If you’re here because you are thinking about starting the paleo diet but need information about what the paleo diet is and if you can benefit from going paleo, then this article is exactly what you need.
This article is meant to be a complete beginners guide to the paleo diet / caveman diet. Ill be giving you a great overview about how the paleo diet works.
First of all, what is the paleo diet?
The whole idea of the paleo diet is to live and eat in a similar manner to paleolithic people. You can think of a paleolithic person as a caveman – which is this diet is also called the caveman diet sometimes.
Back then, a caveman hunted and gathered food, was active and moved around a lot, and most importantly ate real foods. There wasn’t any packaged foods, processed foods, wheats & grains, GMO’s, etc.
The root of how the paleo diet works is to eat the same types of foods we have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years eating. Because we have been eating these types of foods for a really long time, our bodies are genetically dispositioned to accept these foods into our system and use the nutrients effectively.
Newer foods that are made from a product like wheat for example are “new” to us because they’ve only existed for less than 10,000 years. Our bodies are not yet genetically accustomed to this type of manufactured food which is why it causes medical problems like autoimmune diseases (at least that’s what paleo proponents will say).
Scientists did not find many medical issues in prehistoric people that exist today. These issues are relatively new to humans and paleo diet proponents believe that it’s the modern day standard diet that’s heavy in these manufactured agricultural foods that are the main cause of these problems.
The paleo diet is mostly about eating in a style that we evolved over time eating, however it’s also important to move around like our prehistoric ancestors too. What we eat and how we move around go hand in hand to living healthy. I’ll talk more about how to “move around” later.
What types of people can benefit from using the paleo diet (I think each of these can have a separate blog post linked under each description).
You’re probably here because you heard the paleo diet could help you with a specific issue you have. Below I’ll list very common reasons why people choose to go paleo.
Ways you can benefit from a paleo diet
1. You want to lose weight
The most common reason why people start a paleo diet is because they want to lose weight. In fact, I started the paleo diet because I wanted to lose weight! The paleo diet is EXCELLENT for weight loss because it’s a low-med carb diet that focuses on eating high nutrient real foods that usually fills you up quickly (and prevents over eating). A natural consequence of going paleo is giving up processed foods, fast food, bad carbs, sugars, etc – which should immediately help most people lose weight right away.
2. You are diabetic
If you’re diabetic, you know how important it is to keep your blood sugar levels low. You also know that you have to constantly manage your insulin levels. The paleo diet can help you keep your blood sugar levels low because the foods you eat will not spike your blood sugar levels like a meal at McDonalds will.
Whether you are type 1 diabetic (don’t produce any or enough insulin) or type 2 diabetic (produce enough insulin but the insulin doesn’t work because you’re insulin resistant), the paleo diet can help you. Again, you’ll be eating foods that don’t tend to raise your blood sugar levels too much which help reduce the your insulin issues.
3. You have skin problems
A lot of people experience better skin after taking on the paleo diet. There’s a lot of debate about how much your diet affects your skin. There is definitely a strong genetic component when it comes to certain skin issues like acne – which is probably better left for the experts.
But here’s the deal. Your overall health and well being is directly related to how your skin looks and feels. Your body works synergistically where what you ingest affects you from the inside out. People on the paleo diet have experienced reduced or complete elimination of acne, smoother and tighter skin, skin that “glows”, etc.
There’s a great book called Purely Primal Skincare that’s specifically about eating paleo for better skin.
4. You want more energy
Being tired and sluggish all the time can be a result of many different things. For example, not sleeping enough, not exercising, being too stressed out, etc. The food you eat is a MAJOR factor in being tired all the time. In fact, it could be the most important factor.
You’ve probably heard of a sugar crash or carb crash. In fact, you’ve probably experienced eating a sandwich for lunch at work and literally crashing soon after. This is likely because of the “sugar high” the carbohydrates in the bread gave you. Your body breaks down carbs pretty quickly and rushes the energy (sugar) into your blood stream. If you’re sitting at your desk you’re not using this energy – so you get this high and then crash.
When this happens daily it can make you super sluggish and feeling tired all the time. Paleo diet foods releases energy (sugars) into your blood stream more evenly and more slowly that modern diet foods. It means you’ll have a steady stream of nutrients to use, and can dramatically keep your energy levels normal.
Foods you can eat and cannot eat on the paleo diet
Foods You Can Eat
- Seafood & Shellfish
- Nuts and Seeds
- Spices & Herbs
- Good Fats & Oils
- Naturally Occurring Sugars
- Water & Coffee
Foods You Cannot Eat
- Grains & Wheats
- Dairy Products
- Candy & Similar Junk
- Fast Food
- Any Processed Foods
- Bad Fats & Oils
- Sodas & Sugary Drinks
paleo tip: If you’re trying to figure out if a specific food is paleo or not, the best thing to think about is if this food item was alive at some point. If your answer is yes, it’s probably paleo.
For a detailed list of paleo diet foods, click here.
Paleo diet eating guidelines
The paleo diet is more than just eating whatever random real foods and calling it a day. Though this is leaps and bounds better than a standard American diet, you want to optimize the way you eat.
Here are 9 paleo eating basics:
- Eat whenever you are hungry. A paleo diet is NOT a calorie restrictive diet and calorie counting is discouraged. Whenever you feel hungry, grab a paleo snack or make yourself a paleo meal. You are allowed to eat as much as you want – when you want. You can eat just one meal a day or five.
- The paleo diet is a low-med carb diet that is moderate in animal protein and high in fats. Your body will be using fats as its main source for energy as opposed to carbohydrates in a standard American diet. Make sure you focus on eating good fats
- Eat organic, grass fed, and free range products if you can afford it. These foods should be free from pesticides, injected hormones to speed up growth, and will be healthier overall. Naturally, they will be RICHER in nutrients – so you do pay more but you also get more. Try to get everything local and in season if you can
- Saturated fats are great. Perhaps the most popular source of high quality saturated fats is coconut oil. Butter/Ghee and avocado/olive oil are also excellent sources. You can eat good fats in every meal. Remember, fats will be your main source of energy
- Eat lots of vegetables. You can eat your heart out here. A typical paleo diet meal has a piece of meat with a healthy amount of vegetables.
- Eat a moderate amount of fruits. Fruits are great sources of vitamins and minerals. Eating a fruit or two daily is just fine for most people. However, if weight loss is your goal, you will likely want to eat less fruit because fruit contains sugars. Though they are naturally occurring (healthy) sugars, you want to keep your carb levels lower for faster weight loss
- Eliminate any foods with grains, wheats, and legumes. These are not paleo approved foods. Some examples include breads, cereal, corn, rye, soy, and most beans
- Eliminate any manufactured sugars. Foods like candy, chocolate bars, sugary drinks (milk, sodas, juice etc) all have the opposite effect of what you want to achieve with the paleo diet
- Eliminate dairy. Dairy is the one category that many paleo eaters are willing to bend the rules on. Some people will still eat cheese and butter for example. However dairy is not paleo and if you want to adopt a strict paleo diet, don’t eat dairy
Paleo diet recipes
The paleo diet focuses on eating real foods. Once you get a handle of what “real foods” are – according to paleo at least – you’ll quickly figure out what you can and cannot eat on a paleo diet.
A very common paleo meal consists of a heaping serving of some type of vegetable and a piece of meat (fish, chicken, steak, etc). These types of meals are super easy to make and are very nutritious. Plus they make you full for a long time. This is a very “staple” paleo meal and should be your go-to!
However, nowadays there are a ton of recipes that involve paleo substitutes that imitate our favorite comfort foods so we can stay paleo and eat stuff we’ve enjoyed eating for so long.
But getting back to your “bread and butter” paleo diet foods, you’ll want to start off with a great recipe book that covers the basics and more. For that, this is my favorite paleo diet cookbook.
Paleo diet living guidelines
I mentioned earlier that the paleo diet is more than just eating like a caveman. You also want to move around like one too. So you should go out and spear whatever animal you find and haul it back to your cave fridge.
Actually what you want to do is move around a lot. This could be using stairs instead of elevators, going for walks, climbing stuff, hiking, etc. Just do your best to NOT sit for long periods of time. Paleolithic people did not stay stationary for extended periods of time like we do today. Again, what we eat and how we physically activate our bodies work together to promote health and wellness.
Since we have hunted and gathered food for most of our human existence, we should also be at our healthiest when we physically behave like prehistoric people too. Our genes are adapted to making us at our healthiest mentally and physically when we move around often.
Paleo people also had to run or move very quickly for short sprints throughout the day. You know, to chase down and spear that boar. So if you really want to get physically active like a paleo person, you’ll want to incorporate a physical activity program similar to a day in life of a prehistoric person.
Other things you really want to pay attention to is getting enough sleep. Being social in groups. Doing things in your life that give you meaning and purpose. Going outside and being in the sun, etc.
Again, think of how prehistoric people worked together in groups to catch their food survive. You want to try and adapt these same things to your life today. Remember, our genetics have gotten used to surviving and thriving on these exact activities. It does make sense that doing these same things (adapted to todays environment of course) will help us mentally and physically thrive.
Someone who spends all day at home on their computer being anti-social and eating take out all the time is just really weird and clearly unhealthy on so many levels. Think of a cave person being a lone ranger back then. He probably wouldn’t last more than a few weeks before something kills him.
We are wired to be active, social, and to survive. Our environment today is incredibly different than our hunting and gathering days – and we CAN survive on our own – however you don’t want to fight against how you’ve genetically evolved over time.
Popular fitness and exercise programs people associated with the paleo diet
With the above paleo lifestyle and living stuff said, there are some really popular training programs people on the paleo diet love incorporating into their healthy lifestyles.
These programs are great for general health, strength building, and just feeling awesome. They’re also amazing if one of your main goals is to lose fat.
These are the most common fitness programs paleo dieters use:
CrossFit – Crossfit is a working regime where you do a lot of different moves at a high intensity level. You could be lifting big tires, pulling your body up an obstacle, pushing something heavy across a distance, jumping up and down constantly, etc. It’s a very aerobic and anaerobic workout that tests your endurance as well as your strength. CrossFit is the most popular workout with paleo peeps. You can use this link to find a CrossFit gym in your area.
Power Lifting – Power lifting is simply weight training. Moves like bench pressing, pull ups, squats, shoulder presses, etc. You can set up your own home gym or sign up for a gym membership. For a beginner who wants to get lean and strong, I recommend starting with a power lifting program like Strong Lifts or Starting Strength. These programs focus on compound exercises (exercises that use several muscles per move). It’s the fastest and best way to build muscle and strength quickly for a beginner rather than focusing on exercises that target one specific muscle group.
General Primal Fitness – It’s not completely necessary to participate in a specific type of workout routine. If your goal is to build a fit athletic looking body while gaining endurance strength as well, then CrossFit is right up your alley. If you are more looking to get bigger and build a more appealing body muscle wise, a power lifting program will build more muscle.
However, if being in a gym is not your thing and you’re not overly concerned with looking physically awesome, you can be very primal by participating in activities that get you moving around. I’m talking hiking, mountain climbing, rock climbing, going for walks, canoeing, landscaping work, chasing your kids around the house, etc. These are excellent activities that get your heart pumping and get you moving around.
Benefits and drawbacks of the paleo diet
I want to summarize the main benefits of the paleo diet, as well as list drawbacks of going paleo – which I haven’t talked about much yet.
Main benefits of the paleo diet
- You can lose a lot of weight and sometimes really fast too
- Eat whenever you want AND as much as you want
- Focuses on eating real nutritious foods
- Cutting processed foods and other junk will likely mean you’ll live longer
- You can cure so many diseases and ailments going paleo, including skin conditions, controlling diabetes, other autoimmune diseases, start sleeping better, etc. You may very well find that many things will begin to heal once you start fixing yourself from the inside out
- Steady energy levels throughout the day
- You’ll probably end up eating less and less often. Real foods are way more nutritious and your body will learn not to demand food like it did when you ate a typical North American diet
- Bacon is paleo. YAAASS
Main drawbacks of the paleo diet
- Doesn’t allow sweets like candy, soft drinks, or chocolate (unless it’s very dark chocolate)
- It’s difficult to eat paleo while you’re out. Very few restaurants offer paleo friendly foods
- It will require meal planning and meal prepping
- You will need to learn how to cook. A basic paleo meal is very easy to make but you will want variety and that requires learning to cook. Honestly, real “healthy” foods can get boring. You’ll need to learn some skills to spice foods up and mix it up
- It can be difficult being paleo when you’re surrounded by people drinking slurpees, eating chips, corn dogs, pastas, pizzas, etc
- If you go organic it can get expensive quickly. I still recommend it even if it costs more because the value is there. You’ll learn how to eat organic or mostly organic while not blowing your food budget over time
- The paleo diet is a “strict” diet in the sense that there is no “cheat” day. However, you don’t need to be 100% paleo. If you really love Campbell’s Mushroom soup, then have it once a week as a treat. Really, you make your own rules up. Just keep your main goal in mind
- You can do the paleo diet 50% right and will likely still see improvements
How to start the paleo diet
The FIRST thing I want you to understand is that the paleo diet is NOT a “diet”.
It’s a LIFESTYLE.
It’s a way of eating and being that you use every day and for years into the future – and possible for the rest of your life. I don’t want you to think of it as a diet because that word implies using it until you get your desired result and then you stop using it.
That’s not what the paleo diet is about.
Here are a few pointers to get you started on the paleo diet:
- Purge your home from non paleo foods. Give these foods away to a food shelter or straight up throw it away. You’ll be tempted to fall into old eating habits in the beginning. There is an adjustment period you’ll go through and you’ll be less likely to “cheat” when you don’t have bad foods in your home.
- Go in cold turkey if you can. You can jump in and go full paleo right off the bat if you think you can handle it. That’s what I did and it was tough but I got past it. However, that’s not necessary and it might be better to start a 50% paleo 50% whatever you were eating before. And next week, make it 75% paleo 25% non-paleo. And in the 3rd week, 100% paleo. Give that a shot. It’s not a race – just do what works for you.
- Learn something about paleo every day. A little bit every day goes a long way. Being perfect is not important. Being mostly on track all the time is IMPORTANT. You’ll get better at everything over time. From cooking bulk foods, figuring out how to eat cheaply, making time for exercising, figuring out what foods you like the most, etc.
- Make paleo diet friends. You want to surround yourself with other people who are living a similar diet as you. There are a lot of people focusing on a real foods / paleo diet lifestyle today. You’ll eventually meet them in real life. But in the beginning, it’s really easy to meet similar people online. A forum like marksdailyapple.com is a great place to get started.
- Get a recipe book. One thing I struggled with in the beginning was that I tried to figure out what to cook on my own. It was really hard cause I guess I’m just not creative in the kitchen. But once I bought a paleo cookbook, I could finally add variety to my meals which made a world of difference.
How to succeed on the paleo diet
If there is anything I’ve learned about success, it’s this one thing:
It’s pretty easy to start a diet. But adopting it as a lifestyle and making it a part of your life on a consistent basis is the difficult part. Most people can’t do this and then fail.
What I love about the paleo diet is that it isn’t a complicated diet. Having read through all of this, you have a pretty good idea of how it works. You have like 80% of the knowledge of how to be paleo.
Now it’s all about getting started and then learning new things as you go along, and optimizing your paleo lifestyle, and sticking with it.
If you’re not sure if the paleo diet is right for you, I recommend trying it for 60 days. Spend 2 months on it and give it an honest shot. Keep a journal of your progress. I say 60 days because if you can get through it for 2 months you can do it for years.
Also, it can take a little bit of time for weight loss and healing to begin, however a lot of people have seen almost immediate results.
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