Starting Paleo: A Beginner’s Guide

As many of you know, I’ve been living Paleo since May when my husband put me on a diet. Yup, you read that right. And it’s the best thing I’ve done. I feel good (healthy and more energy) and I look good (not trying to be snotty but I lost 14 lbs) and it just feels like the right thing to do.

Trust me, it was NOT easy for me to start it, especially as a life long carb lover. I once tried Atkins and lasted three hours.

I get a lot of people asking how to start, so this post is for you!

The Basics

  • Eat organic, grass-fed meats. Nuts. Veggies and fruits. Eggs (not dairy even though they are in the dairy section…but they come from chickens, not cows)
  • Do not eat anything processed. Dairy. Legumes (which includes peanuts). Grains.

Visiting the farm where we get our grass-fed beef

Follow the right people on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest

This may be the right time to hide Paula Dean, or all the Cupcake Bakers you follow. It’s not that you love them any less, but you just need to focus. Some of my favorite people to follow are:

  • Just Eat Real Food – I’m obsessed with this page. It’s not 100% Paleo but typically follows a Paleo/Primal philosophy and posts amazing recipes from other sites, as well as articles and research. It’s my favorite research. TIP: When you see a good recipe, click into the link and follow to where it originated….then Pin it to Pinterest.
  • Twitter – It’s tough to navigate the good vs the bad on Twitter sometimes. I’d like my Paleo Twitter list to grow so please offer suggestions. I love @robbwolf – this is the main Paleo guy that my husband follows and reads. Unfortunately you find a lot of heavy-duty cross-fit or body-building people who also eat Paleo…but I think it’s tough to find the right people to follow that “jive” with you.
  • Pinterest - I used to think Pinterest was making me fat, but I’ve realized you can also find really healthy, good for you recipes here.

Get a cookbook or two 

I bought Everyday Paleo by Stacey Fragoso and The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain to kick things off. I needed inspiration to start cooking and didn’t know where to find it. There are some great recipes in these books, but after a few weeks, I found that I didn’t really need them any longer…I was able to just cook things up from on my own, or learn to use “normal” recipes and replace non-paleo ingredients. I refer to the Just Eat Real Food Facebook most often now for inspiration. I also bought Paleo Indulgences and it’s awesome to test out some “baked” goods and other “cheat” foods.

Throw Away the Bad Stuff

I know this is a lot easier said than done, but I’ve done it and so can you. Throw away the processed stuff. I know this is hard if you have kids who love snacks. But as much as you can, get rid of the stuff that you snack on. Get ride of the pastas and the rice. The cookies, the crackers. Even the “healthy” things like quinoa…GONE. I had a lot of boxes of unopened food that I delivered to the local food bank.

Shop and Stock Your Kitchen

I’ve written about how to shop Paleo. It’s important when you start Paleo to have a kitchen stocked with fruits and veggies and real food. Some of the key things to get include:

  • Organic chicken
  • Organic grass-fed beef
  • Nuts like almonds and pecans
  • Organic fruits and veggies. If you are trying to lose weight, don’t load up on sweet potatoes or bananas, but if you are doing it for the health value, they are fine. I’ve found having a lot of celery, carrots and peppers around to slice and snack on are great for when I’m wanting a crunchy snack (when I used to reach for chips!).

Snacks from our Paleo 4th of July Party

Beware of the so-called healthy stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Regardless of where you shop, you need to follow my guidelines for shopping Paleo. Even in the organic stores, you basically shop the perimeter of the store, unless your store has an organic section in the middle. All the stuff in the center of the store is likely processed and therefore not Paleo.

I’ve actually become a huge fan of Trader Joe’s through this process as they have great organic chicken and fruits and veggies. Even for the processed stuff I still buy for my carb-loving 3 1/2 year old, I’ve migrated away from all the “big brands” and over to Trader Joe’s. No more Cheerios, Rice Krispies, etc. (because they contain GMO’s) and we now buy all the Trader Joe’s products which do not contain GMO’s. The little one loves their version of Cheese-Its, Graham Crackers, cereals and more. (The GMO discussion is for another post…information overload! But google it if you wish.).

Make It a Family Lifestyle Change

If you are the only one in your house committed to Paleo, it will be difficult. That’s why I say get rid of the temptations. And don’t let age factors inhibit you. My youngest daughter who is almost 18 months is actually about 90% paleo…except for the oatmeal she loves and cereal bars we snack on. My older daughter, the 3 1/2 year-old carb loader is another story, but one day….

Start Strong and then Understand It’s Okay to Cheat Once in a While

I started of 100% Paleo for about 6 weeks. I had to…it was the only way. In that time, I lost about 10 pounds and felt healthier. It truly became a lifestyle, not a diet. Then, once in a while, I allow myself to cheat. Usually 2-3 times per week. At first, I felt like I couldn’t wait to cheat…and now, I realize some of the foods I want to cheat with make me feel awful.

About three months into Paleo, my kids were staying with their grandparents and my husband and I had the night and next morning to ourselves. We went out to breakfast where I ordered my favorite, coconut french toast. I felt like death after I ate it. It wasn’t food poisoning, but rather the gluten. Since being on Paleo, I’ve noticed I have a gluten intolerance, yet if I cheat with dairy, there are not issues or repercussions.

Some of my favorite cheats include ice cream, pizza and Mexican food.

Don’t be THAT Dinner Guest

Paleo isn’t a binding set of rules that if you break them, you’ll be damned. If we go to friends house and they decide to order pizza for dinner, I eat it. If they cook and serve rice or pasta with dinner, I try to load up on the meat and veggies and then skip the processed carbs. But guess what…at this point eight months in, if I want it, I eat it. I notice though I don’t WANT to eat the bad stuff nearly as much….it’s truly become a lifestyle.

GOOD LUCK!!!!

I am by no means an expert on this. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. I’ve been on the Paleo journey for eight months and I’ve seen results. 

27 thoughts on “Starting Paleo: A Beginner’s Guide

  1. I love, love, love this post, especially since I’m on day 5 of my new paleo diet. You have some really great tips, and some that I’m already finding really important and helpful. Planning ahead is the name of the game with being successful. I love hearing about how good you feel and how much success you’ve had as a result of the diet. It really makes you think so much about all the fake ingredients and harmful things we may have been eating and not even realized it. Good luck on your continued journey! xoxo

  2. Kelly! Im so happy you finally wrote about this, I was waiting for your thoughts. Your tips are great, and I do like that you say there are times to cheat, like when you’re visiting friends, family. I can see though how you would start to not want any of it anyways, and you do look fabulous! Your skin glows. I pinned this for motivation..I like what you said, it’s the right thing to do..yep agreed. We already get our meat and chicken from a local farm here, so baby steps. xo

  3. I’m so glad I have come across your blog! My fiance and I have recently started this lifestyle change, after his chiropractor recommended it. We are feeling great and both seeing results after just about a week and a half. As newcomers blogs like yours are very helpful. I’ll be checking back!

    • Congrats to you and your fiance for starting it…and you are so right, it’s really a lifestyle change. Best of luck to the both of you! I post some recipes on TinySophisticate.com and also on MakingItPaleo.com.

  4. oh. my. gosh. thank you for being REAL about going paleo. i have polycystic ovarian sydrom (PCOS) and i have recently learned of the benefits of eating a paleo diet for those of us with PCOS. i just this week have tried (yes, tried. trying) cutting out carbs and processed food. its not been easy. i have a serious sugar addiction and giving up my coffee creamer? you might as well ask me to give up a child. wait. maybe giving up coffee. lol anyway, i appreciate the tips and i am soooo looking forward to feeling better and losing some weight. good luck, friends!

    • hi nancy – thanks for reading! trust me….i LOVED my pasta, pastries and fried food. it took a whole lot of strength for me to cut everything out. for me, i had to go cold turkey. i know me and it was the only way. in the end, my “reasons” were my daughters and that helped me through. i just had a splash of milk in my coffee so i’m never 100% paleo…but the changes have definitely helped me! i feel MUCH better and the weight loss was almost an added bonus (16lbs now!). best of luck. i’m posting all my paleo recipes over at my new recipe site: http://www.makingitpaleo.com so check those out! -kelly

  5. Question… I’m wanting to start paleo but there are a few factors I’m looking at as potential road blocks. One: we are on a serious budget, back in my vegan days I spent an arm and leg on groceries… Same with paleo? Secondly, I’m nursing my six month old and don’t want to damage my milk supply. Thoughts? Love this post by the way!:)

    • Torrey – great questions. Paleo can be pricey because it focuses on organic, high quality ingredients. However, I think there are ways around it. For examples, we try to buy organic whenever possible, but there are some fruits/veggies that we do not, such as bananas. We also try to buy a lot from Trader Joe’s as we find their prices to be great for our budget. As far as grassfed meats, we’ve found some local farms who sell their own grassfed beef at really great prices. It takes some research, but it’s doable. I think it takes careful menu planning but it can be done. As far as breastfeeding, I am not a doctor and I am not a certified nutritionist or lactation consultant. BUT….I do not look at Paleo as a diet. It’s just a healthy way of eating. I think as long as you are keeping your calorie intake in check, you should be fine….or great actually. I’d think if you’re diet consists of healthy fruits, vegetables and meats, it would be better for nursing your child. But again, I’m not an expert. I am going to work on a Paleo on a budget post….so keep on the lookout the next few weeks.

  6. My name is Brandy and I am in day one of this adventure! I really love this post! I am definitely a baby steps kind of person! I have an issue with sugar and gluten that I was just diagnosed with. It took me to go to my chiropractor/nutrition specialist to help me realize this. I can not wait to read more posts! I am going to need all the support I can get! I am also 260 lbs and need to loose some pounds! =0)

    • Best of luck Brandy on your journey. The best advice I can give you is think of all the great food you CAN have…and don’t focus on what you CAN’T have. You can eat lots of high-quality meats. Organic fruits and vegetables. There’s a lot you can do with that. And there are great recipes out there for some fun treats too! I blog my recipes at http://www.makingitpaleo.com so check those out. Keep checking in here…I’m not an expert but am happy to help!

    • Hi! I never really tried Atkins and have not really researched it in depth. I tried it for 4 hours one day 10+ years ago and then fell off the wagon when I wanted a burrito for lunch. And that was the end of my Atkins days. The biggest different IMO is that Paleo focuses on high quality, organic, pasture-raised/grassfed meats and stays away from grains, beans and dairy. Atkins seems to focus a lot on their prepackaged “Atkins” labeled processed foods such as bars. Atkins allows dairy, some grains and also recommends some artificial sweeteners. Hope that’s helpful!

  7. I like that you added “Dont be that guest” – everyone’s meal preferences are different and sometimes, people don’t understand. I am Hispanic and my mom kept giving me a weird look when I would tell her to stop making rice. Haha! It’s a Mexican staple! But I had to realize that she was not on my new lifestyle change so when she cooked it, I wouldn’t it but now I’m noticing that she has gone from cooking it everyday to cooking it once a week because she is noticing “changes” in her body :)

    • I had to add “Don’t be that guest” in because I’ve cooked dinner for guests and when we sit down, they won’t eat because it’s not on their diet. It would drive me crazy. Obviously if it were an allergy issues, I’d understand and accommodate. I even once had someone bring their own dinner…to a dinner party. WHAT???? Hahaha…If I know that I’m eating out at a restaurant or at a friend’s house, I typically try to save my “cheat” meal for then and then it’s not an issue ;) And trust me, I still love me some rice now and then. I just don’t keep it in my house.

  8. I’m really sad about peanuts. I do enjoy apples with some organic nut butter.

    Also, I almost cannot afford to throw out 99% of my food. I don’t live paycheck to paycheck but I live pretty close so seeing food I spent money on going out the door just breaks my heart. Do you have any advice?

    • It was really hard for me to give up peanut butter. I loved it with apple and in smoothies. I use almond butter sometimes, but it’s not the same ;) Yes, I agree it is hard to throw away all your food. I gave myself a staring date….and I tried to use up all the food I had in the house leading up to that date. When I went shopping, I would not buy any more processed food, just meats, veggies, nuts, fruits, etc. Hopefully this method makes it a little more gradual for your pantry and for your budget too!

  9. OK… u have convinced me!!!! This is all I needed… someone who seems down to earth & is honest about the personal experiences!!! Thank you!!! ;) can’t wait to read your other posts!!! Guess I know what I will be doing in my free time this weekend!!! Wish me luck!

  10. Thanks for this; we’re just making plans to start paleo and I appreciate the tips re. feeding kids. Our son is already gluten/dairy free, so for him it will just be transitioning away from rice crackers, gf bread, etc. Although it might be easier at this point to just focus on the grown ups! I’m seeking info re. breastfeeding and paleo as I don’t want my supply to go down (my baby is exclusively breastfed). Thanks again!

  11. Planning to follow your advice. You sound great and down to earth, not like some of those giving health advice who come across as fanatical!

  12. Thanks for the post. I have been curious and wanting to try Paleo for some time now as it fits in with some either lifestyle changes I am trying to make – including going organic, increasing healthy protiens and fats and reducing or eliminating grains. I am still right at the beginning and I have a huge grain content in my current diet. Starting out seems challenging – especially since I am feeding a family with 2 young kids also. Still, if the bad stuff is gone, and they are hungry, then they will eat what is provided. So, basically, I am going to be the toughest convert I think :) I think giving up dairy may even be tougher for me than grains. Thanks for your tips on getting started and shopping. Great help :)

    • Best of luck Laura! I am honestly such a true believe in the power of Paleo and healthy eating…I cannot begin to say how much it’s transformed me. I just visited my doctor last week and along with the other changes I have described, my cholesterol went down 50 points in 18 months!!!! 50 points!!! And, I eat a ton of fat, bacon, red meat, etc. You are correct, starting out is the hardest part. I knew myself well enough to know it was all or nothing for me. So I started and went cold turkey. I will say I cheated a little with dairy and it took me almost a full year to totally kick the cream in my coffee. And honestly, every once in a while I’ll still have ice cream when we are out with the kids. I keep all the bad tempting stuff out of my house….and then once in a while if I cheat when I’m out, I’m fine with that (although it usually makes me feel awful so I cheat less than I used to). Best of luck to you and let me know if I can help in any way. I’m not an expert but I’ve been through it!!! – kelly

  13. Kelly,

    Even though you wrote this post quite a while back, Thank You! I have been back and forth with the idea of being completely Paleo for a while now. I have a 3 year old that is a SUPER picky eater. Maybe one day he will be on board with me as well :) I plan on going 100% The first as we are getting ready for a move soon and thankfully we will be near plenty of healthy shopping options. Your post has given me hope that it will all be possible!! Thank you again for writing this post!

  14. I have been doing some reading on this Paleo lifestyle. It sounds like a big change but one that will make me feel better. Getting rid of grains and dairy will be the hard part. I appreciate your blog and you being a regular person and not a cross fit fanatic. I don’t have the energy to even do cross fit at this point. Looks like this may be what I begin as soon as I get my pantry and frig organized and emptied of all the crap.

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