Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
8 Jun

How to Quit Grains

Yes, they’re inextricably woven into nearly every aspect of our society. Dietary staple, cultural icon, sentimental fodder, patriotic symbol: it’s impossible to get away from them. However, just because they’re ubiquitous in our social environment doesn’t mean they deserve a place on your dinner plate. You know the multitude of reasons to quit grains. How about some strategies for kicking them to the curb?

As much as I condone, cajole and attempt to convince people to give up grains for the sake of their health, I’m not oblivious to the fact that dumping grains can be a tough and sometimes lonely slog. It’s not just the cultural thing either. For most people, physiological and habitual forces are the most demanding aspects. You’ve likely heard the term “carboholic” (used mostly in magazines and Oprah confessions for humorous, normalizing purposes), but there’s genuine truth there. Although I’m not equating the ravages of alcoholism and drug addiction with carb cravings, hard science has something to say about the physiological compulsion associated with dietary sugar and carbs (PDF).

Understanding the physical and mental impulse shouldn’t set the stage for making excuses (i.e. the carboholic joke). Though it can take some forethought and commitment, giving up grains is wholly, entirely possible and crucial to both your short-term vitality and long-term health. Ready to jump? Let’s go.

1. Study up and load up (on non-grain delicacies).

Cookbooks (I can suggest a fantastic one, actually), MDA recipes, and countless other sources can prove to you once and for all that there is life after bread. Get thee to the grocery store and stock up on the best, most appetizing Primal goodies you can find. Plan those first weeks out of the Primal starting gate to be as luxuriously delectable and indulgent as your imagination allows.

2. Know what to expect.

As immense as the rewards are, there are issues to contend with. Initially, there may be the carb cravings (usually less dramatic if you’ve already been cutting down for some weeks) and the infamous “low carb flu.” Read up on these and check out other Grokkers’ experiences. It will help you put these passing symptoms in perspective. Beyond the first few weeks, there are more “big picture” issues to address. Because we live in the culinary culture we do, cutting out grains can mean more than changing your lunch. Family barbeques and holiday menus will need tweaking. Maybe you’ll need a script for annoying family members’ digs. Once you’ve made the transition and are enjoying the advantages, I’ll bet you won’t be complaining, however….

3. Get the rest of your physiological house in order.

Think twice about undertaking this if you’re constantly burning the midnight oil, getting no exercise, and your stress level is spiraling out of control. These aren’t the best circumstances to bring to carb withdrawal. Now, this isn’t to say your life has to be perfectly ordered and stable in order for you to be successful giving up grains. Adopting a healthier diet that allows for more stable energy throughout the day can actually help you tame the other pressures in your life. Nonetheless, you’ll likely have an easier time giving up grains if you can go at the endeavor with a little more sleep and a little more emotional focus. If life is too crazy to be contained at the moment, just take it slowly.

4. Plan the logistics.

When you’re rushing out the door in the morning, kids arguing, papers flying and blood pressure rising, you’re not exactly primed to make the most rational choices. Lay out your full day’s menu. Keep Primal foods at the forefront of your cabinets. Make shopping lists and Primal backup alternatives in case you forget to take the meat out of the freezer. Anticipate the stumbling blocks (e.g. party cake at the office or the kids’ playdate) and have something Primal on hand (not a Special K shake).

If you live with grain eaters, divide cabinet spaces and come up with a plan ahead of time. Will you be making meals for them? Work out the details and come to agreements. Keeping the peace will help you stay on track.

5. Make your motivation manifest.

Have a motivation board or journal you turn to. When you’re pining after that coffee cake you’re your mother-in-law brought over, it can both remind you why you’re doing this and how far you’ve already come. (Then throw it away after she leaves.) Use whatever language or imagery speaks to you. A former Marine friend had some interesting phrasing to keep himself on the path – some of the most colorful profanity I’ve ever seen on Post-Its all over his house. No judging here. Whatever works!

6. Do it your way. Take it slowly or go cold turkey.

Although going gradually might help some people, others prefer to pull the band-aid quickly and definitely. Don’t apologize or second guess your intuition. You know how you operate. Eliminate one grain at a time or banish all grains at the outset: the end result is the same.

7. Positive Self Talk

Sit down in front of a mirror periodically and tell yourself you’re “good enough, smart enough and doggone….” Humor goes a long way, folks.

8. Join a support group.

No foolin’ here. In fact, I’d most highly recommend our charming group here. Have you visited the forum? I never cease to be impressed by the good will and good sense offered amongst fellow Grokkers. Make use of their experience. Learn from them. Turn to them. By all means, read the posts, but be a part of the community as well. A kind or encouraging response can make all the difference on a bad day. Besides, they know where to get the grain patch.

9. Pamper yourself.

If there was ever a time to indulge yourself a little, make it these early weeks. Beyond eating well, plan a light and enjoyable week for yourself. Spa visit? Hike in the park? Great Primal dinner to celebrate your new endeavor with friends? Whatever you’ve been waiting to do, do it.

10. Have patience with yourself (and the process).

If you fall off the horse, just dust your butt off and get back on. No sulking, no self-deprecating. Accept it as a temporary divergence and just do the next right thing for yourself. Then go kick an ear of sweet corn around the yard.

Now it’s your turn! What challenges did you face and what strategies, creativity and humor made a difference to your success? I can’t wait to read your ideas. Thanks for reading today.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m fairly new to the grain free diet–like only this past month, and gradual at that. I did go grain free for a few months a little over a year ago, but went off of it. Anyway, now I’m back because of severe digestive issues. I have Celiac, IBS and have been told by my GI Dr. that it still could be crohn’s. So, going grain free for me is a life or death thing. I have no stomach pain when I don’t eat grains–unless I get gluten through something else.(oh, and I can’t do dairy–AT ALL)

    My problem is though, that I have SEVERE cravings every 4-5 days!! Sometimes, I can fight it, and other times I give in. I also do not need to lose weight. I am already at the low end of normal and have just gotten there in the last year. People are finally telling me I don’t look so frail anymore, but if I lose weight by going grain free, then that won’t be good. I am trying to eat plenty of fat, but still lose. The up side of this is, I feel WAY better!! Just need to figure out how to fight the cravings and stay at a good weight :)

    Kimberly wrote on June 9th, 2010
    • I’ve often wondered about this, weight gain instead of weight loss.

      I live with a friend and her 8-year old. The munchkin is all of 43 1/2 pounds! The docs say her development is normal, just a couple years behind schedule. She eats a lot of sugar just to get the extra calories into her, since she burns off everything else. Any suggestions on how I might influence her to a healthier diet *and* put some weight on her bones?

      She loves the take-out style beef and broccoli recipe, but otherwise rejects most veges.

      curiousalexa wrote on June 9th, 2010
      • Sugar is very stimulating to the adrenal glands and could actually cause her weight to stay low. A lot of skinny kids are like this. But some of them balloon up later after puberty when their adrenals and thyroid finally give up after all the overstimulation.

        If possible I would look into getting her on a nutrient-dense diet. Calories aren’t everything. Meat, butter and eggs are good choices. Though less primal, raw milk and cheese can do wonders for growth too as long as they are tolerated well. Supplementing with high vitamin fermented cod liver oil is also important for children as well.

        Just start small, and make changes at a comfortable pace so lifelong habits can be formed.

        Elizabeth wrote on June 9th, 2010
    • Keep on this diet. It makes a huge differnce. Last year I was 5′ 8″ and only 114 pounds. Sticking with this diet– resolved my digestive tract issues and I have gained 23 pounds. It takes time but your body will be where it should be if you resolve the inflammation problems. Good luck!

      Mama wrote on June 19th, 2010
  2. mmm – chips and salsa!

    I take a bag of pork rinds to our favorite mexican place for salsa dipping. The restaurant doesn’t care and I don’t feel tempted. Works for me!

    Dave S wrote on June 9th, 2010
  3. For grains, one way to get off them is by stages: first wheat(!), then corn, then rice, then the rest of them.

    The only way to kick sugar is cold-turkey. JUST DO IT! No teaspoons of honey in your tea. If you religiously stay off it for two weeks, you will lose your cravings. DOn’t make up the difference with dried fruit, and take it
    easy on the fresh fruit, not more than one serving per day.

    Been Primal since the end of January. I’ve lost over 26 lbs. It has reset my tastes completely. Recently I was at a Mexican restaurant with my husband, and was able to avoid the chips and salsa with very little effort.

    ColoGrassFed wrote on June 9th, 2010
    • Wha…! Taking it easy on fruit with spring and summer around the corner?

      Nuh uhhh!!! :)

      suvetar wrote on June 10th, 2010
  4. This is a timely post for me. I’ve been pretty good with grains recently, and when I’ve felt the urge to have some carbs, it’s usually been potatoes. But, the past two days, I had some bread each day. And, I’ve been paying for it with GI issues each time.

    I’m trying to figure out if the reactions are new since I cut way back on grains, or maybe they were always there and I just ignored/never noticed because that’s the way it “was”. I’m at a point where I can’t rule out any confirmation bias, but it seems that every time I have wheat recently, it treats me pretty badly. Just one more reason to not have the wheat, I guess.

    Damon wrote on June 9th, 2010
  5. Someone mentioned the lack of low carb options in restaurants. Been traveling lately in the south and Cracker Barrel has a full page low-carb menu.Not ideal but it’s better than the country fried steak and chicken fingers. Just stay away from the corn bread!

    gt wrote on June 9th, 2010
  6. Call me a black sheep here but I have resided that I will never fully kick grains out.

    I think the primal approach is great for day-to-day eating but there is too much good food out in the world to dismiss grains completely. Anything from indian curries with rice and naan bread, to pastas/pizzas to Apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

    I love travel and food in an Anthony Bourdain kind of way so it is very hard for me to eat primal to begin with!

    BigD wrote on June 9th, 2010
    • Aren’t Bats & Cockroaches Primal?

      chairdr wrote on June 9th, 2010
    • You’re no black sheep. More like a regular human being (I know because I’m one too!). :) Sounds like you haven’t gotten wrapped up in the dogma that commonly surrounds nutrition. Stressing out over avoiding foods is just as unhealthy as eating the bad stuff, though that’s rarely acknowledged. Healthy eating is great. Obsessing over it? Not so great.

      Elizabeth wrote on June 9th, 2010
  7. Wow – the number of responses shows how this post is a biggie for us all!

    Since following MDA, I’ve lowered my grain intake substantially and seen the benefits. That said, I do still allow myself the odd grain. I love porridge oats so much and feel the benefit of them outweighs any negatives.

    Just returned from Genoa, Italy. The Foccacia is to die for! It would be sad to go to such a place and not try a local speciality because you were grain free. I think we all have the self control to be sensible with grains but agree that a zero tolerance policy is easiest most of the time.

    Luke M-Davies wrote on June 9th, 2010
    • MODERATION…Thats my issue. Self control is easy. Last night I found a recipe for Primal apple mini muffins using cocnut flour. When they came out of the oven piping hot, I put on a little real butter (until now I couldnt find a use) sat down with a nice Espresso (my main vise) and enjoyed the combo.Later I realized that that did not do anything for me. I guess I didnt crave it, but was curious about what to do with coconut flour. Its been almost 8 weeks with zero grain & going strong. Maybe in the future when i reach my goal, I will need that sort of snack to get me through.

      chairdr wrote on June 9th, 2010
  8. Sliced cucumbers make great “chips” with salsa!

    Jan wrote on June 9th, 2010
    • So far the best substitute I have found for corn chips is raw sliced jicama. Simply slice off the skin and slice the remaining interior into chip-sized wafers. It is crunchy and delicious – load it with guacamole and salsa and shredded chicken. It keeps refrigerated for days. Absolutely delicious and so simple!

      Joanna wrote on June 9th, 2010
  9. Mark, what do you think about military who are deployed? We are given limited options to what we are able to eat. I wish I could explain better the type of food we have but that would be an exceptionally long comment. I would just like some insight on what you think would be good for someone like myself. NCO–Air Force–Somewhere in the middle of the desert!

    Rob wrote on June 10th, 2010
  10. When your doctor says to go grain-free or die, it’s easy…have worked out all my life, lifted weights, been a runner, skater, bicycler…taken all the best vitamins…but found out during routine medical testing for other things that I am gluten intolerant…had started getting the “runs” all the time as a result. Doc insisted I call sick off of one of my flight attendant trips in order to attend a seminar on the topic…(I thought he was nuts)…the lecturer stated that over 90% of women who have osteoporosis and osteopenia have those maladies because they are gluten-intolerant…hmmmm, I thought…wonder if I have one of those…Imagine my shock at finding that I have osteopenia even after YEARS of lifting, supplements of the best quality, hard-impact aerobics…blah, blah…let’s end this story…got off of grains, hired a trainer to help me with the very painful rehab of my back, especially…started taking medical-grade MCHC by a company called Trivita, which is the ONLY calcium proven to rebuild bone, and my numbers have improved to the point that I now have the bones of a healthy young athlete…and I am 61 years old…get off of grains, folks!!!!

    Cj wrote on June 10th, 2010
    • I want to meet your doctor!
      Don’t find many honest doctors these days, most know and don’t want to explain and just send you off with a prescription for something else that takes you down.

      Congrats on your recovery, it’s priceless.

      suvetar wrote on June 10th, 2010
    • Hey Cj,
      This fascinates me! I too have recently been diagnosed (at 30) with Osteopia in my spine and femur. I’m going to mention this calcium supplement to my doctor. Would love to learn more about your results since been on it. I also have cut out grains and already feel much better.

      Tracey wrote on June 26th, 2010
  11. Oh, and to add to the above post, I have lost 16 pounds, 18 inches total, have built muscles on my muscles…and I am not a guy…I am a 61 year-old woman…I don’t miss the grains at all. Love this!!!!

    Cj wrote on June 10th, 2010
  12. I had no idea how toxic grains were to me personally until I went Primal in April. No gut issues for the first time in YEARS. My husband still won’t do this and insists on eating like Korg — and I figure that he’ll come around when he’s ready. So I am still making him home made whole grain bread and serving him whole grain pasta (it’s what he wants and arguing doesn’t work with him) and I find I don’t crave it at all. What a miracle! (Personally: down 11 pounds without effort and great energy. Most importantly, NO MOODSWINGS!

    Joellyn wrote on June 10th, 2010
    • Joellyn, it gives me such joy to read what a Primal diet has done for you. I also have a family for whom I still prepare a lot of whole grain foods, and I have shared your experience of having little trouble resisting eating those foods. This is really shaping up to be a wonderfully doable eating plan, so far, with many benefits!

      Shauna wrote on June 11th, 2010
  13. I went cold turkey on grains just to give it a try for 30 days a little under a month ago in an attempt to get off my blood pressure and cholesterol medications.. If you saw me before you’d have thought, “here’s a fit active guy” — but looks are deceiving. Even on meds my BP was in the high 130s over the high 80s. Not terrible, but enough that my MD thought it should be treated after trying “conventional lifestyle changes” for a couple of years. I ate low-fat and whole grain everything. Also, my total cholesterol remained high, but not stratospheric. Still, I was put on Lipitor. I dislike the idea of depending on pharmacueticals when I think there are other avenues so I started looking into alternatives. Now, I don’t think my MD is a bad guy but I do think he took me at my word because of my physical appearance when I told him I thought I was doing all I could to lower my numbers through lifestyle. Especially since many of the other patients I see in the waiting room look like walking illness.

    I have been tracking my BP twice daily for the last month and am happy to report a significant drop (while deciding myself to halve my BP meds). While not my goal, I also have lost nearly 15 lbs. while eating just as much as I did before (I don’t go hungry). Now my P90X results can show!

    Dustin Bopp wrote on June 11th, 2010
  14. if you loved bread, I’ve made a fabulous grain-free Rosemary Olive Bread from The Gluten Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam. Bread eaters love it too!

    She has other amazing recipes. Click here for pictures of recipes from her book.

    I’ve also made some phenomenal Paleo Pumpkin Muffins with blanched almond flour (also on my blog)

    Chef Rachel Albert wrote on June 11th, 2010
  15. if you don’t have gluten allergies, is there a reason to avoid grains?

    blipton wrote on June 11th, 2010
    • Madeline wrote on June 11th, 2010
    • Yes. From bloating to wrinkles. I posted a link but it’s still “waiting for moderation” if you go to “” There you can click at the top right corner where it says “should you be” & lists a number of reasons why.

      Madeline wrote on June 13th, 2010
  16. I was baffled by the PDF linked to this post. Although the lead-in sentence described it as providing data about the ill effects of a high carb diet, the studies findings claimed harmful effects of various kinds from a HIGH FAT diet. While it doesn’t specify fat type, it certainly is not about high carb or insulin management. Any insights?

    Noah P wrote on June 29th, 2010
  17. Someone above said they are still looking for something to soak up the juice on the plate…I make some almond flour biscuits occasionally from healthy indulgences ( a low-carb, gluten free blog). Lauren, although not Paleo, has a lot of great recipes. Here’s the recipe I like..

    It’s helped me a few times when I needed SOMETHING comforting, but on plan.

    I also make some yummy ‘crackers’ I use in place of chips ..served with salsa/guacamole or with organic pate…

    1/2 cup almond flour, 1/4 cup flaxseed meal, 1/4 cup sesame seeds, 1/2 tsp sesame oil, 1 egg white. Mix it up until a stiff dough forms. Grease the back of a cookie sheet REALLY well then put the dough on it. Top with a greased sheet of waxed paper and roll the dough as thin as you can with a rolling pin. Peel back the paper and score the ‘dough’ before baking at 375 for 10-13 mins (or until brown)…let cool and break into crunchy pieces. Store in an airtight container.

    Lena wrote on July 19th, 2010
  18. I don’t know what I will do without my mom’s mashed potato. I guess one time a year at Thanksgiving will suffice?

    Joe wrote on July 29th, 2010
  19. You mean give up bread? Or give up all grains? ALL, like quinoa, teff, amaranth, millet, Basmati rice?

    JB wrote on August 1st, 2010
  20. This might be strange for some of you, but i keep a grainy protein bar in the shelf with the nuts and dates i snack on all day. just to know its there if i ever want it.

    But seriously, knowing what it does to us and reading ingredients lists kills temptation quick anytime. the first clue that is that it has an ingredients list.

    Im also concious of when i stray back to harmfull foods and like plan that in advance.

    Just eating enough to not get any cravings seems to work for the 80 / 10 / 10 crowd. but thats a totally different thing.

    pixel wrote on December 27th, 2010
  21. My health had declined so much the few years prior to me going Paleo/Primal that I had the total opposite effect to ‘low carb flu’, I actually found I had more energy, clearer head, less pain than I’d had in recent memory and my IBS all but disappeared. I know now that I am gluten sensitive, but all grains seem to bring on a swift and painful response, so the truth for me is that Paleo/Primal is the ONLY thing that makes sense, and in fact I’d say that I feel 10 years younger since I started eating this way, which is almost a full year now since I was fortunate to discover Cordain’s book and then Mark’s website…together it’s been relatively easy…I order food in restaurants without breads/grains–I smile at the funny looks I get, I completely revamped my kitchen–grocery shoping is simply a walk around the perimeter of the store–no need to go near anything packaged, boxed, canned, etc. (I found that part quite liberating), and I make things in large quantities so I can enjoy leftovers for lunch the next day. I’ve never looked back, I don’t regret giving up grains because all I remember is the pain they caused me. Thank you Mark for the great work you do and all the help you provide!

    Gerri wrote on January 22nd, 2011
  22. My problem here is that I don’t like food…but I tolerate grains. I eat at least one bowl of pasta every day and often granola, dry oatmeal, and sometimes rice. I like the stuff because it’s bland and it doesn’t taste like much. I really don’t like food, and people tend to gasp and ask me what’s wrong with me which neeeever gets old. I’d love to go primal–not really for health and fitness reasons as much as evolutionary cultural reasons–but I don’t want to give up the only thing I don’t dread eating….

    Natalia wrote on March 30th, 2011
    • Try a mindfulness exercise, take a mouthful of food and watch your reaction. Is this pleasant, unpleasant,or neither. often the actual taste of the food is pleasant, until sufficient has been eaten when it becomes less so. There may be a whole bunch of other reasons you have your particular response to food, and examining that may reveal the answers you are looking for around eating for better health.

      BT wrote on September 19th, 2011
    • You could well be low in zinc, which would account for lack of appetite and could easily be caused by eating grains, because the phytic acid in them blocks mineral absorption. Try supplementing with zinc and increase your vitamins A and D from good fats and see whether you don’t start finding food more appealing.

      Jeanmarie wrote on February 4th, 2012

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