Making the transition to Paleo can be tough. The internet is full of horror stories (I had no energy! I was spending all my time in the kitchen! Constant headaches!) and equally full of blithe reassurances (Everything was fine! It’s just detox! I felt better right away!)
The reality is that everyone’s transition is different. The most important thing is to use a method that works for you.
In case you need a refresher, here’s what you’re getting into:
What to Eat
Here is a complete Paleo food list. In general, you will be eating…
Meat (all kinds), fish (all kinds), and eggs.
Vegetables (all kinds). Note that corn is not a vegetable. Corn is a grain, and it isn’t Paleo.
Fruits (all kinds, but not fruit juice).
Healthy fats: the big players are olive oil, coconut oil, and animal fat (lard, butter, duck fat, etc.)
Spices and herbs (all kinds)
Nuts, in small amounts. Note that peanuts are not nuts. Peanuts aren’t Paleo.
What Not to Eat
Here is the list of non-Paleo foods to avoid:
Grains, including wheat, rice, corn, barley, etc.
Legumes, including soy, lentils, peanuts, and beans (lima beans, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, etc.)
Industrial oils: canola oil, soybean oil, “vegetable oil,” peanut oil, cottonseed oil, etc.
Note that “evaporated cane juice” is a code name for sugar.
How Much to Eat
Here’s an infographic showing how to build a Paleo meal, and here is an explanation of how it works, and why you don’t need to count calories if you use it. Try that out as a starting point and customize it to your own needs.
Don’t get caught up in paralysis by analysis. You don’t need to know everything before you start. It’s OK if you mess up at the beginning.
Transitioning to Paleo forces you to take on two challenges at the same time:
1. Absorbing a huge amount of information about nutrition, a lot of which is counterintuitive.
2. Making dramatic habit changes that initially require a lot of planning, willpower, and energy.
Minimize #1 for now so you can focus on #2. Once Paleo eating is automatic (a few weeks to a few months), then you’ll have spare energy to worry about the details.
The Nuts and Bolts: Finding a Transition Strategy that Works for You
The transition process is a little different for everyone, and the most important thing is to find something that works for you. Answer the questions below to see specific recommendations targeted to your life.
Answer the questions below to see customized strategies for switching to Paleo.
How do you prefer to make changes in your life?
I like to go slowly, and focus on one small change at a time. If I try to make big changes I get overwhelmed and can’t keep it up.
I like to rip off the Band-aid and make big, dramatic changes. It’s motivating!
Do you live alone?
No, and my whole household is switching to Paleo.
No, and I’m the only one in the house switching to Paleo.
Are you trying to lose weight with Paleo?
No; I’m happy with my weight.
No; I’m trying to GAIN weight.
Are you planning to do any challenging exercise while eating Paleo? (For the purposes of this question, “challenging” is anything that makes you break a sweat).
Are you on a special diet right now?
Low-carb but not Paleo (e.g. Atkins or similar)
There’s a lot of misinformation about transitioning and detox, and the detox period during the transition.
Many people feel just fine during the transition. But some people get physical symptoms ranging from headaches to digestive problems to exhaustion. This is probably not detox.
Large weight losses can indeed release toxins stored in fat tissue. That’s a scientifically documented thing. But this won’t start immediately, because it’s directly proportional to the amount of fat tissue lost. If you see a very rapid 5-10 pound loss, it’s almost certainly water and won’t contain these toxins. If you’re experiencing detox symptoms from this process, the symptoms will slowly start appearing and continue at a relatively constant rate throughout the loss.
If you start feeling awful during the transition, there are several much more likely causes than detox:
*You’re feeling weak, dizzy, or low in energy: it’s very likely to be not enough food, and/or a sudden reduction in carbs. Try eating more and see if it helps.
*You’re getting weird rashes: some people have bad reactions to suddenly adding a lot of coconut products. If you’ve dramatically increased your consumption of some other food, that might also be it. Don’t assume it’s “detox.”
*You’re having digestive symptoms (diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, etc.): suddenly adding a lot of vegetables can do that. Here’s how to make them easier on your stomach.
…and the most important thing: if you’re having serious side effects, go to a doctor. Don’t put it down to “detox” and try to power through. It might be a very real problem.
Helpful Cooking and Meal Prep Links for Beginners
This post has a quick overview of some common beginner cooking/meal prep challenges, and how to solve them. (It also has some information about the Paleo Basics challenge, which isn’t necessary to transition to Paleo, but it might be helpful!)
P.S. Have a look at Paleo Restart, our 30-day program. It has the tools to let you reset your body, lose weight and start feeling great.
+ Paleo Leap Tribe is now also available. It’s a set of tools that we’ve built to make Paleo work for you. It has a meal plan generator, a weight loss tracker & tons of visual cheat sheets.