I decided to go Paleo 12 months ago (see here) but didn’t think I would last very long. It’s all about eating good fats but low carbs; the two together are thought to be a recipe for disaster. I initially started paleo because I wanted to lose weight and feel less bloated. It was a short term measure. It wasn’t long before I started to feel different, more energised, and decided to stick with paleo as a way of thinking about food. Going paleo wasn’t an easy transition for me though. Here are my top tips if you are thinking about it, or if you want to improve your eating in any way.
Do Your (Paleo) Homework
I read a lot on paleo in the early weeks. There are many websites, blogs and vlogs out there but I initially relied heavily on Pete Evans. He’s a reliable source and is very informative about the benefits of high fat, low carb eating. I wanted to know about the foods I could eat and those to avoid, as well as explore new ways of cooking and different meals. While I was, and still am, interested in the health benefits of paleo, I wanted inspirating recipes, preferably with accessible ingredients (liquorice root powder, anyone?). I knew that if I wanted this to work for me, I’d need ideas and delicious meals rather than grabbing the odd chicken thigh and tomato from the fridge.
Prepare Your Mind, Not Just Your Shopping List
It goes without saying, when you modify your eating, you need to have the right food in the cupboard. For me, it was just as much about mindset and mental adjustment, as it was about meal planning. I remember a friend talking about Paleo and someone commenting how restricted it seems. She replied, “it’s not about what you can’t have, it’s about all the things you can.” She’s right. You can have loads of different, delicious foods on Paleo but you have to think about what you’re eating. That’s no bad thing in my view. I am unable to grab a sandwich or have a shop bought cake, but I am able to make my own. There are alternative recipes for everything! I also found that after reading about the effects of refined sugar, dairy and grains on the gut and body, I developed an aversion to these things. When it comes to mindset, I think there is something about embracing the change too. If you are complaining about it from the start, how likely is it to last? I found I looked forward to every meal (I still do) and I’m rarely disappointed.
Despite being organised when I started and making sure my fridge was loaded with meats, raw veggies and oodles of avocados to snack on, I was hungry. It wasn’t right. I was eating all the time and wondered how I would be able to afford to keep it up, let alone anything else. I sought advice because any eating plan shouldn’t leave you hungry, and was told to eat more fat. So I did. Spoonfuls of nut butter, avocado halves, and adding extra coconut oil to meals. It was a strange transition. I realised I missed the convenience of bread (I used to eat loads) and had to find an alternative (here). A year on, I find I eat much less than I used to but I eat when I’m hungry, whatever the time. Sometimes I may just have 2 meals a day, it’s surprising how filling and satisfying paleo food is.
If I hadn’t meal planned in the early months, I wouldn’t have been able to stick to paleo. I had to adjust how I made things and discover new foods. I now have stock meals I make most weeks, but I still like stumbling across a new recipe. Some meals can be time consuming, marinading or slow cooking is required. There is no doubt that if you put the time in at the start, it makes it easier in the long run. I’ve made Paleo Pulled Pork, Paleo pastry, and discovered some wonderful new flavours. If you’re in doubt about what you can have, loads up your plate with plenty of greens.
As above, I had to find alternatives for what I used to eat, like a bread recipe. I didn’t realise how much I snacked on it but now have to freeze half a loaf as I barely touch it. Similarly, I have found I need lots of inspo for a paleo brekkie. I make all sorts but find my taste chops and changes. I have made paleo pancakes, hot “oat” cereal, quinoa porridge, as well as good old eggs and bacon. There is the added benefit of having leftovers too. I’ve had roast for breakfast before and homemade burgers. If there is something you eat a lot of and it’s not paleo, do look around on blogs and websites for recipes. The more I look, the more I find there’s a recipe out there for everything. I am astounded by the number of paleo muffins and cakes available. I am also astounded by the amount of maple syrup or honey in them. As a note, I never use as much as the recipe suggests. Most of the time you don’t need it.
When I started Paleo, I was very rigid. I was of the mind that if I was going to cut sugar, grains, wheat, and dairy from my diet, there was no point in having a little bit. I still steer clear of bread, pasta, oats, and pulses. Ditto sugar. I do sometimes have cows milk in my tea (if that’s all there is) and occasionally nibble a bit of cheese. While I have cut back on the old caffeine, I do have tea and the odd coffee. I like it. The same with wine. I’m no big drinker, but I like the occasional glass with dinner (plus it’s grapes. You can have grapes). A lot of sites talk about the 80/20 rule, suggesting a 20% leniency. I didn’t like this to begin with, and while I like to think I eat paleo more than 80% of the time, there are occasions when paleo options just aren’t available.
That’s another thing: going out to eat IS. A. NIGHTMARE. Some places aren’t too bad but options often aren’t in abundance. I actually don’t mind choosing whatever option is on the menu, such as steak and veggies or a mackerel salad, but have made concessions when necessary. I generally steer clear of pasta, pizza and anything “carby”. Worse case scenario is usually gluten free. It’s not paleo but for one meal out of thousands, it ain’t going to hurt.
I think Paleo is great. I would recommend to anyone that it’s worth giving it a go. Don’t be afraid of taking these things out of your diet. There is the Whole30 thing, where you eliminate all sugar, refined carbs and dairy from your diet for 30 days, and just see how you feel. This would be one way to start. Another is to sign up for the Paleo Way 10 week programme (currently half price, I believe)
For me, paleo has changed how I look at food and made me think about what I put into my body. I cannot say enough about how energised and great I feel. It was particularly noticeable in the early months, I couldn’t quite believe it. I continue to get comments on my skin, which was fine before paleo but the dark circles under my eyes have reduced markedly. Naturally weight loss happened, and while this was a reason for changing my eating, it isn’t why I have continued. I like what I eat and I think it’s wrong that fats are seen as the enemy (not all of them are good). Lots of people start Paleo eating to help their health, such as autoimmune difficulties, skin problems and diabetes. I’m lucky, I don’t have any of these but can see how this way of eating is linked to health benefits. When I look back over the past 12 months, I don’t think I have been unwell once.
Have you changed your eating in any way, for the better? What works for you, your health, and your lifestyle?