Primal eating and paleo diets have gained a lot of popularity and notoriety in the last few years. They are especially common amongst martial arts, kickboxing, and kettlebell training communities. But, what are they? Do they work? Are they safe? And, what's the best way to get started?
First, some definitions and let's not get hung up on the semantic accuracy of terms like "paleo" and "primal":
A paleo diet is more restrictive. Dairy, Soy and Legumes are to be totally eliminated and Saturated fats are to be avoided. Meat and eggs are highly limited.
A primal eating approach is slightly less restrictive. Some dairy and legumes as well as saturated fats are allowed. You can eat as many eggs as you like!
Both approaches also have a lot in common. They focus on the consumption of vegetables and lean proteins. Grains, corn, gluten, added sugar, "cardboard carbs", and processed foods are all to be avoided if not eliminated.
There is some debate as to whether alcholic beverages should be allowed. Occasional tea-totalling is beneficial and there should always be moderation.
Regular exercise is also a recommended compliment to both paleo and primal approaches.
Does primal eating sound like something you would like to try and could benefit from?
Here are some straight forward steps to get started with the approach.
Step 1 - Get a baseline of where you are now.
Before we start a new challenge or endeavor is good to know where we are now and have an accurate picture of the starting point. When it comes to changing our diet and eating habits, the best way to do this is food journalling or logging.
There are many apps available, you can take notes on your smart phone or sometimes a good old notebook that fits in your pocket is best.
Record everthing that you consume during the day for the next two weeks, everthing, food, snacks, drinks, etc. There's no judgement and no one needs to see this log except yourself. However, you can also share it with friends, family members or coaches if that helps.
After two-weeks you will have an objective view of what, when and how much you eat and it will be significantly easier to make course corrections if needed.
Step 2 - Start with "Why"
Take some time to reflect on why making a change in your diet or lifestyle is important to you. How will it benefit you and your relationship with others?
At times a new approach to eating will be easy and at others it will be quite difficult. It is at these difficult times that you can remind yourself of your reason for starting this journey in the first place, and that will help motivate you to keep moving forward.
Step 3 - Focus on "Dos" before "Dont's"
Cutting out the aforementioned list of prohibited foods can be daunting and difficult. Instead of focusing on restrictions, start with focusing on the healthy items that you might need to add to your diet.
Are you eating a serving of fruit or vegetable with every meal? If yes, increase the amount of vegetables.
If no, keep everything else the same just add vegetables to your meal.
Order matters too, vegetables, then proteins, then starches.
Step 4 - Eliminate bad foods and bad decisions.
Once you've had some success and momentum with steps 1, 2 and 3 begin the process of eliminated restricted foods. Start with one thing at a time, rather than trying to do it all at once.
Cut out the fatty meats first.
Then, move onto added sugars, grains, corn and processed foods sequentially; cut out one thing at a time.
I'm a firm believer in the concept of decision fatigue. The more decisions you have to make and the more self-control you need to exert makes all decision making and self-control harder. You have a limited "bank" of self-control and decision making capacity.
Set yourself up for success by making incremental steps and doing what's necessary to remove temptation. This may mean pre-preparing all your meals for the week so you don't need to run out and grab a quick lunch. It may mean purging your kitchen and pantry of all prohibited foods. It may mean recruiting friends or family to join you in this process.
PS. We offer a coaching and support program known as the DG Primal 21 Day Transformation Challenge. The next one starts on 11/27...after thanksgiving :-). Let us know if you're interested in participating, we're here to help.