Sunday, October 7, 2012
PryMel's Guide to Eating Like a Caveman
The following advice is based on my own personal experience eating Paleo, following the Primal Blueprint, and observing/taking part in the online community. I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or anything of the sort. I am simply a fascinated participant constantly thirsty for more knowledge about food sources, dietary habits, and lifestyle choices.
How do I start?
There are two routes you can take to self-experiment with Paleo (actually, there are tons - plenty of people who follow these dietary principles add or subtract foods based on their own bodies' reactions).
1. Eliminate "poisonous" foods a few at a time, over 3-6 months. This is a way to avoid the shock to the system a drastic change in diet can cause. A 3-month plan that I recently wrote up for my stepmom* went something like this:
Month 1: no wheat or wheat-containing foods (bread, pasta, baked goods*, tortillas, basically anything fried, pizza, etc.); no refined sugar (no candy bars, ice cream, pudding, you get the idea)
*gluten-free versions are acceptable during this month only
Month 2: (in addition to foods in month 1) no grains (corn, rice, quinoa, oats, etc.); no dairy (milk or cheese); no processed foods (products containing additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, etc.)
Month 3: (in addition to foods in month 1 and 2) no legumes (soy, peanuts, chickpeas, etc.); no white-fleshed potatoes; no factory-raised meat (free-range/grass-fed/pasture-raised only); no pesticides or unsustainable produce (organic and local produce only)
*funnily enough, my stepmom got so amped after her first couple of days on the diet, she decided to jump straight to Month 3! She's been going strong for 4 months and she's even baking (something I've never seen her do before). So proud of her!
2. Go "cold turkey" and enjoy the challenge of living for one month without sugar, grains, dairy, legumes or processed foods.
Although if you want to see/feel some real results, you should commit to at least 3 months.
How do I make the transition as easy as possible?
1. Get comfortable in your kitchen. You are going to be spending a lot of time here.
- Re-organize your pantry. Put all of your cooking oils, nuts, seeds, shredded coconut and spices front and center and hide away all of the non-approved ingredients/foods (or better yet, throw them out/give them away). The important thing here is to get the temptation out of the kitchen/house.
- Stock up on some helpful cooking tools. You don't have to break the bank with Cuisinart swag.
~ borrow a neighbor's mandoline slicer
~ pick up some large, durable pots and pans (preferrably NOT non-stick) at your local thrift store/garage sale
~ buy a cheap food processor at Target
However, if you want to make a SERIOUS CHANGE and commit to this way of eating for more than just a little while (like I did), I would definitely suggest investing in the following:
~ 12-cup food processor (with grating attachment)
~ large cast-iron dutch oven (I bought mine at a local flea market for $30)
~ slow-cooker/crockpot (at least 6 quarts)
- Don't be afraid of foods you've never heard of. Although this diet may seem to only take away foods, in actuality it opens up a whole new array of whole food ingredients to choose from. A list of some of the foods I had never tried before going Primal: turnips, parsnips, rutabagas, okra, kale, pluots, rabbit, bison, tuna steak, shrimp, crawfish, crab legs, catfish, chicken liver, chicken heart, beef tongue, beef heart, bone marrow, pig's ear. And all of it was delicious! (Except for the beef tongue).
2. Do your research! This is not merely an extracurricular activity or hobby, it's a way of life and takes some serious self-education to implement effectively.
- Go online and look up the menus to restaurants in your area (or areas you frequent) and find entrees that fit within your new way of eating (or can be made as such).
- Discover your local farmer's market or sign up for your neighborhood CSA. Seek out local butchers (or better yet, hunters) that offer game meat and offal.
- If you're the websurfing type, regularly visit or subscribe to websites like:
~ marksdailyapple.com (for motivation, scientific studies, testimonials, recipes and more)
~ nerdfitness.com (for motivation, workout tips, testimonials)
~ reddit.com/r/paleo (if you're curious about how real people deal with this lifestyle change*)
*beware of the hardcore commenters that frequent this thread; don't let their stuck-upedness discourage you
- If you're the reading type, check out
~ The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson
~ It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig
3. Share your new nutrition goals with those around you. Tell your co-workers, family and friends about your new way of eating. This will give you a built-in support group to share in your successes and struggles. This will also keep temptation away at work and in your social life. If your friends and co-workers know about your new dietary restrictions, they are less likely to suggest pizza for lunch or offer leftover cookies from their kid's birthday party.
4. Don't try to be perfect, just try to improve. Everyone strives to be healthy but each individual's experience is different. Some people lose weight quickly, some don't. Some people find it easy to say no to temptation, some struggle. Your journey is your own and no one else's and comparisons will not help you achieve your goal any faster.
Exercise is important!
While your diet will be responsible for about 80% of the weight you lose, that last 20% depends on exercise. And no, I'm not talking about hours spent in the gym, running on a treadmill. I'm talking about upping your daily activity level with just a little self-awareness.
1. Walk. A lot. Make it a point to walk whenever possible. Walk to the bank instead of driving the half-mile. Go for a walk after dinner with the family to help digest and spend some quality time connecting with your loved ones (instead of staring at the television in silence).
2. Do bodyweight exercises in your living room, in your backyard, at a nearby park or (if you need to justify the expense) at the gym. You don't need any fancy weightlifting machines and STAY AWAY from the treadmill/elliptical/stationary bike.
3. Your workouts should not last longer than one hour. You don't need to spend 2-plus hours sweating out every calorie you ingested that day. Short, high-intensity workouts with complex exercises that mimic your body's natural movements are far more effective than several hours of low-intensity exercises that focus on isolated muscle groups.
4. Play! Remember what that is? Just because you work instead of going to school, doesn't mean you don't deserve some play time. Play pickup soccer. Go on a hike. Ride your bicycle into downtown for the day. Take dancing lessons. Be active and have fun!
How to KEEP GOING when the going gets tough.
The only component of this "diet" that is ANYTHING like conventional diets is the importance of willpower. You must be honest with yourself about the role food plays in your activity level, social scene, and overall happiness. If cutting out your favorite food-like substance (Doritos, McDonald's french fries, Papa John's, Marie Callendar's, Ben & Jerry's) brings on legitimate feelings of depression, then you have a much bigger problem to address than simply being overweight. Take control of your nutrition and your life! Here's some common complaints from newbies (including yours truly about a year ago):
1. "I don't have enough TIME to cook at home."
YES you do. It's all about priorities. Turn off the TV, don't join the girls for drinks for the second time this week, maybe skip game night just this once, put down the laptop and cook yourself (and your family) something amazing! If your schedule isn't overflowing with entertaining activities but you still can't find time to cook every night - YOU DON'T HAVE TO. Casseroles, soups, stews, whole roasted chicken - these are things that can last for several meals a week. Plus there's always the slow-cooker. I find weekly meal-planning (see below) to be a very effective way to stay on track and avoid temptation.
2."But I thought saturated fat (like bacon) was bad for your heart"
It is becoming more widely accepted in the scientific (if not the agri-business) community that saturated fat is not nearly as influential to one's risk of heart disease as other factors. There are also some recent studies that are finding simple carbohydrates (like bread and refined sugar) to be a risk factor for heart disease. Bottom line: cholesterol is not the enemy. A high fat PLUS high carb diet equals high risk. A high fat plus low-carb/non-processed diet does NOT equal high risk.
3. "I'm tired of salad/chicken/tuna. This diet offers me no variety in meals."
Bullpucky. You have to be willing to expand your palette beyond what you grew up eating. Peruse the produce aisle (or better yet, the stands at your local farmer's market) and find a new vegetable/protein source that you've never tried. Type "Paleo [unknown vegetable/protein]" into Google and you'll find tons of recipes to inspire you. Also, embrace the spice rack. It is your arsenal against bland food.
4. "I can't afford to eat organic vegetables and meat all the time."
You don't have to. There's always ways to improve your diet but if your budget doesn't allow for the cleanest ingredients, don't sweat it. You'll still be doing your body a huge favor by simply cutting out grains and processed foods. I do suggest that if you buy conventional produce, make sure to wash it in Veggie Wash before cooking or eating.
5. "There's too much food left over and I can't finish it all in a week before it goes bad."
Stop buying so much produce. You need to PLAN YOUR MEALS. There are some gifted individuals out there who can simply look at a produce aisle, pick up random things and put together amazing dishes. I am not one of these people. I rely on meal-planning. Also, if there's leftovers from a dish you made up to 7 days ago, FREEZE IT! Frozen leftovers have been a lifesaver during those nights where I'm just too busy/exhausted to cook. I also freeze leftover ingredients to avoid waste. Several recipes I make include 1 cup of red wine and since I don't drink wine, I freeze the rest of a bottle using ice cube trays. Once the wine is adequately frozen, dump the cubes in a freezer-safe Ziploc and store until you need more red wine (1 cube = 1 oz.). I use this same process for beef and chicken broth.
1. How I plan my meals:
- Look up what's in season in your area that month (produce in season is usually more plentiful, cheaper, and more likely to be locally-sourced)
- Find recipes (either from cookbooks, your collection of online recipes or straight-up Google search) that feature the in-season produce.
- Plan to devote two weeknights to cooking or one full day on the weekend. If I'm planning weeknight meals, I usually make sure I have leftovers or takeout* available to eat while cooking, so I'm not starving by the time the meal is done. I get off work at 6 (or later) and sometimes the meal I'm cooking isn't done until 10 or 11 at night so having leftovers/takeout is essential to avoid eating dinner right before going to sleep. If I'm devoting a whole day of my weekend to cooking, I usually do more involved, slow-cooked recipes (like chili, gumbo or pot roast). I will also make anywhere from 3-4 dishes so that I won't have to cook during the week.
*My go-to pre-made Paleo-approved meals include: a steak salad from one of my favorite local restaurants or the hot food bar at Whole Foods.
- Write up your grocery list. If you shop at farmer's markets, realize that you will most likely need to make a trip to a brick and mortar store as well for staples like spices, oils and vinegars, canned goods, etc.
2. Some great recipe websites:
3. How to clean cast iron*:
Step 1: Wash the dirty cast iron in the sink with water and a scrub brush - NO SOAP
Step 2: Put the cast iron on the stove over low heat until dry
Step 3: If there are bits stuck to the bottom, add a generous sprinkling of salt to your cast iron and scrub (I use a paper towel). Clean out salt when it turns brown and repeat process until salt no longer turns brown. You may not get every bit off but it will certainly help. And the remaining bits shouldn't affect cooking with it in the future.
Step 4: Dip a paper towel in cooking fat (lard or oil) and grease the entire cooking surface of your cast iron. If you are trying to "season" your cast iron, cook the greased dish in your oven on very low for 30 minutes, then re-apply oil and repeat as many times as you like.
*if you leave your cast iron dirty overnight, simply re-heat the dish to liquefy the fat and proceed with steps 1-4.
4. Nerdgasm (revelations I've had since going Primal)
- Vegetables taste GOOD! Everything tastes good. I appreciate the flavor and texture of a meal so much more now than I ever did before changing my diet.
- Physical activity (especially when coupled with sunshine) is fun! It's gotten to a point where I get antsy if a week goes by without doing something active outdoors.
- Researching and seeking out quality ingredients, as well as cooking a delicious meal with said ingredients, really does encourage you to enjoy the act of eating. I appreciate every bite instead of absent-mindedly filling my gut as quickly as possible.
- As often as I think about the sugar-laden baked goods of my pre-Paleo days, every time I indulge in one, it never lives up to the taste I remember in my mind. I end up feeling disappointed and can rarely finish a whole pastry because it's just too sweet.