At the beginning of January, I went to a pain clinic hoping to regain some measure of control over my back and foot pain. Fibromyalgia, I blame YOU. The first thing the doctor said to me was, “Have you ever heard of leaky gut syndrome?” And I said, “Ew. No.” He launched into a brief explanation which kind of sounded like stuff that should exit one’s body via, you know, poop, is instead absorbed by the body. He then said that not every doctor “believes” that leaky gut is a real diagnosis. AWESOME! So I may have two diagnoses that some people mistake for “crazy”. But, on the plus side, leaky gut sounds super sexy, don’t you think?
But I digress. The doctor immediately recommended that I eat a Paleo diet. I quickly agreed. I would much rather heal my body through food than through medication. Plus, I was already not eating gluten so how hard could it be? The doctor said, “So you can’t eat grains, dairy, sugar, or alcohol. And be strict for the first 30 days.” Then he scribbled down the name of a website and sent me on my merry way. I’ve totally got this, I thought. I’m great at specialized diets. And I don’t even drink alcohol. Bring. It. On.
But then I started reading. I was almost instantly overwhelmed. Not only is Paleo a new way of eating, it’s a whole new way of cooking and even thinking about food. At least for me. And it doesn’t include chocolate. I read and read and read. Also, I cried a little. It’s hard to undertake something of this magnitude when you already feel fatigued and in pain. But I am not one to be beaten by a diet. I mean, come on. Finally, I felt I could possibly maybe probably give it a try. So I did. I just finished my second week. Which, by the way, is the longest I have ever gone without chocolate. I’m sure my trophy will be arriving in the mail any day now.
Many of the blogs and message boards I encountered are written by people who have been eating Paleo for years. They have their rhythm down. They have great recipes and a lot of great information to share. But some of these people have forgotten what it’s like to start Paleo. Clearly, I am not a Paleo expert, but I wanted to share a few tips about getting started.
1. You need at least three days to read, plan, shop, and cook before you officially start.
This is not an easy diet to just jump into. It takes a lot of research and recipe finding to get started. You will need to shop for unfamiliar ingredients (like coconut aminos and grass fed beef gelatin). And it helps a TON if you do a little bit of cooking before hand. I made this chili and these muffins and then froze most of it.
2. You must do a meal plan.
I hate to break it to you, but you will not be making well balanced and tasty Paleo food on the fly. Especially not during your first week. Plan ahead at least three days and put grocery shopping on your schedule. Save your meal plans so you can loop back to them in a few weeks. If you do not do this, you will find yourself curled up in a ball on the couch with tears leaking down your face because you have no idea how to feed yourself with the food that’s in the house. True story.
3. You may feel like total crap for the first . . . little while.
My second day on the diet I was convinced I was getting the stomach flu. I felt horrible. But, after consulting google and many message boards, I found out this is normal. Wouldn’t it have been lovely if my doctor had mentioned it? Apparently, adjusting to the Paleo way of eating can take 3 days to 3 weeks. During this time our bodies may show signs of detoxing, such as: flu-like symptoms, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, frequent urination, irritability, etc. You can read more about it here.
4. Paelo makes you dumb.
Well, okay, not technically. But it often causes preeeety thick brain fog. I can fully attest to this. I was co-leading a meeting the other night and someone asked us to give a brief history of our group. I looked around, smiling, thinking, Hey! It’ll be super interesting to hear about this! Then I realized that *I* was expected to give the history as I, in fact, am the founder of the group. So, don’t schedule any big job interviews or presentations the first week on Paleo. It’s kind of like, Um, excuse me? Can anyone give me directions out of this paper bag?
5. Gimme an ‘F’!
Sadly, the ‘F’ is not for fantastic. It’s for fatigue. The first week may be filled with it. Not tiredness. Fatigue. I spent large parts of the first few days in bed, only coming out to cook and eat.
6. You might not be getting enough calories . . . especially when you first start.
Maybe it’s because you’re not feeling well or maybe it’s because you’re too tired to cook, but you may not be getting enough calories. My third day on Paleo I was feeling extra fatigued. Per the advice from a Paleo site, I went to FitDay to total my calories. Even though I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and felt totally full, I had eaten less than 900 calories. Not enough. I immediately ate half a sweet potato and half an avocado and felt better. (That’s right! Avocado’s on the menu, baby! Gimme a ‘G’ for guacamole!)
7. Join an online support group or message board.
I am not a fan of online support groups. But, in this case, the information from these groups has been super helpful. In fact, it was one of these groups, not my doctor (Yup. Third time I’ve mentioned this. Nope, not bitter), that explained about the ‘low-carb flu’ and why I was feeling so horrible. People doing Paleo have the best info on how to do it, how to feel good while doing it, and how you can tweak your plan to make it right for you.
8. Freeze stuff.
If you know you like a recipe, make double and freeze it in individual batches. Paleo involves a lot of cooking and it is totally awesome when you can pull a good meal out of the freezer.
9. The grass fed beef gelatin everyone talks about is actually good . . .
Because it’s flavorless and you can dump it in smoothies. The idea of eating beef gelatin – a substance derived from collagen found in animal bones – totally freaked me out. But it really does have some health benefits. Not to brag or anything, but I think my skin is already looking better! Plus, Zoey is totally fascinated by it and will eat anything that has gelatin in it. Of course, she shrieks, “I’m eating cow bones!!!” the whole time. But still.
10. Save your bacon grease!
Pre-Paleo I didn’t eat much bacon. And If I did, I would always stare at the grease with open hostility wondering how to best dispose of it. Now I save it. ‘Hoard’ might even be a better word choice. I’ve been known to snap at anyone who goes too near the pan, “Don’t touch my bacon grease!” The reason is this: vegetables (or anything, really) taste awesome when sautéed in bacon grease. So when you’re making your sweet potato or zucchini pasta (as you most assuredly will be) the bacon grease comes in handy.
11. It will get easier-ish.
I’m through the second week and my body is starting to adjust, my mind is clearing, and I have at least an inkling of what I’m doing. My freezer stockpile is growing and I have cooked some really delicious meals. So, yeah, easier-ish. I bet in another few weeks it may even be full on ‘kind-of-easy’.
I’m going to wait the full 30 days before I evaluate Paleo’s effect on my fibromyalgia pain and fatigue. I’ll keep you posted!
What are your Paleo tips?