeing how far you’ve come. This can be especially helpful if big goals feel overwhelming to you because you can take it one day at a time.
2. Eliminate Temptation by Planning Ahead
The first few weeks of your paleo journey might be difficult because you are not used to the new limitations on the foods you’re eating. Because of that, you may feel the strong urge to grab a familiar, non-paleo snack out of habit or convenience. I know it’s not easy to say no bagels in the break room at work, especially at first, but there are a few ways to eliminate that temptation altogether to help you succeed with a paleo diet, especially when you take the time to plan ahead.
First, it’s a good idea to get rid of all non-paleo foods from your home before starting your paleo diet. This includes any go-to snacks or foods you might be tempted to grab in a hurry. By not having these foods around, you’re removing all temptation that goes along with them. If your family is not following the paleo diet and eats these types of foods, organize your pantry in a way that keeps your paleo-approved foods separate, and those tempting snacks out of sight. If you’re the primary cook in your household, try making paleo-friendly meals for your family. You might be surprised how many delicious paleo recipes are out there that non-paleo eaters love!
It can be harder to avoid temptation at places like work or school because you have less control over the foods available, but there is always a paleo alternative when you come prepared. If you know ahead of time that you’ll be attending an event where food will be involved, eat before you go or pack yourself a paleo alternative to what is being served. To avoid being caught off guard with surprise snacks at work, it’s best to keep your own paleo-approved snacks at your desk or in your bag so you can eat those instead.
To really set yourself up for success on the paleo diet, planning your meals becomes key. When you’re eliminating certain foods from your diet, you need to be prepared with foods you can eat so you don’t feel deprived or tempted to go off plan. Meal prepping is something that can help with this.
A great way to approach meal prepping is to plan a week at a time. Look at your calendar to see what commitments you have that week and plan your meals accordingly. Sit down and make a list of all the foods you’ll need for your meals, and don’t leave anything out! If you’re used to having a quick bowl of cereal for breakfast, make sure you find a paleo-friendly replacement for that meal, too, such as this nutritious ground turkey breakfast hash. [https://oursaltykitchen.com/ground-turkey-hash/]
Sometimes meal prepping can feel overwhelming but one thing that can help is to plan one big meal that can be made into small meals. You can create one large salad and pair it with a different protein each day (chicken, salmon, etc.) or make a large batch of turkey meatballs to use for different dinners throughout the week. For convenience, use storage containers like these to portion out your meals so you’ll always have one ready to go. The key with meal prepping is finding foods that are versatile and can be used in different meals.
Snacking takes some getting used to on the paleo diet because many popular processed snacks are not paleo-friendly. Raw veggies, hard boiled eggs, and mixed nuts are great options to keep you full between meals and are good to prep ahead of time so they’re easily available to you throughout the week. Although the first few weeks of saying no to tempting non-paleo foods might be challenging, it will get easier. Planning your meals and snacks will help you stay on track so you should start feeling more comfortable with the paleo lifestyle within a few weeks of getting started.
3. Find Paleo-Friendly Options at Your Favorite Restaurants
Just because you’re following the paleo lifestyle doesn’t mean you’re banned from having a social life. While it may take a bit more planning and research to find paleo-approved foods at restaurants, it can be done. When making plans to eat at a restaurant, first choose a place that offers a wide variety of foods so you know there should be something paleo-friendly on the menu. It might be hard to find something other than pasta at an Italian restaurant, so keep this in mind when choosing where to eat.
Next, browse their menu ahead of time to see which meals look paleo-friendly. You may still need to ask some questions about the food when you order, but it’s great if you can pick your meal before you even get there so you feel prepared.
One thing to keep in mind when dining out is that some restaurants will say a dish is paleo to appeal to the paleo crowd, but in reality, only part of the meal is truly paleo. I discussed these paleo misconceptions in depth here [insert commonly thought to be paleo] so it’s good to be armed with this knowledge so you can know the difference between true paleo food and ‘wannabe’ paleo dishes.
4. Find a Paleo Buddy
When starting something like the paleo diet it can sometimes feel like no one else understands why you’ve chosen to eat this way. Friends and family may not be the most supportive or understanding, and that can make it difficult to stick with paleo.
Finding someone else who is committed to the paleo lifestyle can make a world of difference in your paleo journey. Studies show that you are more likely to stick with an exercise program when you work out with a friend, and the same goes for a change in your diet. [1,2] You can support one another as you’re navigating the challenges that come with a lifestyle change, and reach out with questions or ideas that come up as you go. You can even swap recipe ideas or find new paleo-friendly restaurants to try together.
The paleo community is strong and supportive, even if you’re just getting started so I recommend finding whatever kind of support system that works for you and letting them be a part of your paleo journey. I highly recommend the Facebook Group [paleo for beginners?] if you’re just getting started with paleo. There are thousands of active members who can help answer questions and provide tips as you get started.
5. Decide If and When You’ll Treat Yourself
Although paleo is an elimination diet, it is not meant to deprive you. Rather, the paleo diet is meant to re-introduce us to a primal way of eating that goes back to the basics of nutrition with the goal of improving our health. Desserts may not be considered paleo, but a simple treat made with paleo ingredients could be an important part of your paleo diet.
While it can be argued that paleo desserts and baked goods may or may not be true paleo [could link to common misconceptions here instead?], I do think it’s important to allow yourself some leeway in your paleo diet when it comes to treats. These paleo-friendly treats can keep you motivated by incorporating new and different foods into your diet aside from the usual meats, vegetables, and fruits.
When considering a treat on the paleo diet, the key is to establish exactly what you allow yourself in this lifestyle and what is off limits, even when you’re being intentional about diet flexibility. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to treat yourself to a bowl of ice cream since it’s full of sugars, high-fat dairy, and processed ingredients that can cause inflammation and gut discomfort, but a small serving of fruit-based sorbet might be okay. Another option is to create a paleo version of your favorite non-paleo treat using paleo-approved ingredients, like this grain-free apple crisp or this creamy chocolate pudding.
Without these occasional treats, you might find yourself becoming disinterested in the paleo food options you’re eating on a regular basis. If this happens, it’s less likely that the paleo diet will be sustainable for you. Remember, it is key to set boundaries for yourself in this lifestyle so you’re clear on the foods you’ll be flexible with, and which foods you will not eat. Also consider your goals when choosing a treat. If your goal is weight loss, it’s best to avoid fruits or high-carb foods altogether, at least in the beginning. You can slowly add some of these food options back into your diet as you see results and get more comfortable with this way of eating.
No matter your particular circumstance, the biggest goal of a paleo lifestyle is to create a long-term relationship with healthy foods and an occasional approved treat can help make this lifestyle not only more sustainable, but also more enjoyable.
5. Remember Why You Started.
Everyone has their own reasons for living a paleo lifestyle but most of the time, getting started isn’t the hardest part. In the beginning, you can feel motivated to lose weight and improve your health through your eating habits but over time that motivation can dwindle so it’s important to remind yourself why you’ve chosen the paleo path in the first place.
For some, a family history of high blood pressure may be a motive for following a paleo diet but for others it could be daily headaches and fatigue motivating them to change their eating habits to improve these symptoms. Think about the reasons you’re starting the paleo diet and write them down in a place where you can come back and reference them. If you start feeling discouraged, unmotivated, or have the urge to indulge in a mountain of unhealthy, non-paleo foods, pull out your ‘why’ list to remind yourself why staying on track is worth it for you.
If your reasons for starting a paleo lifestyle are more about general health and wellbeing, it might be good to pick up Jared Diamond’s book ‘The World Until Yesterday’ to learn more about human existence before modern technologies and how traditional societies functioned, from settling disputes to feeding their communities. There is a lot we can learn from our ancestors who lived and ate much more simply than we do today.
If you follow the steps outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to creating a successful, sustainable, and healthy lifestyle for yourself. It’s great to start strong on the paleo diet but keep in mind that the changes in your health you’re hoping to see will not happen overnight. Whether it’s losing weight, boosting energy, or improving a health condition, you will need to be consistent in your paleo eating habits for some time before you’ll begin to see noticeable changes.
As early as month two or three of following the paleo diet, you could begin noticing some changes in how you feel each day. At this point you’ll want to look ahead to the future and make any tweaks to your diet based on your experience so far. This could mean allowing yourself more treats if you feel you need them to stay on track, or cutting back on a certain type of food because of how your body reacts to it. Learning how different foods affect your body is one of the most rewarding aspects of being consistent with a paleo diet. Hopefully these five steps help you start your paleo journey on the right foot so you can be successful with this lifestyle long-term. Good luck!