So those of you who have been following me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram may have noticed I have decided to give the Paleo diet a go. I had previously been really sceptical of this diet, mainly as I was wary of many of the hardcore “cult-like” followers. For a number of reasons I’ve tried to give it a go, so I thought I would write a few tips on getting into this diet and what to watch out for to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success and optimal health.
1. Plan ahead
I think this is definitely the most important aspect. To get by on this diet you really need to have all of your lunches packed the night before if you are out of the house during the day. It is nearly impossible to get decent pale-friendly food out and about in New Zealand unless you want to pay a fortune to lunch at a restaurant where you can be fussy and switch out half of the items that make up your dish of choice.
2. Track your diet beforehand
I missed out on this step, but since I have been using MyFitnessPal to keep track of everything I’m eating I have been worried at some of my nutrient levels. Given that I am paying special attention to getting the right nutrients on this diet, I am sure I am doing better than I was before starting it, so I definitely think it would be handy to take stock of what you’re eating using a tool like this. Food diaries are great, but I would really advocate for an app like MyFitnessPal as it has access to a massive database which takes nutrients and macronutrient composition into account rather than just simply calories. This way you can see where you were at before, if you’re improving, or if some areas are weaker, then what foods you may need to re-incorporate into your diet or find alternatives for to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition.
3. Get your blood work done
Relating to the above point, I think this is a really good idea. I’ve had to get mine done for medical reasons, and they have come back with some deficiencies. I would recommend getting this done before you start so you can make sure you fit in the foods that are right for YOU (not right according to what all the hardcore believers say you must do from day 1!). Also remember that certain deficiencies can result in cravings too- eg. those low in magnesium may suffer from intense chocolate cravings. (As magnesium is mostly stored in bones and muscles it is hard to test for, so it may be worthwhile to see a Naturopathic doctor, or check out this page.) So making sure you have good nutrient levels is also essential to staying on track and not caving in to unhealthy cravings!
4. Eat ENOUGH
I can’t stress this enough. I am trying really hard to make sure I get the right amount of food but am struggling to even make 1200 calories a day, which is the lowest recommended intake (and generally only suggested for those who need to lose a lot of weight). It is incredibly hard to get the right nutrients if you’re eating so little so please make sure you are eating enough; often; and with variation. This is again where MyFitnessPal has come in extremely helpful as it reminds me that I am not eating enough and that I need to eat more given my exercise and nutritional needs.
5. Ease into it
I made the mistake of trying to go all out and cut all grains straight away. This has wrought havoc on my system, and is especially not good given interactions with medications I am having to take. So I have reintroduced whole grains a bit until I start to settle into the diet and can manage to get enough other carbohydrates into my diet. Obviously this is about being selective, so it is still a good idea to cut back on processed grains, but I think leaving some whole grains while you get used to it has been a good idea for me.
6. Recipe plan
Compile a list of easy Paleo recipes you can use and make sure you have those basic ingredients on hand. As with any restrictive diet (like gluten or dairy free), the substitutes tend to be expensive. (Like making gluten free cookies or dairy free creamy desserts). So if price is an issue for you, it is best to try to get used to the idea of not having these products. Otherwise, take a look at the recipes online like at Againstallgrain and make sure you keep stocked up with some of the alternatives like coconut oil and flour so you can turn to them when cookie cravings strike!
7. Eat Protein with breakfast
I try to do this anyway, but have found this particularly important on Paleo. I used to have eggs on toast (or bagels when I was being naughty!) which I always found gave me energy to burn until lunch time. Without the heavy carbs filling you up it is harder to feel full, so make sure you get a big plate with lots of variety. I tried
8. Listen to your body
Listening to your body is so important. Try to eat regularly throughout the day (rather than the standard three meals) but make sure you listen to your body. If it’s hungry, feed it. I think the biggest mistake people make with dieting is thinking that they can do just the same as everyone else. Whether it’s for health, or lifestyle change, or fat loss, people make the assumption that just because someone else can do it, they can to. Our bodies are all different, with different stories. I discovered that cutting all grains drastically wasn’t working for me, so I altered it. I think being kind to your body and listening to what it’s telling you is far more important than being able to say that you stuck to a certain diet to the T.
Your body does so much for you- take care of it! Me starting on this Paleo adventure is part of my attempt to heal my body, but of course it isn’t for everyone. I just put these tips together to help remind others who may be considering a Paleo lifestyle that it pays to be careful and to listen to what your body needs. This is especially difficult when certain diets become fashionable or fad-like and everybody seems to be giving contradictory information, so I just wanted to share my thoughts on it. However, I am only just starting out on this so I am by no means and expert and would definitely recommend checking with a health professional before you make any drastic changes to your diet, just the same as you should check before starting on rigorous exercise regimes and any other changes that are going to have an impact on your body.
Most of all, I think these tips can apply even to those not on Paleo, but who are otherwise trying to change their eating habits. Be kind to your body! Love it, respect it, and take care of it!
Let me know if you have any other tips you want to add or any other insights that could make this post more useful to others!