how to go primal in 6 (easy?) steps

My new breakfast of champions

I use the word “easy” pretty loosely here because going Primal is not guaranteed to be easy for anyone.  In fact, it’s probably going to be hard.  It involves not only changing what you eat, but also changing your whole mindset.  Change is typically not easy for most people.

So, you’ve heard about the primal and/or paleo lifestyle.  You’re curious and thinking about giving it a whirl.  Here are a few things you need to know before you start.  These tips are based on my own personal experience.  Everyone’s journey is different and if you’ve already gone the way of Grok, I’d love to hear about how you made the change and what worked for you.

1.  Forget everything you know.  Seriously.  Everything.  All the conventional wisdom about diet and exercise is wrong.  Does that seem like a bold statement?  Maybe it is.  OK, maybe not all of it is wrong.  We all know that fruits and veggies are good for us.  Movement is good for us.  But did you realize that fat (*gasp* even saturated fat) is good?  It is.  Did you know that grains are bad?  Even those whole grains that seem to be found everywhere in everything because they’re “healthier”?  Nope, they’re bad.  When I tell people I don’t eat grains, they ask, “What about whole grains?”  A grain is a grain is a grain.  No, I don’t eat them.  All the advice that doctors, nutritionists, and the government give us about diet is backwards.  We’ve been programmed to think that whole grains are good and fat is bad.  It’s hard to move past it.  When Michael and I first went primal, I worried that I might inadvertently make his health worse.  He had high blood pressure and cholesterol and it took me a long time to stop worrying that his conditions might get worse.  But they didn’t.  In fact, he improved.

2.  Arm yourself.  You are going to need some recipes and snack ideas to get you started and you’ll need to have healthy snacks ready when tempting situations arise.  Even after 2 years, we occasionally find ourselves with nothing in the house or nothing thawed and ready to cook.  This is a huge trap for us because then we are tempted to go out to eat and make really bad food choices.  Michael makes a meal plan every week so that we almost always know what we are going to eat and we make sure we have what we need.  You CAN find acceptable primal options in restaurants, but I find that when I’m really hungry, I am more likely to make bad choices.  Check out websites like chowstalker and foodee and make a plan.

3.  Enlist support and be prepared for resistance.  I am so lucky that Michael has made these changes with me.  It would be really hard if he were still eating a conventional diet.  Hopefully, you can have someone on board with you, whether it’s a spouse, friend, roomie, or co-worker.  Hook up with an online community or search for some primal blogs.  It’s really helpful to read other people’s food diaries and journals.  Also, expect people to look at you like you’re from another planet when/if you tell them about your new lifestyle.  They’ll probably say things like, “Oh, I tried the Atkins diet years ago” or “Well, you eat bread, right?”  Be aware that your family and friends might not be supportive, but I guarantee when they see you losing weight, they’ll want to know how you’re doing it.

4.  Don’t try to fool yourself.  Most primal versions of non-primal foods take some major getting used to.  So, if you have a hankering for pancakes and you find a primal pancake recipe online, don’t be too discouraged when you find it tastes nothing like what you had hoped for.  Over the past two years, we have experimented with a few recipes for things like pancakes, crackers, pie crusts, and muffins, and even though we like the ones we use, they still don’t taste like their non-primal counterparts.  On the bright side, you seriously won’t miss things like bread, pasta, and cereal once you get used to not eating it.  And the primal versions can taste just as delicious.  For example, we make a chicken noodle soup that replaces the noodles with cabbage and a lasagna that uses thin slices of eggplant or zucchini instead of pasta.  We don’t even miss the old versions.

5.  Don’t get caught up in the “rules”.  I’ve seen lots of people online arguing about whether something is “primal” or not.  I think sometimes you can throw the baby out with the bath water.  Don’t get so worried about every little food choice that you drive yourself crazy and give up.  Many people who are primal don’t eat dairy.  We do.  I don’t want to imagine a life without cheese or cream for my coffee.  I suffer no ill effects from dairy products, so I eat them.  Some people might say that because of that, I am not technically primal.  Who cares what they say?  I’m eating this way for me and not for anyone else.  I like Mark Sisson’s 80/20 rule.  Eat primal 80 percent of the time and 20 percent of the time, you can have sensible indulgences, like red wine or dark chocolate.  The diet has to work for you, so do what works.

6.  Expect the unexpected.  Be aware that you might encounter unexpected consequences of your new lifestyle.  This might seem silly, but I had to mourn the loss of cooking shows when I went primal.  I love to cook and I love to watch cooking shows, but most of the demonstrated recipes are for things I no longer eat.  Bummer.  However, going primal forced me to learn to cook in a whole new way and there are tons of video tutorials on youtube.  You might also discover some wonderful things like more energy, less fatigue, fewer headaches and mental clarity.  And you may also find that an occasional beer will send you to the bathroom in record time.  The negative effect of grains and sugar on the body never ceases to amaze and appall me.

Well, hopefully, this didn’t scare you away, but better prepared you for what’s to come.  Or maybe your experience will be completely different.  Are you planning to go primal?  Or if you already made the change, what worked for you?

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