As a personal trainer I get a first hand look at the nutritional habits of people trying to lose weight, get fit, look, and feel great.

I’ve known clients who’ve used Medifast, ate nothing but cabbage soup for weeks, and others who semi-starved themselves, while counting every calorie and taking exercise to the extreme.

All of the above became over-trained, depressed, grumpy, tired, and sick. Eventually they caved and the weight returned.

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WHAT I HAVE SEEN WORK. REAL FOOD!

Paleo, Primal, Caveman, or Hunter/Gatherer, you’ve probably heard of it in some form. I call it eating Real Food.

I’ve seen lots of results from clients adopting a quality exercise and a ‘Real Food’ lifestyle. No counting calories, no force feeding six small meals a day, taking diet pills, or participating in extreme exercise programs:

  • Fat Loss ( that was maintained even when exercise wasn’t possible)
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Improved sleep: ability to fall asleep easier and wake up refreshed
  • Increased and maintained energy throughout the day
  • Reduction in medications
  • Improved markers of health (blood pressure, resting heart rate, cholesterol)
  • Reduced blood sugar crashes and the ability to go MUCH longer between meals
  • Reduced acne and other skin problems
  • Acid reflux disappeared
  • Improved digestion, reduction in gas, diarrhea, bloating and stomach pain
  • Reduction in asthma and other respiratory issues
  • Enjoy food much more
  • Grocery shopping becomes simple

Personally, I find that the most exciting benefits are the mental health improvements clients experience.

Many no longer dealt with anxiety. Others dealing with depression stopped taking antidepressants and feel better than ever! (done with doctors supervision, of course) that’s Feeling Great at it’s finest!

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WHY REAL FOOD?

Eating “Real Food” operates on the premise that we’re best served eating foods closest to those we EVOLVED eating, while avoiding foods we haven’t had time to adequately adapt too. That means removing processed food, and focusing on the quality of food over calorie. Nutrient dense foods that have passed the tests of time are emphasized.

The story goes like this: For the majority of human history (about 2.5 million years) we evolved as a hunter gatherers thriving on animals we hunted and plants we gathered. It wasn’t until about 10,000 years ago and the advent of agriculture, that foods like grains and legumes became the staple of our diet. It was only 50 years ago that foods like vegetable oils and other highly refined processed foods were introduced into our diet.

Sadly processed foods now make up the bulk of what many of us eat each day.

10,000 years may seem like a long time. But in evolutionary terms, and compared to 2.5 million years spent eating as a hunter gatherer, it’s the blink of an eye!

SO WHAT CAN I EAT?: MEAT, VEGETABLES, FRUITS, TUBERS, NUTS AND SEEDS, and for some DAIRY*

Meat: Grass Fed Beef, Fish, Shellfish, Chicken, Turkey, Pig, Game Meats, Whole Eggs, Organ Meats, Uncured Bacon and Sausage. If it crawled, swam, or flew you’re probably okay.

Vegetables: All vegetables. Emphasize leafy greens. Kale, Red, Yellow and Swiss Chard, Spinach, Bok Choy, Peppers, Cucumbers, Artichokes, Asparagus, Arugula, Spaghetti Squash, Radishes, Carrots, Broccoli, Eggplant, Cauliflower, Herbs, and every other veggie you’ve ever heard of!

Fruits: Strawberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Apples, Tomatoes, Avocados, Oranges, and every other fruit I didn’t name. If you’re trying to lose weight, limit fruit to a couple servings a day. Focus on berries which are lower in sugar and high in anti-oxidants. Limit fruits like Mango, Banana, and Pineapple because of their higher sugar content. (No Juice, eat the whole fruit)

Tubers: Opt for Sweet Potatoes and Yams as they’re more nutrient dense than your average Russet potato (regular potatoes are okay though too). If looking to lose weight, don’t go overboard on tubers since there high in starch.

Nuts and Seeds: All nuts, seeds, nut butters and nut flours. In nature nuts and seeds don’t come by the bag full. Treat them as a snack and you’re good to go.

Fats: Olive Oil, Coconut (Milk, Oil, and Butter), Palm Oil, Avocado Oil, Rendered Animal Fats, Butter from Grass Fed Cows.

FOODS TO AVOID:

Buckle your seat-belts! We’re eliminating All Grains, Legumes*, Vegetable Oils (Soybean, Corn, Safflower, Peanut, Sunflower), Processed Foods, Processed Sugars, and Dairy-temporarily.

That means traditional waffles, chips, soda, candy, Twinkies, muffins, tortillas, pretzels, traditional bread, Cheetos, pasta, cereal, and pretty much anything your great great great great great great-grandfather would look at wonder “what the hell is this?”

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“So what do I eat”?

It’s really not that big of deal. Don’t over-think it, it’s simply a lot of small changes.

Breakfast: Instead of toast with your eggs, skip it and opt for a bowl of berries. Have an omelet; add some tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, and onion, even leafy greens! If you’re like me and can’t master the omelet, make a scramble. Eggs are an easy way to sneak in vegetables!

Lunch: You can still have the burger, just skip the processed bun. Sure it’s different, but are you really missing out? Grab some grass-fed beef, bison, turkey, or chicken, add some sliced tomatoes, onion, avocado and a little real cheese (grass-fed, raw if possible).

If using a fork is that off-putting, use a lettuce wrap. A typical burger for me is on top of a massive bed (half a bag) of mixed greens!

Dinner: Sure pasta’s good, but isn’t a homemade meat sauce the real star of the show? Throw it over spaghetti squash, asparagus, or sautéed zucchini. My personal favorite is over asparagus (sounds gross but it’s good). Try using a canned sauce that has minimal ingredients and sugar.

Dessert* On Occasion: Try a “Paleo friendly” chocolate chip cookie made from Almond Flour, Coconut/Macadamia Oil, Raw Honey, and some dark chocolate chips. Or on the rare occasion just have the damn cookie! Use the real version of moderation.

While not fool-proof, here’s a few ways to identify real food.

  1. Is it a single food item? An apple is an apple. A steak is a steak. A piece of salmon is salmon. Asparagus is asparagus. Combining single food items can make some incredible meals!
  2. Is there an ingredient list? Is it made up of single food items? If not you should probably avoid it.
  3. If it can last in box for over a few weeks, you should probably avoid it.
  4. Will it spoil quickly? If yes, it’s probably real food. Good to go.

Single food doesn’t mean it has to stay single food. Raw broccoli next to a steak can be pretty boring. Believe me, you can make some amazing meals with “Real Food.”

Here’s a few links to some great blogs with awesome recipes.

http://everydaypaleo.com/

http://nomnompaleo.com/

http://paleomg.com/

 

So How Much and What Should I Eat?

  • Unlike most nutritional systems or “diet” programs, you’re not limited or told how much to eat. A big part of eating Real Food is developing a healthy relationship with food, and getting back to eating for physiological need (hunger) rather than psychological desire.
  • Fat/Protein will probably make up the bulk of your calories. Carbohydrate will likely make up the volume of your meal. Imagine a piece of salmon, grass fed steak, or chicken breast on top a plate of asparagus with sliced heirloom tomatoes.
  • Focusing on quality, the calories tend to take care of themselves. When junk food isn’t controlling your urges, your body is good about telling you when you’re hungry and when you’re full. You’re less likely to overeat when you remove addicting processed junk food!

You don’t sit on the toilet thinking, “it sure would be nice if someone would tell me if I’m finished,” do you? Food going IN works very similar to food going OUT! Your body tells you when.

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Questions and Concerns:

1. I’m Really Having To Give Up A lot Here!

My guess  is you’re focusing on individual food products and not ingredients. You might be thinking “I can’t have pasta, bagels, toast, cookies, or pastries”. Instead, focus on giving up wheat, not the products food scientists transformed wheat into.

If you gave give up pork, you just wouldn’t eat pork. You wouldn’t dwell on never having tenderloin, bacon, pork roasts, pork-butt, ham, pulled pork, pork chops, ribs, etc….you just wouldn’t eat pork.

That might not be a fair comparison but it helps to focus on what you’re really giving up.

I believe if you give up WHEAT, CORN, SOY, SUGAR, and processed vegetable oils you’re pretty much there! Visualize your local grocery store, most processed foods have one of those items in it.

2.Why is pastured/grass-fed beef important? I’m not sure I can afford it.

I hear ya and I struggle with this too. Cows natural diet is grass. Cows fed grain (corn) result in a meat higher in the Pro Inflammatory Omega 6 Fatty Acid. Cows fed their natural diet of grass have a more desirable balance of Omega fats.

CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) has been found to have anti-cancer properties, as well as help promote fat loss. Grass fed has CLA.

If grass-fed beef is financially out of the picture, opt for lean cuts and cook with coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and consider taking an Omega 3 fish oil supplement. Do this and you should still reap benefits.

Grass Fed Ground Beef usually isn’t to expensive. Look for cheaper cuts like top, bottom and round steaks. Yea, it’s been a while since I’ve had a NY Strip…big deal.

3. Dairy

Purists don’t eat dairy. People in the “Primal” crowd, where many of the people I’ve worked with, including myself, allow some dairy. Standard protocol is to remove ALL dairy for 30 days. Reintroduce and note any negative effects. Do you feel bloated, have achy joints, congestion or digestive issues? If not, you’re probably okay.

Most people stick with:

  • Full Fat Greek Yogurt. Fage Total is good brand. Stay away from the kind with fruit at the bottom as it’s loaded with extra sugar. Add your own fresh fruit.
  • Butter from grass-fed cows. Kerrygold is a good brand.
  • Small amounts of Full Fat Cheese, preferably grass-fed and raw.
  • Heavy Cream.

Milk is generally avoided as it creates a high insulin response. It shouldn’t be a problem now that you’re not eating bowls of fruity pebbles in the morning. You can use almond and coconut milk if something like a smoothie or recipe requires “milk.”

4. So What’s Are Grains And Legumes?

  • Grains: Wheat, Barley, Rye, Oatmeal, Corn, Kamut, Buckwheat, Oats, Rice, Millet, Spelt
  • Legumes: Soy, Lentils, Beans (Black, Pinto, Navy, Butter). String Beans are generally okay because there’s more plant than legume.

5. Why Limit Fruit:

Fruit is seasonal and we wouldn’t normally have access to buckets of it year round. Last weekend at my local farmers market I couldn’t find a yellow nectarine to save my life! I asked one of the farmers and he said “yeah they’re done for the season.”

If you’re looking to lose weight, limit your fruit intake to a few servings a day while focusing on low glycemic berries like Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries. Limit higher sugar fruits like Bananas, Mangos and Pineapple. This doesn’t mean you can never have a mango or banana.

6. Why No Juice?

Fruit juice is a concentrated source of sugar worth avoiding. When you consume the whole fruit, the sugar is bound with fiber and takes longer to impact your blood sugar. Eat the entire apple, not just the juice.

7. Sweet Potatoes Are Okay But What About White Potatoes?

Most people prefer versions of sweet potatoes because they’re more nutrient dense than white potatoes.  Your activity levels and physique goals should dictate your consumption of potatoes. If you’re inactive and looking to lose weight you may want to limit tubers is probably a good idea. If you’re active and have met your physique goals you can probably handle some spuds!

8. Really, No Oatmeal?

I agree, oatmeal isn’t the worst thing in the world. But, the majority of its minerals are bound by phytic acid making them hard for you body to absorb. Oatmeal is also an unnecessary hit of carbohydrate to start your morning. Why not start your day with something more nutritionally dense like a veggie filled omelet? Don’t be afraid to have dinner for breakfast!

9. What about Quinoa?:

Quinoa contains saphonins which can cause digestive disruption in some people. An easy substitute is to make cauliflower rice. Lightly steam cauliflower, throw it in a food processor and blend into small pieces. You can eat as is, or fry in a pan with coconut oil or grass-fed butter.

10. Sauces, Dressing, and Condiments:

Things like ketchup, mustard, and salad dressing are notorious for being loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup, artificial sweeteners and flavors. Natural versions of these items exist, check your labels. Stick to olive oil based dressings. Olive Oil, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and a garlic pepper seasoning go well on salad.

11. Herbs and Spices:

Head to the spice aisle and load up on herbs and spices. You can find blends made specifically for vegetables, chicken, or seafood. Compared to processed foods, Real Food may seem bland at first. In time you’ll realize that processed food is more salty than actually flavorful. Things like fresh basil, ginger root, garlic, and cilantro can really kick up the flavor of food.

12. Franken-foods aka Paleo Desserts:

Healthier versions of junk food do exist! Just don’t let them dominate your diet. You can google versions of paleo Banana Bread, Pizza Crusts, Doughnuts, Ice Cream, Pancakes and pretty much every food you may fear giving up.

I HIGHLY suggest avoiding these for 30 days so you can conquer the cravings you have for sugar and junk food rather than just transfer them. A big part of eating real food is retraining your palate to enjoy healthier foods. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Cutting processed foods and losing that sweet tooth is a game changer!

Common ingredients in Paleo Friendly desserts include:

  • Arrowroot as a thickener
  • Raw Honey or Pure maple syrup
  • Coconut shavings, butter and oil
  • Stevia
  • Palm shortening
  • Cocoa powder
  • Nut butters and flours. Remember to many nuts can throw off your Omega Fatty Acid Balance which control inflammation in your body.

More and more grocery stores are carrying these items. Some people may have to order them online.

These don’t technically fit into the “hunt and gather” framework but they are far less processed than traditional baking ingredients and if the idea of never having another cookie is stopping you from giving real food a shot, they’re worth mentioning.

13. Can I Still Eat Out?

Sure. You may have to ask for a few menu changes, but there’s no reason you can’t go out for a meal. Here’s a few tips.

  • Offer to pick the restaurant. (More control)
  • Check menus in advance and go in with a plan.
  • Take some home. Most restaurants give you more than you need.
  • Italian food: Tell the waiter not to bring the bread. Don’t even give yourself the temptation. Fish dishes paired with veggies make a great choice. Most restaurants offer some type of chicken or beef as well. All you have to do is avoid the pasta. Done!
  • Mediterranean: Kabob plates are great. Greek salads. Skip the rice and ask for extra roasted veggies.
  • Mexican: Skip the tortillas and pick up a fork. Chicken and steak fajitas make great choices. Load up with some extra guacamole. Try lettuce wrap fish tacos!
  • Sushi: Get the real deal, get Sashimi!
  • Thai: Curry based sauces are usually a good option. Made with coconut milk it may be calorically dense so take some home.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask what’s in it? What kind of oil do you cook with? Pull the allergy card, I do this a lot.

14. Coffee:

There’s a big difference between a cup of Joe and a Starbucks sugar loaded frappuccino with whipped cream and caramel glaze. Pending dairy doesn’t give you problems a little heavy cream probably won’t hurt.

Do you only make it through the day because of coffee? If yes, try some sleep!

15. Alcohol and Chocolate

Here’s my opinion on how to incorporate chocolate and alcohol into your diet.

16. What About Snacks?

Compared to reaching for bags of lays, pretzels, goldfish, and snickers bars snacking on real food is harder. Most people gravitate towards nuts and seed mixes as snacks. Treat them like snacks not meals.

A big plus to eating Real Food and no longer shunning natural fats is staying fuller longer. Removing foods responsible for rapid blood sugar swings allow you to last MUCH longer between meals. You may find you don’t even need snacks.

  • Larabars and Uberbars are a tasty fruit and nut bar you can find at most stores. Be careful they’re high in sugar, eating seven a day won’t get you results you want.
  • The Laughing Giraffe company (online)/Whole Foods make some pretty amazing coconut and grain free granola. Expensive though.
  • Beef jerky and an apple have been a great travel snack for me.
  • Google Paleo Snacks and you can find all sorts of recipes.

17. Is This Okay? Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

The rule of thumb is if you have to ask it probably isn’t. Is it an animal, vegetable, fruit, nut or seed or made of a combination of those. If yes, you’re probably good to go. That being said, if a recipe calls for a tablespoon of Soy Sauce and feeds 8, it’s probably not the end of the world. Here’s an article by Author of the Paleo Solution Robb Wolf touching on that subject.

18. The 80/20 Rule

Most people I’ve worked with had success adhering to these principles 80% of the time; allowing 20% for slip ups, dinner parties, when it’s out your control, or when a piece of cake sounds that good!

If you choose to include grains and legumes in your 20% I recommend properly preparing them by soaking or sprouting to reduce the anti-nutrient content. Personally I think it’s easier to do without them.

DON’T STRESS! So many people freak out about about “is that Paleo” or “I can’t live without.” Keep trying to do your best. Temptation is everywhere, processed foods are addicting, and many people are emotional eaters. It can be a battle. You can win it. It’s worth fighting!

19. Don’t Be To Hard On Yourself: Don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon, just get right back on the horse!

You’re just one meal away from being right back on the path! That being said, if Olive Garden all you can eat pasta bowls, pastries, paleo desserts, frequent trips to seven elevens for Slurpees and Coca Cola are common place, you probably won’t see results.

Understand Real Food hasn’t failed you, your approach has.

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Give It A Go

People go back and forth, thinking, pondering, and wondering. You’re not sky diving here. It’s not like if you jump there’s no turning back. Try it for 30 days and see how it works for you.  It’s not a one time fix, or pass/fail. It’s simply an attempt to hit the reset button and help you jump-start some concrete changes.

Avoid the Paleo replacement desserts during this period. Reset your palate, concur cravings, develop a new relationship with food, and create a new you. Have some fun with this and take it on as a personal challenge.

If you don’t sleep better, haven’t lost any weight, don’t feel better, and think your better off eating tombstone pizzas, snickers bars, and 100 calories snack packs they’ll still be there!

My guess is you’ve been there and tried that with little success? If so, give Real Food a shot!

Above represents WHAT if your interested in more of the WHY click here.

Here’s a few related articles to help the process:

How To Make Eating Healthy Convenient

Changing Your Perspective