Paleo – A Beginner’s Guide

Paleo veggie bakeGriddled aubergine and courgette layered with a quick tomato sauce (onion, garlic, tomato, oregano) and mozzarella = super quick veggie bake. 

My track record with diets really isn’t great. I think it’s my short attention span and is also what I blame for why I’m not very good at online dating – apart from Tinder which I see as man shopping with the added frisson of coming across someone I know (should I say here’s hoping? *chortle*).

I lasted a mere 2 weeks on the 5:2 diet; the extreme hunger on those two days made me extremely angry, something I don’t like to deal with alongside the extreme tiredness of you know, day-to-day life with two small kids. So I gave up on diets and joined the gym.

Let me to segue off to say this: I freaking love the gym but having wasted money on multiple unused gym memberships in my lifetime this is a very weird feeling. It must be the endorphins or something but I look forward to the sweating, getting puffed out and the red face. An hour at the gym always feels like such an accomplishment and I look forward to my workouts. WEIRDO.

Anyway, after starting at the gym I became hyper aware of the food I was putting into my body. Our bodies are like cars, right? We wouldn’t think of putting petrol in a diesel car (unless you’re my mum ;) so I wondered, why was I continuing to feed my body with fuel that it doesn’t process well? My food troubles mainly originate with wheat and stodgy carbohydrates – they exacerbate my mum tum which I’ve been desperate to get rid of – so it made sense to eliminate these from my daily diet.

Paleo aubergine and feta salad

Baked aubergines, quick salsa verde, feta and salad. 

Just as I was having these thoughts I came across the Paleo diet. Harking back to the caveman days, this is a diet that focuses on grass-fed meats, seafood, organic fruits and veg, eggs, nuts and seeds. You eliminate everything else: wheat (bye bye bread and pasta!), sugar, anything processed, dairy, legumes (beans, lentils etc) and focus on clean, freshly made meals. It was Google’s most searched diet in 2013 and by many is seen as more of a lifestyle change; it seems to be very popular in Crossfit circles. So I decided to give it a go and two months in am still going strong.

There are lots of ‘Paleo Purists’ out there who might say I’m not sticking to the diet as I should; I’m still eating dairy (but in fairly limited amounts) and I allow myself to eat whatever the hell I like 20% of the time. Eating out would be a complete nightmare otherwise. But I’ve found the term ‘Paleo’ seems to refer to any variation of this diet; some followers include limited dairy like me, or perhaps a couple of grains here and there. It doesn’t matter, it means different things to different people.

Incidentally, I think that one of the best things about this diet is that it means every single thing I eat is made from scratch and from fresh, non-processed ingredients. Some of these ‘Paleo Purists’ I’ve seen get very funny about including dairy yet they eat copious amounts of bacon and sausage, two of the most processed proteins out there. I’d rather have a touch of milk in my tea and feta in my salad and only eat bacon once a week, thanks very much.

Paleo meal - aubergine, artichoke hearts, pomegranate  Aubergine, courgette, feta and pomegranate with chicken, capers and artichoke hearts. 

Eating this way I thoroughly expected to miss my favourite foods: white bread, spaghetti carbonara, chips, mash, roast potatoes. But I’m finding that the effects of this diet, the way it makes me feel really light and never bloated, mean I don’t crave stodgy foods or sugar at all. In fact, every time I do ‘treat myself’ (side eye last week’s takeaway Chinese) the bloating feeling I get afterwards leaves me feeling so unpleasant that I don’t want to do it again.

Two and a half months on this diet and the results have been great. My problem area, the mum tum, has completely gone and it’s been amazing to see how my body shape has changed (though I’m not sure how much this is down to going to the gym 2/3 times a week rather than diet). I’ve lost a stone and a half and gone from a 10-12 in jeans to an 8. My bra size has gone down from a 34 to a 32 back and I’m now 8-10 in tops. Slightly frustrating that most of my jeans don’t fit anymore and all my tops are baggy, but hey, I’m not complaining. It might sound funny but it surprises me daily the difference this diet has given to my shape.

puffed out gym face

Puffed-out gymface selfie. Love you, Instagram filters. 

Anyway, for all those people who have been quizzing me on Instagram and Twitter about how to get started on your own version of paleo, this is for you. Here’s how I think you can become a paleo convert:

– Find your staple meals
Sometimes when I’ve had a long day at work or with the kids, the last thing I want to do is cook. At these times my go-to meal was always a Spaghetti Carbonara or jacket potato, both of which are off the menu now. Instead, I make sure I have a repertoire of quick and simple meals I can throw together. Chicken with tinned artichoke hearts, capers and lemon is one (with my current favourite veg: roast broccoli, yum). Sweet potato and cabbage cakes with raita and a fried egg is another. You can do so many unbelievably easy things with a courgette or aubergine (oi oi!) it’s crazy.

– Pack your food with flavour
Flavour and texture seems to be something I crave much more in this diet; herbs, capers, spices, flavoured salts, garlic. Make sure you have them to hand.

– Plan as much as you can
Each week I sit down with Pinterest and a pile of recipes I’ve found in various cooking magazines and I plan what the whole family will eat. This means I don’t have any slip ups, there are no occasions where there’s no food in the house and I end up eating a pile of buttered toast for lunch (lovely lovely toast…) and as a bonus the children eat way more fruit and veg than they ever have before.

Paleo salmon with capers and aubergine

Salmon with capers, aubergine and red onion, coriander, greek yoghurt and pomegranate. 

– Find substitutes for your favourite foods
You can make a most incredible Béchamel out of pureed cauliflower and chicken stock and once you eat sweet potato chips for a while you won’t even miss the real thing. Fried onions give great crunch on top of a salad (forget croutons!) and so many veggies can be used as a base for spag bol. Once you’ve found substitutions that taste just as good you won’t even miss pasta and bread.

– Don’t skip breakfast
This is the same as on every diet I imagine, but don’t skip breakfast otherwise you’ll want to snack. I tend to go for a green juice 4 or 5 times a week with a couple of egg-based breakfasts thrown in: a mashed up banana, whisked egg and shake of cinnamon make the most incredible pancakes. Serve with berries. Scrambled egg and thyme roasted tomatoes is another go-to breakfast for me.

– Exercise
Paleo makes me feel more active, it makes me want to exercise more. Because I exercise I feel happier, healthier, have more energy and (slightly) more get up and go in the morning. I sleep much better and my skin has never been clearer – though whether that’s the amount of water I drink on this diet (about twice as much as before), all the fresh fruit and veg or exercise I just don’t know.

Paleo chicken and cauliflower passanda

 Homemade chicken and cauliflower passanda with raita

– Use your cheat days
I find that on the days I allow myself to ‘cheat’ I make better choices than I ever did before, while still enjoying the fact I’m deviating from the diet. Instead of a sandwich I’ll have a wrap, instead of snacking on crisps I’ll have a handful of popcorn. But I think it’s important to let myself have a little bit of what I fancy, even if what I fancy is a big bowl of chips. The key is that 80/20 balance.

– Get inspiration from Pinterest
For me, Pinterest is the backbone of this diet. It’s where I get my recipe ideas, inspiration and information. The wealth of Paleo info on Pinterest is awesome and if you’re giving this way of life ago I’d recommend it 100%. Here’s my board to get you started.

– Everything in moderation
THAT MEANS YOU BACON! It can be easy to find a few dishes you like and to eat them over and over again but I’m trying to mix it up a bit. Eating salads in this weather feels slightly masochistic but I mix it up with chargrilled broccoli and chicken salad with avocado, warm aubergine and courgette salads with pomegranate… they can be more warming and filling than you think.

What do you think? Could you go Paleo?

Resources:
There are some absolutely amazing resources and blogs out there for those thinking about going Paleo. These are my favourites:
– PaleOMG – I love this blog! It has a feature that highlights recipes with only 5 ingredients, a great idea. The Pizza -Spaghetti Squash Pie is one I’m trying this week and looks like something the kids might enjoy too.
– Nomnom Paleo – I think this might be the biggest Paleo blog out there. A great resource.
– Let Her Eat Clean: Why I love to hate the Paleo diet – worth a read
– Paleo Jess – A blog by someone who’s been eating Paleo since 2011
– The Healthy Foodie – not all strictly Paleo but some really gorgeous recipes
– Civilized Caveman Cooking – some great Paleo-friendly baking goes on here!
– Paleo Effect – the most recent recipe on this blog is chocolate mousse. Enough said.

24 Comments
  1. Brilliant post, Alice. I’d noticed your Paleo pics on Instagram but hadn’t really looked into it. After being vegetarian for a year, I’ve started to eat fish again because I felt I was opting for cheese sandwiches when I could have had a much healthier prawn salad etc. I’m trying to cut out carbs because I don’t enjoy them much so perhaps a pescitarian Paleo diet would be ideal! And, like you, the gym is my happy place and makes such a difference.

    Huge well done on the weight loss. You’re such a babe!

    1. Ahh thanks lovely! Have to admit, I do miss a nice cheese sandwich but like you was finding I wasn’t enjoying carbs – just eating them because they were there and as I kind of thought that if I didn’t stuff myself with pasta I might go hungry. Let me know if you do go a bit paleo, would love to see how you get on! x

  2. thank you for this blog .. its helping me nudge along to the paleo way and any ideas are very much appreciated! cutting out carbs is easy .. its getting into eating artichokes and other more (what i feel) are more unusual flavours. I’m a gym nut too and lov it when there – really pleased you’ve found your mojo and I hope to make 2014 healthier too!

    1. Good luck with it all Serena, let me know how you go! I’m only a recent artichoke convert, never knew I’d like them but they go lovely with chicken and lamb too x

  3. Fab post and the paleo is essentially how I’ve been eating for last few month, low carb (with low GI wholesome carbs), limited sugar and healthy, wholesome, seasonal food. I’ve never felt better either! Go us! x

  4. Thanks for taking the time to write a really interesting and informative post. Your diet looks and sounds delicious, I’m very tempted to give it a try. I’ll follow you on Pinterest for more inspiration (Broody Me).

  5. I think it looks really good and I am tempted to try borrow a few of your recipe ideas, however I’m not a fan of courgette or aubergine so may struggle slightly!

  6. I take issue with some of the so-called facts spouted by Paleo ‘purists’ and personally think that a lot of the benefits they reckon comes from eating more protein and less grains actually comes just from cutting out processed foods and sugar… I know when I cut out sugar in September last year I didn’t notice anything for a couple of weeks and then bam, I started to feel different and weight started dropping off. But anyway, I like your style of allowing yourself to ‘cheat’ occasionally, tailoring the diet to suit you (keeping some dairy) etc.

    I actually use paleo recipes as inspiration for my own meal plans every now and again because they just seem to be more creative and better thought out that a lot of veggie recipes (I’m not veggie, but meat is expensive) so I can’t knock it too much of course ;)

    1. I completely agree – I also think that some of the purists aren’t doing themselves any favours by using the diet as an excuse to imbibe ALL THE MEAT possible.

      The sugar thing is huge, I’ve definitely noticed a difference with my skin getting much much better and I assume it’s that rather than cutting out wheat.

  7. Finally had time to comment on this post Alice, thanks so much for writing it. You can see your passion for your new lifestyle choices shine through and how amazing are the results you have had so far. I really enjoyed reading it and learning a bit more about Paleo. Since I started at the gym I am feeling so motivated, something which has never really happened before as I have had many wasted gym memberships. Something has just clicked this time, although my exercising has been slightly hampered by a knee problem. Hopefully it will all get sorted soon.
    I don’t think I could full cut out dairy and wheat, but I am trying to eat wholewheat bread and pasta, and I am certainly thinking a bit more about what we are putting into out bodies. x

  8. I don’t think I can go the whole Paleo Hog (or prehistoric warthog, if you will…) but deffo some great ideas for full flavoured healthy scran here! Inspired.
    Oh, and can I just say: Salsa Verde is literally the BOMB on everything.

  9. Brilliant post! Since my detox before Christmas, I’ve really been looking into this whole ‘eating clean’ idea, but on initial research it sounded really touch and possibly expensive to maintain. But you’ve made it sound really interesting and most of all, doable!

    Am now following your board on Pinterest…and on Instagram…I’m just nosey like that!

    Katie x
    http://www.missenchanting.co.uk/

  10. Hi Alice,

    Came along to say I was inspired by this Paleo post back in January and have been eating Paleo since Jan 16th. No grains, no dairy, no processed food, only pure yummy fruit, veg, fish and meat and I have lost half a stone in 15 days! Thrilled to bits. The best bit is I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything, my body isn’t craving grains or sugar, it’s fantastic! I’ve been at the gym too and am loving the change in my body shape – finally! Hooray! :)

  11. I eat plenty of fruit and veg, especially last year with my prolific veggie patch and fruit trees doing quite well. So I’ve thought about eating paleo for a while, but I don’t understand why potatoes always seem to be cut out? They come out of the ground just like any other root vegetable. As long as they’re not loaded with fat and salt during cooking, they’re perfectly healthy. I love boiled spuds with the skin left on. If I am to forgo pasta and bread (which wouldn’t be so difficult) I can’t give up potatoes too, especially as I grew about 20kg of them in my garden last year and I’m not wasting them!

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