Hey readers, guess what? I’ve been Paleo for a full year now! Can you believe it??? I can’t. Time flies, really, but I’ve had so many changes in my life that have come from taking on a healthier lifestyle. Case in point:
I get asked all the time what its like to be Paleo, and what it was like to first start Paleo. All. The. Time. Friends, coworkers, and random strangers- I kid you not- approach me, text me, email me, about what its like. This happens so often, that I’ve decided to write more helpful posts about being and making the transition over to Paleo. So today, as part of a series of posts celebrating my one-year Paleoversary, I’m going to share a post on what to expect when you first turn Paleo. Here’s my top 12, in no particular order:
1. Initially you will probably feel sick.
Everyone who has been Paleo for a few months raves about their energy levels, their mental clarity, their better sleep, increased productivity, etc. All these benefits are absolutely true, but the first few weeks are really horrible. Personally, I felt like I had the “Paleo Flu” for 3 solid weeks, but once I was through that, I felt great, and continued to feel great. You just need to stick it out.
2. I felt constantly hungry at first
I could never eat enough the first week I went Paleo. The first two days I felt fantastic, and then I remember clearly waking up day 3 and feeling like I had a bad hangover. I was nauseous and ravenous at the same time, and the things that would quell my hunger were foods that were too rich back then for my sensitive stomach: almond butter, avocados, steak. Vegetables wouldn’t do a thing for me, but slowly, I started to become satiated by vegetable-based meals, something that I had never experienced before.
3. Its not all about bacon.
I know I’ve said this before, but I really think I need to say it again. Paleo emphasizes the elimination of known inflammatory foods (dairy, grains, gluten, sugar, starches), and promotes a vegetable-based diet with lots healthy fats and proteins to promote health and decrease illness. I am not positive why the logo for Paleo became bacon. Yes, Paleo allows bacon, but so do other diets. The majority of Paleo recipes don’t even involve bacon, but somehow the catchphrase for Paleo has become “you can eat all the bacon you want”. That’s just not true, you still need to be mindful about eating too much of anything, including bacon.
4. Traveling is really hard
Just try finding Paleo food in an airport. It is getting a little better in some airports (For example, Terminal 1 in D.C.’s Reagan has a whole new organic and natural foods stand, Austin and Tampa have convenience stores with a couple natural options. Houston has a restaurant in American Airline’s terminal that has gluten-free, organic, vegetable-filled pizzas.). Unfortunately, almost everything in most airport restaurants contains some form of added sugar, grain, dairy, or soy. Finding meat that is grass-fed is nearly impossible. When I have flown in the past, I have broken down and eaten anything I wanted, but then immediately regretted it. Now, I travel with snacks on hand: hardboiled eggs, nuts, Larabars, dehydrated vegetables, kale chips, and my Tuesday Oatmeal.
5. People are either curious or judgmental
I’ve noticed that once you decide to follow a Paleo or primal-based lifestyle, most people think that you are judging them for their conventional or non-Paleo diet choices. When friends have approached me on this subject, I explain to them that I am making the best decision for myself, and I do not think that my choices are meant to be followed by everyone. I reassure that I think everyone needs to make their own decisions for themselves, as diet choices are actually quite cultural and experiential. In my own story, there are many factors that have prompted me to choose this lifestyle (More here, here, and here), but and I understand that everyone’s dietary choices are their own. I also explain to people that I am not 100% Paleo all the time. Sometimes I just really want a sugary, frosting, and sprinkle topped cupcake. For some reason, this weakness reassures people that I am still empathetically human.
6. The Paleo community is incredibly supportive
Have a question about something Paleo related that you can’t find? The resources, chat rooms, and articles on Mark’s Daily Apple and The Bulletproof Executive are both fantastic. Want to learn new information? Check out the podcasts The Fat Burning Man, Primal Blueprint Podcast, The Bulletproof Executive Podcast, or Balanced Bites. They range from easy to understand to extremely technical. All a great source of information, and are especially great to listen to if you have a work commute.
7. You will be going to the grocery store all the time
Since Paleo emphasizes a lot of vegetables, and vegetables without pesticides or preservatives nonetheless, they don’t last as long as something like, say, a box of crackers. Organic produce doesn’t last as long since it is not treated, so your vegetables have a high probability of going bad in a week or less. To extend the time of your goodies, you can buy from a famer’s market: if the product comes directly from the farm to you, there is less time that your lovingly-grown produce would be sitting on the shelf at your grocery store, meaning more time for you to hold onto your purchase before it goes bad.
8. Ketosis is the gold star, but is not easy
Paleo emphasizes cycling in and out of ketosis, a fancy way of saying that your body has been primed to run on fat stores rather than immediate food intake. There are many benefits of ketosis. For example, that hangry feeling if you don’t eat according to your schedule? That doesn’t happen in ketosis. When your body needs energy, ketosis allows your body to access fat stores, which allows stabilization of things like energy, mood, insulin levels, and hunger levels. Ketosis also allows your body to finally eat that extra layer of fat around your stomach, thighs, or butt. This is wonderful, but ketosis is hard to obtain. In order to reach ketosis, you need to decrease carb intake, as this mechanism prompts your body to look for energy in fat rather than sugar. (Your body breaks down carbs to glucose, which raises insulin levels.) If the sugar, or carbs, is readily available, your body will never look for fat initially; our bodies are lazy like that. When you’re trying to get into ketosis, it is really hard at first, especially if you’re a woman, but it does get easier. Just give yourself some time.
9. Do your research
If you decide to try out Paleo, do your research first. Know good websites for recipes, look at the role between food allergens, inflammation, and degenerative diseases. Understand how your body processes nutrients, and really try to understand the differences between grain-free, gluten-free, and low carb. Look for examples of people that love Paleo and people that hate Paleo. Understand how Paleo can affect things like relationships, moods, finances, and sleep schedules. Research what items you may be able to buy in bulk to cut costs, and try to truly understand how Paleo is a lifestyle change more so than just a diet. Doing all this research ensures that you have a solid basis for why you have made the decisions that you have when you decide to go Paleo. This will come in handy when you are struggling with not eating a roll from the breadbasket when out at your favorite restaurant: you will understand that you are not just practicing deprivation, but rather, you are embracing a healthy lifestyle choice that has implications past the first course. Having reasons and deep knowledge as to why you are doing Paleo only increases that you will stay true to your decision in the long term, but will also support you mentally and emotionally when you feel deprived.
10. Pick an approach that is best for you
So you love everything you have found out and researched about Paleo, but discover that you just can’t do it. That’s ok! Modify it to what makes you the best, healthiest version of you. Everyone is different, you know yourself best. An informed decision is never the wrong one, as long as you are acting with fidelity to yourself.
11. Do it with someone.
There is nothing like teamwork and companionship, especially when making a big lifestyle change. Having someone to talk to and confer with is invaluable.
12. Its worth it.
As hard and as time-consuming as Paleo can be, it is so worth it. I hear from people all the time that they feel amazing, they no longer feel sick, or they never realized how bad they were feeling before because they’ve never felt so good now. Paleo is so intimating at first, but you will get the hang of it. Saying no to certain foods will soon be a habit, not a decision. Cooking and meal prep will get easier and faster. Feeling awesome will become habitual instead of something that only happens on certain days. Oh, and looking awesome? That will never get old.