Starting the “It’s Not a Diet” Change

Okay, maybe it’s a diet in the most scientific use of the word. It’s the word you look up when you find a baby bird and need to know how to feed it. What is the bird’s diet? In the world of Paleo, diet falls under that same heading. This is the way our ancestors ate. They weren’t trying to lose weight, they were trying to survive, and they did it with the resources they had. When we talk about primal and Paleo diets, we’re taking the idea of the original diet all the way back to the cavemen. Yes, their diet would differ by region and resources, but the idea is still the same. Paleo is not a diet in the modern sense of the term. It is a lifestyle, and it can be very hard to change lifestyles.

Start Slow

When I was first told I needed to adopt a Paleo diet for my osteoarthritis, I went whole hog even though I didn’t know, really, what I was getting into. I thought it would be easy. After all, I had already dropped (or mostly dropped) two of the three Paleo restrictions. I am allergic to lactose, so I had already stopped drinking milk, and I had stopped buying bread when I lived in a shelter because I didn’t have a place to hide if from my hyperactive kitten who loved crinkly bags and would tear open my bread bags. Certainly I could just drop the refined sugar, and I would be on my way to a healthier, pain-free me. I didn’t bother reading anything about the lifestyle. I totally had this.

Except I didn’t. Inside of two weeks, I was miserable. I had no energy. I learned that bread-free and grain-free are two different things. I learned that, as a nation, we put grain and cheese on, literally, everything. And we put sugar even in things that don’t need sugar. I couldn’t figure out where my energy was supposed to come from. And, while I understood that I was supposed to be making a lifestyle change, I was treating it like a diet.

Forget Low Fat

One of the hallmarks of the American weight loss diet is low-fat food. It is so ingrained in our thinking, that the minute we suggest a change in the way we eat we subconsciously start thinking of ways to cut the fat. I was no exception. When I followed up with my doctor and told her the problems I was having, particularly with energy, she had me give a rundown of what I was eating. I explained everything from drinking water to eating salads to trimming fat. She stopped me there and asked why I was trimming the fat from meat. What she told me next changed the course of my diet (ahem…lifestyle change.).

“Do you really think the cavemen trimmed their steaks before they ate them”

I was essentially trimming the energy I needed from my food and throwing it away. Then I spent the days complaining that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I don’t trim my meat. I eat bacon. I don’t limit myself to egg whites. And, while Paleo is a non-dairy diet, I do cook in butter (I did mention only practically Paleo, right?).

Stop Drinking Your Calories

This is actually a big one, and certainly was for me. I drank a lot of soda. I drank a lot of Starbucks. I drank a lot of juices. Now, unless the drink is a very specific part of my meal, I only drink water, black coffee or tea. While that doesn’t seem all that interesting, that’s just my day-to-day hydration. There are times that I will forgo a piece of fruit for a smoothie or cup of juice. Once in a while, I’ll decide to spoil myself with a non-fat latte. Or, if I feel like I want a soda, I’ll grab and Izze (Check out what I have to say about those here.) Honestly, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

Stop Counting Calories

Stop. Just don’t. And stop measuring things unless you’re making a specific recipe. Eat when you’re hungry, just make sure it’s not dairy, grain or sugar. When I get up and have breakfast, it goes something like this:

“I’m hungry, what’s to eat? I’ll have a couple of eggs, and look! Bacon! I’ll have a few strips of that. I think I’ll sauté some zuchini and have an orange, too.”

I’ll cook that all and have a cup of coffee with it. How much do I eat? As much as it takes for me to not be hungry. Some mornings that’s a breakfast steak, a sweet potato, two eggs and a banana. Other days it’s a hard-boiled egg and a tangerine. Some days I won’t have lunch until nearly 2 p.m., other days I’ll be snacking all day on fruit, nuts, veggies and beef jerky. There is no specified time to eat. There are no hard and fast rules. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t. It’s as easy as that.

Baby Steps

No lifestyle change is going to work if you stop the old one cold turkey and make an abrupt change. Don’t throw out the dairy, grain and sugar and expect to suddenly be Paleo. You’ll be setting yourself up to fail. Years of habits can’t be broken overnight There needs to be creation of entirely new habits and that takes time, 30 days, according to some experts. Start slowly and feel yourself out. How is this lifestyle going to work best for you. If you are someone that just HAS to have hard and fast rules, take those 30 days to make those rules that you want to stick to. There’s no need for detoxes or cleanses to start. Just slowly replace processed foods with clean foods. Slowly change habit into better habits. Making a decision is one thing. Implementing it can be a whole different animal. Don’t just grab it by the horns. It’s easier to sneak up on it first.

Author: Kelli Heitstuman-Tomko

Kelli Heitstuman-Tomko has a degree in journalism and is a published novelist. She has written on food, agriculture, business, crime and tourism. She has lived in Idaho, New Hampshire, Florida, Wyoming and Colorado. She currently resides in Fallon, Nevada.

6 thoughts on “Starting the “It’s Not a Diet” Change”

  1. Hi Kelli,
    Thank your for this article on the Paleo lifestyle.

    It is very timely for me. I am struggling with over weight and consuming too much starch and sugar. I di a good job of losing 14 pounds in the spring of this year only to gain back 20. So it is clear I need to do something different.

    Thank you again, the post will be helpful to me and a couple other family members.

    V. Pearl

  2. I actually love the principles of the paleo diet – I currently follow something similar in my day to day life. I don’t follow-up exactly (I’ll admit I have sugar from time to time), but the majority of my diet is whole, unprocessed foods. So much more energy when you eat this way! Love this article, thanks for sharing!

    1. Will, thanks for the chiming in. Yeah, I will be the first to admit that I have my occasional sugars (more than occasional right now, damn holidays!), but I usually fall right back into my paleo pretty quickly. I love how I feel eating clean.

  3. Hi Kelli,

    Great advice. I really like that you advise people to begin the paleo diet slowly. All over the internet, I see people saying how it’s all or nothing with many of these diets, particularly the paleo diet. The very rare person has the ability to completely change their diet overnight and stick with it but most don’t. It takes baby steps to get your body (and mind) used to the diet. The paleo diet is very interesting to me and I generally try to follow it with varying levels of strictness. I have a really difficult time when it comes to cutting out the non-paleo carbs like bread. Have your energy levels improved since starting the diet?

    1. Absolutely. I have always been high energy, so when I was losing that, I was a bit frustrated. The secret for me was all in the animal fat, and, once I put that into my “diet,” I stopped having those problems. And I’m talking almost immediately. It was a week from the time I’d almost given up completely to having almost energy I’d had before I needed to start making the changes. And it stays with me. I’ll cop to be a little off plan right now (I’ve been living in a hotel and sometimes it’s just easier to order a pizza than eat the way I should), but at least two of my meals stay paleo-ish, and I still feel really well.

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