You may have the best of intentions. You understand the benefits of the Paleo diet, eating the way our bodies evolved to eat before humans started farming (lots of lean protein, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, no processed foods or sugar, no dairy or grains). You want to make this diet part of your lifestyle. And if you’re someone who routinely makes breakfast each morning, has time to eat lunch in the office each day and is home by 6 each night, consider yourself lucky. Incorporating Paleo foods into your daily routine shouldn’t be too hard.
But those of you in the “my week is full of meetings, traveling and dining out, and the last thing I have is time” camp, the transition could be a bit more challenging. Good thing we CrossFitters were born to embrace challenges. Even the busiest of us can conquer the transition to Paleo if equipped with the right tools: motivation, preparation and allocation, and information. These tips should help you gain those tools.
Preparation and Allocation
As with all things, motivation is the starting point. Unfortunately, all the tips in the world won’t help you find it — you either have it or you don’t. But once you’ve lined up the motivation, you need to get familiar with allocation and preparation. Just about any hurdle can be avoided if you have a well-thought-out strategy in place.
Plan Your Week
Let’s face it: You almost certainly have more time than you think. Commit to spending a bit of it every Sunday looking at the coming week. Use this time to do the following:
- Make a list of all that needs to get done in the upcoming week, including meal preparation, and allocate tasks to each day based on your work schedule and social engagements.
- Plan the week’s menu. Having a preplanned menu means that all the guesswork is taken out of your meals, and that can mean the difference between adhering to Paleo’s rules and slipping up and slamming down a donut on the way home one night.
- With your menu in place, it should be easy to jot down a shopping list and figure out when you can hit the grocery store to stock up.
Assign a Prep Day (or Two)
Our forebears didn’t have microwave ovens, and there weren’t many drive-thrus back on the ice age plains. That means that if you want to eat like a caveman, you’re going to have to chop and cook like a caveman. Allocating time for meal preparation is critical for making a smooth and successful transition to Paleo. Picking a prep day will depend heavily on your work schedule. Maybe Sunday is the day of the week when you finally get a little breathing room, maybe a few hours to sit on the couch and enjoy some downtime. Or maybe you want to split the prep between Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Regardless, assign yourself a chunk (or chunks) of time to prepare breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Get something tasty brewing in the slow cooker (e.g., Paleo chili) for a quick meal option on busy nights.
- Precook chicken (e.g., grill drumsticks or thighs) for a quick go-to protein fix during the week.
- Pan-fry peeled and sliced sweet potatoes in coconut oil to add a little extra something special to your breakfast. Or store them as a quick postworkout finger food.
- Cut up a variety of fresh veggies (e.g., zucchini, bell peppers, broccoli), saute them in coconut oil and store them in the fridge as a pre-made veggie accompaniment to any meal.
- Hard-boil eggs and precook bacon or sausage for easy breakfasts.
Let Kitchen Gadgets Help
Paleo is about eatingthe way our ancient ancestors did, not living like them. So even though they didn’t benefit from electricity or the Williams-Sonoma catalog, that doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself of some culinary assistance.
- Food Processor: Are you a fan of almond butter or vinaigrettes? Using a food processor to make your own nut butters, dressings, marinades, sauces and condiments ensures that they contain only the ingredients you intend — no additives, preservatives or extraneous chemicals of any kind.
- Slow Cooker: Wouldn’t it be great to come home after a long day to a delicious Paleo dinner in the oven? Invest in a slow cooker and make it happen. Slow cookers are inexpensive, will accept whatever ingredients you throw in them and will happily cook your food all by themselves while you take care of other obligations.
- Meat Tenderizer: Purchase this tool and you’ll never look at chicken breast the same way. Pound out the chicken and use it in place of a pizza crust. Or roll your favorite ingredients up in the chicken and bake for a fun stuffed-chicken twist.
- Food Dehydrator: Sick of all the crap ingredients ruining what could otherwise be healthy dried fruit or Paleo-friendly beef jerky? Well, there’s a solution: Make your own. Get the dehydrator going on your prep day or even let it work while you sleep at night. The delicious results (e.g., grass-fed beef jerky, banana chips) are worth it.
Organize Your Go-To Items
We are all human. We all experience momentary lapses of conviction and succumb to cravings. The good news is that if we are aware of these situations, we can plan for them. Once again: Preparation is crucial when it comes to a successful transition to Paleo/primal eating. With a little preparation, you can reduce the risk that you’ll cheat either when starving, dying for a sugar fix or just running out the door. On your “prep day,” do the following:
- Clean and cut up one to two bunches of celery and store the sticks in the refrigerator as a partner for your favorite nut butter.
- Clean and cut up some of your favorite veggies (e.g., carrots, bell peppers, broccoli) and store in the refrigerator.
- Buy several bags of frozen veggies. These are great when you’re in a time crunch because you can just pop the bag in the microwave, drizzle with some olive oil and enjoy a quick source of nutrients. Even if you don’t own a microwave, frozen veggies can easily be cooked on the stove top and still offer a quicker option because they’re already cut up (e.g., broccoli pieces rather than broccoli crowns, mixed sliced peppers and onions versus whole bell peppers and onions).
- Make a batch of Paleo muffins, cupcakes, pancakes or brownies. Keep these around for those times when you know you’ll be tempted at work. Pass on the slice of cake and avoid the upset stomach and sugar crash by indulging in your Paleo brownie instead. Having Paleo-friendly goodies available is also handy after those rough days when all you want is something sweet while you sip on a glass of red wine.
- Buy two to three bags of your favorite raw nuts, a bag of your favorite dried (no sugar or vegetable oils added) berries and a bag of dark chocolate chips (containing 70 percent or greater cocoa). Mix these together to create your own healthy trail mix to appease those occasional sweet-tooth cravings. If you’re really dying for a “sugar” fix that is semi-Paleo-friendly, turn your trail mix into bark. Melt dark chocolate chips, throw in a tablespoon of coconut oil and a handful of your trail mix, and spread the mixture on a sheet of parchment paper. Place the whole thing in the freezer until it solidifies, then break it into pieces and store in the refrigerator for occasional snacking.
- Purchase packets of nut butters and/or coconut butters and store them in your car, work desk and purse/backpack so you’re armed to mitigate cravings whenever and wherever they attack.
- If you know you’re going to be on the road, do your research ahead of time to find out what’s nearby. You could skip having to eat the insides out of a convenience-store sandwich if you know there’s a Chipotle a couple miles away. If you’re really in a time crunch, you could opt for a protein-style, lettuce-wrapped burger or sandwich available at many fast-food joints. Bottom line: Know what’s around, know what they offer and plan accordingly.
The details here should carry you through a normal week. But we’re willing to bet that you’re not going to be eating in the safety of your own kitchen every night and that there will be times when your will is weak. Enter the information that will help carry you through momentary confusion and lapses in strength.
One of the major tricks to successfully transitioning to the Paleo/primal diet is substitution. Become a scientist and make the kitchen your laboratory. With a little effort, you will start to find Paleo versions of your favorite Standard American Diet foods. Do you love pasta? Throw a spaghetti squash in your shopping cart next time you visit the grocery store. Can’t fathom life without your morning “Light & Fit” yogurt? Try swapping the “light” stuff that’s artificially sweetened and full of ingredients you can’t pronounce for full-fat yogurt from grass-fed animals. So what else should a Paleo convert do?
- Eat produce in season. This way of eating breeds variety and will keep a little extra dough — the money kind, not the grain kind — in your pocket.
- Eat tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews), not peanuts.
- Eat nut butter with celery, not peanut butter with crackers.
- Eat olive oil on salads, not store-bought, vegetable/soybean oil-based dressings.
- Eat hot sauce, salsa or guacamole with your eggs, not ketchup.
- Eat mashed cauliflower, butternut squash and sweet potatoes, not mashed potatoes.
- Bake with coconut flour, not wheat flour.
- Drink coconut water, not Gatorade.
- Drink a coconut milk and fresh/frozen fruit smoothie, not a “globo gym” smoothie made from a pre-made artificial fruit/cream mix.
- Eat nutritious cauliflower rice, not carbohydrate-loaded grain rice.
- Eat lettuce-wrapped burgers with avocado or guacamole, not grain-wrapped burgers with high-fructose-corn-syrup-full ketchup or vegetable oil-laden mayonnaise.
A dinner out has killed many a diet. But Paleo is different. With the right information, you can successfully join friends at your favorite local joint and not worry about torpedoing your Paleo plan.
- Take the initiative and pick the restaurant yourself. That way you can pick the spots with the most Paleo-friendly menu options. Keep your eyes peeled for restaurants with fresh, local ingredients. Several spots are even beginning to incorporate grass-fed meat, wild seafood and gluten-free options into their menus.
- The next step (after making the reservation) is to plan your meal. Look at the menu online, if possible, and stick with lean meats and veggies and avoid fried foods.
- Be prepared to ask the following questions:
- Could you please cook my meal in butter instead of vegetable oil?
- Could I have my chicken breast grilled instead of breaded and fried/sauteed?
- Could I please have double veggies instead of potatoes?
- Would it be possible to have my meal served over salad greens or sauteed spinach instead of rice/pasta?
- Could I please have extra bacon and/or fruit instead of the toast and/or hash browns?