The Humble Observer’s Beginner Guide to the Paleo Diet

by Dr. Christopher on February 28, 2011

Paleo Diet makes you feisty like this little one.

So … you’ve decided you want to lose weight, get healthier, look better, and feel happier?   Or maybe you want to cure yourself from the symptoms of arthritis, asthma, allergies, gastrointestinal discomfort and bloating, uncontrollable flatulence, acne, eczema, and lower the risk of nearly every chronic disease that is caused by inflammation, including diabetes, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis?

Congratulations to you!

The simple choice to desire health and lifestyle change is a huge first step, one that many people don’t clearly make.

Now, where to start?

Lifestyle change as significant as eating in a different manner than typical Americans do can be intimidating. 

Here are some tips I recommend to anyone who wants to give the Paleo Diet a try.

Remember what the Paleo Diet is!  (and isn’t!)

Dogs eat dog food.  Fish eat fish food.  Humans eat human food.  That’s why the Paleo Diet is also known as “The Human Diet.”

The Paleo Diet is eating foods that Homo sapiens have been eating since the paleolithic era.

Meat, chicken, fish, eggs … Fruits and Vegetables … Nuts and Seeds.

What isn’t it?

Grains (pasta, bread, oatmeal, rice), Dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt), or Processed Foods (there never was and never will be a Twinkie tree).

Understanding this central premise is key towards fitting foods in or out.

You Must Plan and Prepare!

You can’t wing the Paleo-diet because there are too many non-Paleo options that will be thrown in your face on a daily basis.

That’s where planning and preparation come in. 

From my own experience and that of individuals I’ve helped implement the diet, what foods you have accessible in your pantry and fridge is vital towards how effectively you follow the diet.

Time for an overhaul!

What’s out?

  • canola oil (no rapeseed for us!)
  • vegetable oil
  • soybean oil
  • corn oil
  • flour
  • pasta
  • bread
  • peanut butter (both peanuts and cashews are legumes, and therefore, not “Paleo”)
  • rice
  • soy
  • already made meals like Hamburger Helper or frozen foods

What’s in?

  • coconut oil
  • pure olive oil
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • coconut flour
  • almond meal
  • almond butter

Generally, vegetable and nut oils should be avoided.  It’s important to cook with an oil that won’t break down under high heats.  I do most of my cooking with coconut oil or low quality olive oil.  I use extra-virgin olive oil for dressing or after foods are thoroughly cooked.  According to Mark’s Daily Apple, palm, avocado, and macadamia oils are beneficial as well.

Your Staples

A common criticism of those who never give the Paleo Diet a try is: “I can’t eat like that.  You don’t even enjoy your food!”

I don’t?! 

I can’t eat a salad this big without enjoying it.  In fact, I love eating more than I can remember before the Paleo diet.

Starting off with meals that you know you’ll enjoy is important in your transition to eating more fruits and vegetables.

And spices are your new best friend.  How to Master the Art of Seasoning  (Note: Tim Ferris advocates the Slow-Carb Diet, which is essentially Paleo with beans added in.  If you were to eat mostly fruits and vegetables and eliminate grains and processed foods, I wouldn’t say that this diet is bad.)

Here is what my meals look like on a daily basis.  Variety is added when I make time to find a new recipe to prepare any crazy vegetables in my CSA box.

Breakfast 1: Vegetable Scramble

Patients don’t enjoy smelling Little Italy when getting treated.  So I save them the suffering of my cooking with garlic and onions until the weekends.  Ideally, I saute onions, garlic (and any other strong flavors you enjoy like basil or oregano), tomatoes, and coconut oil until the onions are translucent.  The spices and oils are important because your intent is to bring out the flavor.  I learned this at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Western Massachusetts.

Then, I add any vegetables that take longer to cook: carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, squash and cook until fork-tender.

Next, I add my greens that don’t take as long to cook: kale, swiss chard, spinach and mix through.

Finally, I add four eggs straight to the concoction and scramble.  Protein is important at every meal, but especially important for breakfast to keep you satiated throughout the day.

Don’t forget your spices!!  I’d also already have added sea salt, black pepper or red pepper, basil, oregano, cumin, parsley, and other spices that stroky my fancy.

Breakfast 2: Paleo Cereal

Combine walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries (one of the most heavily contaminated fruits, so get organic), bananas, cinnamon, and almond milk.  A good replacement for the Captain Crunch addicts.

Lunch: The Manliest Salad Ever (or left-overs)

Either, I make the Manliest Salad Ever, or I eat left-overs from the previously night.

Dinner: Vegetables + Protein

For dinner, I make the same sauteed vegetable concoction that I do in the mornings without the eggs.  For variety, I’ll add different vegetables or spices.  That’s the great thing about CSA shares; the vegetables are always different from week to week.

If I don’t saute the veggies, I’ll bake in a baking pan at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until fork-tender.

Then I’ll cook some free-range chicken, grass-fed beef, or wild-caught fish and there’s my meal.

Snacks: Fruits+ Nuts

My favorites include: apples, bananas, pears, oranges, plums, kiwis, walnuts, almonds, dates, raisins, and other dried fruits.

Almond butter and coconut flakes is a must for dessert cravings; it has saved me from many junk-food storms.

Understanding Your Psychology

1.  You will fall down.  Don’t fight it.  You will come home stressed out from work one day where your significant other may have discovered some cookies at work and you’ll go to town on them.  Or at a party, you might be confronted with a cheeseburger that has caught your eye.  Don’t fret.  Recognizing that you will fall will allow you to get back up quickly when you do.

2.  Remember the big picture. Don’t trade in what you want in the long run for what you want in the short run.  An occasional cookie or cheeseburger won’t hurt you.  Eat them 3 or 4 days a week and you start to lose the benefits of even trying. 

3.  A support system.  Doing it alone is brave, but not smart.  Engage the help of others close to you.  Family, friends, and work partners can give you a lift when one is needed.  Nonetheless, letting them know your intent to live a happier and healthier life by eating well can forewarn them not to shove your favorite non-Paleo food in your face.

4.  Measure it!  Weekly pictures, a journal of how you feel after meals or symptoms of disease, pictures of the actual meals you consume, how your clothes fit … All are effective strategies towards motivating you to continue.  Usually people notice in a manner of a week how “less wide” their abdomen looks in the mirror.

Other Resources

Let me know how I can help at cstepiendc [at] gmail [dot] com.

Beginner Guide to Paleo - great beginner guide put together by Nerd Fitness.

Mark’s Daily Apple - a large tribe of primal-living individuals who embrace eating paleo.

         The Primal Blueprint SHOPPING LIST

Robb Wolf - author of The Paleo Solution.

        Robb Wolf’s Book Resources (includes shopping list)

Everyday Paleo – plenty of paleo-friendly recipes.

Living Paleo - another resource for recipes.

Balanced Bites – and more recipes from a NJ native!

Paleo Food Directory – lists paleo-friendly foods and recipes.

Local Harvest – finding a CSA (community-sustained agriculture) farm near you.

Eat Wild – finding sources of grass-fed beef near you.

Purple Dragon Co-op – large organic co-op in New Jersey

Mini Mac Farm - where I get my meat from in New Jersey (extremely friendly people makes them easy to love supporting) 

Final Words

Before I began eating this way, I always thought a constantly-gross feeling after meals was normal. 

Then I started eating Paleo.

Only after I started eating foods that my body had evolved to eat did I realize that there was a whole another level of health that I had never imagined before.  When your mind can function clearly, through the fog, and your spirit is allowed to focus on your desires instead of stressing over your health, your happiness becomes abundant.

Take my word for it.

As much as you enjoy your pasta, bread, and cheese, you’ll enjoy the new found health you’ve discovered much more if you only give it a try.

Robb Wolf recommends a 30 day stint of strict Paleo to clean your system and adapt to the foods.  Then, you can start to add your old favorites if you wish to see how they make you feel after you’ve adapted to being healthy.

30 days to discovering your new self.

Do it.  And let me know how I can help you.

How has (or how will) eating Paleo change your life?

Dr. Christopher Stepien is a chiropractor, chronic pain specialist, and A.R.T. provider, and clinic director of the Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic in Morristown, NJ.  He practices out of Crossfit Morristown.

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Martinson February 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Awesome article Dr. Chris!

Katie Althans February 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I chickened out on your dare to go Paleo… however it did motivate me to start taking steps in the right direction (mostly convincing my hubby that he doesn’t need grains at every meal). I thank you for that! I found this in my quest for a glutten-free (my disease) non-cheating dessert. Thought you Paleo Junkies might enjoy it for a special occasion treat!

Wonderfully written as always Chris! Love keeping up with you!

Dr. Christopher February 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Holy Moly Kate! Thank you for that recipe. I might exchange honey for the sucanat and see how it turns out. It looks delicious though.

It makes me smile that you were able to start making changes. That’s all it takes, right? Take the first step, then baby steps after that in the right direction.

Appreciate your comment and stay well Kate! I’ll be in touch.

Terry March 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Hi Chris

But don’t both your cooking oil choices flavor the food? What am I supposed to use for a stir fry for example where I don’t want it tasting like olive oil or coconuts?

Dr. Christopher March 7, 2011 at 10:03 am

Yes, great point Terry. I’ve found that most people don’t mind, and actually, enjoy the taste of coconut oil. But one way I get around this when I don’t have oil is to steam in a cup of water, then add extra virgin olive oil later (if I want it at all).

Dr. Christopher March 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Thanks Mike! Hope you’re still crushing those workouts!

thomas madden March 30, 2011 at 11:51 am

great article Dr. Chris! Staying paleo in a college setting has been an extremely daunting task, but it is almost over! Cant wait to get some wods in with you sir!

Dr. Christopher March 31, 2011 at 11:46 am

Nice Tom! You’ve come a long way. I’m proud of you. We’ll be WODding together soon.

Paleo December 21, 2011 at 10:52 pm

cute picture!

Maria June 4, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Great post! I’ve been paleo for over 1 year now, and the benefits have really been amazing! I find that the longer you keep at it, the less you will crave those other things that your body was used to before. I’ve also replaced the regular grain flours with coconut flour or gluten-free flours since I’m gluten-sensitive, it makes great desserts!
Maria recently posted..Banana Coconut Flour Pancakes (Gluten-Free, Dairy Free)

Dr. Christopher June 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Good stuff Maria. That recipe looks delicious. I agree with the coconut or almond flours. I’ll have to try that one though!

Russell August 12, 2013 at 7:19 pm

Great intro to Paleo article! I’ve been working with some paleo safe bread mixes lately. Check out the latest paleo spice bread we came up with:

Dr. Christopher August 13, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Appreciate you Russell! That recipe looks amazing, I hope to try it sometime.

DaveNatural October 18, 2013 at 7:01 pm

I used the paleo diet to lose body fat and get more cut after bulking up for six months. It’s a very effective diet and probably the best diet to follow, I live by it.. no matter what your goals are, the paleo diet just makes you feel better.
DaveNatural recently posted..Men, Health and Low Estrogen? Short Analysis

Eczema-free diet March 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Very informative post! I’m not totally paleo, (I still eat some grains like rice and gluten-free bread) but I did go totally paleo for a while when trying to get rid of my chronic eczema. It helped a lot! I think the best thing is that it helps you be more aware of what you’re putting into your body, as opposed to mindless eating :) Btw, you should try coconut butter! It’s to die for!
Eczema-free diet recently posted..Dairy Free “Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream”

Dr. Christopher March 14, 2014 at 2:34 pm

I love your perspective. Yes, I still need to get into coconut butter! Thanks for commenting!

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