More and more people are turning to a paleo or ‘Stone Age diet’ to battle health issues, weight problems, general well-being and food intolerance. There is no ‘one size fits all’ as everyone’s issues and needs will be different but there are basic principles and you can find guides across the internet that will outline what they are. Most people who start eating this way tend to stick to it and see it more as a long-term (even ‘for life’) Way of Living or Way of Eating (WOL / WOE). Below are 10 experiences that you’ll likely encounter when converting to paleo. You’ll find that many of these points also apply to a wide range of life style choices, whether its food or health related.
1. You will start off with food envy, but once you’ve settled into it, you’ll become a food snob!
Yep. True story. Initially It can take a while to adjust to cooking things from scratch, finding natural ways to season and flavour your food and switching from grains to alternative flours etc. During this time you’ll probably wish for junk food, ‘normal’ food and anything non paleofied! You’ll get bored with having plain foods without gravy, sauce or dressings. But don’t despair it will soon pass and when it does you’ll be enjoying really flavoursome food. You will become so accustomed to enjoying real natural flavours that you’ll find new family favourites – that you actually really enjoy!
This is because you’ll find other ways to season, flavour and accompany foods. You’ll find ways to use vegetables in ways you never thought possible (e.g. cauliflower to make pizza bases or ‘rice’) and chances are you won’t have any bland dinners because you’ll discover so many other ways of cooking food you’ll wonder how you ever ate pre – paleo!
That’s when the food snob sets in because you’ll notice when you go out to friends houses or to non Paleo restaurants for food, how much people rely on packets and pre made sauces to add some flavour, and having to order food without these things usually leaves you with boring plain meat and bland veg. (Think of a Carvery, with all that thick gravy, cranberry and apple sauce made up mostly from sugar, the Yorkshire puddings and mustards with added ‘stuff’. Without all that you just have plain meat and plain – usually over cooked veg. You’ll be sitting there thinking, I could so make this way better and full of flavour!!)
2. It’s a lot of work and you’ll need to interrogate the ingredients list!
Sadly when you go paleo it’s difficult because chances are, no matter how much reading or how clued up you are on the subject, it’s a shock to realise how much rubbish is added to food! It’s only when you read into the ingredients list that you’ll see just how sneaky companies are – all those hard to pronounce words, coded E numbers – they are different names for additives and preservatives that can really play havoc with your health. A great tip is to print a list of some of the common ‘suspects’ (all the preservatives and additives) and keep the list in your bag. That way when you shop you can refer to the list and make better (more informed) choices.
Check out this post by Paleo Leap which explains what the additives are and if they need avoiding.
As you know by now, that means you’ll have to prep and make everything from scratch and work out how to make real gravy, sauces and naturally good tasting food. It may seem daunting to begin with but as you get used to cooking this way, you’ll get quicker and be able to work out paleo versions or alternatives to replace your old favourites.
3. Your taste buds WILL change
Once you have got used to the changes and have settled in (and paleo has become ‘normal’ for you), you will notice that foods will start to taste different (better) than before. For instance, you will be able to taste the natural sweetness in fruits, you’ll be able to recognise seasoning on foods (especially when eating out – which is good for detecting things you can’t have!). You’ll also appreciate the flavours of good food prepared without processed ingredients. In addition to this you’ll get confident with cooking and probably start to try new foods you’ve never had before, such as sweet potatoes, plantain, unusual cuts of meat and gravy made with home-made stock.
However, be warned that you’ll never be able to 100% replicate all non paleo foods. Bloggers will often promote recipes ‘as good as… insert non paleo item’ but its difficult to make a lemon cake or pizza without using grains so the Paleo version will be a little different. That doesn’t mean that you wont ever enjoy foods or they are not really tasty, but it does mean that non paleo people may not like your baked goods as the their taste buds will be different.
4. You’ll become more comfortable around food
This is one of my favourite changes about Paleo which I discovered for myself during the festive season but probably didn’t really appreciate until my second Christmas of being paleo. While everyone was stuffing their faces, piling their plates up high and over indulging, I was happily eating just the amount I needed (I was also ketogenic so measuring the amounts of food), satisfying my hunger and when I really fancied a little treat I had some squares of dark chocolate. I went home not feeling stuffed or over indulged or sluggish but content and feeling better for it. I didn’t feel resentful or depressed to be missing out, if anything feeling quite smug at myself because I was able to eat consciously like I had wanted to do over the years during Christmas, but didn’t have the will power.
I believe that this is because being paleo in some ways, allows you to say no to people. Before I would get offered food or extra dinner and I would feel obliged to say yes, partly because I didn’t want to offend or because it was habit. Now that I have an ‘excuse’ it’s easy for me to say no. I don’t get hungry or envious watching people around me eat, it doesn’t even register, unless I am actually hungry, then all I do is eat, whether it’s something I take along with me or something that I can order which is suitable for me, when out.
5. People will spend hours asking you ‘can you eat…?’ And when you reply, they’ll usually feed back ‘Oh No! I could never give up my beloved (insert non paleo item)….
This is a great time to learn self-control and patience. I suggest you do because other wise you’ll probably end up with a rap sheet the length of the Nile, most likely from ABH where you’ve punched people in the face! Yep. I kid you not, people will drive you crazy (you could always say that you are channelling your inner cave man/ woman ha!)
Many people go paleo to help manage a health condition but other reasons for doing it are a) for weight loss or b) just wanting to live a healthier life. I fit into the ‘managing a health condition’ box but I really feel for those in groups a and b because those who mention the words ‘diet’ or ‘be healthier’ tend to get lots of flack (friends tempting you, saying you are being too strict, etc. you know what I’m talking about!) ..
Now for those with a health condition – you would think that friends and family would be more considerate and supportive to this change, but sadly this isn’t always the case. They may see it as a fad. YES even when those SAME people have seen you at death’s door, dying inside because the doctors have nothing to help you – they STILL question you. Even when your health is improving and the Paleo life is working for you (yep even when they are telling you how good you look!!) they still criticise it… So be prepared to bite your tongue.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am blessed that I have a family around me who are very supportive and really go out their way to help me, and there are other people out there whose family are supportive too. I just want to make you aware that you may find some people don’t accept the change as easily. I have read many horror stories from people who have had some terrible experiences when dealing with un-supportive friends and family. For an idea of what you might get, here’s an example of something I experienced.
A while back when I had been paleo for some times I went to a party and I was looking really well. Because the party was being catered for I had to take my own food. The person in question had commented on how well I looked and sounded, but after a few ‘can you eat’ questions they declared that there was no way they would give up their beloved wine and would ‘just take the symptoms’. Now I can’t have any kind of alcohol due to something called fermenting gut (my body kinda produces its own – of sorts). The symptoms I suffer are pretty damn serious, so much so that a number of times I have almost seriously hurt myself, risked burning the house down or flooding the place. And that’s just ONE symptom that I suffer, on top of that I’m juggling about 10 others. Now I know the person didn’t mean to disregard my symptoms but the truth is, had I declared that I had cancer or a tumour, I’m sure these symptoms I’m dealing with wouldn’t be scoffed at. But sad to say – some people just don’t think before engaging mouth. So, if you think people will react badly to your change or lack sympathy and support it’s good to maybe think up a pre prepared speech for situations to avoid this kind of conversion – to help you feel confident and strong enough to fight off any criticism. Something like ‘I’m following a food plan just for ‘a bit’ to help make me feel better’ (because for some reason people feel more happy to accept if you’re doing this ‘short term’), or, ‘I’ve got a sensitive stomach at the moment so I’m having to be careful what I eat – I wouldn’t want to have to go home early due to sickness!’ You don’t have to be defensive, and sometimes it’s easier to say the comment with humour (eg ‘ there’s no way I’m going to eat anything I don’t want to – I’m not wasting good money puking up on my new dress bought for said occasion’) that way you can dismiss any debate and move the subject on to something else.
6. Natural and organic foods will annoy you!
Oh yes, as you become the master at reading packets and ingredients lists’ you’ll start to suffer with a type of rage! (Usually in shops or supermarkets and you’ll find people will avoid eye contact!). You see many companies have cottoned on the public’s want for ‘healthier’ options, so label their goods ‘organic’ or ‘all natural ingredients’ but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are actually HEALTHY. Nope they can still have added sugars or other ingredients added in that are not that great for you. The best way to tell if something is healthy, good for you or unprocessed is by looking at the ingredients and sell by date. Foods that are natural and not heavily processed will have ingredients that you recognise and can buy yourself eg the raw ingredients, coconut, almond, flaxseed etc. so that you could replicate the item yourself. They usually have a short use by or sell by date because natural foods don’t really last that long (as they don’t have any chemicals or preservatives ‘keeping’ it ‘fresh’). Any items you can’t pronounce, don’t know where they originate from (because they are made In a lab), or are added ‘added vitamins and minerals’ (which are unnecessary if something is natural) – then reject them, don’t touch that stuff with a barge pole!
Now I know that processed technically means that something is pre prepared, ready-made or put together for you, but Paleo friendly foods don’t count, simple because they are 1. Processed or made in a way that doesn’t ruin or remove the natural vitamins and minerals, 2. Don’t contain any unnecessary additives. 3. Only have ingredients that are natural. These days you will be able to spot these as they are usually labelled as Paleo, primal or modern caveman, (or listed as diary, grain, soy, gluten and sugar-free) if not a good look over the ingredients will tell you.
7. You’ll become a dab hand at substitutes…
Cooking with nut flours, nuts milks, coconut oil and other Paleo ingredients can be really scary to begin with and you’ll be super cross when recipes don’t turn out how you want or expect. It will seem like everything is super expensive to begin with and that will make you even more upset, especially when recipes go wrong and you have to throw them out, so take the following advice… When starting Paleo, spend some time planning the recipes you want to try, starting with simpler dishes and remember to allow enough time for ‘fudge factor’ so if it goes wrong you have time to work round it, start again or correct it. Don’t try to re-create everything straight away like breads, cakes, crackers etc because firstly their textures will be different from normal breads etc. You may find that you can do without your usual toast and rather enjoy having scrambled eggs with Paleo pancakes. So take time to settle and start by experimenting small, building up your confidence until you can move onto bigger projects.
If you can, read up as much as possible about the individual ingredients and you’ll find out about their qualities. For example, dairy free palm shortening (organic and ethically soured is a MUST) can be a great substitute as it still has a buttery type of texture; Coconut flour acts like a sponge and when cooking with it, you’ll notice that the ‘flour’ to liquid ratio is ‘little flour : lots of liquid’! After some trial and error you will begin to get the hang of things, working out the types of textures different (grain free) flours give or the kind of tastes and flavours different nut milks give etc.
The longer you eat this way, the more of a dab hand you’ll get and in addition to this, you will work out what flavours you like and what flours etc work better for you based on the textures they give.
8. You’ll widen your horizons
One thing you’ll notice when going paleo is that the local supermarkets don’t always have the ingredients you want (especially in the UK) so you end up having to buy stuff from other places, shops that you never visited or needed to use (and most likely – online!). When you start shopping in these places, chances are they will have other paleo friendly ingredients and before you know it you’ll be trying all kinds of foods that you never knew existed! Such as coconut butter (creamy and tastes great in desserts), nut flours (a great alternative flour), psyllium husk (used to bind foods together), flaxseed (make great crackers) and gelatin powder (get for thickening sauces)! The more you get used to these ‘unusual’ ingredients, the more they will become your staples and as your confidence grows, you’ll start looking to find other Paleo friendly substitutes to broaden your cooking and taste (eg go from normal nut flours to tapioca flour or using plantain instead – yep, Plantain tastes great in brownies instead of flour! #WhoKnew).
Another big horizon you’ll discover is meat. Although the paleo diet is based on how our ancestors ate, we are not trying to become cavemen and eat exactly as they did!However the idea of ‘waste not, want not’ is the same and that means eating what is known as ‘nose to tail’. Basically if it’s on an animal – you can eat it, so organs, left over cheap cuts, the bones for making broth – yep, the lot! It can take some getting used to and some cuts are an acquired taste but eating this way can be a great way to get iron in your body, its more cost-effective and you can discover some new meal ideas.
9. You’ll learn a lot about nutrition!
When going paleo you’ll probably ask a lot of ‘why’ questions. Why can’t you eat certain foods, why are certain foods that are ‘grown’ (e.g grains) not considered paleo etc, etc…. And that’s when you’ll learn a lot about nutrition, because all of these questions can be explained when you start looking at the nutritional value of things and what impact they have on the body. If you are going paleo to manage a health condition it’s really important to understand these reasons as they will help you to get a better understanding on what causes your body pain, inflammation, immunological response and so on.
For example legumes, pulses and beans are not considered paleo (although some people later reintroduce them once health has improved). The reason for removal is because they contain lectins and phytates which harms the gut lining and causes inflammation in the body. Taking them out the diet helps the gut to repair and inflammation settles down. Nightshades (such as tomatoes potatoes, peppers and certain spices) are another group of foods that can cause inflammation, however they ARE considered Paleo but for some people known as AIP’ers (Auto Immune Protocol or Auto Immune Paleo – a much stricter version of paleo and for those with auto immune illnesses) will remove these from their diet as these foods can cause problems for those who are more sensitive . As you learn about the yes – no foods, and work out what foods cause you pain, you’ll learn about other food choices that have the equivalent nutrient content. For example many people will tell you that removing dairy from your diet is ‘dangerous’ and will want to know where you will get your calcium from. It wont take long for you to realise that you can get calcium from plenty of other sources – to name one (which is actually better for you for many other reasons) is kale! The longer you are paleo, the more you’ll find out works for you. everyone’s ‘paleo’ diet will be slightly different to someone else’s, because our bodies are all different and what we can or can’t tolerate is based on individual response.
10. You will learn to listen to your body
Once you get used to the paleo diet you will become more in tune with your body. You’ll notice what foods trigger a bad response, such as headaches, stomach pain, rashes or skin flare ups. You will also work out what ratio of fat, protein and carbs works for you – there is no right or wrong, it’s all based on how you feel. If you feel good then its likely working for you. I know that many people live and eat non paleo and feel good and that’s great – but if you are suffering with any kind of health condition, you really should dig a little deeper and look at what you are putting into your body. You may not need to go full paleo (and if that works for you – then go for it) but there’s no point taking supplements or medications and continuing to eat how you are eating as you will be putting your body under unnecessary stress. You could find that by cutting out certain foods such as sugar, grains or dairy, could clear up that skin condition youve suffered from for life, or get rid of those horrid migraines you get that lead you to take a sick day or miss out on an event. If food is the answer you wont need sick days or medication and you can take better control of your life!
So, there you have it – pretty emotional huh?? If you are paleo or have embarked on a different kind of life change or diet and recognise any of these stages I would love to hear your thoughts. I would appreciate any tips of ways for helping deal with the negatives that crop up!