Autoimmune disease · hashimotos · Healthy Lifestyle · Paleo Tips

Basics of The Paleo Diet and How I Transitioned Into It

Before I even get into the bulk of this post I need to preface it with a disclaimer:  This is what worked for ME.  Every person and every BODY is different so what works for one may not for another.  I am also not a doctor, a nutritionist or RD, I am simply a woman that has been living the Paleo Lifestyle for over three years and find that it works really well for myself and my family.  It has helped me heal my body from years of unhealthy eating and helped me recover from Hashimoto’s.   

OK! Now lets get started…

What exactly is Paleo?  First, it is NOT a diet in the traditional sense.  It is a lifestyle that includes eating the most nutrient dense food available to you and eliminating foods that are known to cause inflammation (Think of inflammation as illness. It is the bodies way of saying something is wrong and working hard to fight it, even if it means attacking its own cells).

Let me break it down in simple form and then I’ll add some links to sites that I use, love and trust in case you want to get more in depth.

Basic principles of Paleo (not just food!):

  1. Just Eat Real Food (#JERF).  Meaning eat food in its whole, natural state.  Foods that comes from nature and aren’t overly processed.  (Listed below)
  2. Avoid foods that are processed, refined, and known to be inflammatory.  (Listed below)
  3. Get your sleep!  Yes, Paleo is about more than food. Sleep is ABSOLUTELY vital for health.
  4. Go outside and get fresh air and sun.  Your body needs fresh air, vitamin D and a break from the stresses of life.  Many of my hashi symptoms subsided when my Vitamin D levels increased.
  5. Exercise.  It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise, if all you want to do or can do is walk, then walk!  If you join Crossfit, then fantastic!  Running, weight lifting, spinning, Pilates, dancing, Barre3, whatever you enjoy…just don’t sit in a chair all day.
  6. *Bonus* When you have a good control on the list above it’s good to start considering cleaning up the items you use to clean your home, your health and beauty products, and the rest of the products in your home such as candles, plastics, and Teflon.

What NOT to eat on Paleo:

  • Whole Grains; such as gluten, oats, corn (yes, it’s a grain not a vegetable), barley, rye, quinoa, and spelt. (There are many more than this).
  • Refined Grains; basically all the grains listed above but in processed form, such as cereal, muffins, bread, taco shells, bagels, etc.  (Let me add that some of these foods are not off-limits, but should be made with healthier forms of flours, oils, milks, and sweeteners.)
  • Legumes; beans such as black beans, pinto beans, Lima beans, lentils, and peanuts (these are a legume not a nut).
  • Dairy; I know everyone loves dairy but unfortunately most dairy on the market today is so over processed it doesn’t come close to resembling REAL dairy.  Instead it only causes digestive issues, acne, joint pain, and autoimmune flairs to name a few. Raw, grass-fed dairy products are considered a grey area food in the Paleo world because it has retained the vitamins and minerals that nature made to be in them.  HOWEVER, it is very important to note that when first starting a paleo diet you should eliminate dairy for a period of at least 30 days to gauge whether your body can actually tolerate it.
  • Refined sugar.  This is a big NO-NO.  Sugar wreaks havoc on your health and the majority of the sugar in our food today is GMO sugar.  Don’t even get me started on GMO’s and the absolute hell they cause to your body.  Below I will give you some ideas for Paleo safe sweeteners.
  • Alcohol.  Ok in all fairness most paleo people still enjoy a glass of alcohol here and there but the key is in moderation.  I was known as the wine lover in my family but now I only drink maybe one glass a week.  Through Paleo I learned that my body doesn’t like more than that.
  • Gluten. In case you didn’t notice I listed this one twice because it is THAT important to eliminate it from your diet.  Studies show that around 75% of the population are actually gluten intolerant but most don’t realize it.  Do yourself a favor and eliminate for a month and see how you feel when you reintroduce it.  Most people would find relief from things like headaches, arthritis, acne, and any sort of bowel issue if they took gluten out of their diet.
  • Inflammatory fats and oils.  This includes oil such as canola, vegetable, soy, peanut, corn, grapeseed, safflower, sunflower, shortening such as crisco, and margarine.  This one is really important because these toxic oils cause our inflammation markers to sky rocket.
  • Soda, energy drinks, juices (aside from fresh, real juice), sweetened teas, most shakes and smoothies unless you make it yourself.

Paleo grey area foods:

(Foods that the Paleo police may come after you for if you hashtag your dinner as Paleo and include any of these in it.  Take note that some of these I listed as NO foods above.  That is because you should eliminate them for a month to see how you feel without them.  Then reintroduce them one at a time for a period of three days then reintroduce a new food and see if you react in any way.)

  • Dairy.  See it’s not necessarily permanently off the table.  You’re welcome.  Just be sure that if you include it, it is organic, raw, and grass-fed dairy.  Some people, myself included, do much better with goat or sheets milk products than cows milk.  So if you can’t tolerate cows milk it may be worth it to try one of those!
  • White rice.  TONS of paleo peeps eat organic white rice, but most agree that it’s best saved for after a hard workout or it will probably get stored as fat in your body.
  • Alcohol (see above for explanation) and be sure that it is gluten free alcohol.  I just stick to wine or the occasional gluten free beer in the summer if I want to indulge in alcohol.  It’s easier than risking a mixed drink that may have something hidden to make me sick.
  • Legumes such as peanut butter BUT be aware that most peanut butter can cause reactions to people that have issues with mold.  Legumes can be consumed by some people in moderation and not have any sort of reaction.  AGAIN this is why its vital to eliminate and reintroduce.
  • Grains.  YUP, same as above for legumes.  (more below on what I have found with this one for my own body).  Many people do really well with quinoa that are on a Paleo diet.  I am thankfully one of those people!  However, I try really hard to stick to making most of my meals based around vegetables and not these types of foods.
  • Potatoes.  Some paleo police will jump down your throat if you post a pic of a potato.  Which I think is dumb because potatoes are legit the best food ever.  Buuuut they are extremely high in carbs which can lead to weight gain, sugar imbalances, AND if you have an autoimmune disease then can be no Bueno for you because they are a night shade (this would be for the AIP (autoimmune paleo diet)).  I eat them and love them but they make me bloated, which is a sign my body doesn’t really love them as much as my taste buds do.

What TO EAT on Paleo:

It would be difficult to list all the foods you can eat because God created a massive amount of food for us!  The key to Paleo is to stick as close to nature as possible!  For packaged foods read the ingredient label, if it only includes real food and not some weird ingredient or anything listed above as a NO food, then it’s probably safe.

  • Vegetables.  This is what should make up 75% of your plate for every. single. meal.  EVEN breakfast.  Step outside of your comfort zone with the veggie train and try some new produce.  There are literally hundreds of vegetables at most stores but, most people eat the same ten every week.  This is where most of your nutrients, fiber and carbs will come from.  Vegetables are natures medicine and preventive medicine.  Be adventurous!  If you’re unsure how to prepare a certain type of produce…go to YouTube.  I promise you will find a video showing how to cut and prepare any vegetable or fruit you find in the supermarket.
  • Fruits.  Just don’t overdo it with the fruits because then you won’t have room in your belly for your veggies and we just discussed how vital they are.
  • Meats and Poultry.  This could use its own whole blog post but I’m no expert in this field so I will post THIS link to someone who knows what they’re talking about with it.  PLEASE go read it.  I try very hard to eat only meats that are pasture raised and organic.  The paleo diet is NOT meant to be mostly meat.  It is a common misconception.  Without vegetables you will eventually suffer the consequences with things such as cancer, autoimmune disease, and definitely cardiovascular disease.  I try to stick to 1/4 of my meal being some source of protein whether it’s meat, poultry or seafood, just not gorging on an all meat plate of food.  
  • Seafood.  Make sure it is wild caught seafood though.  Avoid farmed fish/shellfish like the plague.  Google it sometime to see how disgusting it is.
  • Nuts and seeds. If you eat a lot of these be aware that they are high in calories and if the paleo diet is something you are doing to get healthy or lose weight, eat these in moderation.  Also, it is important to note that nuts and seeds should be soaked and sprouted for best absorption and digestion.  Be cautious of nut butters too because many have added sugars and oils to them.  Look for ones that are only nuts/seeds and maybe sea salt.  You can also easily make your own.
  • Herbs and Spices.  GO HOG WILD here.  Seriously!  Eat these in abundance because they will be your lifesaver to making vegetables new and exciting.  My spice cabinet is overflowing and I’m constantly adding more. Not to mention that herbs and spices are chock full of antioxidants and good-for-you nutrients.
  • Healthy fats and oils.  Coconut, avocado, olive, palm, sesame and macadamia oil.  Grass-fed butter such as Kerrygold, ghee (clarified butter), tallow, lard, bacon fat from pasture raised pigs, duck fat, and schmaltz to name a few.
  • Drinks. Coffee (go for organic and decaf should be Swiss water processed), herbal teas, Kombucha, WATER (a lot of it), coconut milk, almond milk, cashew milk, coconut water, mineral water, and the occasional LaCroix (be aware that this doesn’t actually hydrate you like real water, it is simply for a nice change of pace for your taste buds).
  • Superfoods!  Bone broth, fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, grass-fed yogurt, almond milk yogurt, kefir, kombucha, etc.  Sea vegetables such as seaweed, dulse, kelp, and herbs and spices that include them.  Organ meats such as liver, kidneys, heart, gizzards, etc. are highly nutrient dense and there are hundreds of recipes that hide the flavor well.  A little goes a long way with offal (organ meat) so you can do small amounts mixed with other meat.  If the thought of eating offal makes you gag, there are some really awesome supplements on the market to give you the  benefits of liver without having to taste it.
  • The list for Paleo friendly baking ingredients is pretty long but I will simply say the basics would include: coconut flour, almond flour, tapioca/arrowroot starch, and cassava flour.  Sweeteners would be coconut sugar, maple sugar, raw honey, maple syrup, and molasses.
  • Sauces.  Most salad dressings I just make, but there are so many other options such as Primal Kitchens and other companies are slowly catching on too.  Coconut aminos make a great soy sauce replacement.  Fish sauce adds a lot of flavor to stir fries and many other dishes.  Hot sauce, baby…gotta love some Franks Red Hot!  Mustards are typically safe but be sure to read the labels.  Vinegars (no malt vinegar).

This list is not by any means total and complete but it is a good start and hopefully a jumping off point to dig in and do more reading.  Cookbooks abound for the Paleo diet and most give very detailed info in the front part of the book.

A few links to posts with more detailed information:

Alright, now onto the second part of this post…

How I Transitioned To Paleo:

A bit of a warning on detox:

I wouldn’t do justice to my readers without first saying how transitioning to Paleo can be rough at first for some people.  You can go through a detox of sorts and feel symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, mood swings, irritability, brain fog, constipation/diarrhea, cravings, increased hunger/thirst, and sinus drainage to name a few.  Have I scared you yet? DON’T BE.  These symptoms won’t last forever and if you experience them it is a good sign you’re doing the right thing for your health.  Having these symptoms could mean you have been suffering from inflammation, an autoimmune disease, blood sugar imbalances, and toxin overload.  It is good for your body to get rid of the toxins and Paleo is a great way to help your body do that.

The detox process typically starts anywhere from day 3 to day 10 of starting a healthier lifestyle such as Paleo.  How long it lasts varies widely from one person to another.  For most people it only lasts a few days.  The sicker you are the longer it will last.  I detoxed for almost a whole month.  I was very ill at that time though.  I will never forget when a month went by and one day I woke up and felt like a new woman!  My energy levels dramatically increased, the almost daily migraines I suffered from for YEARS had subsided and rarely make an appearance anymore.  The joint pain, gone.  I dropped almost 30 pounds in less than 6 months.  15 of those were the first month alone.  Nearly all of my dreaded Hashimoto symptoms had vanished and all the detox symptoms were totally gone.  That month of detox hell was all worth it.

Support your body through this transition process by doing things to help your body eliminate the toxins it is releasing from fat cells (where toxins are stored in the body).

Things to help the detox process:

  • Drinking SO.MUCH.WATER. that you are peeing practically every 30 minutes.  This is crucial to flush out the toxins and maintain healthy organs.
  • Exercise!  I know, if you feel like crap why would you want to exercise?!  I surely didn’t want to but on days I would go for a walk, I actually did feel much better.  Sweating out the toxins is so beneficial.
  • Dry skin brush This is so easy and really helps.  Click the link for more info on it.
  • Epsom salt baths with baking soda.  2 cups Epsom salt and 1 cup baking soda.  Soak in warm/hot water for 20-45 minutes.  No more, no less.  (Less than 20 you don’t reap the benefits and more than 45 you start to reabsorb the toxins). You can even add essential oils to the bath water.
  • Accupressure mat which works similar to acupuncture but you can do it in the comfort of your own home and anytime you want for just the cost of the mat.  ($20 well spent!) I linked to the one I own and love.  It doesn’t hurt and you can ease into it but laying on a bed with it first with a shirt on.  To eventually working up to laying on a harder surface with bare skin.
  • Castor Oil packs!  This one truly helped me. It is sticky and can be messy, but it helps and it’s actually really relaxing.  The link has a lot of added info on benefits of castor oil packs and detailed info on how to do them.  I always do Castor Oil packs after we get back from any sort of travel too.
  • Infrared Sauna.  If you can find an infrared sauna and use it during this phase, you would greatly benefit from it!  This is something that is on my “someday” wishlist.  The benefits of one are seemingly endless.

My personal transition process:

I started Paleo the day I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.  After the initial shock reaction I had and the drive home consisting of me crying the entire 35 minutes, I straightened my shoulders and put on my game face.  This disease wasn’t going to get the best of me (three years later it still hasn’t, Thank God!).  I had already done a lot of research up to this point about Paleo and the link between gluten and the thyroid so I knew enough to know how important this would be for my healing.  That day I decided I would never intentionally touch gluten again.  It was one of the biggest days of my life, because it changed my life and my health forever in such a positive way.

Step one and the most important for me.  Eliminate gluten from my diet (and my family’s diet). I just stopped eating it and worked really hard that first year at not just swapping out gluten products for gluten free products.  Such as breads, crackers etc. that are now readily available at most stores.  Many of these products aren’t any healthier than the gluten ones and are loaded with all kinds of processed junk.  Don’t get duped into thinking you’re making a better choice.  Companies are getting really good at marketing tactics to make a buck.  As I said above I would focus on veggies being the main part of my meal.  Now three years later, after massive amounts of healing to my body, I can include gluten free breads, etc as an occasional part of my diet.

Step two for me was incorporating more veggies with every meal.  This had multiple benefits for me.  I would fill up on veggies thus eating less of other things that are less nutrient dense.  It also meant loading up on micronutrients which helped my body heal faster.

Step three was swapping out conventional meats for pasture raised and organic.  As well as working on buying more organic produce than conventional.  Working off the dirty dozen list for the twelve fruits and veggies that are most sprayed with herbicides and pesticides helped me save money by only buying those organic.  The clean fifteen lists the produce that is ok to save money on and buy conventional.

Step four was buying new items at each grocery visit that I had to replace that were non-Paleo.  These things included stuff like healthier oils, better ketchup, BBQ sauces, pasta sauces, Paleo baking flours, sweeteners and other condiments like coconut aminos.  It took me a couple months to do this because it was like stocking a pantry for the first time.  Which gets expensive fast.  I didn’t want to throw food away but at the same point I had this guilt that I was “poisoning” my family now that I knew how bad some of those old favorites were.  “When you know better, you do better!” is a quote I like to live by now.  So I pitched the stuff I knew was really really bad and used up the other stuff as quickly as possible and never bought it again.  For myself, I made sure to not eat any gluten during this phase of getting rid of the old stuff.  My family doesn’t have any health issues so they don’t react the way I do to gluten.  Gluten is one thing that we just don’t bring into the house.  It’s simply not worth it.

Step five. Stop worrying so much that every single bite of what I ate had to be strict Paleo.  The first few months I stressed myself out SO much because I felt like I had to be uber cautious.  Stress can be just as detrimental your health as bad food.  I had to realize that it was ok to have something now and then that had a touch of sugar in the ingredients list if everything else was safe.  I have to say that things have changed so much since I started Paleo.  Three years ago there wasn’t half the stuff on the market that there is now.  Most regular grocery stores now carry tons of Paleo friendly options!  I had to learn too that meal prep was a life saver for me.  If I had food already made then when hunger would strike I wouldn’t stress I could just grab something and eat.  Even if it was simple like a hard boiled egg and some fruit.

By this point I was 3-4 months in and still eating dairy because I refused to think I had issues with it.  However, I was still struggling with some acne and my digestion was still off.  So I broke down and took it out of my diet.  After a month my skin cleared up and my digestion was amazing!  That was pretty much the last step for me in transitioning into Paleo.  By 6 months in it was smooth sailing and as time went on I was able to test the waters with things like organic corn tortilla chips (thank you God I can enjoy them now!).

I think the best piece of advice I can give someone on this journey is to not stress about it so much.  Food is medicine but food is also what brings people together.  Being able to go out for dinner with family and friends and to laugh, talk and have fun and not freak if the food is cooked in canola oil was JUST as healing to my body as a spinach salad topped with sardines.  Laughter is medicine and so is companionship.  Go out and enjoy your dinner, take a digestive enzyme, and drink a lot of water after.  (But stay away from gluten!)

There are MANY ways to transition into Paleo, and this was simply how I did it.  Lots of people prefer the rip-the-bandaid-off approach with jumping in head first and not looking back.  That doesn’t work for me.  I like baby steps to success with big changes like this.

Links to other blog posts I wrote discussing my journey:

*Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. Please understand that I have experienced all of these companies, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.

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