Cold Turkey vs. Baby Steps: Which Is the Better Approach?

Tortoise and the HareA conversation the other day got me thinking about personality and weight loss/health transformation. Do certain “types” tend to approach health changes differently? For instance, do intense personalities steer toward a cold turkey approach? Likewise, do milder characters lean toward a slow and steady style? And what does the research say? Everyone is always looking for the path that entails the least amount of pain, toil and struggle. Maybe we’re lead by intuition, or maybe we’ve had our share of personal experimentation – with its collection of successes and frustrations. For example, maybe you tried to go cold turkey once and feel like you fell flat on your face. On the other hand, maybe you tried it and it wasn’t a total disaster but was just too uncomfortable. You wanted a different process. (As long as we accept responsibility, we always get to choose our process.) The same goes for the slow and steady method. Maybe it just elicited impatience over time. Knowing ourselves is key to undertaking any health change, but how does personal idiosyncrasy merge with bigger behavioral and physiological patterns?

There’s a relatively scant amount of research (but plenty of expert opinion) on the subject, and it veers off in confoundingly contradictory territory. Still, the particular emphases and findings can, I think, inform our journeys when we don’t take them as absolute prescription but illuminating angles. In the end, few things in life are every 100% one way for 100% of people. We’re responsible for knowing how we tend to operate, placing that knowledge in the context of larger statistics.

The Case for Cold Turkey

It’s the proverbial ripped off band-aid, the mercilessly yanked tooth, the instantaneous jump-off-the-cliff approach. For some, it’s the ultimate set-up for defeat (or rebellion). For others, it’s simply the only way.

There’s a certain exhilaration, I think, to facing the change head-on, to feel you’re charging at it, plowing through the physiological blow back with a kind of “make my day” attitude (low carb flu be damned…). The immediate intensity can offer its own form of frenzied gratification for some people. The momentum itself can carry us.

Not everyone who goes cold turkey, of course, takes the warrior mentality. For some, they whine and whimper to the point of driving themselves and everyone around them to the brink of sanity. Nonetheless, they hold fast to their determination to make it through the rough stuff asap and come out on the other side with the worst behind them. The relief – and pride – are worth the condensed transition.

As for the research, one small but compelling study suggests that big and bold weight loss success early on (the kind you get going all-out) can serve you well in the long run. Researchers followed 262 obese women as they participated in 6-month long lifestyle programs designed in fast, moderate and slow groups and during a year’s follow-up after the conclusion of the programming. Participants in the moderate group were almost three times more likely than those in the slow group to have lost ten percent of their body weight. As for those in the fast group, they were five times more likely than the women in the moderate group to have hit that ten percent body weight lost. As a whole, those in the fast group maintained their weight just as well as those in the other groups.

It’s important to understand, however, that these participants went through a program with direct guidance in the first six months and then received follow-up support for another year. Most people who attempt to lose weight or make another significant change in their health aren’t working with that level of intervention. It’s similar to the success of well-designed detox regimens (hint: most are not well-designed or physiologically sound) as well as the reasoning behind the 21-Day Primal Blueprint Challenge. By all means, believe in the motivating power of a big weight loss/physical transformation surge. That said, the intensive/cold turkey approach perhaps works best for many/most people when it’s accompanied by as much routine and support as possible.

The Case for Baby Steps

On the other hand, you have the baby step approach, the inch at a time, wading gradually deeper into the pool style. It’s the approach that feels less scary, less all or nothing, less likely to fail. For some it offers a safe feeling of being in control and fully confident in each step. In comparison to the cliff-jumpers above, people who lean toward baby steps prefer ground under their feet. They think of it as more of an endurance event rather than a sprint and choose to pace themselves accordingly.

Creating change incrementally definitely offers the chance to make each choice your own. You might lean less on regimen and prioritize the full lifestyle picture more. Progress comes more slowly, but you might feel more confident that it’s here to stay once it does. Though you might not feel the exhilaration of the fast paced progress, you know you won’t experience the crash and burn “now what?”

Again, actual studies are few and far between, but it doesn’t keep expert opinion from falling solidly on the side of baby stepping it. Sure, research demonstrates that people who choose and implement small behavioral changes over time will achieve weight loss success, in one study more successfully than those who are given a set “didactic” regimen. That said, what’s the real crux here? Does routine and regimen help when it comes to intense efforts but hinder progress with slower approaches? There’s not really research to say either way, but I think we can come up with our own thoughts on that.

The issue with baby steps, perhaps, is balance. Ownership of choices and changes is one thing. If you go too long without progress, however, that “deep” approach might eventually work against you. Without success, motivation will almost inevitably lag.

The Bottom Line

The Primal Blueprint is a loose framework for a reason. While many basic principles are clear, not everyone needs to fall in lock step. More important is making the plan your own, and that seldom if ever happens overnight. As you begin the PB, if you’re up for blasting through the initial changes, go for it. Embrace the fast weight loss and body composition shifts you’ll see in a short amount of time.

That said, however, don’t feel intimidated by the fast and furious. Steady change when done thoughtfully will get you where you need to go. Want to up your chance of success? Research suggests the more you can dovetail changes across lifestyle areas to merge into inclusive lifestyle change, the better off you’ll be. Modestly and gradually altering one area of your health might be more beneficial than exclusively overhauling a single dimension at a time.

I’m curious about your direct experiences? What approach have you taken in the Primal transition? Have you experimented? What has worked best for you? Offer up your thoughts and anecdotes, and thanks for reading.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

87 thoughts on “Cold Turkey vs. Baby Steps: Which Is the Better Approach?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Both. When I started, I went cold turkey with processed foods. I had to learn to cook, which was baby steps. Reducing alcohol consumption was baby steps (more so for social reasons). Exercise was baby steps (wanted to do more but couldn’t and still move the next day). Changing my bed time and awake time was cold turkey (even though I did not always fall asleep when I wanted, I was steadfast on the time I went to bed). Eliminating caffeine was cold turkey (now it is a treat). Introducing offal to my diet was cold turkey; enjoying it was baby steps, which was dependent on my baby stepping cooking skills.

    1. I’m with Senor Burgundy on this one — I like both.

      I like to approach it with baby steps, but go all out in each one. I break down primal living in to categories, or baby steps (eating right, getting more sleep, type/frequency of exercise, etc), but I like to go full-bore with each one. When I decide to eat right, I have to make a lifestyle change in how I eat or else I don’t hold myself accountable enough when I slip up.

      Also, cold turkey is a lot more fun, and it feels more like I’m accomplishing a goal. That feeling of satisfaction goes a long way in motivating me to stay the path (I worked hard to get where I am, so I am more inclined to stay here) and also in motivating me in my next pursuit.

    2. Gotta say both too. It depends on what you are trying to change. When I started trying to lose weight I went at it like gangbusters. It worked for me, but over time it became harder and harder to lose more weight (plateau). So, then I adapted to a slow-n-steady approach. I knew the weight was not going to fly off anymore so I just chipped away little by little. I guess it just depends on your situation and either way you should be able to adapt to the other approach if necessary.

    3. I did both too. I jumped in to cutting out wheat and saw very quick results and then fell back to tweaking slowly what works for me. In general I dont think it has to one way or another. I think there is a lot to be said for utilizing both styles.

  2. A lot depends on what it is you’re adding or subtracting from a lifestyle. If you want to add exercise to a sedentary life, you better take baby steps. On the other hand, if you want quit smoking, drinking, smoking crack or eating Twinkies, you better just stop, and the sooner the better.

    1. So true. After many attempts to go cold turkey, the stress of changing so many things overwhelmed and took over within a week. This time I prioritized. Sugar is my rock bottom, hell no, can’t do it priority. I also am also eliminating grains, ditching processed foods and adding a walk most days, prioritized in that order. I’m learning to be gentle with myself and avoid the perfection trap…..but only until I get to sugar. Sugar has to be cold turkey for me.

  3. In my experience, people go overboard with cold turkey and end up miserable, even if they get the desired results. The risk for a serious rebound is very high once you can’t stand being without something anymore.

    This happened to me every time I completely stopped eating something I liked . For instance, I love bread, real sourdough bread, made by a real baker with organic ingredients – flour, water, salt. I tried quitting it, thinking it was somehow bad, and I was miserable. Now I eat it a couple of times per weak and never have cravings – I just enjoy it. The same with jasmine rice, potatoes, oats, even ice cream.

    I say: find a way to incorporate everything you like and makes you feel good into your diet, in moderation. You’ll be happier and it will be more sustainable.

    1. I have to say that I know what you mean. I know a guy who has a very dominant personality. His life is a mess (alcohol, cigarettes, money, health, etc) and he is always coming up with extreme ways of fixing it cold turkey by forcing himself. They NEVER work. I feel bad for the poor guy. His heart is in the right place and these failures have to shake his confidence. When he has asked I’ve tried giving him some ideas about ways to build in slow progress, but he refuses point blank to try any other way. Fact is, cold turkey or baby steps you have to BUILD good habits, not just cut something out. That takes 30 to 90 days. You can’t force or rush it.

  4. Coldturkey did work for me once, lapsed and now I am stuck at square one.
    My problem is that I can’t control it, and i am surrounded by grains and sugars everywhere, at work, at home and even non grain/sugar foods, I can’t get a grasp on NOT to overeat.
    Don’t mistake me, I already lost all the weight i want to, and I am now at 89kg for some time, was down to 80kg, but it’s creeping up… and without getting away from temptation I don’t seem to be able to muster enough mental energy to resist it.
    Maybe on my next vacation… (yeah the good old ‘maybe someday’… damn it)

    1. I hear you. I, too, suffer from the “vacuum” syndrome. I’m like a dog in regard to food: I don’t stop until it’s all gone or I just can’t fit anymore. It doesn’t seem to affect my weight too much, but it’s not helping my body comp. Even primal foods can be eaten in excess…

      1. For most people, it’s impossible to keep denying yourself foods you want in the name of some health or weight goal. We have a certain amount of willpower to do it, and then the feelings of deprivation drive us crazy, often leading to binges. There’s are also other factors besides deprivation that lead us to eat compulsively. Sometimes we aren’t taking in enough carbs, and especially when you’re new to primal, your body can’t cope. Sometimes we’re disconnected from our physical hunger and satiety signals because we’ve been dieting too long. Sometimes TV, computers, alcohol, pot, and other influences lead us to eat mindlessly. Sometimes it’s emotional eating, or eating behaviors we learned in childhood. Long story short, if you find yourself unable to stop eating certain foods, it’s time to look inside. Of course, as an intuitive eating counselor, I’m biased, but I think for most people it’s a necessary step before adopting a primal diet.

  5. I’m a very impatient person. All-in or nothing. I’m a bit fan of the ‘Try it, see what happens’ approach taught to me by my Dad (RIP). If you’re gonna do something, you’ve got to try and do it properly, or you won’t instantly see if it works. And that’s a huge motivator. If something’s not working, try something else, before you run out of time (life is short). With baby steps, its gonna take forever to try out more than one approach. By which time the grains and sugar will have killed you off.

    That said, the 80-20 rule is a great one for those days when nothing’s gonna hit the spot quite like a big bag of chips (the British-style chunky ‘fries’, rather than what we like to call ‘crisps’).

  6. I did the PB cold-turkey and was absolutely miserable in the first month. Then it was relatively easy. I tend to be the “black and white not grey” kind of person so baby steps just don’t work that well in the beginning. Now, after going cold turkey, I have backed up a bit to baby-step certain areas where I have issues. But at least now I have identified them and can go back and tweak my diet and lifestyle a bit. Its an ongoing process!

  7. When people ask in the forum, that is close to what I say. However, I slightly dislike the warrior vs baby step comparison.

    When I first heard you speak 3 years ago, my reaction was to be attracted to Primal but also stubbornly refuse to give up things I liked until you proved I had to. I still stubbornly refuse to give up white rice or potatoes except as needed to lower carbs. (I post as “Hedonist2” in the forums.)

    So, not baby steps, just experimenting and demanding proof, which you have supplied. (And I know you encourage that approach.) I have lost 45 lbs of fat and every aspect of my mental and physical health has gotten better, often dramatically so.

  8. “Cold Turkey” sandwich for me (without the bread). Baby steps feel like the dripping water torture method.

  9. Two things I have to go cold turkey with… drinking during the week and dark chocolate! I’ve whipped the drinking during the week, but I’ve yet to beat the dark chocolate. I really don’t want to give it up completely, just limit myself to a few squares a day, but once I have a few, before I know it, the whole bar is gone and I’m looking for more. Any advice on moderation?

    1. Have someone else dispense you the dark chocolate? That, or try to eat a pound of baker’s chocolate in a single sitting. Break that habit like in “Brewster’s Millions” (i.e. smoking cigars in a closet). Be sure to video tape it.

    2. Re: chocolate: this was me too!! Try this: buy THE best, most expensive chocolate you can find. High cocoa ratio. Chop it into small squares and store in an airtight container out of sight. Take out one piece at a time, and walk away from the container. Don’t chew it–bite off smaller pieces and let it melt in your mouth. Make having a piece of great chocolate an experience. If its really good chocolate, one square is all you need/want. If you *really* want another one, repeat. This cured the “oh hell I just ate the entire bar” problem for me.

      1. Try individually wrapped single servings (or make them yourself in ziplock bags) and keep them in the freezer. It takes longer to eat and there’s something it does to your mind bc it doesn’t melt in your hand right away. This has always helped me limit myself to just one serving. Good luck!

      2. What good does it do to put the container out of sight when you know where you put it? Have someone else hide it for you…or better yet, don’t buy it in the first place. IMO, the only way to permanently get rid of cravings for sweets (including chocolate) is to eliminate them.

    3. With a bar, I usually break off the amount I want to eat, and then re-wrap and put the bar away before eating it, so I’m not tempted to go back for more. Also, when I get the really dark stuff, I find I kind of stop enjoying it after a few bites. This doesn’t happen with 70% cocoa, just 80% or darker. If you need additional wrapping to slow you down, Endangered Species chocolate makes individually-wrapped 88% cocoa chocolate (it has a panther on the box).

  10. I’m definitely a Type B personality and although I have tinkered with a stricter regime, it makes me feel uncomfortable.

    When I feel like I’m off-track, I’ve realised what works is to think of several small goals and focus on one each week for a few weeks, rather than ‘re-set’ with a Whole 30.

  11. I have never done any diet because they all look like torture to me. Instead, I took a lifestyle change approach to losing the 20 lbs. I had gained over 2 decades by slowly increasing movement/exercise and substituting crap I was eating for real food. I got the weight loss results I was looking for quickly, but not healthily, which is what lead me to the Primal Blueprint. Again, I went with the slow and steady approach since I knew that deprivation would only lead to rebellion, frustration and long-term failure. 2 1/2 years into my primal journey I know I made the right choice because my body needed time to heal before I would see the long term health results I had hoped for. I have not been disappointed — my health gains have far exceeded anything I thought was possible, especially at my age.

  12. I have tried cold turkey in the past (actually with Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution, not the Primal Blueprint, but they’re pretty similar) and I was anxious and hyper-focused on food all the time, because I was determined to do a month of super-strict Paleo with no cheating. Not a bite of dairy, no meat that wasn’t strictly grass-fed, not a single glass of the sweet tea I’d been drinking with every meal since I was a kid, no more than one piece of fruit per day, don’t even look at a tuber, etc. I did it, but felt awful (probably a combo of low-carb flu and stress) and didn’t lose any real weight (like a pound and a half all month).

    Then I found Precision Nutrition’s free fat loss course (a kind of teaser to their coaching program, but still really informative on its own) which talks about the importance of implementing one habit at a time. John Berardi also says that as a coach, he asks people how confident they are that they can follow a habit everyday for 30 days, and if they answer anything less than a 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 – 10, he makes the habit a little easier.

    However, Precision Nutrition is kind of nutritionally agnostic and focused on fat loss, while I am convinced of the healthfulness of a Paleo/Primal lifestyle. So I took the list of ten Precision nutrition habits for fat loss, primalized them, and have been working on implementing them one at a time–I try to get a 21-day string of flawless habit compliance before adding a new habit.

    This means that sometimes I go a month or two without adding a new habit, but the weird thing is that I’m losing way more fat and feeling a lot better doing it this way. For instance, the first habit (because easiest for me) that I implemented was “eat protein with every meal” (in my case this meant meat, fish, or eggs, not vegetarian proteins) and I immediately started losing 2 – 4 pounds a week; I was about 175 lbs. to start out with, and a healthy weight for me is about 154, so an average of 3 pounds a week was pretty dramatic–I was almost half way to a healthy weight before I even got around to my second habit!–and that was before I started consciously limiting carbs, sugar, or even gluten (those habits came later).

    Of course, I was slowly making better shopping and eating choices in other areas when I felt motivated (it’s not like I forced myself to keep eating bad stuff), but if I really wanted an apple fritter that day, I didn’t fight myself–I applied all my will power to the single habit I was focusing on.

    Another rule I made to make it easy on myself and eliminate all-or-nothing yo-yo-ing is that while I am strictly Primal at home, I allow myself to eat whatever I want when I go out to restaurants, holidays, and other social occasions. Now, I usually make pretty good choices–I’m at the point where I’m not really looking for an excuse to stuff myself with cake for the heck of it–but knowing that I don’t have to explain myself, defend my food choices, awkwardly interrogate the waitstaff about their frying oils, forgo my sweet tea, etc. is incredibly liberating and makes everything so much more pleasant. This is my 80/20.

    So I come down firmly on the “slow and steady wins the race” end of the spectrum, but I definitely think there are people out there for whom the opposite would be most effective. Robb Wolf deals with a lot of people who have serious illnesses, autoimmune diseases, etc. and dealt with that stuff himself, so for those people it makes total sense to jump in the deep end–if you are literally dying (like, imminently) because of your diet and lifestyle, that’s a whole different level of urgency and motivation. And some people just feed on the energy that comes from making bold moves. But when I tried to fit myself into that approach, I was miserable, discouraged, and constantly afraid of regressing back to my old, unhealthy ways. Now I feel and eat so much better, I know I can maintain it for life, and I enjoy the process.

    1. This reminds me of how I started on the Primal path when I did “Take Shape for Life” and Medifast. Their tips on implementing habits was really helpful, as well as goal-setting and having the right mindset for the changes you might be making. I think I might need to revisit that book because I’ve been struggling a lot lately with food choices (you know, the “it’s only one!” mentality but then I go back for a three more, and this happens every other day…). Thanks for your post, it’s very much appreciated.

    2. Thanks for the info! I found that cold turkey triggers old disordered eating patterns — I am such an all-or-nothing person, it’s not good! I think introducing one habit at a time sounds like the way to go.

    3. Jen, Like Susan says, this sounds IDEAL. I have been trying to go cold turkey on everything and failing (gaining weight) for nearly a year. And been unable to break an evil sugar binging addiction. Baby steps always seemed awkward to me. It was all or nothing. But, this seems really doable. I am going to check it out. Thanks!

    4. Well written. You have a nice balance and your approach.

  13. Although not purposely, I ended up and still continue to tweak/make progress into a much more strict Primal lifestyle. I first changed my dietary food intake and enjoyed those positive changes. Then, I was like, “I need to look into my personal hygiene products, too.” So now I use Primal Life Organics and threw up my chemically-laden Maybelline stuff. That led to, “I need to change what I clean my house with, my dishes, and what I’m cleaning my clothes in the washer with!” Now I’ve transitioned into Seventh Generation dish soap products, I make my own cleaning agents for the house using baking soda, citrus peels, white vinegar and water, and bought soap nuts to clean my clothes (gave away my Tide).
    I shall continue to make these important/healthy changes, and aim for optimal health!

    1. I meant “threw OUT” my Maybelline stuff! Not “threw up” — ha ha!!

  14. I want to be “cold turkey” but seem to be more “baby steps” as the year has gone along. I seesaw back and forth. Giving up grains and processed food is definitely cold turkey but I may never take that last baby step to giving up my morning half & half and my nightly glass of red wine.

  15. I went cold turkey but then I found more things to try and add in little-by-little. I had to do the fitness aspect a bit less than cold turkey because it took a while to adjust to lifting weights and sprinting after so many years of walking, running and biking.

  16. Cold turkey for me. I did a 3 week juice fast and then did a pantry purge and am now 40+ days into Primal and it worked for me. I have an obsessive personality so for me it was a fun new project to get obsessed over. It’s nice knowing the 80/20 rule so that for those times I’m out and I have a few tortilla chips with the guacamole I’m not beating myself up about it. I’ve tried baby steps but since it couldn’t easily fit into my then lifestyle, I’d drop them. Plus I love the immediate results to keep me going.

  17. I’d like to think I am somewhere inbetween baby steps and all or nothing.
    When it came to the exercise portion of the PB I was all in. I found the time to go out for walks after dinner with my hubby and doing squats while cleaning the house, folding laundry etc…
    As far as food, I am still continuing the baby steps. I buy grass fed meats when I can, and have included many more fruits and veggies in to my diet.
    Unfortunatly I can not seem to get my mothers voice out of my head when I go to throw out bottled dressings and condiments. We were raised that “if it isnt expired, it’s wasteful to throw it away”
    I’ve donated all of my unopened gluten free products to a local food bank who was happy to recieve it, but it is the already opened things I cant seem to muster the nerve to toss.

    1. Hi – I totally understand this feeling you have. I could not bear to throw out 3/4 of an opened item, either, just because it was not “perfectly Primal.” I think it’s okay to use up what you’ve opened and just not buy it again in the future. I figured at least I am changing my ways going forward, and I am doing a lot of other very positive things in all aspects of my lifestyle now that I wouldn’t have been doing before. Waste not, want not.

  18. I did the cold turkey thing, and it worked fantasitc for me, but I am in agreement that it is not for everyone. I think either way can work, and will work, if a person puts their focus on moving forward and sticks with it. If you put your heart and mind to it, you WILL experience success!!

  19. I think it depends on your you’re doing this whole thing. If you just want to feel better and live healthier than baby steps help you develop habits that last a lifetime without habitually “falling off the wagon”. However, if you are dealing with severe health (or emotional) issues, cold turkey is a must. For me, it’s a combo platter, cold turkey on gluten grains and legumes. A little more in the baby step area with dairy, wine, and cheese….

  20. Sometimes taking one “food crutch” at a time away is better. Changing the diet is a big shock to the system. Not everyone, probably not most, can process lots of dietary changes all at once. Unless of course you have time to feel really, really bad for a while…

  21. On any big changes I’m a cold turkey guy. Throw myself in and see what works and where I stumble. After I reevaluate where I’m slipping and take gradual steps to correct those areas that I struggle with. That seems to have been the ticket for me. I work with many people who do much better baby stepping it from the beginning.

    The only problem with baby steps is giving up “because it doesn’t work.” Just need to understand you haven’t taken enough steps yet.

    To each his own!

  22. Over a decade ago, when I cut loose from a couple of serious addictions (ok, booze and cigarettes), my way was cold turkey, 100%. And that worked. I’ve never had to do it again. It meant complete focus and commitment and as difficult as it was from time to time, there was never any doubt in my mind about the path. If I wanted a life, I had to take it.

    When it came to the whole Primal thing, that was different. Obviously, there are a lot of smart people out there saying a lot of diametrically opposed things about diet. And nobody, not even the paleo/primal crowd, has all the answers to all the questions, or at least not to my satisfaction. So when it came time to face down getting old, and being fat, and having incipient health problems of various types, it wasn’t so easy to come up with a plan. I pieced it together (and am still piecing it together) over months, and have changed strategy over the course of the last year based on reading and experience. Now, once I made the decision to do it, I did it, and I have never fiddled around with “cheat” days or breaks or anything like that, but I haven’t adopted any one orthodoxy, either. I touch base with both this web site and one low-carb discussion group most days. I keep an open mind, and changes to my workouts and meals are incremental. Orthodoxy was a useful tool for me twelve years ago when I was dealing with addiction, but I don’t trust it when it comes to diet and exercise.

    1. Plus I guess I should say the incremental approach has worked, too. I reached my goal weight (25% down), HDL is off the chart, triglycerides way low, lean, feel good, etc.

  23. Cold Turkey. This wouldn’t usually be my approach but after recently being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the grand age of 38 I felt I had to go head on into it to break my addiction to sugar/carbs. I must say only 3 weeks in I feel fantastic and didn’t realise I could feel so full on so little food. I found doing lots of reading and understanding what grains and legumes were doing to my body has really put me off going back and i am enjoying the renewed energy levels that I thought I had lost forever. I’m starting to feel like 38 again rather than 60. And btw folks.. I am not overweight or obese. I am a normal healthy weight and got type 2 diabetes without any genetic disposition to it! Its all diet and I am seriously optimistic about my chances of reversing this diagnosis before I become insulin dependant.. Go cold turkey.. Save your life.. Do it NOW xx

    1. wow very inspiring, I wish all my “diabetics/diabetics in process” friends follow your lead!

  24. Cold Turkey.

    I need the bruises to feel like I’ve made a transition. Give me the caffeine headaches, the nic fits, the carb flu – these are all signs of my rebirth. A phoenix from the ashes.

  25. It depends on the baby steps. I NEVER would have been able to be fully Paleo if I had not given up wheat first. Because wheat is so predominant in our society as a “food” and it is the most addicting (Wheat Belly), it really should be given up first. I never intended on being 90% Paleo. My intention was to lose weight and feel great. Once I got rid of the wheat and got used to a wheatless existence, weaning the rest of the grains, dairy and legumes came much easier. I will be honest, I still enjoy a slice of gluten free pizza once every few months, I still enjoy a milkshake from time to time, but I would not have survived the first month of going wheat free without being able to eat rice and oatmeal.

    I would say, go cold turkey with each thing you need to cut from your diet. If you drink soda everyday, then quit drinking soda and switch to water. Cold Turkey. Once you’ve got that down, quit the next thing, then the next. Don’t wean. Just stop eating it.

  26. Baby steps for me. I never took the whole Primal thing too seriously, because I didn’t have pounds to lose or serious health problems to fix. It was just an, “oh that sounds interesting, let’s try it” type thing. I started by switching all the stuff I already ate to better versions – regular eggs, butter to pastured. 2% milk to whole. Then I started walking everyday to the grocery store and carrying my food home instead of driving once per week. My noodle breakfasts became egg breakfasts. I’ve pretty much cut all the candy and junk food out of my diet. But I’m still not completely primal and probably won’t ever be, unless my health calls for it. To fit in with my family, I still eat small amounts of rice or bread with my dinner. Sweet potatoes are common. I’m happy with that.

    1. Not to mention the beans and lentils. I’m sure I eat too many of those.

  27. I’m definitely more a baby steps sort of person when it comes to this sort of change. I did an initial month off grains (but overate fruit) and then the results I saw were enough to start making further changes; off legumes, etc.

    I think it’s just (for me anyway) a lack of belief – I don’t BELIEVE enough to go through the pain. But once I gather some evidence, things change. Does that make sense?

    I’m a personal trainer and I have seen clients who fall into those two types, definitely – people who do best cold turkey and people who do best slow and steady. Sometimes they mistake themselves for the other type – they try cold turkey because a friend is, and fail, or they try slow and steady and just continually relapse into CW eating – know thyself, huh? 🙂

    1. It doesn’t have to be a case of “either or.” Try going Paleo in stages. Stage 1: eliminate all sweets. Stage 2: eliminate all grain products. Stage 3: concentrate on ramping up the exercise, etc.

      I wouldn’t call these stages baby steps because none of them are a “toe stuck in the water” approach that one can shriek and back away from. They are all a cold-turkey commitment, but only within their own category instead of trying to do it all at once.

  28. I think it’s a continual baby-step process, for everything. That’s the way life is. Even if you go “cold turkey” overnight and become a Primal adherent the next morning, wouldn’t you want to continually change, adapt, and evolve with it? That’s the way life is; look outside and you’ll see it in nature. Everything is in a constant state of transition. Great post!

  29. I’m a pretty laid back person (ISFP) for those that know! I tried the cold turkey approach when I first started Primal. It went really well for about a week before I just got so tired of being so intense with everything. Being nothing if not determined I knew I couldn’t go back, so it turned into bay steps with the things I was having trouble with. Exercise, sun, and sleep were never problems, it’s all food, especially grains. I never ate much legumes or processed food in general, but bread was my weakness. Even now I still struggle with my food choices, my baby step is now when I’m home it’s primal or naught, but when I go out I eat what I feel like without guilt.

  30. COLD TURKEY for sure!

    Not proud that I smoked for 53 years but, I quit Cold Turkey 4 years ago and never looked back.

    Same deal with carbs and the same results!

    Good post!

  31. One of the easiest “diets” I ever did was the Whole30 because I didn’t have to think. It was either “yes” or “no.” There was no decision-making, just cold turkey. Having said that, I don’t think it was sustainable. When I first went Primal, I did it cold turkey until I crashed and binged. There is something to be said for that 80-20 philosophy once you get past the initial carb flu, IMHO.

  32. I think cold turkey is great if you can hack it but if not, dropping one bad habit a week can ease the transition.

  33. Its very simple. Baby steps are for people that don’t have the mental fortitude to go all in cold turkey. They are the easy way out. Symptomatic of a modern society that wants everything easy and soft. they are therefore an important option, a middle way between all in and all out, for the weaker among us to have a chance.

      1. +1000!! Why is there always that jerk who has to try to make everyone not like them feel bad about themselves. It is pathetic.

    1. Hey genius, unless you produce from scratch 100% of what you use (including all your food, electricity, the computer you used to type this revolting messages, your clothing, your job and everything you use for it – and everything else in your life) you ARE ALREADY relying on others (some of them these same “weak” folk you disparage). Have some gratitude. Humans are tribal animals for a reason. Because we ALL get sick, hurt, old at some point. For that matter, at some point you HAVE been very weak indeed and someone took care of you or you wouldn’t be here. Unless you leaped from your mother’s womb ready to take complete care of yourself you spent several years being “weak”. Unfortunately, with your attitude, you may just be all alone when that time comes again. I hope one day you are wise enough to see that.

  34. Baby steps do not work for me. I can’t have “a little at a time,” “at least,” etc. Especially when it comes to “moderating” my consumption of things that are not good for me. It takes me months to reach a point where I can eat just one cookie and be satisfied without mindlessly consuming the entire batch just because it is there, and I very easily slide back into that habit. It’s not worth it to make myself weigh the decision to consume sugar a hundred times when I can just decide, “No, nothing, never,” and call it a day.

  35. I had the good luck of finding 12-step group to work on compulsive eating for a few months. Life got in the way for the next twenty years and I regained the weight (100#) but I never forgot what I learned. When I was dx’d with diabetes, the light bulb came on and I knew what to do. I’m just sorry I wasted so many years being miserable. I guess I had to be kick-started, but then I got right to it. I didn’t have the “lc flu”. After a few years of lc morphing into primal there’s very little food I miss. I have 90% chocolate almost every day. If I eat more than one serving for any reason, it serves as a warning to find out what’s awry in my life. Like the canary in the coal mine. Anyway, I’m grateful.

  36. My husband and I did cold turkey with some cheating. And we had already gotten rid of most processed foods and breads from our diets for more than ten years prior. So stepping into Paleo was much easier for us than others. We were pretty much 90/10 from the get-go, then turned stricter so that we had a period of about 100% adherence. Now in our third year, he is more strict and I am more prone to 90/10 – cheating now and then with gluten-free pizza at BJ’s, gyoza and unfiltered sake at the Japanese restaurant, a cupcake at a birthday party.

  37. Went cold turkey on grains, beans, legumes, and sugar. Experienced dramatic results in the first week and I was sold. It took a long time, however, to learn about the other facets of primal living, such as sleep, stress management, light exposure, etc. And I’m still learning and will continue to learn. So, although I consider myself to have gone cold turkey, I didn’t really know much about what I was doing. After 1 1/2 years I am a big expert! 😉

  38. My husband and I started to cut back without realising that we were moving toward Primal eating. For about six months we stopped eating bread and also cut out having potatoes, rice or pasta with our evening meal. Once we found Mark’s website we cut out sugar and cereals and we were into it 100%. We’ve now be doing it properly for 3 months and have lost about 18kg between us over the last 8 months. It’s been a revelation after trying to lose weight by CW for the last 18 years!

  39. Cold turkey for the first step of moving to eating meat and veg. But when that wasn’t enough and I had to restrict eggs, nightshades and milk products, well they are slow steps. I still eat butter and eggs sometimes. I’m currently keeping a symptom and food diary for these to see if they actually cause me problems. Eating sprouted legumes was one of the worst things I did.

  40. I went cold turkey the first time around, but I’ve been taking a more gradual approach and trying to build habits well before moving to the next as I’m coming back.

  41. Cold turkey for me but not because I’m intense or warrior like or whatever. When it comes to food, I’ve got definite control issues. I will eat the whole pizza in a heartbeat, not just one slice.

    Took me years to realize it was so much easier for me to say “I can eat X, Y, and Z and I will no longer eat A, B, C” Of course this makes such severe dietary changes somewhat “easier” but I still struggle with weight b/c I haven’t figured out how to control the “I want to eat” part of this whole equation yet… but that is another topic for another day.

  42. I went cold turkey over a year ago. If I’m going to do something, I do it. I lost 5 pounds in the first week and my headaches already started going away. That was the motivation I needed to keep going! After a year of Primal living we have found our groove.

  43. I’m only one month in and I’ve found a combination of Cold Turkey and Baby Steps are working well for me at this time.

    I went Cold Turkey on all processed foods, grains, legumes, and sugar. I make sure I have protein at each meal and am keeping my fruit to two servings a day. My weight loss has been 1-2 lbs. a week and I’m very content with that.

    My Baby Steps include getting enough sleep, exercise, and limiting time in front of my computer (big challenge!).

    Grok On!

  44. For me it’s also a combination. I went cold turkey on grains, seed oils and sodas. But I allowed myself to eat chocolate if I wanted (sometimes it was a LOT). I feel that this kept me sane and going. When the new eating habits had settled (and I felt much better already), I made baby steps to stop eating chocolate after every meal. The cravings stopped, and now (if I eat any at all) I am satisfied with one piece of chocolate.

  45. Totally better for me to hold the hard line and go cold turkey. It makes it easier for me to do it all in a consistent matter than to dip my toes into the healthy living pool while my face is buried in a cake.

  46. I would ask “what most contributes to positive reinforcement in the long run?” Whichever path helps you (your unique being) get to some small victories that build to long term change seems the right way to me.

    There is no right answer, we know that. It’s how to find the right answer for ourselves that is the challenge. What questions and clues help us get there?

    What I most want to know is is that a stock photo or did someone at MDA get that rabbit and turtle to pose for the photo? It’s hilarious.

  47. I use both approaches. When I finally decided it was time to clean up my eating habits again, I took the plunge and cut the big nasties (grains, sugar, and seed oils) completely; I went cold-turkey. Since then, I’ve taken smaller steps (such as buying grass-fed beef and pastured eggs, increasing physical activity, supplementing vitamin D, and switching to minimalist footwear) when it felt right and natural to do so.

    My health was like a house on fire. My first priority was to douse the flames by eliminating known inflammatories in my diet, and that had to be a strong, definitive action if I was to avoid further (possibly irreparable) damage. Once the flames of inflammation were out, I could then extinguish hotspots on a less-urgent basis, as I identified them. Nearly all of them are out, so now that I’ve got those dealt with, I can turn my attention to making major repairs (and, in the process, making significant upgrades to this creaky structure).

    I couldn’t have taken baby steps as far as grains and sugar were concerned; both trigger cravings and binge eating, and the only successful way of dealing with that is to completely eliminate them. There can be no half-measures there if I want to be successful. I threw in seed oils because I’d already stopped cooking with them, was willing to ditch them entirely, and it wasn’t a hardship to do so. It made sense.

    And just getting rid of those three and feeling much better for it gave me a stable base of success from which I could start tweaking and refining everything else. It was the 80% of my problems that, once dealt with, gave me the ability to tackle the remaining 20%.

    So when I realize any huge change is in order, I ask myself, “What’s the 80%? What’s the one thing (or set of things) I can do that–even if I do nothing else–will at least get me headed in the right direction?” And I do that. The remaining 20% might get done eventually, or it might turn out to be totally unnecessary, but I don’t even bother worrying about it until the crucial 80% has been dealt with successfully.

  48. Where can i find lard tallow and suet>

    Also is ghee and coconut oil on vegetables make the food fatty?

  49. I have learned that I am a baby steps gal or a moderation person. When I restrict and limit myself I “fall off the wagon” or struggle with the all or nothing philosophy.

    Once I started eating better I felt better and now eating well is something I choose one bite at a time – am I enjoying it, how will I feel afterwards, etc. Same with exercise – in the past I have gone all in and burnt out. I have since learned that if I do little workouts often I find them easier to stick with, as well as the art of just moving more. I have gradually dropped soda in favor of coffee and water. I have switched to grassfed beef and learned that I feel far more satisfied when I eat more fat. I go to bed earlier and wake earlier. I drink kombucha daily because I swear I can feel my guts healing. Do I have ice cream? Heck yes but I take note of how I feel because it is only worth the splurge occasionally. Do my kids still like mac and cheese? Yep. No one is perfect and everything in life is a work in progress. We get wiser and hopefully more and more in tune with our bodies. I very proud of the baby steps.