Some friends emailed me to ask about any tips for trying the Primal Challenge for a month. I have turned my response into a blogpost. I hope you find it helpful. Send me any follow-up questions or comments.
1. Truly be sure you want to do this. Nonprimal food can be really tempting and when those temptations come it’s helpful that you really are doing this for 30 or whatever number of days. This isn’t about seeing how close to 80/20 you can get. This is about truly being 100% for 30 days in a row. If you’re skeptical going in, you probably will never truly do it. Make a commitment that you will not buy doughnuts, eat a cake, or bowl of cap’n’crunch, tempted though we can be!
2. Make a plan. Processed, high-carb, high-sugar food can be pretty convenient. When hunger or impatience strikes what’s to keep you from choosing those things that truly taste good but probably aren’t so good for the body? Other options that are readily available. Rather than a granola bar, choose almonds or macadamia nuts. Rather than a candy bar choose some fruit. Rather than something made of grains choose a piece of beef jerky. Point is to plan ahead to have alternatives easily available. I keep macadamia nuts right under my desk and there’s usually always cooked meat of some sort in my fridge.
3. Plan ahead. This is different from the above in that I refer to plan specifically what you will eat for meals and snacks ahead of time. This is super key for me, more so a few months ago when I really started taking this seriously. Today it is helpful in helping me put together a grocery list and buy the right amount of stuff. So sit down and decide what you will have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack every day of the week. Then convert that to a grocery list. Remember that some meals become left overs. You’re not going to get to noon on Friday and wonder to yourself, “What will we have today?” I’m tired I’ll have a sandwich. Nope, not anymore. You’ve got a plan and you’re ready, having already decided what you’re going to eat with the ingredients already in your possession.
4. No cheating allowed for 30 days. Not even a small piece of bread or a teaspoon of ranch dressing. Cheating defeats the purpose primarily because even a small bit of something like gluten causes gut inflammation that can last 15 days. So if you’re great the first 15 days, then on day 16 cheat by having a pastry, the next 15 days the gut will be inflamed and healing from that. The purpose of the experiment has been thwarted. If you must cheat, try your hardest to make it something gluten free. See this pdf for an outline of the nutrient dense foods we aim for. You can do a lot with that really. I tend to be simple and boring just making ground beef and eating that (with spices and herbs). But feel free to get creative. I’ve been working on a new dish recently that is basically a vegetable stir-fry with coconut milk, curry, and turmeric. Absolute delicious and doggone healthy.
5. Some food rules:
- A) Stick to real food. Does your product list a bunch of words from an alien language? Are there more than 7 ingredients listed? It probably isn’t primal. Some key things to stay aware from are sugar, corn syrup, soy lecithin, and msg.
- B) Stick to the perimeter of the shopping center. Most everything there is great. Most everything inside isn’t.
- C) Treat fruits like you would a rare snack or dessert. Fruit is nature’s candy. Eat it how much you would normally eat candy.
- D) Hard to eat too many vegetables. I usually end up eating at least one salad a day.
- E) Oh but watch out for that dressing! Try oil/vinegar instead on your salads and fruit.
- F) Protein, fats, and carbs are the macro nutrients you’re looking for, in roughly that order. Eating a meat (preferably not super lean) takes care of the protein and fats, as do things like olive oil, avocados, and sweet potatoes. Fruits have the carbs (and sugar!). As Antonie Hodge would say, “I eat a hunk of meat with every meal.”
- G) Supplements. I recommend Magnesium (as good as one may eat, it’s highly unlikely he’s getting enough magnesium), D (unless you’re getting 15 minutes of direct sunlight a day, it’s a good idea to take this), Fish oil for omega-3 (IF you’re otherwise not eating meat (and eggs) that was vegetarian fed. If you’re avoiding processed foods and sticking to vegetarian fed animals probably no need for omega-3 supplementation.
- H) Check out Robb Wolf’s “Total Transformation”. He goes a bit more in depth on these things than I do.
6. Have a buddy. I have Chuck Grimmett to thank for really challenging me to give up grains. Wouldn’t have done it without him and now am so glad I did. I also have him to thank for challenging me to join a gym and take my physical exercise seriously.
7. What to expect. Athletically you may see a dip in performance, or struggle a couple weeks in. Don’t worry it’s just a dip. Your body after years of generally relying on refined carbs and sugar for energy is not being given that anymore and is being given what it was designed to burn for fuel: healthy fat. It will be really hard to avoid processed foods. Have that grocery list in the store and only let yourself buy things on it. Going out to eat is difficult. I generally have to stick to salads and ask for oil on the side, or order a dish with meat and avoid whatever nonprimal side (a roll) comes with it.
8. What to ask yourself at the end of 30 days – “How do I look, feel, and perform?” If the switch didn’t affect you positively in any way that you can tell, it may not be worth it. The vast majority of people are convinced they like the answer to that question though, so they stick with it. Nonetheless, I personally think the long term effects of such a diet are enough.
9. Other resources:
- -Primal Blueprint pdf. Mark Sisson briefly compares conventional wisdom to reality.
- –The Paleo Solution; Robb Wolf. This is a great book. It’s humorous, on a lay person level and he still gets nitty gritty at points to really show the science behind this. Beyond some of the links I gave you, this book, and the podcast below, are where to go for some of the more technical reasoning and logic about how gluten affects us, etc.
- –The Paleo Solution Podcast.
- -A similar, though cleaner and prettier version of what I wrote above at The Whole 9. (They are strict about dairy for 30 days, I am not. Go for it if you’d like. You may be surprised. I’ve gone long stretches without dairy before and it didn’t do that much. The goal is to find out how much a food is affecting. Only by going 30 days without it then reintroducing it will you find how much if at all it is affecting you.)
- -Marks Daily Apple blog is a personal favorite: http://www.marksdailyapple.com
- –The Whole9 blog is also great. I am looking forward to attending a day long seminar next month put on by the folks at the whole9 here in Atlanta.
- -Remember that primal is more than diet: https://theprimalchallenge.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/primal-much-more-than-diet/
I hope that is helpful. Do you have any comments or questions? Do let me know how the 30 days go!