“What am I doing?”
That single thought was looping in my mind. I was slumped over my desk at the office, slogging through emails with a raging headache that no amount of coffee or Advil seemed to solve.
My lunch for the day was right next to me: salad, hard-boiled eggs, and some leftover chicken from the night before. Everything prepared in little Tupperware containers…
But all I wanted to do was go into the break room and raid the cookies and chips.
I’d made the switch to Paleo two days earlier.
But where was the energy boost? Where were all the awesome health benefits I kept reading about?
My Paleo plans failed that day. It took a few more tries before I finally got my new lifestyle to stick. But not before I hit a ton of roadblocks along the way.
Ready to go Paleo and want to make those first few days as smooth as possible?
Here’s what you need to know:
Making the Switch to Paleo: Why the First Few Days Can Be Tough
Depending on your current diet and lifestyle, going Paleo can be a big departure from business as usual. Just the first 48 hours can be quite the eye-opener!
There are a lot of things you might not think about – your habits, social pressure, environment, and good old momentum – carrying you along your current path.
So it can take a lot of effort (and smart planning) to reach the “escape velocity” you need to change the course of your life and embrace a healthier lifestyle.
It doesn’t matter if you’re eating fast food everyday or are only a few tweaks away from the ideal diet. Deciding to go Paleo can create roadblocks, especially during the first few days. The sooner you remove them, the sooner you start feeling (and looking) better.
Let’s explore five challenges to expect during your first few days—and how to overcome them.
1. You’ll Probably Feel Tired, Cranky, and Worn Down
Once you go Paleo, you’ll boost your energy and start torching body fat almost immediately, right?
It can take some time (usually a few weeks) to reap those benefits. If you start a Paleo diet expecting the moon right away, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
But with Paleo, you’ll get most of your energy from healthy fats: animal products, coconuts, avocados, etc. Carbs supplement your energy instead of being the main act.
Ditching grains, sugars, and processed foods can shock your body because it’s used to relying on carbs for fast-burning energy. So it can take a few weeks – a transition known as the “low-carb flu” – for your body to adjust to burn fat instead of sugar.
Without so many carbs, there’s a good chance you’ll feel tired and cranky those first few days. This defeated me a few times. A new way of eating, combined with little sleep and a super-stressful job, was too much until I figured out how to make it work.
How to Handle It
The best way to handle this is to switch to Paleo going into a weekend (or whenever you don’t have to work for a few days). If that isn’t possible, or if your schedule changes, try to align your start with a time when there isn’t anything super important or demanding going on.
Don’t feel the need to go low carb right away. Low-carb Paleo diets are great for weight loss, but they can be tough when you’re just getting started. You can eat plenty of Paleo-friendly carbs (safe starches, fruits, vegetables, and nuts) to ease your transition. That way the drop off in carbs won’t be so intense, and you’ll have more energy. After a few weeks, you’ll be able to cut down on your carb intake (if you want) as your body adjusts.
Finally, don’t worry about feeling out of sorts those first few days. This is a natural part of the process, and the negative symptoms should go away after a few days or weeks. Your body just needs some time to adjust to a new, healthier way of eating.
2. It’s Easy to Blow Things out of Proportion
When you change the way you eat, you’ll have a tendency to blow things out of proportion.
Every food craving seems like torture. Every little slip-up feels like the end of the world.
When you get off track at any point during those first few days, it’s easy to start doubting yourself. You beat yourself up for not having enough discipline. And you start questioning whether you can handle “this whole Paleo thing.”
I had moments where I’d screw up and get off track. Instead of picking up where I left off, I’d end up writing the entire day off – and eat unhealthy foods the rest of the day – and promise myself I’d do better tomorrow. You don’t have to do this!
How to Handle It
The biggest thing to remember here: when you’re just starting out, every triumph and setback feels like it’s a lot more significant than it really is.
Eating Paleo puts you on a sustainable path for a healthier life. There’s a lot of hype about this way of eating, and with good reason. But it isn’t a miracle solution that will cure every health issue in the first few days. It’s easy to get carried away if you don’t manage your expectations.
Stop asking yourself when you can “go back to eating normal again.” That thinking is limiting (and sets you up for failure) because it frames Paleo as something temporary – a diet. It’s more useful to think of Paleo as a permanent lifestyle upgrade.
You won’t figure everything out right away. And, unless you have a ton more discipline than me, you won’t get it right 100% of the time from Day 1. That’s okay. You’re building new habits and redefining your relationship with food. It’s a “two steps forward, one step back” process.
3. You’ll Crave Things You Can’t Have
You know how cats couldn’t care less about balls of yarn unless they’re moving?
Food cravings were like that for me. For years, bread was just something I used to make sandwiches. It wasn’t special. But as soon as I couldn’t have it, I started to miss it – crave it even.
It might go that way for you too when you switch to Paleo. Grains, sugars, and processed foods (whether you enjoy them or just eat them without thinking about them) can suddenly become the objects of powerful food cravings.
Cravings can be tough, especially if you’re already making a big shift from your old eating patterns. You only have a limited amount of willpower to work with.
How to Handle It
The first (and easiest) thing to do: make it more difficult to get your hands on the foods you crave. Separate yourself from problem foods. The more physical distance between you and them, the better! Remove them from your pantry if you can. Don’t even keep them in the house. Often, the inconvenience of having to go out and pick something up is enough to beat the craving.
Another thing that helped me was to have a go-to “pattern interrupt.” Ever find yourself craving a food, and that craving just gets stronger and stronger? It’s easy to start obsessing. A pattern interrupt is just a little thing you do to break out of that loop. You could try calisthenics, a mini meditation session, or whatever works for you. For me, it was a quick walk around the block.
Finally, don’t look for Paleo versions of pre-packaged, unhealthy foods. Those are usually heavily processed, and they usually don’t taste that great anyway. You just end up torturing yourself with mediocre treats without moving closer to your big goal: eating the healthiest foods you can find.
4. Your Environment is Probably Working Against You
Ever heard the phrase “we’re products of our environment”?
That definitely rings true as far as your diet and lifestyle goes. Your surroundings – where you spend your time – set the baseline of whether you’ll make healthy (or destructive) food choices most of the time.
If you’ve ever found yourself eating unhealthy foods just because they’re there, it might be time to shake up your environment before you go Paleo.
A bad environment bogged me down a few times when I was trying to make the switch myself. I left it to willpower that I wouldn’t eat the bag of chips in my pantry after a nightmare day at work. (I’m sure you can guess how that worked out…)
Willpower only gets you so far. And there’s a lot of strain on that already just by changing your food choices. Surrounding yourself in environments full of unhealthy foods makes it easy to slip up.
How to Handle It
Your environment can definitely work against you. But it can work for you too:
Start by emptying your pantry of unhealthy foods. If you share your pantry with non-Paleo family members or roommates who refuse to toss the Oreos, come up with a compromise so problem foods are at least out of your sight.
Also, make sure you have plenty of Paleo-friendly foods around. It’s just as easy to go to the kitchen and grab carrots as it is to grab cookies. Which foods you choose, however, comes down to what’s available.
You can also create a mini environment to take with you on the go. Keep Paleo snacks like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and canned tuna on standby for when you’re away from home and get hungry. You’ll be much less likely to get off track if you have healthy options within arm’s reach!
5. Telling People Can Lead to Pushback and Negative Social Pressure
Deciding to go Paleo is exciting. It’s an important moment leading to a happier, healthier life. So, like with other important moments, you might be tempted to tell your family, friends, and coworkers about this one.
Resist the temptation!
If you spread the news far and wide, some people will have your back. They’ll support you 100%. But others will have questions. They’ll bring up concerns about your health. And a few people will shoot down your plans.
It’s hard enough to change your eating habits on your own. The last thing you need is a chorus of unsupportive, doubtful voices. Listen to those long enough and you just might start believing them. You might end up talking yourself out of trying Paleo in the first few days.
How to Handle It
Keep your own counsel as you make the Paleo shift. Another option is to confide in your (on-board) spouse or a trusted friend who’s either Paleo themselves or at least aware of all the benefits. This can add some social accountability and make it easier to stick with the program.
Having social accountability is great, but tell too many people, and it can easily turn into criticism. Don’t let people’s opinions or doubts push you off track before you give Paleo a fair shot.
You don’t have to neglect your social life, either. You can still go out and enjoy spending time with family and friends. Eating beforehand (planning events not centered on food and drinks is better) will help you stick to the program without sacrificing social time.
The First Steps to a Happier, Healthier Life
The thought of dramatically changing how you eat can be scary. Especially during those first few days.
But with the right mindset and strategies in place, you can make the transition as smooth as possible. The payoff – more energy, weight loss, staying out of the doctor’s office for years and decades to come – is definitely worth it.
If you’re already Paleo, what were your first few days like? What do you wish someone had told you before you made the switch? Leave a comment below and share your experience!
(Related: How to Stay Paleo While Traveling)