Cornerstone Paleo Diet Rules and 7 Keys for Success
Have you heard about Paleo and wondered what the heck this “caveman” diet is?
Maybe you have looked it up multiple times, only to find a million and one definitions of what is accepted as being Paleo.
Or maybe you thought, “No cheese? No way.”
If you’ve done some reading or had a few conversations with others about it, you probably heard it defined as the diet “eaten by hunters and gatherers.”
Don’t worry…we understand the confusion and have organized this post to help clear the air about what Paleo diet rules and concepts. So let’s dig in and see how it may or may not fit your individual nutritional needs.
What is Paleo?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no distinct definition of Paleo, which is why you will see contradicting information.
In short, Paleo reflects a particularly holistic lifestyle, which is a very healthy one, to say the least. Exercise and mindset are a huge component of the Paleo lifestyle, as well as the diet.
What does the diet include? Well…the Paleo diet is explained to be one that’s uncompromised by agriculture. It’s whole, unprocessed foods, fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, and free-range poultry. Dr. Loren Cordain, founder, and advocate of the Paleo diet explains the diet to be lean meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no added sugar.
Is Paleo a good fit for me?
Before making any rash decisions to start Paleo, or really any diet for that matter, ask yourself, will this be a good fit for me? Although we recommend a whole foods approach to nutrition for all people, there are particular restrictions while following Paleo that may benefit your body.
Food sensitivity: Do you feel like you’re drifting further and further away from your youthful years? All the sudden, the days of feeling healthy, fit, and alive seem like a distant past.
Maybe throughout the years, you have developed a need to eliminate grains from your diet because of food sensitivity. Unfortunately, our conventional methods of agriculture and the standard American diet have begun to literally change the microbiome of individuals.
Why does this matter? Food sensitivities are results of these changes in what humans eat, which are revealed through feelings of fatigue, pain, and discomfort. If this sounds like you, refraining from grains while on the Paleo diet might be what gets you feeling good like a spring chicken again!
Side note: Are you confused about the difference between a food sensitivity, food intolerance, and food allergy? Read our post about the differences here.
Paleo Diet Rules
Here come the guidelines… get ready to feel amazing!
The main idea with eating Paleo is that you’re eating real, whole unprocessed foods. If the item has is manufactured, changed, or in any way put together by a human being, it is not a Paleo-approved choice.
If you’re used to grains, beans, and in general lots of packaged foods, the Paleo diet might take some adjusting to. Here’s a good template to follow to make sure you’re hitting the food groups you need.
- Tons of veggies…probably half of your plate
- Serving of starch
- Serving of animal protein
- Some healthy fat like olive oil or avocado
What is acceptable and what’s not (*This list is not all-encompassing; it’s just to get you started!)
Veggies: lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots,
Fruits: apple, banana, watermelon, berries, cantaloupe, orange, kiwi, grapes
Starch: sweet potatoes, squash, plantains, legumes, pumpkin
Animal Protein: chicken, eggs, turkey, pork, tuna, salmon, lean beef, lean steak
Healthy fats: walnuts, almonds, butter, seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil
An ideal Paleo diet day may look like this:
- Omelette – pepper, onion, or your favorite veggies, 2 eggs, 1-2 eggs whites for added protein, with sliced avocado on top
- Banana with almond butter
- Black coffee (don’t knock it till you try it!)
- Salad – fill a large bowl with romaine or mixed greens, sliced cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, canned tuna, drizzled with oil and vinegar dressing
- A handful of almonds or cashews
- Piece of fruit
- Cut up carrots and celery dipped in mustard
- Spaghetti Squash and tomato sauce: fill a bowl with cooked spaghetti sauce and top with tomato sauce and cooked turkey meatballs
- Steamed broccoli
- Side salad: olives, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, lemon and olive oil vinaigrette dressing
It’s important to get the recommended protein intake, especially if you’re an athlete. As many athletes know, your post workout shake is crucial for recovery! It is still possible to do this, even when following an elimination diet such as the Paleo diet. Now, Slurping down 3 loaded protein shakes and 12 eggs to “up your gains” is not necessarily your answer! Check out our posts on recommended protein intake for athletes, essential post workout shake ingredients, and best post workout shake to get all the info you need about your post workout needs!
I’m told I can lose weight…
You may have heard that the Paleo diet is perfect to be your next weight loss plan as an athlete. This diet has become widely accepted by the CrossFit industry that is sweeping the world, as well as other areas of sports performance. Medical professionals have also taken an interest in this diet for its profound impact on resolving disease, asthma symptoms, allergies, eczema, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc. throughout the world.
The reason this diet has been shown to help people lose weight is really very simple. You’re eating real, fresh food that hasn’t been injected with chemicals or loaded with sugar. The nutrients you take will have a direct impact on all the “big players” in your body to optimally function better. Aka the quality of your food will quite literally change your hormonal and metabolic reactions that have caused the weight gain in the past.
You may have heard that this diet is low in carbohydrates. Well, this may or may not be true depending on what you’re choosing to eat. If you’re pounding sweet potatoes multiple times throughout the day, you’re not eating low carb…The average person consumes more carbohydrates than their body needs, resulting in sugar being stored as fat in your body…which we know is going to cause your pant size to increase.
How to be Successful with the Paleo Diet
- Food Preparation: Prepping food at the beginning of the week is essential to a successful Paleo lifestyle.
Think realistically about what your day looks and feels like. If you already know you arrive home tired at 7:30 pm (especially if you have continued responsibilities such as other human beings), avoid putting yourself in a position to think, “That’s it! Uber Eats it is!” We like to use glass containers with BPA free lids such as these to prep and refrigerate or freeze many of our meals. If you’re used to frequent fast food stops or frozen dinners, considering reading our article about weight loss on a budget, where you’ll find additional meal prep tips.
- Eat well-balanced meals: Cutting out any single food group is a no-go. Eating too much of anything, even veggies, is not going to be sustainable. Make sure to include an animal protein, little bit of starch, fruit/veggie, and healthy fat at every meal. This will ensure that you’re getting in all necessary nutrients
- You eat what you buy: Avoid purchasing food that will tempt you! If you purchase Oreo-flavored Klondike bars, you will eat them. The more goodies you buy, the more likely you are to stray from your goals. Stock up on the good stuff and then that’s all you’ll eat!
- Clear out the kitchen: Before beginning Paleo, get rid of any old, processed, or packaged food. You will set yourself up for success by clearing out the fridge and pantry with any food that is not Paleo-friendly.
- Switch things up: Some people can eat salads for days. If you’re hitting all necessary food groups this way, go for it! However, switch up your veggies, fruit, and protein when you feel yourself getting bored.
- Use your resources: There is lots of information out there about how to follow a healthy and sustainable Paleo lifestyle. You may feel limited by not eating grains or processed foods, but the variety of foods available may surprise you. Check out Paleo Leap for lots of recipe ideas!
- Bring someone in for the ride: Consider inviting your best friend, spouse, child, or respected family member over to help you clear out the cabinets or go grocery shopping. Knowing someone is in your corner makes a difference.
Pros and Cons of a Paleo Diet
Whole foods = less inflammation: Foods like fruit, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood aren’t injected with chemicals and foreign ingredients that often result in inflammation. Less inflammation also means your immune system can work on maintenance and repair around your body. Especially for athletes, the less inflammation…the better!
Effect on disease: The Paleo diet has been widely accepted because of its effect on improving chronic disease, autoimmune disease, and other metabolic conditions. There are minimal diseases that will not respond positively to this style of eating. When carried out with fidelity, the results can be life-changing.
Optimizing overall health: Refined sugar, grains, dairy, and processed foods make up a majority of people’s diet…so imagine eliminating the negative health effects that come at the cost of eating this way. The Paleo diet can improve overall health conditions.
Save money: The Paleo diet includes whole, fresh foods. You might be under the impression that eating this way is very expensive. Don’t worry! It is completely possible to eat fresh, healthy, unprocessed food without blowing your budget. If you haven’t read our post about weight loss on a budget, go check it out! You’ll find great information about how to eat fresh food in a very affordable way!
What are your fitness goals? Depending on your goals and type of activity, eating Paleo might not be a safe or sustainable diet for your lifestyle. For example, ultra-endurance or elite performance athletes who are burning hundreds of calories throughout their training would not benefit from the Paleo diet. The nature of these sports requires high amounts of carbohydrate in order to sustain energy and work capacity.
Paleo is restrictive: Paleo does not cut out carbohydrates, (that’s pretty much always a bad idea), but there are limited sources of high carbohydrate foods when following Paleo that you’re probably used to eating. For this reason, it is going to be essential to get creative with the foods you can eat.
Can I cheat?
Maybe food is your vice, maybe it’s not. However, our psychological relationship with food plays a BIG role in the quality of our choices. Do you ever look forward to an event with friends because of all the free food choices you know will be available? Do you tend to eat impulsively rather than on purpose? Maybe a feeling of guilt follows, snowballing in other vices.
Think about the freedom that could come from treating food as you fuel, rather than just your fun. No more dependency. No more guilt.
However, a person will not wake up after three days of clean eating with bright eyes, a beach body, and sparkling skin. The ability to deliberately and intentionally enjoy just one glass of red wine as a reward for your hard work will require some patience. This is a process, and the process will require some time for detox.
Knowing your whiskey, cheese, and Oreos are always an option on the back burner makes it unlikely to achieve true freedom. Of course, you do have the ability to eat them, but chemically speaking, you must truly step away for some time.
Just like any other commitment or initial period of starting something, 100% commitment is what you need to build routine and habit.
With that said… it would be illogical to expect a someone to seamlessly solve a Trigonometry problem who is struggling to identify basic shapes…So in preparation for your Paleo lifestyle, begin with a few small changes.
1) Increase your water intake, buy a reusable water bottle
2) Don’t go back for round #2 of birthday cake, pizza, etc.
3) Replace one poor food choice daily with a positive one, preferably a Paleo diet friendly one. (My top tip- Do you want to stop for a $1 Diet Coke from the McDonald’s drive-thru? Replace it with a flavored sparkling water such as those made by LaCroix, Dasani, or Simply Balanced)
From there, you are revving yourself up for success in following the Paleo diet rules. Consider setting a date up until which you will implement Paleo with complete honesty. The lack of craving at the end of that period will most likely surprise you. At that point, you can make decisions about non-Paleo foods thinking, “I would really enjoy this homemade piece of cake for Mom’s birthday” versus “I NEED to have this right now.”
Are you ready?
Phew! See? These changes are much more than recreating a caveman’s menu. Hopefully, it is clear now that eating Paleo is not simply about upping protein to and may allow you to accomplish greater things than just looking more shredded or losing weight for that summer wedding. Your happiness and lasting health are worth this change. Breathe! Prepare your mind and kitchen. And commit to fueling your body with the tools needed to truly come alive.