Paleo at Six Months: 10 Lessons Learned

image courtesy of Hanna-Barbera/Warner Bros.

Note: this was written in May 2011. Check out my one year recap post here, as well as my three-year recap post here.

So right now I’m hovering around the 6-month mark on my modified Paleo diet (which = “Paleo + some dairy + white rice”), and I thought that I should share a few musings and pointers.

Since starting the diet, I’ve lost a few things (besides fifteen unwanted pounds). Namely, I’ve lost post-meal tiredness, midday tiredness, and stomach issues (read: gas). For better or worse, I’ve also lost my taste for beer and most wines, mostly because they make me tired and give me headaches. I’ve gained a ton of energy, a much more pleasant and positive mood, and lately I’ve been able to exercise for the first time in over six years.

Here are some pointers that I wish I had known six months ago.

1. You will not miss the “finer” things about non-Paleo foods after a while. Simply put, the cravings go away after about a month, provided that first month is fairly strict. Now, candy doesn’t even phase me (although I will smell it from time to time – I know, it’s weird). Many dishes can be made without wheat, and if done right, you won’t notice (or care about) any difference. For instance, pizza is easily replicated with tapioca-starch-and-cheese crusts.

2. If you can tolerate rice, there’s nothing you’ll be missing out on (except crusty french bread, which I still haven’t found). Rice (or even sweet potato starch) noodles are awesome. You can even find Italian pasta made with rice in most grocery stores. Rice-based breads are hit and miss, but Udi’s white bread and bagels are absolutely perfect, relatively cheap ($4/loaf), and their worst ingredient is canola oil. In fact, I have been drying and blending Udi’s white bread to make some killer breadcrumbs, too. Kinnikinnick hamburger buns (pictured above) aren’t bad either, and Whole Foods makes a good gluten-free hamburger bun as well (you can find them in the frozen food section). Bear in mind that these rice-based breads have an element of processing to them, and probably shouldn’t be everyday items – but they’re great ways to enjoy a meal from time to time without going totally overboard.

3. Hard cider has been a seamless beer replacement for me. I prefer imported Strongbow (in a can – although I have a sneaking suspicion they use a sweetener in their recipe) which is hard to find in our neck of the woods, so I usually settle on Woodchuck green apple cider. I’ve also stumbled upon a couple organic ciders in the DC area that are great.

4. If you look hard enough, you can find Paleo-friendly condiments, or something that’s darn close. We’ve found many ingredients that others have told me are impossible to find: liquid smoke, worcestershire, ketchup, mayo, barbeque, ranch, hoisin, and oyster sauce to name a few. Although we prefer to make our own stocks, broths, and rendered fats, I’m not ready to tackle condiments just yet, and I’m thankful that we’ve found all of those things after a little searching.

5. Although I disagree with the whole idea behind “cheat meals” or “cheat days” – wherein you eat whatever you want – I can see the virtue in an occasional indulgence. But I don’t feel that indulgence has to be completely off the Paleo spectrum. For instance, I eat a little dark chocolate once or twice a week after dinner, and it’s satisfying. Indulgences don’t have to be all-out binges; when you focus on the small sidesteps, you can be indulged without having any overbearing guilt (or feeling lousy afterwards).

6. Coconut water. This stuff is basically nature’s sports drink, full of magnesium and potassium. I tend to drink two or three a week, and they’re the ultimate pick-me-up on those long afternoons. I like the Naked brand coconut water. Shopper’s hint – if you buy 12 of them at Whole Foods they’ll give you a case discount.

7. Kerrygold, Kerrygold, Kerrygold. All of their products are grass fed and imported from Ireland. The butter is delicious, and every cheese I’ve tried has been tasty as well. The best thing about the brand is that they actually don’t label their products as being “grass fed” so the prices are reasonable. Plus, you can find them at Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s.

8. Once in a while my wife and I will have ice cream, and we love Haagen Dazs’ “Five” line. The ice creams contain only five ingredients: milk (lactose reduced), cream, sugar, egg yolks, and whatever flavor the ice cream is (strawberries, for instance). They also happen to be the best tasting ice creams I’ve ever had. Word to the wise, though – many of their “natural” Haagen Dazs ice creams have those same ingredients, but for a better price.

9. Search around for local farms that sell pastured, grass-fed meats. Many places will sell in convenient sizes (30-40 lb. packs) or a la carte, at prices much lower than what you’ll find at supermarkets. The packs are great because they’ll inspire you to cook new meals using the cuts of meat that you may not usually buy on their own. If you have the room, look into getting an extra freezer – they’re pretty cheap and definitely worth it. Grass-fed meat is usually available seasonally, so stock up when you can get a chance. EatWild is a good starting place to find good meats in your area. I advise against buying meat online and having it shipped because the prices are usually high, you’re not supporting local farms, and it seems like wasting fuel.

10. I love seafood but I’m not a big fan of fish; luckily, there are ways of getting more fish in your diet without eating a ton of it. Every morning I take two teaspoons of Barlean’s omega swirl which doesn’t taste like fish at all. Twice a week I eat a can of these boneless, skinless sardines in olive oil, which are actually pretty dang good. Also, I try to eat smoked salmon with my breakfast every few days.

26 thoughts on “Paleo at Six Months: 10 Lessons Learned

  1. As someone who is coming off of Tim Ferriss’s ‘slow carb diet’ and about to start paleo, I really appreciate a post like this. I agree about indulgences or cheat days: for a while I was going all out (as Tim recommends) once a week, but I began to feel worse and worse each week I did that, and I’ve recently realized these epic cheat days are stalling my weight loss. The paleo diet seems like a logical progression from the slow carb way of eating, and this post helps me look into the future and have an idea of what to expect. Thanks!


    1. Nice to hear someone else make the transition from “Slow-carb” to Paleo! Those cheat days made me feel horrible and actually helped me recognize my relatively severe gluten intolerance. Been Paleo/primal since Jan 1 and never going back!


  2. What mayo have you found that is paleo-friendly? Condiments have always been a struggle for me, too (been paleo for 16 months). I think if you were to put together a list of some of your more commonly used condiments, a lot of folks would find that quite helpful! Love your site, by the way :)


    1. Hi Amanda, glad you like the site! I do think that a handy paleo-friendly condiment guide is in order; I’ll start looking around at what I can find!

      At the time of writing this site we were using Hellman’s olive oil mayo, because it was pretty clean except for some corn starch and sugar (although they were low on the list). But it started to bother me (mentally, not physically) so we’re now making our own since it’s so dead simple. There are plenty of YouTube videos out there about how to do it in like 30 seconds :)

      We’ve also started making our own bbq sauce, and I plan on slowly replacing each of our condiments with homemade recipes, and bringing my readers along for the ride. It might take me a while to get the tastes right!


    2. I use Spectrum natural: Organ Mayonnaise with Olive Oil. I buy mine from earth fare but I’m sure you can find it at any Whole Foods or Organic Grocery. The only thing it has in it that is non-paleo is Soy/Canola Oil. But everything else in it is totally paleo friendly. I find it easier to use this once in awhile, since making my own always turned out yucky:(


  3. Russ, this is solo helpful and encouraging. Although we’re not ready for all the yummy “extra’s” Paleo can offer us yet, we’re looking forward to these “treats” and conveniences after our Whole30. Loving your blog! This is totally a doable thing! Thanks for all you share.


  4. My cardiologist put me on Paleo diet after I refuse to undergo electric ablation procedure to correct my Atrial Fibrilation.
    My refusal was based on 3 things:
    I was only 40
    I was and am very healthy and active (5 x a week exercise plus horseback riding on weekend)
    I was afraid of the side effect (possibly having to re-do and permanent weakness)

    This cardiologist was right on the spot that the source of my AFib was Vagally induced. Vagal nerve control digestive system and the resting heart beat at the same time. And when my digestive system was working on ‘toxic’ elements, it will also bothers the heart. For some reason I belong to 20% of people who albeit healthy, very healthy in fact, but has weak Vagal nerve.

    Paleo got me rid of Atrial Fibrilation in a year.
    My cheats? Shots of tequila. Just twice a months, no more than that.
    The side effect of Paleo for me is not losing weight as my weight has ways been perfect since college times. It’s the sex. Oh God. I never thought I would have a better sex life at 45 than at 35……!


  5. I do think that as long as you keep those artificial sugars in your diet youa r enot truly paleo nor getting the bennefit. People why dont you stick to it. I mean if you need a snack you got almonds good fats and calories.If you are craving for sugar eat as many bananas as you want..but talking about Paleo en a haggen das icecream? PLEASE…
    Of course thats better than do nothing at all but I believe that as long as you keep reminding your systme an your tongue of those high sugars you will never reallly get over it.
    Its like quiting smoking but smoke a cigarrete once a month…again are lying noboy but yourself and youll be back to the trash food cause you are no able to leave it for good..
    The only way to truly make the transition and reboot your body is leave EVERY processed sugar for good.That heals your body AND your nervous system.
    I encourage you to buy bananas and almonds and leave those sugar cravings for good.
    The only cheat I would admit is a glass of wine once a week.Friday my case
    Fruits veggies,nuts,salmon,organic honey,egg whites…I woul replace rice with of the best carb sources,Ad to that coconut oil and coconut water,and omega krill oil pearls. And raw whey protein unflavoured here and there. And you got it. Whenever you are hungry in between eat almonds
    With all that said,Im not living by myself my mother would find an insult if I dont eat her food,so I cant be truly paleo.BUt I have quit sugars for good,with exception of birthday celebrations and I plan on to go full paleo when Im living by myself
    I know I can I never been crazy for meat nacks etc,I was crazy for candy but a few readings where enough to realize its poisenous.


    1. In my opinion one of the reason it’s so difficult for people in the Western World to switch to paleo is the amount of processed sugar and sodium we have in our diet.

      I grew up in South Asia, where cuisine in general is less sweet and less salty, but more spicy (lots of Tumeric, Tamarind, green pepper and tons of chili pepper!) As a westerner who moved back to the US as an adult, I was shock to find how salty and sweet everything was, until my palette got adjusted to it. South East Asian cuisine, unlike Chinese cuisine, also use much less sodium. Putting more salt on your dish using ‘table salt’ is considered an insult to the cook. The concept of ‘dessert’ as we know it in the Western World doesn’t really exist there. At the of the meal you have sorbet or a piece of fruit as your ‘dessert’, with black unsweetened tea of choice. Alcoholic drink has been consumed in South East Asia since time immemorial. But unlike in Japan, China and Korea, never to excess. The weather is simply too hot! The drink of choice is Rose or Brem (rice base drink).

      By no means Asian are Paleo followers. Their staple carbohydrate for example is rice, which is NOT Paleo (you can’t eat it raw!) but unlike potato, at least rice is gluten free and doesn’t contain some weird poison that can kill you if it wasn’t completely cooked. Forget bread. They feed bread to the pigeons…..!

      With my childhood background, switching to Paleo (5 years ago) was extremely easy. Of course I stumbled here and there! I mean, how can you oh to an Italian Restaurant in New York City where I live and be Paleo? Impossible. But eating ‘closer to my childhood’ certainly help me stay Paleo 80% of the time, if not 90%. And for you who haven’t tried it, it’s amazingly easy to stay Paleo when you visit Thai, Vietnamese and Malay / Indonesian restaurant.

      One of the characteristic of Paleo life style (not just diet) is using our legs as intended: To Walk! Our legs are not meant for sitting for 8 to 10 hours a day. Walk as much as you can and take a nap if you are tired. I just turn 45 and am – knock on wood – much healthier now than 10 years ago. To think that I have better muscle definition and better – if not perfect – cholesterol level without doing anything special other than “avoiding bread and dessert” is truly miraculous. And the funniest part is I still fit all my suits that were made to measured 10 to 15 years ago, despite the fact that I am now 5-7 pounds heavier. Forget jeans. Now they are always too lose on the waist and fit around the butt and thigh. In some cases, I even need to get my old pants taken in a bit at the waist, despite gaining 5-6 pounds. For someone entering a midlife crisis, small things like that is really a moral boost – and a big stroke to my vanity!


    2. Carlos, a little judgmental there…and for someone that cheats but only for birthday celebrations….PLEASE. Nothing says you have to follow or believe in anything that is posted on this or any other blog. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. You are your own person, and so is every other person in this world. So perhaps you could state your future opinions as such, and not as fact, especially when you can’t seem to follow your own beliefs.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Just a heads-up on the cider issue: Woodchuck back sweetens their cider with HFCS and so does Angry Orchard and probably several others. They list it as “natural flavors” on the bottle. Is corn sugar paleo? I’ve seen both of those ciders recommended on several paleo sites as an alternative to beer.


  7. Hi, I am new to the Paleo diet and I have been trying it for two weeks, partly to lose weight, partly to see if it would improve my psoriatic arthritis. I have been following the autoimmune protocol and I have lost weight. My arthritis and psoriasis have not improved however. I was wondering, did you ever do the autoimmune protocol or did you simply adhere to a regular paleo diet? Thanks!


    1. I haven’t done a full-on AIP, but I have dabbled in several of its elements (no nightshades, no dairy, no eggs) with mixed results. Nightshades haven’t been an issue but I definitely feel worse if I regularly eat dairy and eggs.


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