Updated: Jun 15, 2020
We all have to start somewhere, and it can be intimidating to walk into the grocery store and look down all the massive, packed aisles and be unsure of what should or shouldn't go into our basket. Then we get home and unload all our new (and hopefully compliant) food and wonder what to do with all of it.
Don't go down any of the aisles.
At least not in the beginning weeks, until you have a better handle on what's good and what's bad. There is almost nothing for you down those aisles! Stick to the outside of the store: fresh produce, meat, and eggs. If you do pick up anything with a label, check the ingredients carefully. Even in something you think should be self-explanatory, there can be hiding yukkies. Many spice mixes contain pouring and anti-caking agents made from corn. Herbal teas can sometimes contain soy lecithin. Almost every salad dressing you pick up will contain soy oil.
Keep meals super simple.
Don't try to recreate any of the usual quick dishes at the beginning, like pasta, pizzas, and breads. It will likely leave you feeling overwhelmed since the easy 10 minute dinners suddenly take hours to make. Stick to roasting meats and vegetables in the oven with different spices and oils for different flavors. Make soups and stews loaded with vegetables and meat. Put roasts in the crockpot or pressure cooker with root vegetables.
It doesn't have to look fancy to taste amazing! My pictures aren't magazine worthy by any stretch of the imagination but the meals are delicious, as well as nutritious and healthy. Sure, some people make 5-star restaurant looking meals, and that's cool, but if you're already overwhelmed with the changes there is no need to go over the top.
Don't deny your sweet tooth.
Not every time, anyway. If your craving for goodies is going to send you out looking for junk food, compromise by treating yourself to paleo goodies. Need that chocolate bar? There are paleo (or nearly paleo) options out there. Fruit salad is a great way to satisfy the sugar demons and still get in something with plenty of micronutrients. Don't worry about fancy desserts at the beginning of your journey, just like with fancy meals mentioned above.
Get the non-compliant foods out of the house.
Don't have the temptation hiding in the corner of the cabinets, where it's easy to grab them out in a weak moment and chow down. Donate it to a food pantry, give it to neighbors, friends, or family if possible, throw it away if not, but get it out of your house! Once you have the obvious things out, like boxed and canned goods, don't forget about checking condiments, spices, and miscellaneous goods for non-compliant ingredients.
The idea behind this is that if you have to drive to a store or restaurant to buy something bad to eat, you might be able to resist it for longer (or forever!).
Prepare snacks ahead of time.
You don't have to go overboard with this one, but it's a great idea to have, for example, your favorite raw veggie cleaned and sliced, ready to pull out of the fridge and munch on. Carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, or boiled eggs all make healthy snacks that won't break the bank and won't start up the blood sugar+insulin roller coaster. Nuts are a great snack, but not ideal to snack on all the time, and only in small amounts.
Don't starve yourself. Your body needs a bare minimum amount of calories just for its internal functions. Search up a BMR calculator (I'll talk about BMR in another post), and make sure you eat enough food to sustain you and keep you not only healthy but satiated! If you are satisfied after eating a meal, you aren't going to be fridge browsing for junk food hours before your next full meal.
It's also very common, at the beginning of the switch over to paleo from SAD, for people to have insatiable appetites. As long as it's the right things (meat and vegetables), eat away! Feed the inner beast. That monster has been craving all these nutrients all this time and he's suddenly realizing they are all incoming, so throw him extra. Your appetite will even out once your body has had time to adjust.
Don't concentrate on what you can't have; focus on what you can have.
You can eat all the vegetables you want, you don't have to deny yourself meat (re: bacon), you can eat fruit (in moderation if trying to lose weight, of course), and nuts. You can still have chocolate or coffee, or chocolate, AND coffee! Your favorite tea isn't going anywhere. You can even recreate some goodies out of paleo ingredients! That juicy burger can be piled high with fried onions, bacon, mayo, onions, and many other delicious things. Just eat it with a fork (or with a tostone as a bun!).
Find your 'why'.
This is probably the most important and that's why it's the last. I want it to be the freshest tip in your mind when you are off on your shopping trips. Your 'why' is going to be all you. It's what will get you through the rough patches, and help you back onto the wagon if you fall off.
Perhaps it's to lose weight or to get healthy. Maybe it's because of food allergies or intolerance. Maybe it's for your autoimmune disease or fertility troubles. Maybe your child or children have allergies or health conditions. Whatever it is, find the big picture reason you are doing this and put that in lights, front, and center, in your head. Whatever else is going on, you will have to go back to that sometimes for the motivation you need to say no to that junk food spread at work or at a family gathering. You'll need that 'why' when you are grocery shopping and see some previous favorite candy bar and need to stop yourself from putting it in your cart.
This list is not all-inclusive. There are plenty of vegetables and fruits that aren't on here, as well as compliant ingredients. This is a starter list, a jumping-off point. While you're still figuring out this new way of healthy eating, this can be your cheat sheet. Print it out and take it with you. Once you are more comfortable with what you can eat, you will be able to expand on this and add more or subtract the things that just didn't do it for you.