It has literally taken years for me to transition from eating a highly processed, fake-sugar enhanced, low-fat and SAD diet. I now eat tons of nutrient dense fruits, vegetables, meat and fats, (along with a few treats) and I feel very satisfied on a daily basis. Let’s call this a “Paleo” style of eating since that sounds sexier than “nutrient-dense whole foods.”
Let it be known, though, that I am not a strict Paleo eater. Paleo is not my religion and I don't live and die by any food "rules." I would not, for example, order my sushi rolls without rice. (How sad would that be???) Ya feel me?
Paleo-ish is a better description of my day to day consumption.
With that being said, I can now reflect on the meandering road of nutrition mis-information that led me to think that Diet Pepsi and a Fiber One bar were an acceptable breakfast, and I am so glad I detoured from that path. However, the new direction I found myself going has also been a path full of nutrition mis-information, and I wish someone would have helped me navigate the trail of “Real Food.” Here’s what I would say to someone who is also trying to find their way down this boulevard of broken diet dreams. (Can you tell I heard some Green Day last night?)
1. You have to go All-In on food quality or it doesn’t count.
This is where I feel like the “Paleo” world really needs to be more clear. It is true that food quality matters. It matters A. LOT. I believe that the amount of attention that has been given to food sourcing and quality of products has led many consumers to demand more from the companies they are patronizing, and that is never a bad thing, either.
HOWEVER: Just because you can’t afford to eat free-range cage-free pastured organic eggs with all-natural sugar-free organic bacon every morning doesn’t mean that you should just say f*ck it and have some Eggo waffles with Aunt Jemima’s on top instead. Eating regular old eggs with real butter, regular bacon and a heaping serving of some veggies is still going to be 1000 times better for you than the Standard American Diet of processed refined carbohydrates with a side of more sugar. You just need to do the best you can with what you can find and afford in terms of food quality. If the whole notion of Paleo Perfection really stresses you out and is delaying your efforts in transitioning your diet, please hear me:
You don’t have to do it “perfectly.” No one does. Just eat the best quality real food you can find (or afford) at this moment and go from there.
I lived the last few years in a rural area of North Dakota where I didn’t have access to the highest quality produce or ingredients in the local grocery stores. Granted, the products were better than you would think, but it’s the rural midwest so obviously there wasn’t any wild Alaskan salmon brought in daily to the butcher, ok? I had to learn to be a lot more relaxed in my approach to procuring our food, and that was fine. What I learned, after many Thrive Market shipments (which are great!) was that I needed to do the best I could with what was available to me, and just let go of the stress if we were, for example, eating bacon that had nitrates in it.
In a perfect world, my bacon would be nitrate-free from the world’s happiest pig, but that isn’t always possible to find (or afford.) What I ended up realizing was the fact that we were eating the most nutrient-dense foods available to us at that time. I know my kids eat more whole foods and less processed junk than just about anyone, but you might be surprised to see that everything in our kitchen isn’t organic. I have learned to be picky where (I feel) that it counts, and just let go of the rest. As long as we are chowing down on plenty of colorful produce drenched in butter, it can’t be that bad, right?
2. You have to eat 100% Paleo all the time or you are failing, so you end up falling off the wagon every weekend and “starting again” on Monday morning.
Being a “Weekend Warrior” is something I totally get. I do. I have a very “All-or-nothing” personality, so I have found lots of reasons to eat like shit all weekend long and then start fresh on Monday morning. Early in the transition to eating Paleo most of the time, I was really struggling with this, because it was a pattern I had been repeating for years with whatever “diet” I was doing at that moment. It didn’t feel like a lifestyle to me, it felt like a really hard challenge. What I wish someone would have told me at the time is this:
If you just chill out and quit trying to do this perfectly, you won’t feel like you have to have every cookie ever baked between Friday night and Monday morning.
When I relaxed and realized that eating a cookie wasn’t the end of the world, but that I felt way better when I ate less cookies and more vegetables, I didn’t really want as many cookies anymore. I also found that Monday morning felt way better when I didn’t have a weekend food hangover to contend with.
Aside from the mental anxiety that really diminishes when we stop making our food “good or bad” and stressing over the perfection of eating Paleo all the time, our bodies really need this. Constantly going from stable blood sugar levels to crazy fluctuations every weekend or binge is such a burden for our bodies to deal with. Once you really start feeding yourself nutrient-dense foods on a regular basis, your body will be so much more able to balance the systems within and start running like the well oiled machine that it is meant to be.
3. You should eat all the same foods you used to in your SAD diet but just make them “Paleo.”
I know. I am really ruining all the fun, here.
Like I mentioned a bit ago, it is really taxing for our bodies to constantly have to contend with blood sugar levels spiking and dropping. Truly, this is perceived as an emergency situation internally, and our bodies have to work really hard to bring everything back into balance. What is so great about eating a Paleo-ish diet is that the correct proportions of fat and carbohydrates in each meal (hint: lots more fat than you may have thought!) slows the release of glucose into the bloodstream, which allows for a more gradual rise and fall in blood sugar levels. This is a very good thing.
If we take out the chips, cookies, pasta and bread that we were eating in a SAD diet, and simply replace them with Paleo versions of those foods, we're missing the whole point. Yes, a cookie made with coconut flour and honey is still a cookie. And cookies are fine...sometimes...but:
Give up the crutch of baked goods and "treats" for a minute and just eat some damn produce. Lots of it.
You will feel so much more satisfied and less snacky when you limit the treats and dense baked goodies, and truly your taste resets to appreciate the sweetness of fruit. You cannot fit that much food in at a time...so if you're concentrating on colorful veggies with a good amount of fat as about half your volume, you really aren't going to be hungry for those "Paleo cupcakes". I pinky swear.
Not to mention, Paleo treats are SPENDY! Nut flours and organic local raw honey does not come cheap, ok? Use sparingly for multiple reasons!
Did any of that sound familiar?
If the fear of "not doing it right" or budgeting, or failed attempts at a "detox" have you telling yourself all the reasons why you can't enjoy a whole foods diet as a lifestyle, then please take these 3 tips to heart and just start somewhere. No one does it perfectly. That would be a sad, sad existence. The balance is in finding a way to eat that makes you feel like a unicorn everyday and then enjoying every bite of that cookie when you want one.
Still thinking this sounds really hard? Well, you know I've got you covered.
How about an entire online program for someone who is struggling with their food choices (like I was!) that cuts through the bullshit and speeds up the learning curve about a thousand percent?
And if you addressed the root cause of your fatigue, hormone imbalances, insomnia, stalled weight loss and join pain while you're at it, that wouldn't be a bad thing, right?