So how’s this Paleo thing working out for you?
Whether you’ve been at it for a while or are trying to wrap your mind around how to make it feasible for the first time, I want to share with you 5 keys to surviving this nutty endeavor.
Number One: Become a Leftover Maven
In the beginning I had a tendency to try to create variety by mixing up genres the way I did before. When meals are grain based, it’s fairly easy to do that. But when meals are suddenly centered around meats and fresh vegetables with sensitive shelf lives, serving Mexican food on Tuesday, a traditional American-style casserole Wednesday, then doing something Italian on Thursday gets expensive, requires a lot of food, and is exhausting to keep up with.
One of the worst parts though was that none of my leftovers “matched”. Eating leftover Chicken Tikka Masala with reheated Paleo Italian Mushroom Bake is just wrong. Wrong, I tell you! So now my meals are actually selected with matching leftovers in mind… Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice goes great with reheated Tex-Mex Casserole and makes it easy to use up the remaining Spinach Guacamole. I credit much of my sanity years into Paleo to learning this trick about meal planning. So, become a Leftover Maven!
Want help in the leftover department? Read these:
Number Two: Stop Overthinking Things
The number two key to surviving Paleo is not overthink things. Some of the best advice that came out of PaleoF(x) 2015 was given by my friends Stephanie of Stupid Easy Paleo and Mel from The Clothes Make the Girl: Keep it super simple. Simplicity is making a comeback!
There are some pretty impressive recipes out in Internetland that are gorgeous and tasty, but that doesn’t have to be your day-to-day life. Avoiding those and instead focusing on approachable recipes that use affordable ingredients as your mainstay will help you put a long tail on your Paleo kite.
If you find that you tend to be most consistent with your preferred diet when your meals take about 30 minutes to throw together and more often than not resemble a crudité platter as opposed to a traditional main dish, plus two sides and a dessert, that is more than fine! In fact, that’s typically how my meals look too. So high-five, us!
Number Three: Have a Plan, but Don’t Over-Plan
I am a list-making addict and sometimes I run into analysis paralysis as a result. I find that I can spend more time planning my week than actually getting in the kitchen and prepping for my week.
Don’t be like me.
Get a sense of what you want to eat this week, flag handful of recipes that you know are good, and shop accordingly. (Keep Key #1 in mind, too!) But leave room for the nights when you know you’re not going to want to cook and all you physically do is throw together a veggie scramble, slice an apple, and crack open a jar of your favorite nut butter (this one is mine… whoa, Nelly! it is delicious!).
I like to attack a meal plan this way:
- 1 slow cooker recipe
- 2 that will freeze well or be great leftovers the next day
- 3 fresh and easy 30-minute-ish meals
- and then I leave a day where I’ll either cruise whatever’s left or maybe go out to eat… whatever sounds good.
Number Four: Don’t be afraid to try new things.
It took me the better part of the year and a half to finally try nutrient dense foods like bone marrow, sardines, and a variety of pates. Seriously, what took me so long?
I’ve always been a picky eater and had myself convinced there was no way I would like those foods. Turns out, it was all in my head! One of the benefits of changing your diet over to whole foods-based, nutrient-dense approach is that your taste buds often join you in that transition. But there’s a trick. See, when you’re noshing on fettuccine alfredo or your mom’s famous chicken enchiladas and then go to try a bite of pate for the first time, it’s highly likely that it won’t compare. Wee little organ meats don’t stand a chance against the bold, rich flavors that you get from much of the “Standard American diet” foods — processed or otherwise.
Cleaning up our diet trains our taste buds to sense the inherent sweetness in fruit, recognize the distinction among herbs and spices, and even appreciate the complexity that former “no-go” foods like marrow, organ meats, and canned sardines or smoked oysters have to offer. I’m proud to say that I’m comfortable eating all of those foods now for the first time in my life — and I actually enjoy them!
Number Five: Grace
My last key to success is my favorite one: Be gracious with yourself. You are learning, practicing, and developing several new habits at once, and that ain’t easy. My guess is you’re not doing it in a vacuum either. Whether it’s living an hour away from the nearest grocery store or having to deal with a house full of skeptics and Cheeto® lovers, we all have obstacles that make it not super easy to transition with flying colors.
If you put out gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, soy-free, legume-free meals every night but sacrifice getting sufficient rest, quality time with the people in your life, or something else that’s important to your health and happiness, then my guess is you won’t be too pleased with your decision to “go Paleo”.
Go easy on yourself. Be careful with the expectations you have in your mind about what your meals should look like, what your waistline should look like and so on… There’s an emotional journey happening here too.
Treat yourself with grace as you learn which foods agree and disagree with your body (and the other bodies you’re feeding), be gracious with yourself as you fight your own food addictions, be gracious with yourself as you spend an hour longer shopping for food cause it’s all so unfamiliar, grace… grace… grace. Like any new habit, eventually it does get better.
Any step you take in the direction of your health is always worthwhile, no matter how big or small.