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A question on Paleo


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So, how strict do you have to keep a Paleo diet?  


I'm interested in starting out on Paleo, but I'm also in a very bad place as far as diet changing goes.  Because of my work/school situation, I generally have to eat 90% of my food on the go.  This makes healthful, grain-free food much harder for me.  I also am about to start working at a firehouse, where I will have no control over my diet during work; and I turn 21 in 3 weeks.  My EMT course is up in a month, and huge celebrations are planned.  There is absolutely no way that I'll be able to cut out grains and non-processed foods for a while.  


So, my question is, what's a good way to get started while staying within the boundaries of circumstance?

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Start small.  Don't try to jump into a 100% Paleo diet when you're at a 0% Paleo diet.


If your current issue is a lot of fast foods, try to minimize it.  Don't cut it out completely, limit it first.  If you have 7 fast food meals a week and you can get it down to 6, that's a win.  If you eat lots of junk food as a snack, try to exchange it for something better - carrots, celery, fruits, nuts.  Maybe not all the time, but slowly introduce those things into your diet.  Work on removing excess sugar and processes foods where you can, and then move up from there.  Rome wasn't built in a day.  Or rather, rapid changes are never sustainable, so build up and turn them into habits so they stick around.

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Also, here's Steve's post about changing your environment for habit change:




Now, it sounds like you don't have a lot of control outside your home, but your home is always a good place to start habits so they can branch out.  It's a lot easier to avoid buying unhealthy snacks if you grocery shop before you get hungry than it is to avoid them when they're already in your house and you're scrounging around for something to eat.  So like Phoenix said, slowly starting getting rid of the junk food and replace it with something healthy.  One thing I needed to transition with is going from cereal for breakfast to a more protein-packed breakfast, so I'm easing into it by having cereal every other morning and eggs in between.  Once the box is empty, I'll be doing eggs full-time.


Remember that fast food or food-on-the-go doesn't have to be a Big Mac with supersized fries every time.  A lot of places will have at least better options if not 100% awesomely healthy ones.  Even at McDonald's, you can opt for a regular hamburger or a salad.  Even a Happy Meal is better than any adult meal.  Finding options on-the-go is difficult, I won't lie.  It might mean a lot of grilled chicken on a bed of lettuce.  But that will just give you more incentive to put as many of your meals under your control as you can so you can eat more yummy stuff!  You may find that you have more control than you think.


I think one of the best ways to start is cutting out "liquid calories".  Soda, juice, lattes laced with caramel, you name it.  Not only do these make your calorie count sneak up on you with limited nutritional value, they also keep you from eating more, which, at least for me, makes me feel more hungry by the end of the day and more likely to quit.  It's a comparatively easy switch, too, because for the most part, no matter where you go, you will not be denied water.  If that's too extreme (and for many, it can be just because they struggle having a beverage without flavor), try flavored seltzer or maybe switch between water and tea or coffee (without milk and slowly get used to reducing sugar content).


So, pretty much like Phoenix said, take it slow.  The required strictness of a Paleo diet (or any diet, for that matter) really depends on you.  So few carbs may simply not work for some people healthwise, and for others, it may just be impractical for their lifestyle.  Tackle one challenge at a time.


Good Luck!

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They always say with any change in lifestyle to do it one thing at a time, and it is true. There are probably a lot of simple things you can do as first steps that make sense, and then you can take it from there:


-Reduce or eliminate sugar as much as possible, and that includes diet soda which is a bloody disaster area IMO. That includes things like fruit juices or that vitamin water crap that is loaded with sugar. Try to stick to water, if doing coffee or tea don't use sweetener if you can (and if you do need sweetener, I recommend stevia). What I have found with eliminating sugar is my blood sugar has leveled out and I don't get as hungry.


-Grains are tougher for many people, but try to eliminate it as much as possible. I know firehouse food isn't exactly all that great a lot of the time, but for example, if they have sandwiches, eat the meat and leave the bread. This is especially true if they are using bread like wonder bread and the like, that has sugar in it. Try to stay with protein and any vegetables they have. You may not be able to eliminate it, but you can try and reduce it. When not at the firehouse, try to bring your diet closer to paleo, but there is no shame if you aren't doing perfect paleo, there is no such thing, it is what works for you. 


-Learn to practice portion control, which means knowing how to eyeball things. With protein (i.e meat), you should shoot for one or two palmfuls, depending on what fills you up. Veggies/lettuce are two handfuls roughly, grains should be sparing (handful), then things like nuts roughly the size of your thumb (though you may need to eat more than one portion). So if they are serving let's say hamburgers, a typical hamburger patty (6oz) will be about the size of your palm. If eating a burger, substitute salsa if they have it for ketchup, ketchup is loaded with sugar.


-In your 'real life' outside work, get into the habit of not buying packaged food. yeah, I know, cooking seems like a pain, but it isn't that rough. Some people pre do food and reheat it, others make it. Have a lot of vegetables on hand (frozen veggies are easy, you can get organic ones as well which I prefer), cooking them is easy, microwave will do it, put a bit of coconut oil or even a bit of butter with salt, it is healthy, add some sort of protein (chicken, beef, fish, whatever). For breakfast, instead of toast or cereal, have egg whites with some tomato and a bit of lean ham or cheese. 


One of the biggest things? If you 'slip', don't worry, it won't kill you and the paleo police won't come and get you, I promise, just make it a point to get back to where you were and keep going. This is a journey, not a leap off a cliff, and in the end you will find what works.  It could be eventually you will want to have some grains in your diet, you don't necessarily have to eliminate them, and you do need some starchy carbs like potato or rice, people have had issues with paleo diets where they ate no starchy carbs at all, everyone is different. 


The best advice on nutrition I read was recently by my pals at precision nutrition, the guy who runs it wrote a piece about 'what is the best diet?" and listed out all the diets, paleo, vegan, low carb, low fat, you name it, and said basically what it comes down to is what works for you. Almost any good nutrition plan is going to focus on protein, it is going to focus on portion control and on staying away from processed food and junk food and sugar and such, from there, it becomes what works. With the paleo diet, there is no big secret or miracle to it, but it also is not dogma or religion, or shouldn't be, because it in its 'pure form' may not work for many people. Where I think it is brilliant is it breaks through the bs that has been out there, a lot of it from the medical profession, that high protein diets are 'bad', that meat is 'bad', that fat is 'bad', and it is a load of quite frankly bs...what is bad is eating too much of anything, what is bad is eating very fatty meats regularly, what is bad is eating stuff laced with hormones and anti biotics, what is bad is eating stuff you don't even know what is in it..but food is food, it is all good in proper context and portions:). One of my treats is hot dogs made from grass fed beef, no nitrates, I have them as a treat meal and the irony is they actually aren't that much of an indulgence, yes, they have a relatively high fat content, but given what else I eat, it is all in proportion:). 

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