What I’ve learned: Tips from the Cavemom
Please note: Some of this information is from me being smart and fairly well-edumacated on Paleo/Primal. But largely this information is gathered from other websites and books. I make no claim to any of this being all my own information, and thus I can’t be held responsible if something goes wonky.
If you are unfamiliar with paleo and primal, you should definitely start with the information in the Paleo/Primal Primer to gain a better understanding of the concept behind the lifestyle.
I don’t know about you, but all the science and explanations still didn’t break it down for me in a real way- what it REALLY meant to move off of a SAD (Standard American Diet), how it would work, what I would end up eating, the ultimate cost in changing up my lifestyle.
When I’ve been asked about my story, my success, what and how I did it, I’ve shared this information on this page along with that in the Paleo/Primal Primer to offer some of what I’ve learned (mostly through trial and error) along the way.
Paleo/primal is the first ‘diet’ (read: lifestyle) that I’ve seen that is dependent not on results, but on how your body responds to foods. Some people tolerate wheat better than others. Some have a sensitivity to nightshades (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant are the most common nightshades). Some people have to cut out dairy completely, and some can handle processed sugars to a small extent. These differences are varied even in the individual members of a family; in ours, for example, Chris doesn’t do well with dairy, but he and Cameron can tolerate a small amount of grains without any ill effects. I can tolerate a very small amount of processed sugars, but no grains at all. Alex can handle the processed sugars well, but grains upset his system. Logan can handle some dairy, but not grains, and his sugar tolerance is low.
To learn what foods may trigger negative reactions, many recommended doing a Whole30…30 days of pure paleo eating. This means eliminating grains, sugars, and legumes, as well as all dairy and nightshades. By then slowly adding the dairy and nightshades food back into your diet after the Whole30, you can test your body’s sensitivity to these foods to see what (if anything) triggers a negative response.
For me personally, I like cheese, yogurt, sour cream too much to give that up, so…yeah. My Whole30 was a little more of a Whole17 because of a pilfered bit of sharp cheddar I just couldn’t stay away from.
I did not, however, let that cheese be my gateway food (except to allow one spare serving of cheese or sourcream once a day). I did give up the milk, which was easy enough.
Tip #1: Like anything else, if you’re gonna do it, do it right. Make the commitment to see how it goes, and don’t eat anything that’s not strictly paleo, simply because if you put these things back in your body before you’ve adjusted, not only are you sending your body mixed messages, but you’re also not giving yourself a baseline to know what you tolerate and what you don’t.
For the first 30 days….no fruits except for the ‘fruits’ that are lower in carbs that we consider vegetables (why? because if you have sweet, you’re gonna want MORE sweet!). No grains (wheat, rye, oatmeal, popcorn, nothing), no legumes (peas, peanuts, beans), no seeds (chia, sunflower, soy anything), no sugars (including honey, unless it’s less than 1tsp every other day or so.
THIS INCLUDES ARTIFICAL SWEETENERS- I’d stay away from stevia and agave as well. Remember, this is about resetting your taste buds and your body, not about cheating the system.
Tip #2: Understand- but don’t be totally okay with the fact that- a little non-paleo is going to sneak through now and then, especially in the first 30 days. Just don’t grab an orange to eat, or use vegetable oil, add sweetener to your tea, etc. The more you circumvent the ‘bad’ stuff, the easier it is. I still HAVE to have a little ketchup now and then, or a tiny bit of BBQ if I make pulled pork, but I keep it as minimal and infrequent as possible. It’s amazing how you find you really don’t need it. The more you allow yourself, though the more you’ll crave those things…and crave all the bad things you put them on!
Tip #3: While there are GREAT recipes out there using paleo-ish ingredients to recreate your favorite recipes, don’t do any replacement foods for at least 60 days.
You’re only going to end up being irritated that it’s not the real deal, then you get cravings because you want the real thing, then you get disgusted and end up cheating. This isn’t about replicating high-carb treats, it’s about adjusting your body! You’re learning to cook in a whole new way, and there’s a certain excitement that comes with unleashing this new lifestyle!
Think the food will be boring? I guarantee it’s not.
What to expect:
In the beginning, you go through phases. Day 3 or so, you’ll suddenly feel…energized. My skin felt tighter, firmer. And I got hungry.
You’re gonna get hungry too- at first. Like, seriously hungry. Your body is trying to adjust from creating energy from quick-fix carb spikes you used to give it to burning energy from fat stores, and the hunger is it’s demands for food.
Tip #4: Keep extra protein around, and veggies the first 3 weeks. Be prepared…have it cooked in advance and keep that refrigerator stocked…hard boiled eggs, sliced steak, leftover chicken, pre-made salads, anything that you can grab quickly and easily.
Eat when you are hungry, eat until you are satisfied, and then stop. Don’t watch the clock to eat at certain times, don’t worry about how much you are eating, just listen to your body.
Tip #5: During this hunger phase, don’t you dare think about counting calories, don’t stress about ‘how much fat is too much’. You need to EAT, so eat (paleo foods, of course!).
You totally will worry about it, because every other diet had you counting your calories and fats. But in the beginning…let all that go, and eat when you are hungry, staying at the carb limit you feel suits your needs best (for more on that, see here) As you drop weight and get smaller, your dietary needs change, and in the beginning for at least the first month calories don’t mean a thing.
Tip #6: Track your foods. Use an online site like My Fitness Palor FitDay or an app for your smart phone. Track everything you eat- EVERYTHING- and make sure you are hitting your percentages. Rremember, don’t count your calories; you’re looking at the carbs and the total percentages. Your goal is to have around 60% of your calories from fats, 25% (or more) from proteins, and 10% (or less) from carbs.
After a few weeks of tracking, you’ll have a much better idea of what it takes to stay in the right range.
So you’re feeling great with lots of energy…and then the dreaded ‘carb flu’ hits. About a week or so in, maybe more, maybe less, all that feeling great stuff is gonna disappear and you’re going to be hit by what’s known as the carb flu.
Carb flu is your body basically bottoming out…think of the end of a sugar crash. This is the time when the body is used to burning easy glucose carbs and is now being forced into creating glucose from fats and protein (which is what burns calories and causes weight loss). Headaches, nausea, feeling tired and lethargic are common, as is feeling ‘foggy’.
Tip #7: Lots of water and homemade chicken stock or beef stock (also known as bone broth) is a great combatant. The thing to remember is not to give in to the want of sugar and grains and the unhealthy stuff, or you just are setting yourself up to fail. The carb flu lasts less than 10 days and on the other side of it, you feel freaking AMAZING.
Once I was out of the carb flu, I found I can very easily eat only once a day, though usually it’s twice a day. I’ll rarely get ‘hungry’ anymore… you know that hunger that hurts? Gnawing, aching, sometimes makes you double over because it’s so sharp, or you end up feeling nauseous or lightheaded?
It’s largely just an empty feeling that I go..’yeah, I could eat. I should probably get something.’
You’re going to have them. I found that my cravings were not at all bad, but my habits were…a couple times I almost popped a noodle or a fry into my mouth without thinking, but caught myself.
I found that most of my cravings were really just longings, and were tied to the memory of food, the positive feelings of it. Smells will hit you, or the thought of something just needles at you. But after the first couple of weeks, you suddenly are able to fight off the cravings when they hit, because you know if you eat it, you’re gonna feel like crap.
I won’t put this down as an official tip, but let me say this. If you feel that craving coming on from a certain smell, sit there and sniff the air like a crazy person. If you can get away with it, hold it under your nose for a second and smell it.
INHALE THE EVER-LIVING HELL OUT OF IT.
You know, as long as it isn’t someone’s dinner you’re waving around under your nasal passages.
My family laughs, especially since I darn near turn myself inside out if I catch a whiff of chocolate cake or brownies or fresh bread baking, but gathering the scent, holding it for a moment and letting it go is just as enjoyable- even more so- than sitting down and eating it would be.
Tip #8: If you’re going to cheat- and most people do at some point or another- wait until after your Whole30, do it on a small scale, and make sure you have access to a bathroom for the next few days.
Now the nitty gritty…lets talk about cost, shall we?
So, paleo/primal looks expensive. After all, a diet heavy on meat is going to put a pinch on the pocketbook. But here’s the thing to remember: any ‘diet’ that’s more reliant on fresh foods and veggies rather than shelf-stable and highly processed things is going to be more expensive…but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper, in the long run, when you save on health problems, doctors visits, medications, vitamins, clothes, etc, etc, etc.
Tip #9: If you shop the sales and buy in bulk when you can, use good resources like the farmers market and such, you’re going to save money. Use what you eat or process it for later use (make soup, freeze veggies, etc) and you won’t have waste. We found a stand-up freezer on Craigslist for $150 about 3 years ago. It’s one of the best purchases we ever made, and has paid for itself many times over just in being able to take advantage of the meat sales specials.
Our budget is $700 a month for all 5 of us for groceries (plus paper products- however that breaks down. I’m too lazy to do the math just now)… Since starting paleo/primal as a whole family in late January, we’ve spent less than $620 a month for all 5 of us (this is average, of course. When you buy in bulk it doesn’t all get used at the same time). I tracked our spending through February, March and April…our food bills only increased by $40. A month. Let me tell you, you’ll be surprised how much food stretches when your body just doesn’t get as hungry as often.
A friend was mentioning how costly paleo was for them- how it nearly doubled their family budget. When we sat down and figured out where the biggest expenditures were, it turned out they were spending a ton of money on ingredients for ‘replacement’ foods. They were buying large quantities of coconut and almond flour for baked goods, cashew, almond and sunbutter, raw sugars and coconut aminos and pre-made paleo candies and snack bars and beef jerky. They were spending more money trying to reinvent the non-paleo foods than they were on fruits and vegetables and proteins.
Tip #10: If you’re smart (and frugal), buy some things in bulk at Sams or Costco- beef especially*** (see note below). Beef roast gets portioned up and used so that it’s not JUST steaks- we can get a good 7 meals out of a $35 beef roast with steaks, roast beef, beef strips, and roasts for Chicago Italian Beef. A pork loin nets us at least 5 meals. The big honkin’ tube of ground beef is portioned off into burgers and Ziploc’d for chili, spaghetti sauce, whatever other uses we might have. Boneless skinless chicken is expensive and lacking in fat- why bother? Chicken thighs and drumsticks go on sale every 5-6 weeks at our local grocery stores for 99 cents a pound or less…we stock up. Turkeys (yes, I know, they are the scourge of the paleo world, but they are cheap and you can make them stretch)…we buy 2 at 99 cents a pound during the holiday specials. Occasionally the stores offer chicken leg quarters at 59 cents…you better believe I stock the heck up on that.
Also at the wholesale place, we get big cans of crushed tomatoes, spices in bulk, olive oil, nuts, butter, salmon, dark chocolate, and eggs…we buy 15 dozen eggs at a time.
People stare, but we’re used to it.
The indoor farmer’s markets and ethnic stores are great resources for year-round produce, and when the growing season is underway, buying local and in-season will really help the budget as well.
***So, lets talk for a moment about the life of our food before it got to our plate.
While many leaders and advocates of paleo and primal go all-in (nothing but grass-fed and free-range and pastured proteins, all-organic all the time, no dairy shall pass thy lips, and so on), there’s a general consensus among the communities of paleo advocates that pretty much say ‘do what works for you because every little bit you do is that much better for you’. It’s a pretty good standard to live by, in my opinion- especially since my budget doesn’t often run to the top-shelf grass-fed/pastured/free range stuff… and I can’t quite give up on cheese, the treat of heavy whipping cream and the occasional splurge of Greek yogurt.
Tip # 11: While it’s preferred/ideal, grass-fed and free-range and pastured proteins and dairy and all-organic produce are not NECESSARY for success.
While diet is important, so is exercise. Many people report that within a few days of starting paleo, they find a ton of energy. You need to do SOMETHING with all that extra energy!
Tip #12: Use that energy to propel me into doing…something. Cleaning, walking, lifting some little handweights, anything.
You know all that advice you hear about not worrying about a parking space close to the door and walking a little farther at the store, or taking the steps instead of the elevator or escalator? Yeah. That’s what I started doing. I got out every now and then and walked through the subdivision. Once a week I would *cough* sprint.
By sprint, I mean a turtle was probably moving faster than my jog, and it was maybe- MAYBE- from one driveway to another. On a good night.
Yes, this was at night, in the dark, since I didn’t want anyone to see me.
I would walk a bit, then try it again…it wasn’t far, but I felt like it was doing something, even if it was 5 driveway-to-driveway jogs once a week.
I’d also grab the hand weights and do different exercises while watching TV. Bicep curls, presses, whatever felt like I was actually DOING something so that I could feel it in my muscles. Just a few reps a handful of times every week.
I would also sit on the edge of my bed or in a chair, and spent a commercial break standing up and sitting down (though not fully relaxing onto the edge of the sitting surface). Yeah, it feels foolish, but it is a workout for your thighs, butt, and calves, and it takes momentum to stand up each time.
Modified squats for the win!
I’d also press my palms to the wall or door frame and do presses into them…like a vertical pushup.
Oh, and every now and then I’d grab Logan and cart him through the house.
Primal Blueprint DOES encourage lifting heavy things.
Seems simple, right?
It really, really is.