Have you wondered if the Paleo diet is just another fad diet that requires you to restrict your eating and eventually leave you feeling worse about yourself than before? I know when I first heard of it that I thought so too! If you’re tired of being on the diet roller coaster like I am, I think you’ll find that the Paleo diet is truly a lifestyle way of eating that rewards you with more energy, better sleep, less digestion issues, less aches and pains, and overall just feeling better.
My family has been eating this way for the past several years and I’ve learned some tricks along the way. Are you ready to ditch the diet mentality and learn how to nourish your body with good, delicious food? My simple tips on understanding the Paleo way of eating, what foods to include and avoid, and meal planning will get you started on this healthy way of eating to feel better!
What is the Paleo diet?
You’re probably wondering what the paleo way of eating is and why you should try it. When you understand a little bit of the science behind it, improving your diet will be much easier. How great would that be to know what foods make you feel your best instead of counting calories and following someone else’s rule?
A paleo way of eating includes foods that could have been hunted and gathered in the Paleolithic era (at least 10,000 years ago). Yes, it includes quality meats and seafood, or my husband would not have tried it! It is not an all meat centric diet though. Fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are the star players. Yes, you can have some bacon, but thinking of it more as a side and not the main course! As farming practices have changed, we are eating more processed foods, grains, and dairy that have made us unhealthier and overweight than our ancestors.
“The Paleo diet is a nutrient-dense whole foods diet based on eating a variety of quality meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and healthy fats. It improves health by providing balanced and complete nutrition while avoiding most processed and refined foods and empty calories.” Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, the Paleo Mom
The Paleo way of eating focuses on eating more nutrient dense foods than processed foods. Your body needs a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients that come from eating real, whole foods. As you focus on eating more food that God made, it will get easier to crowd out the foods made in a factory or altered by conventional farming. Good food should taste good and make you feel good!
Benefits of the Paleo Way of Eating
One of my favorite things about transitioning to this way of eating is that your focus is on upgrading your food to healthier versions instead of focusing on portion control. That’s right- you don’t have to be so hangry! It’s important to remember that just because the foods are healthier, it doesn’t mean portion sizes don’t matter. It’s just a lot easier to not overeat broccoli than it is a bag of chips.
Now you will probably miss and yes, crave some of the foods you eliminate, but if you can hang in there for about a week it will get a lot easier! Your gut bacteria is to blame for these strong cravings. Just like a spoiled child it wants that sugary processed foods and starts screaming to get it!
When you reduce or eliminate grains, dairy, and processed food, you will get the benefit of reducing inflammation. Inflammation is the root cause of a whole host of symptoms including weight gain, brain fog, digestive issues, poor sleep and energy, headaches, aches and pains, and even chronic illnesses- symptoms that are easy to chalk up to signs of aging.
After following the paleo way of eating, you will start to feel better and notice the symptoms improve. I was shocked to find out a lot of these were related to food! I feel better than I did 20 years ago because of the food I eat. Later once you’re consistently feeling good, you can test these foods one by one to see how your body tolerates them to personalize your diet to your body. Your rules no one else’s!
Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of diets, but got weary of the rules and counting and trying to discipline myself to staying on the plan. Sound familiar? I just wished to enjoy food and not to have to think so hard about it. Customizing the paleo way of eating for my body finally gave me the food freedom I was looking for!
Paleo Foods to Enjoy
When you first look at the parameters of a new way of eating, do you look at what you will have to give up? I know that’s my first reaction. What can’t I eat? Of course, there are foods that are on the avoid list, but the focus is on nutrient dense foods that help your body heal and feel better. It feels more like a way of self-love than a way to punish my body.
Are you ready to start enjoying food you love that loves you back? Here’s the lowdown on what to enjoy and what to avoid!
Foods to Enjoy
- Eat organic whole foods. Think more food a farmer grew than man made in a factory!
- Eat all the vegetables. Try to eat the rainbow- a variety of colors gives you a variety of nutrients. Refer to the dirty dozen list to prioritize your organic purchases. Eating seasonal produce helps make organic more affordable too.
- Eat all the fruits. Just like vegetables- organic and a variety of colors. You want to eat the fruits not drink them because you benefit from the fiber to prevent a blood sugar spike.
- Meats and seafood- Quality meat makes a difference in the nutrients you get and the flavor! These Include grass fed beef, pasture raised poultry & pork, uncured, sugar free bacon, wild game, wild caught seafood. (You don’t want to eat animals that were fed the grains you’re avoiding!)
- Eggs, nuts, and seeds in moderation
- Healthy fats/ oils- Including olives, avocados, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, ghee
- Fresh Herbs and spices- make your food flavorful!
- (Limit) Natural sweeteners: coconut sugar, date sugar, honey, maple syrup
Nutrient dense whole foods taste so much better than the highly processed foods we’ve gotten used to. It doesn’t take too long to experience this and then giving up those foods gets a lot easier. You crave the good tasting foods that are good for you too!
Foods to Avoid On the Paleo Diet
Don’t panic when you look at this list! It takes an adjustment, but when you start eating whole foods you are going to enjoy food freedom. These processed inflammatory foods have become a mainstay in our SAD (standard American diet) and contributed to our unhealthy, overweight society.
- Junk food- sodas, candy, chips, etc.
- Fast food- fried foods, pizza, etc.
- Refined sugars- corn syrup, sugar, brown sugar, etc.
- Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc.
- Grains: corn, wheat, oats, barley, rice, bread, pasta, quinoa, etc.
- Legumes: peanuts, beans, lentils, soy
- Vegetable oils: corn, canola, soybean, sunflower, etc.
There are healthier alternatives to these foods that will leave you satisfied and feeling good. My family has discovered that going gluten-free has cleared up a lot of health issues that we never suspected were tied to food. The longer we eat this way the better we feel and don’t feel stressed about following someone else’s rules.
Paleo Meal Planning Hacks
Just because you’re eating more home cooked meals doesn’t mean you have to be tied to the kitchen! I love to use leftovers from the night before and re-purpose for our lunches. With a good meal plan, you can plan your cooking around your schedule.
I typically use theme nights for our regular schedule:
- Monday: Crockpot meal That way dinner is ready when I get home, because who wants to cook on Mondays?
- Tuesday: Tacos Well, duh! I am from Texas. Tacos can be chicken, ground beef, fajitas, or fish tacos. They can also be burrito bowls with cauliflower rice, avocado, lettuce, cilantro, and salsa.
- Wednesday: Skillet Meal This is usually a stir-fry, omelet, or other quick and easy meal.
- Thursday: Sheet Pan Meal I prepare my meat and veggies with avocado oil and seasonings and put all on one sheet pan Wednesday night. When I get home Thursday, it’s ready to go into the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. One pan makes for easy clean-up.
- Friday: Grill Night My husband Brady takes over cooking on Fridays. We like to hang out on the patio while dinner is grilling! Typically it’s burgers, steak, or kabobs.
Just because you eliminate some of the traditional American foods, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy delicious food that makes you feel good! When you’re getting started, find a couple breakfast options you like and alternate. Utilize leftovers from dinner for lunch. Even though you’re buying higher quality food, you will saving money by not eating out! Check out more of my healthy cooking tips and recipe ideas here.
Start Eating the Paleo Way and Feel Good Again
Now that you understand more about the Paleo way of eating, you can use the list of foods to enjoy and sample meal plan to get started on using food as medicine to feel better and look better! You can enjoy food again because you know what foods nourish your body. Take back control of your health by planning what goes on your plate! Get ready to finally enjoy some food freedom!
If you are looking for a little more guidance to get started, I have a Paleo Meal Plan for Beginners. I give you a 5 day meal plan (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) with recipes and a grocery list to get you started.