Last year, I started writing my Primal Lessons series as a way of explaining and exploring different facets of primal eating; consider it an in-depth introduction to Primal. Earlier this year, I thought the series was complete. I thought I had written about everything you needed to know about primal. I thought I could focus on other endeavours related to the primal world. Then, being the reflective blogger I am, I realised that I missed out on THE most important aspect of primal eating. I forgot to write about how to actually take the initial steps to changing your diet to a real food one, primal-focused or not. The tips below are the steps I took to changing my diet, changing my lifestyle, and ultimately, changing my health.
Step 1: Start Reading
THE. MOST. IMPORTANT because as I mentioned in my last post: Knowledge is power. I can’t stress enough how important it is to know the information on the science behind the food, how food affects our physical and mental health, and learning how to take care of yourself through diet.
Before I started delving into books on ketogenic, primal and low carb eating, I found mainstream health and all its guidelines quite abstract. The more I read about food and its effects on the human body, however, the more I understood and everything became crystal clear.
I’m not saying become a primal expert, but read at least one book, and a few blogs to get a better idea. My favourite books are The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, Wheat Belly by William Davis, and The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel. For websites, Mark’s Daily Apple reigns supreme for everything primal related. Authority Nutrition is a no-nonsense website for the science behind low-carb eating. The Domestic Man is great for traditional and ethnic dishes, made paleo; I always like making a Russ Crandall recipe for a weekend meal. Primal Eye Magazine is a great one-stop place for paleo nutrition, lifestyle tips and recipes, (yes, shameful plug for my second ‘employer’). As for cookbooks, I use Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong religiously, and The Performance Paleo Cookbook by Steph Gaudreau. You could also check out my recipe page. 😉
The more you read, the more you know. (Primal) knowledge truly is empowering.
Step 2: Cleanse your cupboards
This is the first essential action step you need to apply to changing your diet. You need to get rid of all the fake, processed, grain-based, sugar laden foods in your cupboards and fridge. Do this before you’re due to go grocery shopping, so it doesn’t seem like you’re getting rid of so much food. You can put your non-real, non-primal foods in a big bag or box, and then find someone who will take them, because I don’t know about you, but when I did this, I couldn’t bring myself to throw out food. You could also consider donating any non-used, non-perishable food to a local food bank, or even towards efforts to support the current refugee crisis in Europe.
Get rid of:
– all convenience or junk food, containing paragraphs of ingredients.
– all vegetable oils and margarines
– all foods containing sugar
– baking ingredients: sugar, flour, corn flour, chocolate chips, cake decorations, icing, etc.
– all pasta, bread, bagels, scones, crackers, breadsticks, couscous, etc. Anything that is in the bread ‘family,’ anything made with wheat.
– all legumes (pulses in the UK).
– all foods made with grains, like porridge, muesli, cereals.
– all processed meats, like sausages, deli meat, wieners (frankfurters)
– all sauces and condiments, because they all contain sugar.
Consider getting rid of dairy. If you really want to see definite results, I would recommend staying off of conventional, store-bought dairy. Also consider getting rid of rice; it’s not a necessity and some people don’t react well gastrointestinally to it. If you choose rice, don’t eat it in abundance.
I cleansed my cupboards in stages, donating each bagful to my school’s Home Economics department, or to the bakers in my family.
This is a crucial step, because when you’re tired, stressed and/or having a bad day, you won’t be able to reach for a non-primal food when you don’t have it in your house. Pat and I keep only primal-friendly foods at home. We don’t have any non-primal ingredients for visitors, and when we have people over for dinner, I always cook 100% primal. If people want sugar for their tea or coffee, they can have either xylitol or honey. The only time we eat any non-primal food is outside our house. Maybe we’re primal zealots like that, but we just don’t see the point in having those foods around.
Step 3: Become friends with vegetables
Some people have nicknamed paleo and primal ‘plant-based’ because there is huge emphasis on vegetable consumption. In my opinion, (and other’s), vegetables are the one food group that can be eaten in unlimited quantities. While this initially seems excessive, and might give people visions of diarrhoea due to so much fibre, think about this: when did you ever feel you couldn’t stop eating that big ass salad? That side of broccoli? Those carrot sticks or slices of cucumber? Never.
Why vegetables and not fruit? Because vegetables are a great source of many vitamins and minerals without the sweet factor. Yes, some people who have sugar problems assume that as long as they eat fruit instead of sugary foods, they’re fine – Pat is guilty of this. Eating lots of fruit doesn’t address the sugar issue, it just eases it with a substitute, which completely avoids the issue instead. Some fruit also contains a lot of sugar, albeit natural in the form of fructose, but too much fructose can lead to issues, like gout, and can get in the way of our real food efforts.
Consume more vegetables than fruit each day, and aim for (multiple) vegetables at every meal. I would recommend eating no more than 3 fruits a day. Your plate should be half vegetables, with protein and fat on the side. Your vegetables can be raw, roasted, fried in butter or ghee, or as a salad. It’s really up to you.
Step 4: Avoid anything ‘Gluten-Free’
Yes, primal eating is gluten-free, but as a result of being grain-free. Grains contain the protein gluten. Any free-from, gluten-free convenience food isn’t primal. Not even remotely close. Gluten-free, free-from foods are also processed, which you shouldn’t be eating. While they contain no gluten, they do contain sugar, and many wheat flour alternatives that raise blood glucose levels even higher than conventional wheat, which completely negates eating a real food diet to ease health issues. You want to keep insulin levels steady in the body, not send it into constant highs and lows.
Just eat real food. If you want something baked, google paleo and primal alternatives to enjoy every now and then. Not every day, nor every week. I’m working on a post about ‘treats’ and cheating to give my thoughts on this grey area of primal.
Step 5: Abandon ‘Conventional Wisdom’
You know all that stuff (you think) you know about healthy eating and weight loss? Let me remind you:
“Everything in moderation.”
“Fat is bad for you.”
“Carbs are good.” Or “Carbs are the body’s preferred source of fuel.”
“Eating fat will clog your arteries.”
Clear your brain and forget all of those existed, because in some capacity, they’re all wrong. Remember that knowledge you’re going to gain, which is going to empower you to make real food choices and change your lifestyle? Replace the old information with the new information, using books, blogs and even podcasts as your mediums. You’ll then learn:
Not all calories are created equal.
It’s all about keeping insulin levels stable.
You can’t eat everything in moderation and should just stopping eating some foods altogether because they do you more harm than good.
Healthy fat is so good for you!
Fat is the body’s preferred source of fuel, especially for the brain and heart.
Arteries become clogged as a result of a high-carb, low-fat diet which raises small dense LDL cholesterol levels. These cholesterol particles find inflammation in arterial walls (in the form of cracks) and try to repair said cracks. Rather than repairing, the particles just build up, forming the plaque that clogs arteries. And this has nothing to do with a diet high in healthy fats.
I found this aspect of my primal journey so incredibly liberating because I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Gone was believing mainstream health ‘advice;’ instead, I was able to make conscious food choices that I knew would benefit me in some capacity. Once I stopped believing in the conventional wisdom, I also stopped the feelings of guilt associated this way of eating. Not only did I shed excess pounds on the outside, but also in my brain. And I felt so much lighter.
But What about the Children???!?!?
A very good point to ponder for those who have offspring. Are you going to feed them a primal diet as well? Or are you going to cook two sets of meals, possibly for every meal, of every day? How are you going to make it work? Does your little one really love pasta that much? Is it worth converting a child’s diet to primal?
From a practical stand point, yes. From an economic stand point, definitely. To help towards your primal success? For sure, because see step 2. And after all, we know what happens with children + sugar.
But, this could be the largest hurdle you may need to overcome. I can’t give sound advice, because I’m not a parent, but I can make suggestions:
– perform the cupboard cleanse.
– get good and confident at saying no to non-primal foods at home.
– deal with their negative reactions. I experience this teaching, and know that it will get harder before it gets easier but consistency sure pays off.
– start introducing them to different fruit and vegetables. My sister-in-law Kate, mother of four, follows the rule that the children must try a food 10 times, in different ways, to be able to ultimately decide if they don’t like it. As a result, her kids eat well and enjoy a range of foods.
– persevere, which can be tough, especially if you’re tired.
After that, it’s up to you, the adult, to decide.
I personally think primal + children works, and benefits little ones just as much as adults. While Pat and I don’t have children yet, we intend to feed them a primal diet when they are with us. We can’t control their food choices outside our home, but hopefully we’ll raise them to be food conscious. And like us, they’ll eat non-primal foods now and then.
For resources on primal/paleo + parenting check out:
Also check out my friend Marianne’s blog: she’s on her second Whole30, with her three kids in tow.
Changing your diet to eat real food that will heal your guts, lead to lasting energy and help you on your journey to thriving is a big step. It also involves changing the way you think about food, which in itself is a huge barrier to overcome. These steps are here as a helping hand, to make sense of the confusion, to get you started. Good luck!
Have I missed anything?
What advice would you give to getting started on primal?
Do you do primal + kids?