This post is not a tear-free guarantee. Because food is really, really personal, and learning to un-love foods you grew up with is also very personal. So you’ll probably cry at some point in this process: first because you feel so awful when you detox. Second because you feel so amazing off sugar, grains, and dairy.
Not everyone needs to eat Paleo. If you feel totally awesome all the time, you can go ahead and eat whatever you want. But if you can’t reach a healthy weight no matter how much you exercise, or you feel gross sometimes and don’t know why (foggy headed, sometimes lethargic, or just a little ill), then I strongly encourage you to try a Paleo diet for 6 months and see if all those things don’t go away.
The end game? Eating Paleo means avoiding these foods in your diet:
- Grains (corn, oat, rice, rye, wheat, etc)
- Sugar (cane, white, brown, agave, artificial, HFCS, etc)
- Legumes (peanuts, all beans and bean-derivatives like guar gum, carrageenan, and xanthan gum)
- Dairy (milk, cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, cream*, butter*)
(* Some people can tolerate milk fat [not milk sugar or milk protein] just fine and so keep eating cream, ghee, and butter intermittently)
If you’re interested in making the switch, here’s how to transition into Paleo/Paleo AIP without crying (too much). Let’s dig in:
Step One, Weeks 1-5+: Start Avoiding Gluten, Artificial Sweeteners, and HCFS
I really, really, really don’t recommend jumping into Paleo or Paleo AIP whole-hog unless you’re very sick. Without the carrot of “imminent doom” dangling in front of you, you will break down and get discouraged and revert to the Standard American Diet (SAD) very quickly.
Start small by first avoiding gluten, artificial sweeteners, and HFCS for a month or two. These things are everywhere, in everything. It’s terrifying. That’s why I recommend dropping them first and focusing solely on them for quite a few weeks to get used to a new way of living.
Transition to using brown rice pasta instead of wheat pasta, and honey and real sugar instead of all other artificial sweeteners or HFCS (eventually you’ll drop the sugar, but start slow!). Try sweetening things with honey, dates, and raisins and see how you like it. Try out different versions of coconut milk (this is my favorite) and start to adjust your taste-buds. You’re also on the lookout for secret sources of high fructose corn syrup like canned fruit, juice, and ketchup.
During this phase, allow yourself some gluten-free indulgences and Paleo “desserts.” Really, really just focus on getting off the gluten train and the fake-stuff train, and don’t bother with stressing about anything else. Focus solely on avoiding these few foods for at least a month or two, until you feel like you’ve got a handle on what life is like without wheat bread, wheat pasta, HFCS baked goods, and regular and diet sodas.
Step Two, Weeks 6-10: Transition Your Kitchen
Once you’re comfortable with your gluten-free and fake-stuff-free life, allot one month to simply getting your kitchen ready for the transition. You don’t have to throw everything out all at once. Simply relocate your non-Paleo food to a more hard to reach place.
Take all of your major no-nos, such as any leftover flour, bread, white sugar,brown sugar, condensed milk, candy, etc, as well as your new transition foods like rice, rice pasta, beans, gluten-free bread and cake mix, corn flour, soy-containing products, etc, and put them in a huge box that you store on the other side of the house or apartment, or in the garage.
Give prime cabinet real estate to Paleo foods like coconut milk, nuts, seeds, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruits, etc. Try your best to avoid cooking with your non-Paleo foods, but don’t beat yourself up about it. Just acknowledge that every time you eat non-Paleo you’ve got to go dig through a box, adding a simple little obstacle between you and bad food choices. Concentrate on adding more vegetables to every meal — frozen, fresh, baked, etc. Try out new recipes with new spice combinations and get comfortable with a lot of greens on your plate.
Step Three, Weeks 10-Life: Drop Dairy and Go Whole Hog
When you’ve gotten used to a Paleo kitchen and you don’t run over to your secret store of SAD foods more than three or four times per week, it’s time to try out full Paleo.
Give yourself one week of trying your very best to be 100 percent Paleo — that means no grains, no beans, no dairy, and no sugar. This is just a personal preference, but I found it easier to not worry about dropping dairy until it was time to go whole hog, full Paleo.
You will feel really, really bad. I don’t cuss on this blog, but if I did, this is where I would use cuss words to describe how bad you feel. You’ll actually feel like you’re coming down with a cold and a flu. Your head will feel fuzzy. You’ll feel like you slammed into a brick wall. This is detox from the unhealthy foods you’ve been eating.
On day four or five, the clouds will part. You will wake up with energy. Your feet (if you’re me) will not be poofy. You won’t even need coffee, even though you can have it, because you won’t have 2pm nap-fests anymore where you can’t focus or get anything done. It’s just pure, clean energy all the time.
Optional Step Four A, B, and C: Step Up to AIP
If you have an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis like me, Paleo brings huge improvements but not complete health. The Paleo Autoimmune Protocol is designed to help you achieve a level of complete non-inflammation for more sensitive systems, or to help you identify previously-unknown irritants and intolerances.
Here’s what you’ll be avoiding:
- Nuts and seeds
- Nightshades (Peppers, Eggplant, Potato, Tomato)
- Spices derived from seeds (Cumin, paprika, etc)
Once again — you need to handle this transition with care. This stage more than any other made me very emotional, as I found that there are almost no restaurant or packaged foods options for Paleo AIP. It’s all fresh, all home-cooked, the time. (Most of the time).
And here’s how to do it in phases:
Part A – Drop Eggs, Seeds, and Nuts for Two Weeks
First, drop eggs and nuts. This is really, really hard. Because when you turn to Paleo, eggs and nuts are your easiest and most transportable snacks, and also vital for most baked goods. It really hurts to lose them! So spend time adjusting without putting pressure on yourself to drop more food. (Hint: turn to plantains to replace eggs in most recipes!).
The reason eggs and nuts are best to drop first? Because those are most likely to be your intolerances. You find out very quickly if you’re intolerant to eggs and nuts because the symptoms are much more clear — they go away faster when you stop eating them, and they appear faster when you add them back in.
Part B – Drop Eggs and AIP Veggies Indefinitely
When you’ve come to terms with eggs and veggies, move on to drop the AIP vegetable set: peppers of all kinds, eggplants, potatoes,and tomatoes. With these, also, you’ll notice if you’re sensitive to them from a variety of symptoms: water retention, headaches, knee aches, etc.
Part C – Drop Chocolate and Coffee
Finally, when you’re totally accustomed to AIP, drop chocolate and coffee. Almost a year into Paleo, I’ve only now been able to achieve this step — every time I tried to do so sooner, I inevitably felt so deprived I couldn’t hack it. After a few months, I had the confidence to really try it and commit to it.
More Random Tips for Paleo AIP
- Keep a Go-Bag. I’ve only recently started doing this, but it’s a great habit. I keep a Go-Bag of road-friendly Paleo snacks like banana chips, beef jerky, apples, dried apples, etc.
- Keep a defrost bin in the fridge. Easy access to foods without worrying about cross-contamination.
- Figure out your options. I have located a few on-the-go friendly Paleo AIP options (and I made a part two, too). None of them are perfect, but they help when you’re desperate!
- Find other AIP peeps. Nothing makes me more relaxed than talking through my dietary restrictions with other AIP people, either in person or online. (In fact, I started a local Meet Up group and it’s changed my life for the better!) Check out the Twitter hashtags #PaleoAIP and #AIP to find like-minded people, and of course you can follow me @LifeCommaEtc, too :-).
Bring on the questions and suggestions!