I often get asked what’s the best way to start a Paleo diet? I usually answer back with a barrage of questions to find out what type of person I am dealing with, more importantly what type of diet this person will be changing from, because as you may well know, a strict Paleo diet can be hard to stick to.
To me there are 3 main types of people out there that come to me seeking help. Here they are:
- The Oblivious Label Reader: This is a person who goes up and down the isles choosing the foods labeled with ‘low fat’, ‘low sodium’, ‘diet’, ‘whole grain’, ‘gluten free’, ‘all natural’, and may check out the calorie content on the back but never really look at the ingredients or the other nutrient values. They are trying to eat healthier, so they think, by choosing these products and are usually disheartened with their nutritional progress when they realize nothing is changing and are always confused as to ‘why’ it’s not working.
- The Carb Phobic Analyst: This person is all about reading the carbohydrate content of each food and will be enticed by any product that states it is lower in carbohydrates than its counterpart. They have some understanding of nutrition but substitute sugar with artificial sweetener because ‘sugar is bad’. They probably wouldn’t be seen dead eating potatoes but a slice of whole grain bread is fine because it is slower digesting…. Right?
- The Almost There Dairy Lover: This can be a tough one to break as this person usually has a great grasp of nutrition and substitutes dairy, such as cottage cheese to increase the protein content of their diet. They will also have a small amount of gluten in their diet but at leas have a handle on carbs and their interaction with the body. I used to fall into this category and it is actually somewhere I suggest both type 1 and 2 shift to before trying to tackle a strict Paleo diet.
There are many other types of dieters out there including the completely ignorant, eats anything and everything; or the professional athlete who needs to pay attention to nutrient timing, (if I get enough interest I’ll post a simple addition to how nutrient timing is done Paleo style) but for now lets just stick to our everyday population.
Here’s what I usually suggest. If you are Type 1 or 2, I usually hand you a copy of Precision Nutrition’s Gourmet Nutrition and get you to flip through the pages, look at the pretty pictures of wonderful food you should be eating and start giving you the run down on what the information you are being given in the grocery store has been brainwashing you into believing. I e-mail you my list of YouTube videos and PDF documents I have collected over the years, all organized in order of relevant importance to your transformation (as I see it) for you to begin educating yourself about FOOD! For example there is the YouTube video about sugar “Sugar the bitter truth” I feel everybody needs to watch. Then there are some documents about gluten, protein consumption and some on supplementation near the end.
In my experience, trying to begin a strict Paleo diet is too hard for the average person who is used to eating pasta, bread, rice and dairy regularly. If you can get someone making a small change a week like simply reading the ingredients list of everything they are buying and only purchasing products where they understand every ingredient going into their body then that is a great short term change. Once mastered or too simple, get them to drastically reduce their gluten consumption, only 1-2 wraps per week (no other breads or pastas), they can keep small quantities of dairy like yoghurt and cottage cheese but again, no additives and try to find products as close to natural as possible, a safe indication can be organic but not always.
I usually keep a couple of copies of Gourmet Nutrition around for the clients to peruse and get some ideas of eating well, most end up buying their own and eventually giving them to the whole family at Christmas. I like this cookbook best for giving an idea of portion size too and it also organizes all the meal into anytime meals and post workout meals. As I am usually dealing with my CrossFit clients, nutrient timing is of some importance to them. You can download a sample of the amazing cookbook below.
Download: Gourmet Nutrition Cookbook Sample
Type 3 really just needs to learn how to substitute Paleo food sources to fill where the disproved foods are being removed. It also usually has to do with preparedness. On a personal note, cottage cheese was a huge thing to remove from our diet. It went in shakes and casseroles and was an easy high protein snack. I’ll admit I still use it sparingly but that is my prerogative and where Paleo fits with my life; I really only use it in one thing… oatmeal protein pancakes after a particularly grueling training session. As an athlete I have added back oats as I found I required more carbohydrates than most Paleo foods provided and I don’t appear to have any adverse affects from eating them, in fact, I can honestly say I am happier when I eat them J
Begin this person by cutting back their dairy and get them using eggs, egg whites and lean protein as substitutes. Ask them if they prep anything for the week or if they make everything, as they require it. Prepping things like a bunch of my meatballs with eggs and keeping them in the fridge is a great high protein snack paired with some fresh veggies. Getting a copy of a Paleo Cookbook is always a must, cookbooks are a fantastic way of getting you excited and motivated about eating, and eating correctly. I highly recommend the e-book (wish I had an iPad just to view it in the kitchen) the Paleo Cookbook or the Paleo Recipe Book. Both are packed with delicious recipes and have great sections on snack ideas, a tough area for Paleo dieters. They also come with 60day meal plans so it takes the work out of deciding what to eat.
One thing I always stress is “don’t stress”. Over time you will gain a huge understanding of FOOD! REAL FOOD and find a balance that works with you. If you were to take Paleo Dieting strictly you would be processing all your own nuts, coconut milk, harvesting your own vegetables, growing chickens for eggs (and meat), raising a cow, a pig… I don’t have time like this and I don’t think it is wrong to take part in modern conveniences like canned coconut milk (just check the label to see that it really is just coconut, and maybe water). What the Paleo diet really tries to get you doing is being conscious of where your food is coming from, what’s in it and how these foods are interacting with your body.
Small Changes make BIG Changes in the End!