Shifting to primal/paleo eating – part 2

In my first post about primal/paleo eating I gave a (very) brief overview of the principles of eating this way. In this one I will talk about the process I followed to make the change to my diet.

It’s worth pointing out that I wasn’t really planning to make this change when I started. Instead I wanted to solve other issues I was having like staying full after meals and low energy levels in the afternoon – it turned out that this was the best way of doing it.

It meant I went into it gradually, meal by meal, which is contrary to a lot of advice, but made for quite an easy transition. Hopefully it will be useful for other people thinking of making a similar change but that feel like it is too big a leap.

Change one – breakfast
Breakfast as I was growing up was always cereal and I carried that on as an adult. The trouble was that no matter how much I ate in the morning, I would find myself hungry again by 10am. And not just a bit peckish, a gnawing, light headed, ‘have to eat’ kind of hungry.

I used to solve this by simply eating again but a few months ago started to wonder if there was a better way – if I was getting that hungry so quickly after a meal, maybe there was something wrong with the meal?

Initially I tried muesli, oats and porridge but nothing changed (they are still cereals!). I then tried quiche and salad for a while, which was ‘just plain wrong’ according to my Dad, and that didn’t work either.

As I did more research and understood more about using fat for fuel I also read (I can’t remember where) that the first meal of the day dictates whether you continue burn fat following your overnight fast, or start to rely on a continued intake of carbs for fuel.

This sounded like it could be the answer so I switched to eggs for breakfast. Initially the mid-morning hunger was still there, but it was a different, more manageable feeling. I found I could ignore it quite easily and it would go away. After a few days it was gone altogether – winner!

Change two – lunch and snacks
I was intrigued. The idea of primal eating had always appealed and now I was starting to see the benefits for myself. I’d wake up, have my eggs, feel energised all morning, then eat sandwiches for lunch and promptly feel like I was about to fall asleep at my desk.

As the my experiment with a high fat/protein breakfast had been successful, I thought I’d try continue it through the day. I switched lunch to a salad with loads of meat and oily fish and cut out all sugary snacks.

The snacks were difficult at first as the people I work with are biscuit fiends. I resisted by always having some almonds in my desk and would snack on those whenever I was tempted. This was great as it meant I was never hungry and never felt like I was missing out.

After a few days I was not at all sleepy in the afternoons. I was amazed, doubly so as this this was just after having our new baby and my sleep was awful.

Change three – dinner
By this point my Wife had been seeing the effect this diet was having on me and had made similar changes herself.

There was really only one change left to make. To see such great results during the day only to eat a massive pasta dinner seemed ridiculous. Plus many of our favourite meals are some combination of meat, fish and vegetables.

That was it – the whole process took place over roughly six weeks. The great thing was that each decision was reinforced by its effects and the incremental nature of the changes made it easy to build, and keep, good habits.

It has been a bit of challenge to our food budget but we have found ways around it. There is an excellent farm shop not far from us that sells meat in bulk. Not only is the meat great quality, it’s also good value. Plus I get to say things like ‘we just bought quarter of a pig’, which is truly awesome.

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Shifting to primal/paleo eating – part 1

My family officially changed to primal eating a few weeks back. As an approach to eating it has always made a lot of sense to me. The final straw in making the change came from my wife as she is the primary food buyer and cook in our house. With two young kids the prospect of increased energy levels and a little fat loss was very appealing.

I’m going to write a couple of posts about it – this one will give a very basic overview of what primal/paleo eating involves, just in case someone stumbles across this post and hasn’t come across it before. In the second I’ll run through how I transitioned to the diet over a few weeks as I think it could be useful for someone who is also thinking about eating this way.

What does it mean to eat primally?
It is based on the idea that humans have not evolved to eat a vast number of foods that have become a large part of our diets since the introduction of agriculture. So, to remain healthy we should avoid those foods and aim to eat as closely as possible to how our ancestors did before large scale farming existed.

The hows and whys of this diet are covered in great detail elsewhere so I’m going to focus this post on the three main principles to follow – I’ve put some of my favourite resources at the bottom if you want more.

1) Cut out processed carbohydrate
Hey sugar, I’m looking at you here. You are everywhere, in everything and you are shitty for my body!

This one is difficult for me as I have a massive sweet tooth (I seriously love the cake). Sugar does lots of nasty stuff to you (go here for a scary list) but the must noticeable effect for me is to my energy levels.

The effect sugary treats had the couple of times I’ve had them since making this transition have been enough to make steer well clear since.

2) Cut out grains
No more pasta, rice, bread, quinoa, cous cous, cereals etc.

In addition to the grains themselves not being especially good for you, having them in your diet invariably leads to a pretty high intake of carbs. This makes your body over-reliant on carbs (sugar!) as a fuel and over time makes a mess of your body’s ability to regulate insulin. It is much more complex than that, but rather than repeat someone else’s good work I suggest you check out this Mark’s Daily Apple post for more. Or buy his great book.

Eat more fresh meat, fish and vegetables
This really follows on from the last two – if you’ve taken things out of your diet, you’re going to need to add some stuff in to fill the gap.

The end result is a diet higher in fat and protein but much with much lower levels of carbs. That’s not to say that we are not eating carbs at all. We still have plenty of root vegetables, fruit etc but the total volumes of carbs is far lower than if our diet consisted largely of pasta or bread.

Over time your body learns to use fat as its primary fuel rather than relying on a steady intake of carbohydrate. The is where people’s weight loss results come in as your body will use excess body fat as a fuel source.

Is that it?
Yes, kinda. You can make it more detailed and complex if you want to but by making these three changes you will probably see great results.

Some parts are not easy though, your friends and family may have trouble getting their head around it if they prescribe to the fat = bad philosophy (teach them otherwise!).

Plus buying food on the go is tough – as I mentioned earlier, sugar is everywhere.

Useful resources
Mark’s Daily Apple
Robb Wolf