Going Paleo: How to find your inner hunter gatherer

Warm weather is on the way, so you may be starting to feel that familiar pressure about trimming your toosh for swimsuit season.  Don’t panic--you’re not the only one!  Have you ever considered the paleo diet? If so, you’ve probably heard about its potential for health and weight loss. But then you also already know that this diet is no piece of cake—literally and figuratively!

Before you give it a thumbs down, here are some reasons why the diet might work for you and a few tips on how to follow it (because we like to help make changes feel a little less daunting). First of all, to practice the Paleo diet --also known as the Cave Man Diet (think Wilma of the Flintstones) and the Stone Age diet-- you have to understand it. It goes back to the mid-70s, when scientists popularized the idea of eating only foods that were available to our Paleolithic hunting and gathering ancestors.

No one is suggesting you have to hunt and gather food yourself (although, it does sounds kind-a fun). But you do have to accept what you can and can’t eat, if you want to get the best results (and who doesn’t?). It’s actually easier than you think. The paleo diet advocates higher protein intake from meats and seafood; lots of non-starchy vegetables and fruits that would have been available to these early foragers as your main carbohydrate source; and moderate to high intake of fats – Yes, you read this right, but we’re talking about healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from plants and seeds. In a nutshell, you can eat meats, seafood and fish, fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, but no grains, legumes, beans, dairy products, potatoes or processed foods. Strictly speaking, the diet also does not include coffee or alcohol (what’s a modern girl to do?). 

It does sound a little overwhelming in our convenience-oriented world of supermarkets and processed foods. The thing is, adopting a paleo diet is a lifestyle change, and eliminating foods that you have eaten your whole life can be intimidating—but you’ll grow from the experience. And on the flip side, there are potential health benefits of going paleo beyond weight loss, including higher energy and overall wellness. C’mon your health is worth the investment. (One caveat-- there is no solid science proving these benefits with the paleo diet plan specifically, but there is ample evidence that eating more complex carbs, lower glycemic index foods, less sodium, a low carb/low sugar diet, and high alkaline foods does support overall health and weight management.) 

So, to make sure you’re successful (and get the maximum benefits), here is our version of paleo for beginners to help you avoid common missteps that cause some people to ditch the diet:

Paleo takes Commitment. Before you jump in, do some soul searching (always a good thing) and think about the reality of what it might mean for you--more time to plan menus and giving up certain foods. Lots of people bail because they haven’t thought it through.  So make sure you’re ready mentally and spiritually before you start. Like everything else in life being committed fuels the fire (commitment is cool, remember?). 

Know your ABCs: Vitamins and minerals, that is. You have to be sure you know enough about the nutrients in the foods you’re eating to ensure adequate intake (losing weight without supporting good health is not the goal). Just eating chicken and vegetables every day complies with the diet, but it doesn’t include enough variety for all your nutritional needs. The good news is there are now many paleo friendly products to help, from cereals and protein shakes to grain-free flours and even vegan snacks (think Shift Bars). A little discipline is really all it takes.

Plan Ahead: The paleo diet plan can add to your food budget, but you can offset much of the extra cost with advance planning. For example, grow your own herbs and vegetables if you have space for a garden. This has lots of added benefits from promoting fitness to getting you in touch with nature (there is nothing like the feeling of your hands in some dirt!). If you don’t have room, join a farmer’s co-op to get a great variety of fresh, locally grown vegetables and herbs at reasonable prices-- and you can feel great about supporting local agriculture.

Don’t overdo it: Too much of even good foods can upset your body’s balance. For example, nuts and seeds are recommended but too many can irritate your digestive system (and nobody needs that!). Follow you body’s lead—you have great insights as to what you need, you just have to listen.

Take a well-rounded approach:  Having success with this kind of lifestyle shift goes beyond diet alone.  You also need to exercise moderately, keep stress low (this is a big one), and get enough rest. It takes the full package! And you’re the full package so treat yourself as such.

Last but not least, if you fall off the wagon now and then it’s ok. Everyone caves once in a while, so cut yourself some slack.  Just get back in the saddle tomorrow. Ultimately, a well-rounded and reasonable approach will get you where you want to go.


The 8 ins and outs of the Paleo Diet.

Why people fail on a Paleo diet.