How to Get Started With the Paleo Diet

What is the Paleo Diet? What’s good about it and how do you do it? We’ll tell you all you need to know.

By Mary Bell

Gimmick diets are everywhere with what seems like a new one popping up almost daily.  Most of them can work for the short term.  But what about long term?  What about your health?  What about keeping the lost weight off permanently?  Or an eating plan that you can stick with over the long haul without so many obstacles that you eventually throw in the towel? 

After all, we all have lives to lead and we can’t spend all our time figuring out what we can eat, preparing the food, measuring, counting calories, as well as grams of carbohydrates, protein and fat!  It can be exhausting!  No wonder so few people stick to diets long term!

On the other side of that, who wants to eat grapefruit or cabbage soup and nothing else?!

If you’re reading this, you’ve heard of the Paleo diet but maybe you’re not quite sure exactly what it entails.  Or you’ve heard simple descriptions like “low carb” or “no sugar” but you want to know more.  Good for you because one big reason many people stay away from nutrition plans like Atkins or Paleo is because they hear generalizations and think that’s all there is to it!

So what exactly is the Paleo diet?

At its core, Paleo is a lot more lifestyle than it is a diet.  A Paleo lifestyle is about eating real, whole, natural foods and avoiding all processed foods.  You see, the modern diet is exactly that, it’s modern.  Humans ate in a Paleo style for hundreds of thousands of years (some estimates say two million) before starting to eat grain and sugar-based foods, as well as processed foods, as recently as 10,000 years ago.

The idea behind Paleo is to eliminate those processed foods, chemicals, vegetable oils and other new additions to the modern diet that can be detrimental to our lifestyle, from how we move to our energy levels to how we feel on a daily basis.

For all those years that we ate Paleo, humans were hunters and gathers.   They ate meat and they ate fruits such as berries when they were in season.  Which also meant they moved a lot and were very active.  They needed to be strong and fit in order to survive.  Their bodies were conditioned to efficiently use fat as fuel and energy, not carbohydrates.

Eventually agriculture came into being and the human diet changed dramatically.

The Agricultural Revolution occurred about 10,000 years ago and introduced grains, such as wheat, and breads into our diet.

Today’s modern diet contains things like significant quantities of gluten.  Gluten was non-existent in Paleolithic times.  Things like wheat, rye, many cereals and barley, contain gluten.  Gluten has been recognized to cause inflammation in the gut and has been given widespread attention through celebrities like Kelly Ripa, who have famously gone gluten-free.

It’s also been theorized (not proven) that gluten could play a role in an increased risk of some cancers as well as heart disease.

Another ingredient in the modern day diet that is linked to possible health problems is that of lectins.  Lectins are present in grains.  They cause wear and tear on our gastrointestinal tract, making it very difficult to heal.

Let’s not forget sugar.  Sugar is everywhere and in everything nowadays.  Sugar needs to be burned but another aspect of modern times is how sedentary people have become.  Everyone sits.  They sit at work, they sit on the couch watching television, they sit at their computers, they sit checking out social media and texts on their smart phones.  People do not move the way they used to and so they don’t burn calories the way they used to.  This becomes a big problem when talking about sugar consumption.

In the Paleolithic period, humans were lean, strong and fit.  They moved, pretty much all day every day.  They didn’t farm or grow crops.  As I mentioned above, they hunted and gathered.  They followed the food.  They didn’t sit around playing on their Apple iStone Tablet.  If they did, they’d starve!

So all that sugar being consumed in the modern diet, which is bad enough, isn’t even burned off because of sedentary lifestyles.  Which means energy spikes and crashes, and related health problems such as diabetes and blood pressure issues.

One of the big myths that the Paleo diet has helped to dispel is the outdated notion of eating fat makes you fat.  This was a big deal when the high carbohydrate craze started in the eighties and you had everyone obsessed with the amount of fat calories they were eating.  Almost every food in existence ended up with a low-fat or no-fat version.  But most of that fat got replaced with sugar!

Fat is a crucial nutrient when it comes to our health.  Dietary fat is needed for an optimal, well functioning and healthy body.  It’s all the chemicals, preservatives and added sugar in our diets that lead to the weight gain, health issues, energy problems and more.

The Paleo diet has been referred to as the “Caveman” diet because that is basically how you are asked to eat.  The Paleo diet mainly consists of meat, fish, turkey, chicken, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Eating Paleo eliminates the negative aspects of the modern diet, such as sugar, trans fats and preservatives, while nourishing your body with much needed vitamins, minerals, proteins and healthy fats such as essential fatty acids.  Essential as in your body needs them!  Get it?  It needs these fats, such as Omega-3’s, which are almost non-existent in the modern diet, especially amongst people who are mistakenly but severely limiting the consumption of fats in their diet.

With the Paleo diet you are basically going back to, well, basics!

Paleo Diet Back to Basics Plan

Foods You Can Eat: (we’ll cover this in a bit more detail below)

Butter

Eggs

Fish and Seafood

Fruit

Herbs and Spices

Meat

Natural oils (avocado, coconut, olive)

Nuts (Seeds)

Vegetables

Big Paleo No No Foods (as in no, you can’t eat these):

Grains, grains, grains (barley, rye, wheat) – Among other things they contain gluten.  Avoiding grains means no bread or pasta.

Sugars (includes high fructose corn syrup) – No soft drinks, fruit drinks, ice cream, pastries, candy, etc.  Sugars may promote weight gain, give you diabetes, energy crashes and blood pressure issues, among other health issues.

Legumes – This means no beans or lentils.

Dairy – Stay away from all low-fat dairy products.  If you don’t have problems digesting dairy it may be okay to consume some full-fat dairy products like raw whole milk and certain cheeses but only in small amounts.

Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (canola, corn, cottonseed, soybean, sunflower, etc.) –  These oils cause unhealthy levels of inflammation.  And remember the essential fatty acids mentioned above?  One of the major problems today is our unbalanced intake of Omega-6 fatty acids compared to Omega-3.  A major factor in this unbalanced intake is the high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids in these oils.

Margarine – margarine was created as a “healthy” alternative to butter.  As it turns out, butter is the much healthier option.  Most margarine has high levels of deadly trans-fats in them.

Artificial Sweeteners – things like acesulfame potassium, aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are to be avoided on the Paleo diet.

Obesity is an epidemic and many, many health problems have been connected to obesity.  Obesity has been linked to diets high in processed foods, high in processed carbohydrates, and excess sugar intake.  The potential health problems include heart disease, type two diabetes, cancer and stroke.

Yes, many of you are looking at this list of what you can’t eat and thinking you could never follow a Paleo lifestyle.  Well, take another look at the list of things that you can eat!  How often do you see some of those on a list of foods you can eat while on a so-called ‘diet?’

Not to mention the fact that a Paleo diet does not ask you to count calories!

Yummy Paleo Approved Foods!

Remember that list above of approved foods?  We’re talking hamburgers, steak, pork, bison, lamb, duck, turkey, chicken and more!  Bacon, baby!  The world is better with bacon!

Grass-fed if you can.  After all, meat with a bunch of added chemicals sort of defeats the purpose of the Paleo diet, don’t you think?

Seafood includes fish like salmon, trout, shrimp, a variety of shellfish, haddock and even more.

You can eat lots of vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, kale and tomato, as well as onions and peppers.

Sweet potatoes, yams and baked potatoes are on the approved Paleo eating list.  This includes turnips, too.

Yes to eggs as well – hard boiled, soft boiled, scrambled, omelet (just add some of those vegetables and even some of the meat list, if that’s what you enjoy.

Approved nuts and seeds you can eat are almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts, chia seeds and macadamia nuts as well.

A large variety of fruits can be eaten when you go Paleo.  On this list is all kinds of berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.), apples, oranges, mango and pears.  This also includes avocados which is a fantastic source of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that your body needs.

Oils are an important part of the Paleo diet and include the aforementioned olive, coconut and avocado.

Finally, we have our herbs and spices.  There is something here for everyone to flavor your food – Sea salt, garlic, turmeric, mint, basil, rosemary and many others can be part of your every day eating.

You will find slightly different approved foods with the Paleo diet or the “Caveman” diet.  Some will tell you that it’s okay to consumer certain things in limited quantities.  This includes red wine (science says there are a variety of health benefits to red wine), hot chocolate using dark chocolate, and certain teas, like green tea, that is packed with powerful antioxidants that have a lot of health benefits.

Hardcore Paleo enthusiasts will tell you to go organic as often as possible, to only eat grass-fed meat and consume wild-caught sustainable fish.  If you can do this, great, but if not, don’t let that stop you.  Following the Paleo diet will do wonders for you even if you don’t go hardcore organic all the way.  Do what you can.

The Paleo Diet Challenge

Change is difficult.  It’s a challenge to change our ingrained habits, whether we are going from a sedentary lifestyle to exercising daily, or going from gorging on chips and ice cream in front of the couch or grabbing whatever food we want on the go and going from that to the Paleo lifestyle.

But there are things you can do to help yourself change out bad habits for good ones.

If you are reading this report, you want to make a change so congratulations on making that decision! In a society that is becoming more and more sedentary and gets by on processed junk foods, this puts you in an elite group and you should be proud of that fact.

Changing your eating and exercise habits are two of the most difficult challenges to face. Our society revolves around comfort and convenience – remote controls for everything, fast food drive thrus, etc. In addition, food is a centerpiece around which social gatherings revolve. It’s tough to swim against that tide.

Changing your nutrition and exercise habits can make it easier to make other changes in your life. I think all positive changes flow from the positive change of your nutrition and exercise habits. You get so much more than just a body that looks good at the beach (although that’s fun, too).

You develop self esteem, confidence, great health, discipline, and the ability to set and achieve goals.

All of these things flow into your personal and professional relationships and you’ll suddenly find positive changes throughout all aspects of you life.

This is about the Paleo diet and lifestyle but let’s talk about exercise for a moment (don’t just eat Paleo, get active).

If you already work out, you may have noticed an interesting phenomenon.  The vast majority of the members at your gym look the same year in and year out and never improve their bodies.  Talk about banging your head against the wall.

These people are on autopilot.  They are just going through the motions of a fitness lifestyle.  Working out has just become another thing that they do. 

You also may have noticed that your gym is absolutely packed with people in January.  By mid-February most of those new people have packed it in and gone back to the couch.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Let’s take a look at some ideas and strategies that can help you integrate the Paleo diet into your life so that you are able to stick with it over the long term.

I realize this may be boring to a lot of you. I can hear the groans and feel the rolling eyes but please hang in there. If you embrace it, the following can do a lot for you, and not just with a Paleo diet, but with any goal you have or positive change you may want to make in your life.

Think on paper: Only about 3 percent of adults have clear, written goals. These people accomplish five and ten times as much as people without written goals.

Step 1: Decide Exactly What You Want.

This will allow you to prioritize so that you are spending the most time on high value tasks that move you closer to your goals.  If your goal is to add 20 pounds of muscle, there isn’t much point in using up a lot of you training time by jogging 5 miles a day, doing high volume low intensity work or focusing on the so-called “shaping” exercises.

If you want to stick to the Paleo diet and lose some body fat, there is no point in keeping boxes and bags of bagels, potato chips, or ice cream in your kitchen.

Step 2: Write It Down.

Again, think on paper. Written goals are a powerful thing.  They have an energy behind them that helps you move toward them that unwritten goals just don’t have. In fact, you’d do even better by writing down your goals every day. Yes, every day. It will only take a few moments and will help you tremendously.  A great way to do this is right before bed at night or first thing in the morning, do a quick review for that day.

Step 3: Set A Deadline On Your Goal.

Create a sense of urgency and positive pressure. Without a deadline you will procrastinate and do the little things that may damage your short term goals. If you are trying to lose twenty pounds and are having “after” pictures taken in three weeks then you are much less likely to swallow that bag of popcorn, than if you are just getting in shape…eventually.

This is why physique competitors get in such fantastic shape. When they enter a contest, they have a hard deadline looming in the future. They don’t want to be embarrassed by showing up on stage out of shape.

Could you imagine an Olympic swimmer not training for the two months leading up to the Games?  Hardly! And that includes sticking to their nutrition plan.

If you don’t have a deadline, you will have no sense of urgency. If you don’t have a sense of urgency, you are more likely to sabotage your goals. Let’s look at an example.

You’re eating Paleo but it’s still pretty new.  You’ve been working out. You’ve dropped a few pounds. But you didn’t set a specific goal and you didn’t give yourself a deadline. You’re at a family gathering but you’ve prepared yourself by bringing your own nutritious meals. Some of your favorite high calorie meals with no nutritious value are being devoured by your family.

In this scenario, it’s likely that you may give in and sabotage your efforts.

Now, what if your goal was to lose 20 pounds of fat by May 1st, which is only 12 weeks away and it included eating strictly Paleo for all 84 days (12 weeks)? Do you think you would be as likely to sabotage your efforts the way you might have in the previous example?

Probably not.

Step 4: Make a list of everything you can think of that you will need to do to help you achieve your goal.

Leave nothing to chance. The more planning you do ahead of time, the more likely you will stick to the plan and achieve your goals. The more prepared you are, the more success you will experience.

Step 5: Organize the list into a plan.

Organize your list by priority and sequence.

Step 6: Take action on your plan immediately.

Do something. Get started. Start building positive reinforcement and momentum RIGHT NOW.

With the Paleo diet this could be as simple as throwing out that bag of potato chips sitting on the kitchen counter.

Step 7: Resolve to do something every single day that moves you toward your major goal.

If you continue to focus on and perform these 7 steps, you’ll be amazed at the results you’ll see, whether it’s the Paleo diet, your new exercise program, or getting things accomplished at work.

Now, let’s take this a little further and really get smart about this goal setting and motivation thing. I’m not sure who was creative enough to make the acronym work, but work it does and it can fit in quite nicely with your goals.

Get SMART

Not sure who was creative enough to make the acronym work, but work it does and it can fit in quite nicely with any goals you set. If you want to succeed you need to get SMART about your goals.

If you want to succeed you need to get SMART about your goals.

The S stands for specific. Be specific about the goals you want to achieve. Forget things like, “I want to get in shape”, “I want to get big”, or “I want to lose weight”, or “I want to increase my bench press.”

Instead try things like “I want to run a 6 minute mile”, “I want to add 10 pounds of muscle”, “I want to lose 20 pounds of fat”, or “I want to add 40 pounds to my best bench press”, or “I want to eat 100% Paleo in fourteen days.”

The M stands for measurable. This ties in very well with specific. You can’t measure ‘getting in shape”, but you sure can measure ‘running a 6 minute mile’ or ‘bench 3 plates’.

With a pair of trusty skin fold calipers, you can also measure pretty accurately adding 10 pounds of muscle or losing 20 pounds of fat. And of course, you can easily measure the poundage increase on your best bench press.

The specific and measurable aspect can be broken down even more to bring you closer to achieving your goals. For example, if you want to add 10 pounds of muscle, what other specific and measurable things must you do to reach your goal?

One could be that you must eat three meals and two snacks a day that are 100% Paleo.

You must train with weights three days per week.

You must add weight to your exercises at least every other workout.

Every 14 days you eliminate another non-Paleo food from your diet until you are 100% Paleo.

All of these are specific and measurable.

You can make a list of your daily, weekly, and monthly goals that you must do in order to meet your top goal.. Each day, place a check mark next to each measurable and specific goal you achieved that will help you conquer your most important goal. Obviously, the more checks you have, the more likely that you will achieve your goal.

In addition to specific and measurable, your goals must be A, or attainable. The R stands for realistic.

It’s important to set challenging goals.

Challenging, but attainable, that is.

Obviously, weight loss is on the minds of many people, which is why so many fall victim to promises like “lose 30 pounds in 30 days without getting hungry and without exercising.”

You most likely know that the above is neither timely nor realistic. But many people do fall for such

things because they want results NOW! They are setting themselves up for failure before they even start. Please don’t join them.

The T stands for Timely. If you do everything previously mentioned, it’s still not enough. You must give yourself a deadline to achieve your goal. More importantly, if your goal is attainable and realistic, but also long term, break it up into smaller goals.

If you wish to lose 75 pounds, start with losing just 10 pounds in 2 months. Reaching that goal will motivate you further and before you know it, enough time has passed that you’ve lost the 75 pounds.

But if you focus solely on losing the 75 pounds, which could take a year or more to accomplish, your motivation and discipline could wane, and you could fail to follow through on what you need to do to make your goal a reality.

Making goals timely holds you accountable and creates a positive sense of urgency. You may think twice about eating that piece of cake when you know you are having a body composition test and pictures to be taken in 2 weeks.

In addition to getting smart, celebrate your successes. And I don’t mean that you should allow yourself to dust off a gallon of ice cream in one sitting because you lost 10 pounds, or because you just marked off the 100th straight day you’ve eaten Paleo.. That would be self defeating.

But you could treat yourself to a movie, or a pair of jeans you’ve had your eye on, or an extra hour of sleeping in on the weekend. Don’t sabotage your wonderful efforts by giving yourself destructive rewards for accomplishing your goals.

Let’s take a look at a goals challenge specific to the Paleo diet.

No matter what type of nutrition or diet plan people choose, a lot of times they never really get started.  Or it lasts a matter of days.  This is because many people change absolutely everything at once and they just can’t adhere to all that change at one time.  It’s overwhelming.  So don’t do it!

It’s true that for some people, going full bore with big changes is what works.  For many people, it’s just a way to sabotage themselves.  For others, gradual changes are the way to go.

If you think that going from your normal eating habits one day to 100% Paleo the next day is going to be very tough for you, then don’t do it.  Instead, map out a two week or one month plan that gradually moves you from the way you eat now, to a Paleo way of eating.

You could start by eliminating one type of food for a week, such as all breads, or all pastas.  Or cut out desserts or candy, etc.  Maybe even pick something you eat regularly but isn’t necessarily a ‘must have’ food for you.  This could help make the transition easier for you.

Whether you go gradually and start by eliminating a certain food or food group, or you go 100% Paleo from day one, be sure and get rid of those foods you won’t be eating.  If you are starting with bread, don’t have any bread in your kitchen!   It’s too easy to slip up.

You also might want to skip restaurants for awhile, until you know you won’t give into temptation when you look at all those yummy foods on the menu.

If absolutely necessary (you have to be honest with yourself), if it’s going to help long term, for a little while you can include a cheat meal or cheat day once a week.  This will work wonders on your mind, which may panic when you tell it that it can never have ever again!

Look, at the end of the day, don’t get overwhelmed or over complicate things when it comes to a Paleo lifestyle.  In simple words, eat real food.  Or, put another way, if man made it, don’t eat it.  Yes, it is a little more complicated than that, but it’s a really, really good start on your way to a Paleo lifestyle.

Bonus Section

(Simple Workout Strategy)

Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand.  If you are going to embrace the Paleo lifestyle, you really should consider an exercise regimen as well.  It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, like some weight training program from a roided-out pro bodybuilder or the training of a high level athlete.

In fact, if you all you can muster is a 30 minute walk every day, that’s a big deal.  One of the biggest problems with modern life, is how sedentary we are nowadays.  Many people sit at a desk all day long and then they sit on the couch in the evening, usually with a smart phone, tablet, or lap top, engaging in social media sites.

So if you can walk every day for half an hour, good for you!  Keep it up!

If you want a little more but you’re one of those people that REALLY struggles with sticking to your workouts, forget complicated, multi-exercise programs.

Start by focusing on making exercises a habit so that it becomes part of your life routine. And the easiest way to do this is not just to workout first thing in the morning but to make the workout unbelievably simple!

How do you make it so simple that you never skip a workout? Easy! As soon as you roll out of bed, start exercising! This can be as simple as one exercise.

Here are some examples.

Roll out of bed and do X number of bodyweight squats (such as 50!) If you can’t do 50 straight take rests when you need it and keep track of the time it takes to complete all 50 and try and beat that time the next time you do it. Or, reverse it and do bodyweight squats for 7 minutes, resting when you need to and keep track of how many you do. Next time, try and do more in that 7 minutes.

You could do a different exercise each day for a week and then repeat.

Maybe like this:

Monday           Bodyweight Squats

Tuesday          Push Ups

Wednesday      Burpees

Thursday         Jumping Jacks

Friday             Jump Lunges

Saturday          Jump Rope

Sunday            Rest

Modify the exercises to fit you.  If you have knee issues or are severely overweight or out of shape, burpees and jump lunges may not be for you.  That’s fine.  Do normal squats instead of the burpees.  Do regular lunges instead of jump lunges.

Not strong enough for the push ups?  Do them from your knees.  Or do them on a wall, with your feet a few feet away so you have to lean into the wall.

If push ups are too easy, do a more difficult version, such as explosive push ups, clap push ups, or Spider-Man push ups.

Once you’ve done that for a few weeks and exercise becomes the normal thing you do in the morning, you can start doing multi-exercise routines. We’ll talk more about this in the training section.

Another option would be to set an appointment with your self. Instead of having a workout scheduled for Tuesday, you should have an appointment with yourself to workout on Tuesday at 6 pm. You’ll be much more likely to keep this commitment.

That’s it!  Time to get started with your new Paleo lifestyle!

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