It’s been a while since my last Primal Lessons post…. I’ve not been ignoring this series, I’ve simply been thinking about what to include and how to write this very post for a while now. When transitioning from a conventional, high-carb, low-fat way of eating to a primal, low-carb, high-fat template, you will experience changes in the way you feel, to your body. This post describes these changes, how to deal with them and how to get going on your primal path to thriving, not surviving.
Disclaimer: I’m not a registered dietician, I’m just someone who has done their research and successfully implemented a primal way of eating, and has seen major benefits. I do, however, plan to certify in the next year.
What will happen during your first few weeks of switching to a primal way of eating, (OR ditching the grains, sugar, processed oils, legumes and soy):
1. You will initially feel like crap.
Sorry, there’s no sugar coating this one. That statement alone may turn some people off of the idea of primal eating, but bear with me. You’re going to feel like shit for a few days as your carb-dependent body starts transitioning to becoming a fat-burning beast. Some people call this carb flu: it’s basically your body weaning itself off of all the grain-based and sugar-based carbs you’ve been eating for so long. Whenever you eliminate a food or drink you’ve consumed for a long time – pop, coffee, sugar – you feel like crap for a while until your body stops becoming dependent on these foods. Cutting out grain-based and processed carbs will elicit the exact same effect.
This should last at the most a week, but again that depends on how much carbs and sugar you were eating in the first place. This is really the only time when you’re going to need to exert maximum willpower because you’ll want to reach for your usual, carby and sugary snacks in hopes of feeling physically better, but if you do, you’re back to square one again. Don’t reach, walk away, be strong. Drink plenty of water at this stage. Eat some lots of fat too: natural nut butters, plain nuts, avocado, cheese, seeds, oily fish, grass-fed beef. It’s tough to wrap your head around fat being good for you, but the more you read about primal, paleo, keto, low-carb eating, the more you’ll be reassured that what you’re doing will benefit your health exponentially.
You may also feel hungry at non-meal times; again, eat some fat and drink some water.
It is also during this stage that….
2. You will get intense cravings.
The most intense you may ever experience. I had incredibly strong cravings for Pepsi for three days in a row. I had to use my willpower to overcome these. I knew that going through these short-term, withdrawal-like cravings were worth the long term success and wellbeing I would have. I basically haven’t had any cravings since my initial primal transition seven months ago.
To help with these cravings, again eat fat and drink water if you’re hungry, even some herbal tea (no milk, no sugar). You could also look into L-Glutamine, an amino acid supplement with many benefits: aiding muscle growth, hydrating our cells, increasing good hormone levels (like Human Growth Hormone – essential for building muscle), improving gastrointestinal health, improving brain function, and the best of all, help to relieve cravings.
As you’ll have read in the Science Behind Primal Eating, carbs and sugar cause a rise in our blood glucose levels. This is toxic to our body, so our pancreas releases insulin (nicknamed the ‘fat-storing hormone’) to bring our blood glucose down to normal again. The trouble with this is that our blood glucose can go too low: we feel the high of carbs, then the low of insulin (we feel like we’ve crashed), and oddly enough, we also feel hungry. This is your body’s way of saying ‘Feed me more [carbs] so I can feel normal again.’ L-Glutamine helps to stabilise blood sugar levels, which means you don’t have to experience highs, lows and frequent hunger. This, and not eating carbs.
Again, this is the only point at which you’ll really need to tap into your willpower. Be strong!
3. You will initially lose some weight very quickly.
A direct result of cutting out carbs and sugar. A diet high in carbs causes people to retain more water; it also gives that softer look to your more muscle-y areas. By cutting out carbs and switching to fat as your energy source, your body is no longer consuming the foods that make it hold on to increased levels of water, therefore the water leaves.
When I went through my transition, my weight dropped 4kg incredibly fast, in about 2 weeks! Then, my weight loss slowed down. Leading me on to my next point…
4. Your weight loss will slow down.
Congratulations, you’re now burning fat! Yep, you are! You’re well on your way to using up your fat stores, which means less frequent hunger and more mental capacity and alertness all day long. And believe it or not, more energy!
If you’ve ever lost weight through a more conventional diet, and you saw the number drop on the scale, what kind of weight do you think you were losing? Fat? Water? Muscle mass? If you ate high-carb, low-fat, then you were most definitely a sugar-burner, and remember what happens to sugar-burners? You can lose muscle mass through gluconeogenesis if you don’t satiate your frequent hunger in time. Weight loss can be attributed to many factors in your body: eating primal ensures that your muscle mass is not only preserved, but increased, and this is done through diet alone. Conventional dieting usually results in loss of weight via fluids, muscle and little fat.
Don’t worry about your weight loss slowing down, it’s exactly what you want to happen. I went from losing kilos every week to losing them every month. Just stay on track, don’t change anything, and it will happen for you too.
5. You’re going to get constipated.
An ugly reality of dropping the carbs, but not for the reasons you may think. You can tell someone isn’t well-versed in primal when they say (many) things, like “You get constipated because it’s too restrictive; it doesn’t allow for much fruits and vegetables.” This is a major myth in low-carb eating. If you’ve read my posts, you’ll know the vegetables are a huge player in primal eating, and are incredibly vital sources of micronutrients. But no matter how much fruit and veg (hence fibre) you’re eating, you’re bound to get the low-carb constipation.
It happened to me about 1-2 months in, when I was really enjoying dairy. I attributed the constipation to the dairy, thinking that was the reason. Turns out, I was wrong. Through my constant reading and research, I discovered that the constipation is caused by lack of salt, which is caused by lack of water retention. When you eat more carbs, you retain more water; when you retain more water, you retain more salt. When you eat more carbs, you deal with higher insulin levels; these also affect how your kidneys function, meaning that it can prevent them from properly filtering salt from your body, thus dumping it back in. Salt helps you poo; without it, you get constipated. Not gonna sugar coat it.
The solution? Eat salt! Use sea salt on all your savoury food, and don’t be afraid to salt, it’s not the demon it’s been made out to be in the past (as long as you use sea salt or kosher salt). You could also add tiny pinches of it to your drinking water, which I know sounds weird, but I’ve done it – it works. The reason I say sea salt or kosher salt is that table salt can contain sugar (!) and also a variety of chemicals that you shouldn’t consume.
6. Other people:
Okay, this has nothing to do with changes to your body, but it does to how you’ll feel, especially in the context of breaking your primal news to the people you care about. You’ll here all the usual ‘healthy’ eating clichés:
- It’s all about calories in vs. calories out.
- Everything in moderation, that’s what I say.
- But you’ll die of a heart attack/clogged arteries/high cholesterol from all that fat!
- Why are you doing this?
- But carbs are the body’s preferred source of energy.
- I only eat wholegrains, they’re so much better for you.
- Isn’t that the Atkins diet?
I’ve heard them all! My solution has been to continue to educate myself about this way of eating so I can explain it to people, should they ask. If they don’t ask, don’t force the issue. There have been times I have, and it turns into a big debate. It’s not worth it: you’re not going to change people’s deeply engrained ways of thinking by forcing something on them. Pick your battles. The best you can do is answer questions when people ask them, and be a good little, healthier, smaller, primal ambassador. You can refer them to me and my Facebook page if you like 🙂
You’ll also have to deal with feeders – people who will try to sabotage your primal efforts through either comments to feed your thoughts (see above), or ways of trying to feed you non-primal food: inviting you for a non-primal dinner, or buying you non-primal treats. Solutions could be to ask them to dinner at your house instead OR offer to bring some primal contributions to the meal, especially dessert. When your feeder colleague buys you that weekly (daily!) sugary treat, or there’s sugary treats at a work, just decline them and walk away. They’re simply not worth it.
For more tips about dealing with other people, have a read of these articles:
10 Psychological Hurdles Keeping Your From Losing Weight (and How to Overcome Them) – I was going to write a similar post but perhaps I don’t need to? Point #2 in this post is especially fitting. All are important though.
How to Deal with Common Primal Stumbling Blocks – again, a great article for plenty of tips, especially the last section Family/Community/Friends.
There you have it: what to expect when you transition to primal eating. I’ve experienced all of the above, and it doesn’t sound great, but trust me, the short term pain is worth the massive long term gains.
My next Primal Lessons post will be on being Primal in Public, which I’ll post just in time for the holiday season, giving you tips to stay primal and how to deal with cheat situations.
Did these changes to your body happen when you went primal?
How did you deal with them?
What other topics would you like to see on the Primal Lessons series?
I’ve got a list of plenty to write about, but they’re all based on my experience and everyone is different. Input helps!