3 Steps to Transition to Paleo and How to Use Paleo Substitutions

Aug 29, 2013

The Whole30 is almost over. Just two more days and then I'm going to pig out on cocoa puffs! Ha, I'm just kidding. I really don't see myself changing too many things. I'll probably eat some bacon. I haven't had any bacon because it's impossible to find bacon without added sugar. Blah!

Speaking of cocoa puffs, a paleo cocoa puffs recipe has caught some attention of prevalent bloggers in the paleo community. Some positive and some negative. Honestly, I'm cool with people eating substitution foods while transitioning to a more paleo approach.

It seems that there are some paleo peeps that disagree with the baby steps approach. The expectation is that you're either 100% paleo or you're a failure at being paleo. To this I say, fooey!

In fact, the Whole30 is very much an all or nothing program. But the Whole30 has a twist at the end.

Yes, you will be strict with your diet for 30 days but it's more science than it is emotional beat down. After 30 days you are free to reintroduce some of the previous foods you ate and witness for yourself how they make you feel.

Armed with your new understanding of how certain foods impact how you feel, you're able to make better nutrition decisions for yourself going forward. I think this is empowering. It's an experiment. You can choose to take what you learned and implement it, or not.

The Whole30 says that you should avoid "substitutes" for non-paleo foods. I give you "exhibit A" above. Paleo Cocoa Puffs. Are the ingredients in this recipe paleo. Sure, for the most part they are. Could I have this during my Whole30? No.

But what about the person who is transitioning to a paleo approach after eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) for the last 30 years? Should they incorporate these types of recipes? Are they just using these recipes as a crutch to let go of their old ways?

There was a thread started by a paleo blogger/author that was telling everyone that the Paleo Cocoa Puffs were not paleo. Here's what the message said: "No, no, no… this is NOT the idea, and it's not Paleo."

The comments were a mixed bag. Some people jumped on the bandwagon and also began criticizing the recipe and the nerve of paleo people to even consider eating this slop. Even comparing the way it looks to something you create by yourself in private. If that's the case you might want to get that checked out.

Other people simply asked "why not?" All the ingredients seem paleo "compliant" so why wasn't this considered paleo?

To the people in the latter group. I feel you. Here was my response to the thread.

Please don't confuse my response and this article as some sort of wagging my finger at someone who I think should be a little more sensitive. That's not the case at all. From what I can tell this person has helped people and their message is pure. And to be honest, I'm not the most empathetic person at times. In fact, I can be quite harsh. I simply don't want people to be confused and scared away from a lifestyle that could help them be healthy and fit.

My view is that the paleo community has enjoyed a nice climb up the nutrition ladder and we've done so by sharing good information, educating people about making good food choices, and helping people gain control of how they feel. In some cases people have been able to lose weight and dramatically change the way they look at the same time.

People start to see the success others are having with a paleo approach and they decide to give it a go. They decide to do some research. Most likely they'll go online to learn more. Soon they'll find themselves bombarded with conflicting messages about what they should and shouldn't eat. It's confusing.

To all of those people that are confused, I feel you and I want to help. Here's what it means to have a paleo approach to nutrition and diet as said by the late Jack Lalanne…

"If it doesn't swim, run, or fly, or isn't green and grow in the ground, don't eat it."

In other words… If it swam, ran, or flew and it's green and came from the ground, chomp away! [Tweet This]

At it's core, this is paleo. Don't make it harder than it needs to be. If you thought about your diet like Jack 90% of the time then you would be in great shape and healthy. If you stuck to this 100% you would be a super-freak!

So I see where the author of that Facebook thread was coming from. Are Paleo Cocoa Puffs truly paleo? No, not in the sense that you're recreating a processed food source with quasi acceptable ingredients. But I think it's misguided to tell people they're failing if they eat this type of food while trying to transition to paleo.

It's also discouraging for people new to paleo. They see a message telling them that they can't even substitute certain recipes and they'll be likely to throw their hands up in the air and not even try.

When you're trying to make a major behavior change you might need some time to transition. These substitution foods can help make the transition a lot easier. The paleo community as a whole should be happy that people are trying to do better. People are starting to realize that eating the paleo version of Cocoa Puffs with real food ingredients is probably better for them than the HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), chemical loaded "real" version. This looks a lot like progress to me. The message is getting heard.

Transition to a Paleo Approach in Three Steps

Here's how I look at the transition to a more paleo approach and where I see paleo substitutions fitting in.

Step 1: Cut out the big losers from your diet. Get rid of stuff loaded with high fructose corn syrup, processed foods (pastas, cookies, cereals, crackers, chips), grains, legumes and excess alcohol.

Step 2: Once you complete step one now you can move on to things like eliminating white rice, white potatoes and low quality dairy.

Step 3: Now that you have the first two transition steps under your belt look at some of your favorite non-paleo foods and see if there is a good tasting paleo substitution. Try it out and see what you think. The substitute may be a better option than eating the SAD version of the food.

Of course having a plan for the week will help you with all three of these steps.

The Role of Paleo Recipe Substitutions

The idea with substitutes is that they can help you when a strong craving hits. These recipes aren't meant to make up a majority of the paleo meals you eat. I would urge you to try to get to a point where 90% of your paleo meals adhere to what Jack said. However, the other 10% of the time you might treat yourself to a paleo dessert or paleo cocoa puffs.

A lot of times I see people use the 10% to eat really low quality foods and even processed garbage. That's one way of doing things but it's not optimal, especially if those types of food make you feel like crap. I would rather see you take that 10% of your diet and eat paleo brownies, paleo pizza and paleo cocoa puffs.

Over time you can lower this 10% to 5% if you choose. This is what I've done over time. It didn't happen over night. It's taken me over three years to get to a 95/5 paleo approach with a majority of the 5% being paleo friendly substitutes. Even though I'm not obsessing about being 100% compliant all of the time I've still seen awesome results. I've lost over 33 pounds and I'm a healthier version of myself. I think you could see the same results.

I've always taken the long-term view about health and nutrition. You and I want to win the war. There will be individual nutritional battles along the way that will be hard to fight through. But if we stick to our paleo guns we can win the war of being fit and healthy for life.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go eat some cocoa puffs. ;-) 

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