A couple of weeks ago I was talking with my mom, and she asked me “How do I transition to Paleo?” She said she couldn’t just go one day eating a normal standard American diet (S.A.D.) and paleo the next without a plan or a method to do so.
Maybe you’ve had the same question. You’d like to switch to a more paleo way of eating, but you’re not sure exactly how to go paleo. You’d like to know how to ease into it gradually. What are the steps to take? What should I focus on first?
The first time I went paleo, I dove in head-first without a real plan. I printed out a list of what to eat and what not to eat and started from there, but I really had no idea what I was doing and it was kind of a shock to my body. The first couple of weeks were difficult since my body had adapted itself to eating processed carbs and sugars, and I had suddenly cut them out. Once my body adjusted and I got used to the paleo way of eating, it became easier and my body felt so much better. I had more energy throughout the day, I slept better, my digestive system improved, and even my skin improved. I went off paleo for a while when I was reverse-dieting, but got tired of the tummy issues I had on a S.A.D., and started eating paleo again. I took a more gradual approach the next time around to help my body adjust a little more easily.
For some, it might be a good thing to do something like Whole 30, where you eliminate everything all at once. But not everyone is ready to dive in completely, they’d rather start at the shallow end of the pool before completely going under.
First of all, what is the paleo way of eating?
The term “Paleo” refers to the paleolithic era, when the cavemen hunted and gathered their food. Before pasta and pastries and candy bars, we ate what we could gather. Lots of green veggies and protein. It is a diet free of any processed foods or sugar, gluten, grains, legumes and dairy. Instead, the goal is to focus on whole, nourishing foods like high quality meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs and starches.
If you think you’d like to try to adapt to a more paleo way of eating but are unsure of how to do so, these are the steps you can take to get there. You can decide how quickly you want to take these steps, you can take them one week at a time, or give yourself more or less time, depending on how you feel.
Step 1 – Cut out processed sugars.
Go through your pantry and your fridge, and get rid of any processed sugar you might have. Packaged cookies, breads, that bag of processed white sugar, cereals, candy bars, etc. Try to replace that with fruits, if you feel like you have to have something sweet. Replace the processed white sugar with unfiltered honey or pure maple syrup. If you’re really serious about conquering your sugar demons, you can try doing a 21 Day Sugar Detox.
Step 2 – Replace Industrial Oils with Healthier Oils
If you are using canola oil, vegetable oil or soybean oil, replace those with coconut oil, avocado oil and extra-virgin olive oil. Industrial vegetable oils are unnaturally processed and high in polyunsaturated fats, which are easily oxidized and cause mutation and inflammation in the cells.
Step 3 – Focus on clean, whole foods.
Stock up on quality meats, vegetables, fruits, eggs and nuts. Try to focus on filling up mostly with whole, clean, unprocessed foods; think of filling up your plate with meat and vegetables. Let everything else fall around that. Keep clean, whole, unprocessed foods your main priority.
Step 4 – Swap out your starches for healthier, gluten-free starches and vegetables.
Replace the breads, pastas, rice and cereals with other starches or veggies. Stock up on sweet potatoes and squashes. Swap out regular noodles with spaghetti squash, or get a Spiralizer and make zucchini noodles or sweet potato noodles. Switch regular rice for cauliflower rice. Swap buns and tortillas for lettuce or portabella mushrooms.
Try to have a vegetable with every meal. Maybe some spinach with an omelet for breakfast, some steamed broccoli or carrots with lunch, and baked asparagus with dinner. Replacing those grains and gluten with with vegetables and paleo starches will help with satiety.
Step 5 – Cut out Dairy.
Replace cow’s milk and creamers with nut-milks, like coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, etc. Eliminate cheese, butter and sour cream.
Dairy is sometimes considered a grey area in paleo. Some avoid dairy altogether, and some adapt to a more primal way of eating and consume grass-fed butter, ghee and raw or whole milk and cheese. I suggest cutting dairy altogether from your diet for 30 days, then see how your body feels when you reintroduce it. This was how I found out that my body doesn’t handle large amounts of dairy well. Nowadays I eat more primal and I do have a little bit of dairy, but my body can only tolerate it in small amounts. I use grass-fed butter and ghee in baked goods occasionally, and I use whole milk to make kefir (which I can tolerate better since the fermentation process consumes the lactose), but I do notice that when I cut out dairy altogether my skin improves.
Step 6 – Replace your snacking.
If you regularly snack on crackers, chips, gummy bears and such, swap them out for paleo alternatives. Switch the gummy bears with dried fruit. Replace the crackers and chips with some almonds or cashews or beef jerky. I try not to snack too much during the day, but if I do it’s usually a handful of almonds, or a banana, or some sweet potato chips.
Step 7 – Try Paleo versions of your favorite foods.
Paleo in no way means sacrificing taste, or eating plain. Want Asian food? How about some Orange Cashew Chicken, or Wicked Spatula’s Slow Cooker General Tso’s Chicken? Try something new, like Chicken Stuffed Acorn Squash, or Green Chile Chorizo Cauliflower Casserole. Instead of a Reese’s, try PaleOMG’s Chocolate Almond Butter Cups! This doesn’t mean to make paleo cookies every day, you want to limit the treats, but you can recreate your favorite desserts using paleo ingredients once in a while. Browse through my recipe index to see all the delicious paleo food that my family eats!
Don’t forget to drink plenty of water!
Increasing your water consumption will help with satiety and keep you hydrated and energized.
These are the steps that I have taken to adjust to a more paleo way of eating. Once you have adapted to a paleo way of eating for 30 days, you can try reintroducing gluten, dairy, grains and legumes one-by-one and seeing how your body reacts.
Switching to a paleo lifestyle helped me tremendously in identifying my food intolerances. I found what my body can and can’t tolerate. My digestive health has improved, my acne has gotten better, my energy levels have increased, my sleep has improved, and I feel better overall. If you are thinking about transitioning to paleo but don’t want to dive in headfirst, then these steps can help you with a more gradual approach. Try paleo for at least 30 days and see how you feel!