Paleo mistakes are pretty common when you’re new to eating this way, and it’s easy to fall into these pitfalls. The good news is that they’re relatively easy to avoid if you know they’re there. Does it guarantee perfection? Of course not, and perfection isn’t what you should be after if you’re trying to make a lifestyle change. Remember, Paleo isn’t just some fad diet that’s meant to be done for a week to fit into a swim suit!
Challenges are bound to come your way, but having some awareness of these five common Paleo mistakes will make your journey a less bumpy one! Having a solid foundation for your nutrition will take you far, and if you’re new to this whole grain-free, legume-free, dairy-free way of eating, I highly recommend signing up for my free five part Easy Paleo Quickstart Guide (find out more here.) In no particular order, here are the five common Paleo mistakes newbies make:
Paleo Mistake #1: Not Doing a 30 Day Elimination Period
When you’re eating grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods and tons of sugar, your gut is likely to be less healthy than it could be. To jump start the process of healing your gut, I highly recommend doing a 30 day elimination program where you take out potentially inflammatory foods…call it hitting the reset button if you will. That way, you’ll KNOW for sure if grains, legumes, dairy, etc. really affect how you look and feel.
I thought I was down with wheat until I took it out and realized it makes me feel terrible. Continuing to feed yourself foods that bug your body isn’t the way to optimize health. Once your thirty days is up, feel free to reintroduce and test foods to see if you can handle them. Need help planning your thirty days? Check out It Starts with Food for a detailed program of elimination and reintroduction.
Did you know that a large component of our immune system is located in the gut? We think of skin being our most important barrier between us and the real world of bacteria and viruses all around us, but in fact, the integrity and health of your gut lining (specifically your small intestine) says a lot about your overall wellness. Certain foods, like those that contain the protein gluten, mess with your gut, causing it to be permeable to things that don’t belong in the bloodstream. Over time, this causes system-wide inflammation. Not good.
People who eat Paleo (myself included) often get sick less than they used to. Chalk that up to better gut health. Some ways to improve gut health? Take out gut-irritating foods and consume foods with probiotics (that’s a fancy term for good bacteria), like sauerkraut, kombucha, fermented ginger carrots, kimchi, etc.
Paleo Mistake #2: Quitting After a Week
You need to give this time. There was a pretty famous article going around the Paleo community earlier this year about a woman who tried Paleo for a week, then wrote a huge expose about how it didn’t work for her.
Folks, it takes time to heal your gut. It takes time to find out how you need to adjust the Paleo template to your life and your needs (see #5). It takes time to figure out how to incorporate healthier eating as a way of life, not just a flash-in-the-pan crazy diet.
While the strictest form of Paleo won’t work for everyone – and heck Paleo might not end up being for you in the long run – give it some time before you make a judgment. One week is not enough time to feel the benefits of ANY diet.
Paleo Mistake #3: Worrying About Perfection
Remember, Paleo’s not a quick fix fad diet (despite what some media reports claim). It’s about finding a way to make the lifestyle and healthier changes stick. While I do recommend being strict for 30 days (see #1) and even doing Paleo challenges from time to time to hit the reset button, trying to be perfect all the time is exhausting and unrealistic. I try to eat according to my Paleo template as much as possible, but sometimes I have an indulgence (most of the time I’m reminded of why I don’t when my stomach starts to hurt), but I’m clear on the foods that make my gut ache because I’ve learned through experimentation.
Trying to be perfect all the time takes willpower and while it’s debated whether willpower is finite or not, one thing is clear: striving for perfection takes energy and can be exhausting. If you’ve ever dieted, constantly denying and depriving yourself, you know this full well. Strive daily to do your best but be willing to admit that at times you may not be perfect.
Paleo Mistake #4: Going All or Nothing with Food Quality
This is a concern I hear about a lot from readers: “Can I do Paleo even though I’m on a tight budget and can’t afford grass-fed meat and organic produce?”
The simple answer is yes, and the mistake newbies often make is ditching Paleo because their budget doesn’t allow for “all the best.” Trading in grain-fed steaks for pizza is not the best swap.
Paleo’s recently gotten this reputation of being only something the well-to-do can afford, and that’s absolute bollocks. Buy the best-quality food your wallet can manage but still keep the focus on meat and eggs, veggies and fruit and healthy fats. You’ll be doing dramatically better than going back to grains as the bottom of your food pyramid and filling in your diet with processed food.
- If buying grain-fed meats, stick to leaner cuts (sirloin instead of a ribeye steak, for example) and trim visible fat from meat before cooking.
- For produce, if you can afford some organic, go with the fruit and veggies you’d eat the skin of (apples instead of oranges, for example). Or check out the Dirty Dozen Plus™ list to see what’s best to avoid. If you can’t afford organic, don’t sweat it. Eat your veggies and fruit, and you’ll be doing much better than leaving them out.
- Buy meats in bulk when possible or seek out a cow / pig share in your local area.
- Limit Paleo baking since these ingredients are often very pricey.
Paleo Mistake #5: Not Eating Enough Carbs for Your Activity Level
I’m always yammering on about “knowing your context,” and this one is related. Yes, eating very low carb can work for some people (Want to read more about ketosis and how to get there? Click here to view more details.). For others, it’s disastrous.
If you’re active or athletic, eating Paleo-friendly, nutrient dense carbs mostly from starchy veggies is important especially from a post-workout recovery standpoint. You need topped off glycogen for your next training session. Yes, your body can generate its own glucose from fatty acids or amino acids (that process is called gluconeogenesis) but it’s not super efficient and places an added stress on your system. For athletes and hard-chargers, we don’t need that extra stress. If you’re very sedentary or trying to radically improve body composition, lower carb may be an option for you. (If you’re an athlete confused about carbs, stay tuned for my new book out in January…you can get a free preview here).
It all depends on who you are and your needs. Be aware. Pay attention to how you look and feel (and for athletes, performance). Remember, there is not exact Paleo template that fits everybody and every body.
Looking for someone to help you figure all this Paleo stuff out? I can help with that!
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What’s an easily avoidable mistake you made as a newbie that I didn’t include on my top 5 list?