For this month’s 30-day challenge, we realize that everyone is starting from a different place. As much as we learn from our hardcore Grokkers, we welcome Primal newcomers with open arms and eager ears. We want to know their stories, their challenges, and the strategies that finally make it work for them. Some of us are the type to jump in the deep end of the pool and figure it out when we get to the bottom. Others of us dip our toes, scan the ladder placements, and study the grade of floor depth. Different strokes, we say.
Even as we accept that our own Primal journey will be different from the next person’s, it can be a little awkward or discouraging to be the one feeling out the shallow end while others are doing flips and belly flops in the deep side of the pool. We thought a post on baby-stepping, breaking down the transition into small and very manageable steps, might come in handy for many of our readers – newcomers, renewers, or even old-timers who are coaching friends and family in a Primal direction. Kick back and get brainstorming for your next baby step!
Re-make a meal
Not that a single meal doesn’t count for something, but we actually mean a meal category (or maybe snack) each day. Maybe you want to tackle your least Primal serving of the day first (if you’re still stuck in a carb rut at breakfast, say). On the other hand, perhaps you’re more inclined to take on the simplest meal and work your way up. (Morning snack first? Meat and salad for dinner?) Setting a consistent pattern for a meal each day not only gets you on a solid track; it offers the mental boost of daily accomplishment. Furthermore, it can serve as a template for tackling further food overhauls. Remaking one meal a day gets you in the mode of delving into Primal variety, trying new recipes and eating for health rather than habit.
Drop or swap a vice
Perhaps there’s a particular offender, a persevering and pesky element of your diet that will take special time and energy to ditch. We’re not talking here about an occasional indulgence item but a regular player in the lineup. Whether it’s your favorite creamy stout, morning danish or afternoon microwave popcorn fix, you might find it easier to isolate and conquer before expanding the battle. Some readers have shared stories of choosing “better” but not totally Primal alternatives for their old favorites first and then going back to phase out these “lesser evils” once they had the rest of diet more fully Primalized.
Give up a grain at a time
Those vexing little granules that litter the dinner plates of unsuspecting diners everywhere… We’re only half kidding of course. (You know our shtick on this subject.) Sure, not all grains are created equal. Some, like brown rice, don’t seem to do quite the same number on the intestines as others. Yet, at the end of the day they’re still the same insulin and inflammation inciters. As we’ve said time and again, they add little to a healthy diet and generally fill the space of more nutritious fare. Tick them off the list based on preference or prevalence in your diet. Or work your way through the grain chain with more of a mind to gluten, bidding adieu to wheat and its various derivatives first, then continuing onward through the inventory.
Sample a new vegetable (or other Primal ingredient) each week
Out with the old, in with the new as they say. Your Primal conversion shouldn’t be a story of the incredibly shrinking menu. Take a hint from those middle school food science/home ec journals and explore a veggie a week. Remember the color illustrations, origin histories and recipe lists? Of course, adding more than one new item a week is ideal (especially with the best of summer’s bounty). And there’s nothing wrong with mixing it up either with other new-to-you Primal fare like almond butter or less appreciated cuts of meat. Don’t worry if you have to do some less than ideal adaptations at first like hiding the new item in the midst of other ingredients or incorporating favorite dips or sauces. The idea here is to add, not limit. Your taste buds will adapt with time, and you’ll find yourself with less need for the camouflage or accompaniment strategies.
Ditch the deadbeat drinks
Now more than ever Americans get an enormous amount of their calories and sugar from drinks, an easily overlooked food category. (Too many people delude themselves into thinking liquids somehow don’t count!) With the likes of mega sodas, energy drinks, syrup loaded coffee beverages and alcohol, it’s not hard at all to drink your dinner: carbs and calories through the roof, nutrients generally nonexistent. Nixing deadbeat drinks and replacing them with water, tea (and a single cup of regular joe for a morning pick-me-up) can mean a major difference in your carb count for the day, not to mention your insulin response and “real” (as opposed to jacked-up) energy level.
Change one workout a week
Whether you’re stuck in the chronic cardio circuit, the heavy lifting mode or a plateau of the same low level activity, consider mixing things up. Exercise outside your comfort zone by venturing into a different part of the gym (yoga studio, free weights?), hitting a different venue (the trails, the pool?) or just slowing it down (you cardio addicts out there). Get up the gumption to try one of Mark’s sprints, join a casual sports league or let your hair down and initiate a game of flag football or Ultimate (Frisbee) with the family.
Add a workout a week
A logical permutation of the previous tip of course… If your situation isn’t characterized so much by too much cardio or an imbalance of lifting and low level activity, you might be looking at the need for simply adding workouts period. (No worries here: everyone starts somewhere.) The idea might be to just get moving. Low level workouts are generally easiest to incorporate. We’d definitely recommend trying to add more than one a week if you find yourself in this boat. If you’re already exercising a few times a week but know you’re capable of or ready for more, throw in a weight training or sprint session. Even adding an additional day of low level work can make a difference and can help up your game later with the time you’ve learned to set aside.
Start a supplement
Mark has said unequivocally that no supplement can be a stand in for a truly healthy diet and lifestyle. That said, a quality supplement can kickstart and continually enhance the biochemical balance that characterizes good health. As you begin your own efforts in the realms of exercise and nutrition, why not give yourself a leg up? Another benefit? A supplement can help mitigate the disadvantages of less than fully Primal living as you make your transition.
Make the mental – and logistical – commitment
Of course we all have a million excuses for not getting Primal even though we know it makes sense. We care about our health. We want to eat right and be in good shape. Right? But there are all those hours of low level cardio, the sweaty sprints and all that vegetable cutting…. Hmmm. How can I possibly fit in anything extra right now? Living Primally doesn’t require more time than any other active lifestyle. When you consider the lack of chronic cardio prescriptions and the short investments of sprints and targeted weight training sessions, you’ll likely be looking at less time expenditure. As for food, food shopping is generally food shopping. (And if you do the CSA/cowpooling/etc., it’s actually less weekly outlay of time.) Cutting, chopping and cooking might add a few extra minutes, but they’re well worth the extra energy healthy food will give you. Get more done in less time and sleep better when your head hits the pillow.
There are few moments in our lives when we can truly say we don’t have the time to take care of ourselves. The weeks following a death or serious illness of a loved one, the birth of a child maybe. Even in the most difficult times, however, we can make progress even as we give up the ideal of perfection (who ever said anything about being perfect anyway?).
In other busy but regular circumstances, we are able to consider what we want to bring into our lives (e.g. healthy living) and earnestly examine what we’re willing to give up to achieve this. T.V.? Wii? Getting through the whole newspaper in the morning? Ditching the car commute for a daily walk to the bus or a bike ride? Relocating nightly discussions to the kitchen while you put together lunch for the next day? Making family outings or time with the kids more active? It’s generally not an issue of giving up valuable activities or interactions in our lives but instead a challenge/opportunity to remake them into equally fulfilling and life balancing Primal adaptations.
Develop a personal Primal diversion
By all means, remake everyday responsibilities into time-saving Primal activities, but also find a bit of time and energy to initiate something new for yourself. Figure out what will “feed” your spirit in a necessary and vital way. For some it might be a meditation practice. For others it might be a new commitment to play – the enjoyment of a favorite sport or a relaxing, rejuvenating activity that fulfills a need for space, solitude or nature. Whatever your Primal diversion of choice is, enjoy it as a gift to yourself. Use it to recenter and rediscover self-care. The small bit of investment/indulgence will make the rest of your Primal commitment come more naturally. When you believe your overall well-being is worth the time and effort, you’re ready to embrace the steps toward Primal vitality.
Got enough to get you going? Comments? Feedback? Other baby step ideas you’ve used or recommended to inspire the Primal journey? Thanks for reading.