Congratulations on taking your first steps on the journey towards health eating! The “Learn About Paleo” page is here for you
The hardest part of any new adventure is knowing where to start.
Fortunately for you, I know firsthand how difficult getting started can be. Read along as I share what I’ve learned in my three years on the Paleo journey. For more information on how Messy Masterpiece started following a Paleo diet, check out the Messy Masterpiece Bio page.
So, What is the Paleo Diet Anyway?
Essentially, the Paleo diet is the nutrient dense diet of our ancestors. As a Christ follower, I prefer to think of Paleo as the fuel God originally intended our bodies to run on.
For example, if you were to put diesel into a gasoline tank, would your car run? Maybe…for a short bit. Eventually, your system will start to have all sorts of problems because a gasoline vehicle is not meant to run on diesel.
According to the J. D. Power’s website, “…diesel fuel is thicker and denser than gasoline, the fuel pump will struggle to move the diesel/gasoline mixture through the system. Also, the diesel will not be able to easily pass through the fuel filter. Instead, it will clog up the fuel filter…”
Food can be represented in the same way. If we use the wrong fuel to run our bodies, we will not perform at optimum levels and eventually we will start to have health problems. Nutrient deficiencies, diabetes, thyroid disease, ADHD, and MS are just a few examples of health conditions that have shown improvement after following a clean eating diet, such as paleo.
Foods You Can’t Eat On Paleo
Grain, dairy, sugar, legumes, anything processed or artificially made, and refined oils make up the majority of the list. There are some controversial items, such as starchy vegetables, that can be added. We’ll discuss those in more detail later.
If you’re like me, the “NO” list of paleo foods can be overwhelming at first glance. The switch from a typical Western diet to Paleo is a drastic one since most modern diets thrive off the “NO” list.
The most important thing to remember when starting out, is that the word “diet” is deceiving. The key to benefiting from eating Paleo, is to adapt it as a “lifestyle” not a “diet” since diets are often temporary.
Paleo Approved Foods
Now that you now a little about what you CAN’T have, let’s move on to what you CAN have.
As I stated above, the intention of the paleo diet is to revert back to the hunter gatherer diet our bodies were created for. This means fresh meats, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils are all good options. The less “human intervention”, the better
When I say “human intervention”, I mean food and food sources altered by GMO, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings, hormones, antibiotics, and much more.
These “interventions” started in the mid-late 1800s and have been rapidly evolving ever since. Because of this, eating clean can be quite the challenge.
Okay, I Get The Basics…Now What?
Now that you get the concept of Paleo, let’s talk about the varieties. The most confusing part of starting my Paleo diet three years ago, was the wide range of information that’s out there.
Some would say white potatoes are perfectly acceptable. Others claim “no starchy veggies.” Some say “grass fed meat only.” Other say “don’t worry about it.” I had no idea who was right and who was wrong. Turns out I was looking at it all wrong. Instead of figuring out the “right way”, I needed to narrow down what my goals were.
You see, “Paleo” is a vast term used to describe many things. Related terms you may hear are the Mediterranean diet, the autoimmune protocol (AIP), Wahls protocol, Keto, and the Atkins diet.
Keto, Atkins, and Mediterranean
If your goal is to eat low carb foods for weight loss, then of course starchy veggies are not your friend. The high carbs will break you out of ketosis and lower your energy. This diet is most commonly known as Keto.
The difference between Keto and Paleo is that Keto requires a very low carb count as well as allows dairy. Similarly, the Atkins and Mediterranean diets follow a low carb count, but allow certain grains. Since neither dairy, nor grains, are allowed in Paleo, these diets can be thought of more like cousins instead of siblings to Paleo.
Wahl’s Protocol and AIP
The Wahls protocol and AIP diets are truly “paleo.” Both diets eliminate all the foods on the Paleo “NO” list as well as a few more. The focus of these diets is health. The goal is to pack your diet full of nutrients and eliminate any food or chemicals that cause inflammation or reactions in your body.
These diets are even stricter than paleo, as each diet has an elimination phase. This phase restricts you to a very short list of items for a designated period of time. The goal is to flush any inflammation or reactions out of your system before adding foods back in.
Once you start adding foods back in slowly, you will be able to track how your body feels and which foods are causing the most problems. This allows you to only eat the foods your body accepts and will improve, and potentially even reverse, certain disease symptoms.
Which One Is Right For Me?
The bottom line is that you need to let your body lead the way. Knowing which foods agree with you and which foods cause trouble is the most important step you can take. Keeping a food journal and symptom tracker will make this process much easier.
Also, be sure to take the time to write down your goals. Knowing whether you are eating for weight loss or for disease improvement will help dictate which direction you need to go.
What Can I Expect When Starting Out?
The first few months of Paleo will be the hardest. During this time, your body may experience detox symptoms. For a lot of people, this can be discouraging because you are eating to feel better, not worse, right?
You might have increased headaches, bowel changes, and flu like symptoms. this period usually doesn’t last very long. Check out the article Dreaded Detox on Paleo Plan for more information about the detox period.
In addition to the physical adjustment period, there will be a financial adjustment period as well. You probably don’t have pantry shelves full of almond flour or arrowroot starch and your fridge may not be packed full of fresh meats and veggies either. Eating paleo is slightly more expensive then the modern Western diet, but the greatest expense will be in the early weeks as you transition and build up your supply.
My tip is to not go cold turkey and throw away all your existing food. Eat what you have so you’re not throwing all your money down the drain. Then, as you ease into your new lifestyle, start buying more paleo items each time you shop. This will help you not spend a fortune right away as well as allow your body time to acclimate better. Set a goal timeframe to be 100% Paleo and work your way towards it.
After your body, and finances, have acclimated, you can start to enjoy the benefits. You will have more energy, less cravings, better mood, sleep better, improved health condition symptoms, and lose inflammation and water weight. All your hard work will start paying off!
The Paleo diet can seem overwhelming at first. There will be a period of transition where you won’t have a pantry and fridge stocked with paleo ingredients.
You will also have to try several recipes before you know what you like and don’t like. I lived on meat and veggie hashes for the first six months because that is the only food I liked. It took a while, but eventually I started to adjust and enjoy a wider variety of foods. Give yourself grace and try some of my favorite Paleo recipes to get started.
Also remember, you are human. you will have cheat days and fail. It’s ok. Don’t give up. This is a long-term plan not a short-term solution. Pick yourself back up and get right back at it.
Start small. Go slow. It will get better. It IS worth it! You got this!