So, you’re thinking of trying Paleo? How to dive right in and keep swimming.

That’s great news! Well, there is definitely a lot to learn, but here are my top tips for making the successful transition and maintaining it. I’m not going to lie, it isn’t easy to cover all the bases for a successful transition, especially considering how much misinformation is out there in regards to health and diet. It’s a veritable minefield. There is also a fair amount of effort required to get moving, especially in the early days mentally preparing, getting all your staple products together and starting to cook.

Psychology and Motivation

This aspect of moving to a new diet and lifestyle is absolutely crucial to success. You are what you think, not just what you eat. The first part of this process is making sure that you have a solid understanding of exactly why you are doing this – what are your personal objectives and do you understand the rationale behind Paleo? There is absolutely no point in jumping in if you don’t have solid reasons to do so, and don’t have a good grasp of why Paleo will deliver benefits to you, because it will make it that much easier to slip up and end up in a spiral of self-loathing and doubt. You don’t need a science degree to understand it, much of the writing on Paleo is super-accessible and some is even funny.

Your motivation could be anything – people come to the Paleo side of life for all sorts of varied reasons: it could be for weight loss, to look good naked or for buns of steel, management or reversal of an auto-immune disease or the simple desire to feel healthier to enable you to make the most out of your one life. There are a lot of Paleo testimonials out there (and on Mark’s Daily Apple) – read them for inspiration. Read them again later if you find your motivation flagging.

Fred and Wilma Flinstone

Fred had buns of steel, that's why Wilma loved him.

Now, another important stumbling block for many people starting out is what I term the “all or nothing” view where the potential Paleo adopter freaks out at the thought that these changes are for life and are therefore going to be impossible to maintain for a whole lifetime. It’s so important when you get started not to think this way because then it all seems like a massive mountain you are scaling. This is the reason that programs such as the Whole30 are so popular-  because all they ask is for one month of commitment as an experiment for you to see how you respond to it. 30 days is necessary because it takes time for food toxins to clear from the body (it doesn’t “heppen overnight” as those Pantene ads used to tell us) and for the inflammatory processes going on in the body to calm down. It’s also long enough that when you get to the end of the 30 days, you feel a sense of achievement and a sense that if you can keep it up for 30 entire days, you may just find yourself able to extend to 3 months, a year or even longer.

It’s also important to realise that the tenets of Paleo go against many entrenched beliefs we personally have about nutrition and health, but also those that are trumpeted by the “authorities” we place so much blind trust in. From all the reading I have done, it really is shocking to realise how much we as a public have been misled by those in power. We’re also quite susceptible to marketing that masquerades as authoritative health advice – case in point is Hayley Lewis, former swimmer and Biggest Loser host, telling us to “Live Well” by popping some nurofen…unfortunately, Hayles, ibuprofen can seriously mess with gut health, causing all sorts of health problems. I’m not about to take health advice from you!

And the last major point I want to make here is to focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t eat. This is crucial as it reminds you of the wealth of foods you can still eat – believe me, there are a lot. Obviously, you still need to know what you can’t eat, but this is more so you don’t have accidental slip ups preparing food or eating out. It can be daunting when you start out, because the list of restricted foods looks long and hardcore! But believe me, it isn’t once you remember the variety of foods available that our monopolistic supermarkets aren’t so good at stocking. And the even better news is that a lot of dishes you eat are indeed already Paleo! For example, salads – depending on the ingredients – stews, soups, casseroles, steak and veggies, baked fish…the list goes on.

Homemade basil pesto

Homemade basil pesto - this is a Paleo-ready condiment!

Paleo is more flexible than you may think

I think there is a major misconception out there in the general community about Paleo. It’s not all blood and gore you know, we’re not all walking around with rudimentary tools for capturing that night’s dinner of whole jersey cow!

Prehistoric hunting

Prehistoric hunting

Suprisingly, a lot of people don’t realise that you can meet Paleo guidelines and not ever eat red meat. Yes, it’s true! It’s not really ideal, in my opinion because of the B12 factor I’ve written about before, but many Paleo writers agree it’s possible. The most common variation of Paleo seems to be a “pescatarian” type approach, where seafood is consumed but no other animal meat. There are a lot of great threads about this particular issue over on PaleoHacks if you want to read a bit more.

Glorious seafood

Glorious seafood

Getting Started – Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Ok, so now you’re ready to roll, it’s really important to properly prepare. I would recommend spending 1-2 weeks on this stage to ensure future success. I actually jumped right in, but that was because I already had a lot of the staple products anyway and I snapped when I decided to start Paleo – for some people, that may actually work better than a formal prep period, it all depends on your personality and situation.

Here are my top tips for preparing to make the jump:

  1. Once you have an understanding of what you can eat, write a long list of foods and then go shopping to stock up on the staples.
  2. When shopping, think of Michael Pollan’squote that if you see a product in the supermarket that your great grandmother would probably not recognise as food, then it probably isn’t food. Sorry to all the Space Food sticks fans out there, but that stuff ain’t edible!

    Space Food Sticks

    Space Food Sticks - food?

  3. Think about your lifestyle and commitments. Think about your daily routines and how you will be able to eat healthy while also keeping to your other life commitments – if others such as Sarah Fragoso can do it, so can you. Start reading Paleo recipe blogs and compiling a collection of things you’d like to make and would suit your lifestyle.
  4. Tell your family and friends and ask for their support. Apologise in advance for being a “pain in the butt”, but express how much this means to you. Once they see your good results, they will probably be more supportive and may even be tempted to join you!
  5. If you do a lot of social eating, think about where you can eat out and what sort of dishes you can eat. You’d be surprised at the possibilities, though honestly you will most likely need to make some compromises here and there.
  6. Financially, it can be more expensive to eat this way. But, it’s important to remember that any investment you make now by eating good food, will pay for itself endlessly with a better life for you and will also minimise future health costs. There are plenty of blogs that cover the topic of how to eat Paleo on a budget. It’s not necessary to eat organic –  you may want to eat some items as organic and some as non-organic, it’s up to you. It’s more important to eat the right things and ditch the crap. Also, there’s no need to buy any cookbooks – the web is absolutely teeming with free inspiration.

Once you’re on board

  1. Make things in advance – plan ahead. This will make your life so much easier – it gives you more time to spend on life commitments and fun stuff plus it avoids potential meltdowns when you think you’ve got nothing to eat.

    Cookie dough prepped for rolling

    Cookie dough - I often make double to save myself time

  2. Let go of perfection and ego. This is not a competition. Invoke the 80/20 rule when you need to (provided you don’t have severe intolerances or serious autoimmune disease) – this means that you do have some leeway to make exceptions to Paleo when you have no choice, or when you just feel like relaxing things a little. Be careful, as for some people this is a very slippery slope.
  3. Join Facebook groups and follow Paleo peeps on Twitter to keep up the motivation and inspiration.
  4. Relax! You’re on the right track and are making a great investment in your current and future health.
  5. Have fun with it – start a blog and celebrate your progress. The blog doesn’t have to be the best Paleo blog in the world – it can simply be a marker of your progress and a good way to spread the word amongst your network.
  6. Forgive yourself if you stumble – there’s no gold star for 100% adherence. Just get back on the bike and keep riding!
  7. Explore your neighbourhood or city’s diverse types of grocery stores and health food shops – Chinese, Fijian, grower’s markets, the wacky folks at The Suveran….
The Suveran

The Suveran - crazy in the coconuts, just like me.

Keeping up the momentum

So, you done  a few weeks or maybe a couple of months of Paleo and have seen some good results, though nothing spectacular. You’re wondering “is it really worth all of this effort if I haven’t lost any weight, but my skin is smoother?” Depending on your health status, you may need longer than a month to see results. I did, and I also needed to make some tweaks to get my breakthrough. But, boy am I glad I stuck with it!

Keeping up the momentum involves a few key strategies:

  1. Remind yourself of why you are doing this, as detailed above.
  2. Consult with the Paleo community to find out if there are some tweaks you can make to get even better results. It’s a great, supportive community. My favourite community site is PaleoHacks.
  3. According to Chris Kresser from The Healthy Skeptic, it’s important to identify your weak links to work on those, rather than just strengthening your strong links.
  4. Substitution goes a long way – find things that replace foods you ate previously. A simple example is almond or macadamia butter instead of peanut butter. Sure, it’s more expensive, but so are unnecessary health care bills.
  5. Read blogs for inspiration. There are a helluva lot of good ones out there that are so creative and entertaining to read. There is a good list on the right hand side of this page under “Blogroll”.
  6. There may be people around you who are “Debbie Downers” or are really nitpicky and argumentative, who don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. The best response here is to know your stuff – why you’re doing it, and maintain a thick skin. It’s your life, not theirs’! Thankfully, this hasn’t happened to me but if I ate out more in groups, then it might do. I have heard of people that have real trouble with their families not getting it and not being supportive, I feel for these people because that just makes it all harder. Again, consult the community sites to get tips about dealing with the naysayers, because many people have dealt with this already.

More resources

Here’s a list of the additional resources to help get you on your way.

I’d love to hear any more tips from readers in terms of how to get started on Paleo and how to keep it up.


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2 Responses to “So, you’re thinking of trying Paleo? How to dive right in and keep swimming.”

  1. Lisa Herrod (@scenariogirl) Says:

    This is such a helpful post Alison, thank-you 🙂

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