{Primal Lessons} Primal in Real Life

So you’ve started your primal journey, and you’ve made changes to what you eat. At some point along the way, you will have done the following:

1. Purged you house of non-primal foods. When I did this, I gave all my sugars and flours to my family members who had breadmakers. All pasta, oats, stocks (did you know they contain sugar??!?), couscous and vegetable oils were donated to my school’s Home Economics department. I rid my house of all non-primal foods.

2. Replaced these foods with primal-friendly ones: fresh (or frozen) fruit and vegetables; meat from local, responsibly farmed, grass-fed sources (when possible); natural nut butters, coconut oil, ghee, lots of butter, and 85% or more dark chocolate. Have you tried my fat bomb recipe yet?

3. Started making homemade primally-aligned meals with lots of good fat, some protein and unlimited vegetables.

4. Searched for delicious recipes on the internet to make at home.

5. Swapped sugar for primal-friendly sweetener of choice: xylitol, erythritol, stevia, honey or maple syrup.

6. Swapped wheat flour in baking for coconut or almond flour. FYI almond flour is basically ground almonds; I just saved you lots of money.

*If you haven’t done these yet, and are wanting to make lasting changes along your primal journey, I recommend doing these sooner rather than later….


You may have started things slowly, like I did, with one primal meal a day (dinner), then adding in lunch, and finally making all three meals of your day primal. You also will have gone through those not so nice physiological changes in your body, which mean you’re on your way to becoming a fat-burner. Or, you may have gone cold turkey and changed everything all at once. Whatever way you chose, you’re doing it! At home that is.

What happens when primal eating goes public? Are all principles lost? I’m writing this post to tell you NO, they’re not. Many primal/paleo, low-carb experts advise to eat at home for at least the first three weeks of transitioning; this allows more ease, less stress and for you to become very familiar with using the primal template of food so you’re able to make good choices for yourself without having to refer to a book, a blog or text a primal friend and ask “Is this food allowed?” This is your period to get comfortable with primal.

In my last post, I mentioned Coconut Friend Amie’s philosophy on eating non-primal foods when out: if the food is made with quality ingredients, and someone has put time and effort into making it, then, by all means, eat it – should you be presented with the opportunity. If it’s made with cheap ingredients in a factory, is it really worth it? No. I’ll happily bend my grain-free, sugar-free, gluten-free rules for a slice of my mother-in-law’s Victoria Sponge cake made with sugar and wheat flour, but I won’t for those cheap chocolate bars my colleagues like to eat at school. This is a factor to consider when eating outside of your home.

Another one to consider is your reasons for going primal: if it’s weight loss alone, then it’s your choice whether or not you want to eat a non-primal food. Bear in mind it might set your progress back up to a week depending on how much you eat and what you eat. If you’re going primal for medical reasons, like keeping your Type 2 Diabetes in check without the need for medicine, or because you’ve got an Autoimmune Disease, you’ll need to really think about whether eating a non-primal food is a good choice, and what will happen if you do, (read: flare up).

Regardless of your reasons for choosing a primal template of eating, the next big step is going out to eat. And what better way to discuss being primal in public than in a holiday context! Here are some points to think about and tips to help you remain that fat-burning, muscle-building, confident cave(wo)man this festive season.

1. Alcohol: I’ll just go straight for the jugular. It’s hypocritical of me to say ‘Have a tea total Christmas’ and not drink at all, because I intend on having some Christmas cocktails this month. What I don’t intend on doing, however, is getting blazing drunk at every opportunity. Alcohol significantly slows down your metabolism (by 300%!), the very one you’re trying to mend as a result of excessive carb-consumption. It can also lead to excess estrogen levels in the body, which over the long term, causes belly fat and man boobs (true fact). Alcohol also lowers your inhibitions, meaning you’re more likely to declare ‘F-primal, I want fish and chips!’ It’s your choice whether or not you drink this holiday season, but try and have 2-3 alcoholic beverages per gathering, not 12-13. And if you have many gatherings to attend, maybe consider being the designated driver for a few?

beach wedding 659

Which alcohols should you choose? Hard alcohol (spirits) like vodka, gin and rum are all fine; apparently, there are gluten-free brands that exist, you just need to seek them out. The optimal primal alcohol is red wine. Mark Sisson has a glass often! And just think: red wine is used to make mulled wine (Glühwein)!!!!

Alcohols to avoid are beer, whisky, rye whisky and any other ones made with grains. It’s pretty contradictory to avoid eating grains but then happily drinking them. I noticed that when I still enjoyed a beer here and there during my weight loss efforts, my weight would increase by a kilo and it took me a week to get back to normal again. Other alcohols to avoid are the sugary ones: cocktails, liqueurs, wine coolers (alco-pops), and mix drinks (hard alcohol + juice or pop).

What I’m doing: I’m going to try a glass of red wine, make some mulled wine, enjoy Glühwein out of a mug in Berlin, have a Mojito (with honey instead) and a Kir Royale this weekend at my Christmas night out at the Jute Cafe at the Dundee Contemporary Arts. There will probably be some bubbly in there too.


I don’t always drink alcohol, but when I do, I make sure I’m dressed up for it

2. Eating out at a restaurant: This is going to happen at least once over the holiday, and often in regular, non-holiday life. You can easily stick to primal when out, or choose to have a completely non-primal meal; again, the choice is yours and you need to keep in mind the reasons you’re doing primal. A big factor to consider is the restaurant in which you’re dining. Fast food places will not be primal friendly, as are places that serve a lot of frozen food that has been deep-fried. Pizza, pasta, and stir-fry places are also not a good choice, especially if the menu literally only serves those items.

On the other hand, there are plenty of restaurants now that use locally grown fruit and vegetables, locally reared meat, and local producers of alcohol, cheese, sauces, and other ingredients that feature on better restaurant’s menus. There is a real push in the food world to use the best, freshest ingredients possible. Stick to these types of places, as well as reputable chain restaurants that you know serve fresh food.


Like the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore

What to choose? Your best bet is meat and vegetables; it’s a combination where you can’t go wrong. If a meal comes with fries/chips, ask to substitute salad or another vegetable side. Ask for burgers without the bun; this is something I do all the time. I would also recommend reading the entire menu to see what kind of ingredients the restaurant uses in other dishes so you can potentially substitute a burger bun for, say, avocado from a salad. Many more customer-conscious places now have gluten-free options (be wary of anything made with grains though), and some, like the Handmade Burger Company, will actually give you complimentary coleslaw when you ask for your burger without a bun. You can be even more strict and ask for your food to be cooked in butter rather than vegetable oil, it just depends on how far you want to go with it. I draw the line there.

Many restaurants now also have their menus online: you could peruse the menu prior to going out to eat, so that you’re familiar with it, and can also come up with possible meals. One thing I know some AIP (autoimmune protocol) paleo people do is call up the restaurant prior to the visit, and advise the staff of any concerns they have; it is, after all, the restaurant’s responsibility to accommodate your needs, but at the same time, speaking as a former server, keep your needs realistic. If the restaurant is totally accommodating, the former server in me suggests you reward with a nice tip. If the restaurant doesn’t seem concerned about your needs, perhaps it’s best not to go, but again this depends on your reasons for primal eating: weight-loss vs. treating health issues through diet.

What I’m going to do: I always go for beef at a restaurant because Scottish beef is amazing. I order a burger without the bun, load it with fried onions, tomatoes, avocado (if possible), bacon and cheese. I ask for salad or vegetables on the side. I’ll also choose steak as well, and usually a sauce to go with it, unless they’re made with a roux (therefore containing flour). We’ve already seen the menu for my work Christmas night out at the Jute Café: I’m either going to having ox tail and French onion soup (like another bone broth!), OR haddock tart to start – both dishes do have wheat in them, but I went primal for weight loss, and I know a bit of wheat will not affect me to the point where I’ll later regret it.

My main will be the braised blade of beef because it’s all primal, and I’m enjoying a non-primal dessert of Black cherry and pear pie with Anglaise and vanilla ice cream. The Jute Café is a high-end restaurant that uses quality ingredients, I know I’ll be in good hands 🙂

3. Non-restaurant social gatherings: office parties, family dinners, house parties – basically any social gathering where it’s either potluck or someone you know is making all the food. You can approach this in a few ways:

– If it’s potluck, make your own primal appetizer, main and/or dessert for all to enjoy. That’s the easiest, best scenario. There would hopefully be some other meat and veg you could enjoy.

– If it’s not potluck, and it’s being hosted by someone you know well, offer to make at least one thing you can enjoy without wondering about what it’s made from.

– If it’s not potluck, and hosted by someone you don’t know, I would actually just show up with some of my own food to eat. You just never know what will be offered, and you can make the (valid) excuse that you have dietary needs, and brought your own food just to be safe; you can even fib and say you have severe food allergies. Yeah, it might make things awkward where people might think it’s weird, you’re weird and why can’t you just relax about it, but bear in mind, you don’t have to justify your actions and choices to anyone. If people give you a hard time about it, walk away. Why should you let a perfectly enjoyable evening be ruined by someone who probably doesn’t even get it?

Whenever my family hosts dinners, I always offer to make a dessert because I find this is the one course of food where it’s quite difficult to be sugar-free and gluten-free (unless it’s summer and berries and whipped cream are involved). They always welcome it, and enjoy it as well. At times, my mother-in-law and I will plan and make a family dinner together, which allows everyone to enjoy delicious, real food, and Pat and I to stay primal.


Zenbelly’s Pan-Roasted Chicken with Bacon and Apples is a great contribution to any meal

Another possible option, should you wish, is to host your own holiday gathering. You get to decide the menu (which, if it was me, would be 100% primal). There are so many primal dishes that you don’t realise are primal, you could easily make a primal meal for your reluctant family without them knowing. Roast dinner anyone? Chicken wings appetizers? Cheese board of local, non-pasteurised cheeses with a side of apples, pears and/or grapes? And the best part is you don’t have to tell them it’s primal!

Check out my Instagram friend Georgie’s blog for some delicious, festive desserts made with paleo ingredients, including mince(meat) pies!

*side note: many non-primal people think primal food is totally different, as though food as we know it has been reinvented. Anyone who is well versed in primal knows this isn’t the case.

What I’m doing: for starters, we’re having a Caveman Christmas. Alicia and André will be here for a visit, and we’re already planning a primal Christmas dinner. We’ll be making turkey butterfly (just the breast), Nom Nom Paleo cran-cherry sauce, vegetables of some kind, gluten-free pork sausage stuffing, and maybe potato gratin (two recipes I hope to post to the blog before the big day). I’m going to try Georgie’s mince pie recipe, and attempt a primal sticky toffee pudding. Every meal we have at home will be primal, apart from one beef olive each with skirlie (oats + beef fat – Alicia and André must try it).
When we go to Berlin, our meals at Alicia’s will again be primal, and we’re going to a paleo restaurant while we’re there!

With regards to social gatherings, I’ll contribute to the meal as best I can: whether it’s making a dessert, a main, or an appetizer; or even taking some of our primal Christmas leftovers.

Now that I’ve written a novel about what to do with regards to non-primal foods and how to survive primally through the holiday season, here’s a few things you shouldn’t do this next month:

1. Don’t have complete non-primal days: you will feel physically horrible after this, I promise you. Even just one completely non-primal meal could send you to the toilet, cause bloating, give you a headache, give you a sugar hangover the next day – the things your once carb-loving body was oblivious to. Non-primal foods here and there are fine, but a total smorgasbord is another thing.

And while on the topic of smorgasbords…

2. Don’t use eating some non-primal foods as an excuse to stop primal altogether: I know that some people do this form of self-sabotage. For some reason, people have this notion in their head that primal and paleo people stick to the template of foods 100% of the time. This simply isn’t the case. Even the biggest paleo food bloggers, like Nom Nom Paleo, the Domestic Man and Paleo Parents, all attest to eating non-paleo foods, to being not paleo-perfect. One thing we all do, though, is get right back into paleo and primal eating.

Instead of looking for a reason to fall off the bandwagon, just get right back into it the next food, the next meal, the next day.


3. Don’t say you don’t have time: another excuse. We make time for the things we truly want. I truly want physical well-being at all times. I truly want lasting mental clarity all day long. I truly want to stay a fat-burner. I won’t be 100% primal over Christmas and New Year’s, but I will get right back into things because I make time for my food. I’m worth that time.

4. Don’t eat mindlessly: consider who’s made the food and the ingredients used to make it, and also how it will make you feel physically and emotionally. Think before you eat.

5. Don’t beat yourself up over every little non-primal food you ate, just get right back into it!


If you still want to read more on ‘cheat’ meals, check out this recent post on Mark’s Daily Apple:

Should you eat periodic cheat meals?

What’s your approach to non-primal food?

What foods will you be enjoying this holiday season?

Are you having a Caveman Christmas?



4 thoughts on “{Primal Lessons} Primal in Real Life

  1. Thanks, really enjoyed this article. Our Christmas lunch is this Friday seem to be on the right track with what I was thinking of having 🙂

  2. Pingback: {Caveman Christmas} Primal Potato Gratin + giveaway winner! | Eat Primal, Run Hard

  3. Pingback: {WIAW} Primal in Transit | Eat Primal, Run Hard

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