I’ve been eating a lower carb, paleo diet for over three years. I’m so proud of myself for sustaining the dietary changes that have allowed me to feel my best. I'll admit, this diet change didn't start out easy, so I can understand why some people struggle with making sustainable changes. These are the important factors that have helped me sustain my paleo diet.
1. Learn how to grocery shop
This may seem silly, because grocery shopping seems like an easy thing, but a huge part of changing your diet is learning what food to buy. When I went grocery shopping in college, I didn’t think much about the food I put in my cart. I bought items I knew how to cook and whatever happened to look good that day. The only part of the nutrition label I checked was the fat content, to make sure there wasn’t too much.
After changing my diet I had to relearn how to grocery shop. I started reading the ingredient lists of everything I bought. On a paleo diet you want to avoid any ingredients that will introduce gluten, dairy, soy or processed sugar to your food. You mostly buy meat and produce, which are typically on the outer perimeter of any grocery store and quickly learn the middle aisles of the store no longer have much to offer.
Some of my favorite grocery stores are Whole Foods, Mom’s Organic Market, Wegmans, and Giant. However, you don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to eat healthy! You can buy paleo foods at any grocery store. Most stores even have a natural foods aisle that offers healthier packaged food options. My mom lives in a small town, but is able to find great and inexpensive options at Aldi or Walmart. All you have to do it look!
Another great resource for grocery shopping is Amazon. I order many of the specialty items from there like almond flour, coconut flour, and coconut oil. Even though I can find these in almost any store, the prices are much better on Amazon. Coconut oil is always worth buying from Amazon. I like the Nutiva brand and it’s always much less expensive on Amazon if you buy a larger container.
Currently, I do most of my grocery shopping at my local farmer’s market. I’m so fortunate to have a farmer’s market nearby that’s open all year round. I also visit a local farm to pick up meat every few months. The farm in my area that I love is Clark's Elioak Farm. I found them through eatwild.com. Farmer’s markets and farms are a great option for sourcing food for your paleo diet.
The best thing about relearning how to grocery shop is that it becomes second nature. For me, grocery shopping actually became more enjoyable after I changed my diet. I was interested in what I was putting in my cart and excited to see what foods the store had to offer. If you want me to write about how I save money grocery shopping different places, let me know in the comments!
2. Learn how to cook
After learning how to grocery shop it’s important to know how to cook what you’ve bought! I started cooking much more after changing my diet. Knowing how to cook is such an important skill. There are a ton of resources for eating and cooking paleo. If you’re here then you’ve found one!
Cooking requires some planning ahead. I like to take meat out of the freezer the night before and let it thaw in the fridge. I also decide what vegetable I’m going to make. You don’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen to make a tasty and satisfying meal. A delicious paleo meal can be as simple as: meat + vegetable + fat to cook them in! It’s great to cook a lot at once to have leftovers to have for lunch or dinner the next day.
I recommend getting a few paleo cookbooks and using them as a guide. That’s how I started, and now I love experimenting and making my own creations! Learning how to cook empowers you to make your own decisions about food. When you make great tasting food with healthy fats and real ingredients it’s hard to go back!
Cookbooks I love:
- Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong
- The Art of Healthy Eating- Slow Cooker by Maria Emmerich
- Meals Made Simple by Danielle Walker
- The Paleo Slow Cooker by Arsy Vartanian
- Well Fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan
- Ground Beef Stir Fry
- Turmeric Chicken and Kale Zoodle Soup
- Spinach and Onion Egg Bake
- Shrimp Fajita Sheet Pan Dinner
- Pork Egg Roll in a Bowl
Learning how to cook will make a paleo diet so much easier to maintain. Your food will be delicious and you will be so satisfied at the end of your meals!
3. Strengthen your Support System
Having a support system is so important for sustaining healthy changes. There are many components to a support system that will ensure success as you work to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
It starts with you
To make lasting dietary changes it’s important for you to believe strongly in the changes you’re making. If you want to feel better, lose weight, or simply eat healthier you have to be your own biggest advocate. Your support system needs to start with you. If you don’t believe in the changes you are making, it will be difficult expanding your support system to get support from others.
When I made the decision to change my diet, I stuck to it no matter who I was around. I wanted to feel better. I wasn’t perfect all the time (see #6), but I made sure the people around me knew that I cannot eat gluten, not even a little bit. You will get push back, questions, and maybe even upset some people. Some people may not take you seriously, but it’s always important to do what makes you feel the best.
Family & Friends
It is also important to have the support from your friends and family- or whoever you spend the most time around. After I made the choice to change my diet, I had to explain to my boyfriend, family, and friends why I was no longer eating bread or pasta. I’m extremely fortunate with the support I received from them. It’s a major reason my health has improved so much from where I was in 2014.
Shout out to my support system:
- My biggest supporter has been my boyfriend, Tommy. Tommy moved in with me when I was beginning to change my diet over three years ago. He initially wasn’t sold on this diet. We talked through the science of low carb, high fat, and paleo eating. Every question he had we researched and talked about. The only change he initially resisted was breakfast food. When he moved in I was eating eggs everyday for breakfast. Tommy didn’t like the idea of eating eggs everyday, he thought he would get tired of them. It was a big change from the bagel he used to eat everyday. To make him happy, I bought him gluten-free bread so he could make toast. However, he soon realized how much more satisfied he was after eating eggs for breakfast and now he loves having eggs for breakfast! Tommy is my biggest advocate and I feel way less weird in social situations because we are in this together. He loves the food we eat and has even seen some amazing health benefits, like his acid reflux going away!
- My family has supported my diet change from day one. They had a front row seat to how terrible I was feeling for years. My mom was even the first to suggest I try eating gluten-free. Although they did have some questions in the beginning and wanted to make sure I had done my research. Usually the biggest concern is that the diet is higher fat, and lower carb. The myth that all fat is bad for us persists and it is challenging to convince otherwise. However, my family trusted my decision and were so happy I was starting to feel better. After Tommy changed his diet his family also supported us. Both of our families always make sure there is something we can eat at gatherings or when we go out to dinner together. When we go on vacations together, both of our families let me help plan and cook our meals, which means I don’t have to worry about what ingredients are going into the food. Everyone always checks to make sure what they are making is okay for me to eat. I appreciate this so much and I’m so grateful to our families for supporting us.
- Note: Tommy and I were pretty intense to our families in the beginning. We found this new amazing way of eating with so many health benefits, we wanted our families to see the benefits we were seeing. I think this is common when people change their diet and see so many benefits. It’s hard to understand why everyone wouldn’t want to eat paleo. Sometimes they don’t though, and that’s okay. Our families have taken some of our advice and changed some parts of their diet. As a result they have lost weight and noticed some health improvements. My parents have even successfully completed a few Whole30®s! My advice is to not bombard people with your dietary advice, if they want to know they will ask!
- My friends also support me. They let me pick the restaurants when we go out to eat or always make sure there’s something I can eat wherever we go! They understand that I need to eat this way for my health. They always offer me food like everyone else, but do not pressure me to eat anything that I turn down.
Having the support of family and friends is essential to making lasting diet changes. It’s impossible to exist in your own perfectly healthy bubble. The people who love you will want you to feel your best. Even if they don’t want to make their own changes, you can still ask for their support on your journey. Simply telling your support system that this is a choice you want to make is enough of a reason.
4. Remove the food you no longer want to eat from your house
After deciding to change my diet, I got rid of all the food I no longer wanted to eat from my apartment. Some foods I decided I would finish and then not buy again, like bread and nutella, and some foods I just threw away. I was living by myself at the time so this decision was entirely my own to make. Removing the foods I no longer wanted to eat was crucial for me, and still is. I am pretty good about not even wanting to eat the things that make me feel terrible, but if it was in the house all the time it would be a lot more tempting.
I realize removing all the food you no longer want to eat is not an option for everyone. However, I would encourage you to ask if you could remove that food for a small amount of time while you get started. Once you get used to eating this way, it becomes a lot easier to ignore the other foods. You usually stop thinking of them as foods, which reduces the temptation significantly. You could also keep the food you want to eat in a separate area so you don’t have to see the other foods while you’re cooking or browsing your pantry!
5. Monitor your results
The main reason I have been able to sustain my lower carb, paleo diet for so long is because of the huge improvements I have seen in my health. I talked about my health improvements in detail in My Story, so I won’t reiterate too much here, but I feel so great eating this way. I no longer have stomach aches or the digestive problems that used to make me never want to leave the house. Also, my skin has never looked better! I couldn’t go back to eating a Standard American Diet because I never want to feel like that again. Even if you don’t start out feeling horrible, like I did, I’m sure you will see improvements when you cut out the junk foods!
There are many ways you can measure your success on the paleo diet depending on your goals. Some common benefits are losing weight, having more energy, feeling less “hangry” all the time, reduced anxiety, less digestive distress, clearer skin, and feeling better overall!
6. Don't stress about being perfect all the time
When I first changed my diet, I wanted to eat perfectly low carb and paleo all the time. I was overly worried about going out to eat and eating meals that I didn’t prepare. I was told by my mentor, who first told me about this diet, that there’s no need to worry about what I can’t control. He told me that we are defined by the things we do everyday, not once in a while. This advice really helped me. If you go out to eat, or your family makes something that you wouldn’t normally eat, it’s okay not to stress about it. As I mentioned before, I don’t eat gluten at all, because of how much it hurts my stomach, but other things I don’t stress about as much. You don’t have to give up on your goals of eating paleo because you ate something that wasn’t paleo. Do the best you can!
If you have any questions or need help putting any of these steps into action I’d love to help! Feel free to send me an email or leave a comment.