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How to Start the Paleo Diet

Beginning a new lifestyle that revolves around diet can feel daunting and complicated.  Eating processed foods and food that is generally touted as healthy, such as whole grain rice and breads, may be second nature to you.  Transitioning to a paleo lifestyle, one that is founded on whole, fresh foods can be simple and beneficial for your overall health and well-being.  The first step, however, is to talk with your physician before beginning any new or sudden dietary changes.

The first thing you should note about the paleo lifestyle is that the transition from the standard American diet to a healthy paleo diet should be slow.  Most paleo dieters are not concerned with an all-or-nothing approach to dieting, but rather encourage a slow progression to healthful, mindful eating of whole, clean foods.  If you do decide to leave out all non-paleo foods at once, expect to experience a few weeks of sluggishness due to your body feeling shocked by the change.  Adaptation occurs relatively slowly, so give your body time.  Take each meal you eat and, as you prepare it, consider what in your recipes you can alter to make the meal more paleo-friendly.  Perhaps eat your burger without the bun or have roasted vegetables instead of French fries on the side.  Or, have your tacos in the form of a salad, without the shell.

As for your home, go through your pantry and fridge and throw out any food you don’t want to have on the paleo diet.  Chips, pretzels, dairy products, cereals, and other processed foods should be thrown away or donated to give you the best chance of staying paleo.  If the food is there, you will most likely eat it.  Also, plan your meals ahead of time.  Take a list with you to the grocery store and do not buy anything you do not need.

You may want to consider first cutting down on your consumption of grains.  The average American ate 200 pounds of grain in 2000, up 50 pounds from the 1970’s, according to the USDA.  For the paleo diet, oats, grains, beans, millet, and rice need to be moderated and slowly excluded from your daily eats until you are comfortable excluding them completely from every meal.  Instead of a side of bread, eat a salad or other fresh vegetable with dinner.  Instead of eating a sandwich for lunch, try a salad or bowl of soup.

Another major factor in poor health is the standard American consumption of refined sugar and sweeteners.  After cutting out refined sugar and products like cake, cookies, and brownies, your body will begin to adjust and cleanse, and you will begin to feel stronger, healthier, and have more energy.  The omission of processed sugar, again, should be done gradually, but being mindful of the sugar you do eat will help you make the switch.  Avoid mindless snacking and choose fruit drizzled in raw, local honey instead of ice cream for dessert.

Dairy should also be eliminated from your diet.  All dairy products should be avoided, as it is unlikely that our Paleolithic ancestors would have had opportunity to milk the wild boars they found while hunting.  Cow’s milk and other animals’ milk contain proteins that are often hard on the digestive system of humans.  Lactose and casein may also cause problems in those who are allergic.  The Paleo Recipe Book author Sebastian Noel even cites a link on his website between dairy and Chron’s disease.  Many paleo dieters believe that a small amount of dairy can be beneficial for some, especially people who have higher caloric needs and those who need to gain weight.

While making the transition to the paleo diet can be daunting, learning how to cook paleo foods will increase your chances of staying paleo and your enjoyment of the diet.  Also, it will help you begin to exclude those foods that are not allowed on the paleo diet.  Learn how to prepare meats in various ways, such as poaching, roasting, baking, boiling, and steaming.  Consider ways to prepare vegetables that make your meals interesting and alter the flavors of your vegetables.  Roasted, raw, steamed, or sautéed vegetables can make your side dishes appealing.  Also, experiment with soups and ingredient combinations.  Fill your pantry with at least 20 herbs and spices to keep flavors interesting.  There are infinite combinations of foods and flavors, so get creative.

If you are ready to start creating your own recipes, Robb Wolf, a paleo expert, recommends each meal be comprised of 4 to 8 ounces of lean meat, plenty of raw or cooked vegetables, and a limited amount of healthy oils such as olive or coconut oil.  Fruit, Wolf explains, should be limited if you are hoping to lose weight, though you may eat plenty of fruit if you are content with your weight or are engaged in an intense exercise regime.

One way to ensure that you don’t run out of paleo-friendly food throughout the week is to cook large batches of food at once.  Instead of baking two chicken breasts, bake six to have throughout the week.  Cook a large batch of soup and freeze half, so you’ll have it if you want or need it.  Keep paleo-friendly snacks with you at all times so you are not tempted to stop at a fast food chain.  When you do feel like eating a piece of pie or a burrito, go ahead and have it.  Depriving yourself of foods you truly love will ultimately lead to long-term failure.  As long as you’re eating predominantly paleo meals, you will notice the positive health effects of the diet.

Once you begin to cut out all the paleo-unfriendly foods from your diet and get creative in the kitchen, you will find the paleo lifestyle comes easily to you.  Within a few weeks, you will notice many health benefits, including increased strength and vitality, energy, and a clear mind.  Remember not to worry too much about being overly strict on the diet.  The goal is overall health, not deprivation.

What started out as a self-discovering journey into a healthier lifestyle, has turned into a mission to share my findings with as many people as possible. Knowledge is power!

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