The Argument for a Slow Entry

What's that there? Oh, it's your dirty mind.

No, this is not a naughty post. Get your mind outta that gutter!

I’m talking about how to put this Paleo stuff to work in your life. Do you rip the band-aid off and go whole hog all at once? Or do you ease in, check the water temp with your toe before wading in?

I’m not going to pretend there’s an ideal way to do this. It’s a life change, not a recipe. Things don’t always go according to plan and sometimes the results aren’t what you expected. It will probably also depend on what your entry point was and what your goals are: CrossFit gym, Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Lierre Keith, Gary Taubes. Performance, weight loss, health issues, disordered eating. But from my perspective, there are some compelling reasons for the gradual introduction.

I remember quite clearly what it was like being on the SAD side of the fence. This felt DRASTIC. Extreme. Scary. When I found myself on Mark Sisson’s forum, asking questions and reading answers, I discovered there was so much more to this ancestral lifestyle than mere weight loss. People were talking about Omega 6-Omega 3 ratios, whether or not it was acceptable to eat sweet potatoes, phytates, HIIT, FODMAPS, probiotics, lacto-fermented whatchamacallits, CrossFit, nightshades, lectins, leptin, Tabata sprints, yadda yadda yadda. It was mind-numbingly complex and too much all at once. Luckily, I knew this stuff would unfold for me over time, and just as predicted, it has. I only bit off what I could chew at any given time, I’m still eagerly learning, and I’m not burnt out.

Here are my concerns about the all or nothing approach:

  • It sets people up for failure. This was less of a concern for me, because I tend to see life as a series of learning experiences, not a linear set of right and wrong answers. I regret little and rarely categorize things as a “mistake”. But I see this attitude all the time out there. My fear is that folks will “try” Paleo, and then when it inevitably “fails”, they will conclude it doesn’t “work” for them. This is affectionately called a false start. Then their Paleo attempt gets tossed into a mental dustbin buried in neurological scar tissue. Maybe even accompanied by the attendant emotions of shame, disappointment, and defeat. If we lose folks to the shame chasm, we’ll never get them back.
  • It sets up an either/or dynamic. This is similar to the above point, but I mean it more in relation to the food. Some people set up planned cheat days or meals. Some have health issues that preclude them from cheating. Others just roll with it, citing the 80/20 rule. But some will see any deviation as a “failure” and will then consider it “proof” of the WOE‘s unsustainability, especially if one cheat leads to a week’s worth of pizza, bagels, and cereal. We’re probably all going to give in sometimes, but it’s important to either simply enjoy those foods for what they are or learn from their effects on us (both physically and mentally), not beat ourselves up about them. It’s all process, baby. We are all citizens of the world, and for the majority of us, that will probably include a few forays into SAD foods.

So how can we ease in? Some thoughts:

  • Start with gluten and sugar. These are the biggies. In fact, I would argue that if everyone in America eliminated these from their diets, we could virtually erase the majority of health problems we’re seeing. Trust me, this is likely to feel like enough to start.
  • Clean out your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Yes, even those Flax-Health Colon Cleansing Waffles in the back. The bags of flour, sacks of sugar, boxes of cereal, tins of cookies, packs of pasta. Out. If you need some added security, put it out of sight in a closet until you’re certain you won’t need it again. It’s especially helpful if you have someone in your life who can’t stand to see anything go to waste. Give it to them or donate whatever unused bottles and packages you have. If you don’t buy it, you can’t consume it.
  • Try to convert the whole family. If everyone’s not on board, that means there will be stuff around to tempt you. Meals will be contentious. Your significant other/spouse and kids will begin to loathe your self-righteous silent, but perceptible, condescension. Do not push, but try to find an entry point for them. I’ve often wondered how many parents would get less flack from their kids if they never announced the change and just made the switch quietly. It might help to butter them up with treats from Elana’s Pantry or Paleo Parents.
  • Give it some time, then tackle the others. Once you’re comfortable and perhaps sold on the whole thing, take aim for the rest of the grains, legumes, vegetable oils, condiments, beverages, and whatever leftover processed foods you have left. If that feels fine, you might want to kick out the crutch of pasteurized dairy.
  • Now you can fine-tune and tinker.Try adding some lacto-fermented kraut or kefir for the probiotics. If you’re okay with dairy, seek out local sources of the raw stuff. Maybe it’s time to try some supplements, but be sure to do your research first. Test your vitamin D levels and aim for more sun exposure. Consider giving up or having less alcohol and/or caffeine if it’s not working for you anymore. Push yourself by trying new things: organ meats, different fish and sea foods, kombucha. Whatever floats your boat.


  • Now see what everyone else is talking about. There are many tangential subjects that seem to go along with ancestral eating: barefoot running/minimal footwear, CrossFit, holistic dentistry, non-toxic personal care products, MovNat, legal/political issues surrounding food, Objectivist philosophy. Careful, it’s easy to slide headlong into full-on Conspiracyville, but it sure is fun here.

What the gradual approach can’t do is save you from your own lack of commitment or wishy-washiness. Know thyself. If you need parameters and discipline, then go for it all at once. But otherwise, do what feels right for you without allowing yourself to get overwhelmed. Aim for sustainability. That’s how real change is made.

So what worked for you? Are you a band-aid ripper or an ease-into-it-er?

*If you’re a band-aid ripper and want to get started, I highly recommend Whole9’s Whole30 program. True to my ease-into-it-iveness, I didn’t attempt one until nine months into Paleo/Primal eating.



22 Responses to “The Argument for a Slow Entry”

  1. I’m an ease-into-er, and most of it was kind of accidental! I got into “clean eating” in ’09 to combat my extra 20-30 lbs (and on a small frame like mine, that’s a lot), so there wasn’t any junk food to cut out and I already ate lots of paleo-approved foods.
    Then I recently was diagnosed with PCOS, so I decided to go with, in my mind, the “main culprit” to my chubbiness first and cut out all sugar except for a little derived from fruit (using stevia if needed). Since I wasn’t baking much and didn’t eat much bread, I rarely had wheat (but I didn’t ban it). I didn’t decide to go paleo until a few months later, when I read the success PCOS sufferers were having with it and the information on how the food I was eating is bad for me. Having already cut out so much stuff from my diet, it was probably a much-easier transition than most have had. However, this was a gradual process of me just going with what I hear is good for me, and I imagine if I started from back when I was eating junk food all the time, I would have done the band-aid rip and probably would have failed.

    • I’m always intrigued by the stories from people who found this WOE in a more intuitive way. I definitely needed an intellectual understanding and shove, via Gary Taubes.

      How’s this working for you so far?

      • To be honest, I know a lady on an online cooking forum I sometimes frequent who went paleo around the same time I went “clean”, and I thought she was insane. She was extolling the benefits she’d gotten from it (weight loss, more energy and strength…) but I couldn’t get past the fact that she wasn’t eating all of the things my new way of eating was praising, and *was* eating things my new WOE was vilifying! So I kind of wrote her off as crazy and didn’t pay attention to any of the facts she presented to us as to the dangers of pulses, grains and sugar. I’m definitely kicking myself for that attitude now, and it scares me that I was so *willingly* ignorant of the information she was trying to provide me.
        I’ve not been paleo for very long at all, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I’m not hungry! I could eat whole grains and beans all day and be sick with hunger, which always confused me because I thought their fiber was supposed to fill me up. I don’t own a scale so I haven’t weighed myself in a while, but the two rings that I wear are much looser already, which could be un-bloating rather than fat loss, but either way I’m pleased!

  2. Thank you for this post. A lot of times I feel like people in the paleo/primal communities look down at people who don’t do an all or nothing approach. This has caused me to push myself beyond sustainable means before being able to adjust myself socially, physically, and financially. I decided the other day that I was going to take myself back to where I started and just get rid of the sugars and grains and then work on easing into an eventual paleo/primal living. I want my wife and son to take this journey with me and she is definitely not a dive right in type of person. So I think slow and steady will yield much better results for us in the long run because it will be sustainable and something we can do together as a family.

    • Be sure to give yourself credit for acknowledging a tough situation. That’s really the biggest step. Know where to push yourself but know where to ease off.

      I read your post about this, and am simultaneously sad that it’s necessary, but also glad that you’re willing to reassess without throwing everything out the window. I hope it gives you what you need to come back stronger. :)

      And I agree that the attitude of all-or-nothing can be detrimental. My guess, and this isn’t a value judgment/just observation, is that it often comes from CrossFitters. And there’s certainly room for that, and that approach will work for many people. There’s no doubt that discipline and structure is involved. But there’s a whole other swath of the population that it won’t work for, and the slower process is no less important.

  3. I guess I sort of eased in to it… I rediscovered low carb last January and started down that path, eventually reading Why We Get Fat and losing weight that way. When I came across Paleo a few months later, things just snapped into place. I wanted to get started right away – more of a Band-Aid ripping reaction. But, I was already part of the way there so it wasn’t the most drastic change. That being said, I’m not an all or nothing person. I started with nixing the grains/legumes/sugar/vegetable oils, but still had coffee, artificial sweeteners, and dairy in there. I’ve managed to get rid of the first two because they very clearly don’t work for me, personally. The dairy is still something that I like and do eat even though it doesn’t make me feel the best. I’m looking in to trying raw dairy to see if that’s better. I just haven’t gotten up the level of commitment needed to completely let it go.

    I really like your advice and will share it with others looking to try out this lifestyle. I’m working on supporting my mom as she makes the transition and the whole Paleo thing is completely overwhelming her. She told me recently that she was going to focus on going gluten free first. I thought that was fantastic. I’m sure that just that one change will make a big difference for her and hopefully, give her confidence to make more changes. It’s not all or nothing!

  4. Programs that require a short-term, “all or nothing” approach aren’t for everyone. People have to be ready to make the change, which is 100% intrinsic. But I’d like to point out that the EXACT same pitfalls you cited above apply to this “ease in” approach as well.

    For many people suffering from food-related symptoms, issues or conditions, easing in isn’t going to make their stuff go away. So they’ll spend a few weeks sugar/gluten-free, still feel like crap, and decide this Paleo stuff doesn’t work. We’ve seen it a million times with folks who try to dip a toe in the water. The problem is that for a huge percentage of people, just giving up sugar and gluten isn’t anywhere near enough. An 80/20 approach isn’t anywhere near enough. Eating squeaky clean 5 days a week and “relaxing” on the weekends isn’t anywhere near enough.

    In addition, I’ll remind folks that none of the “100% squeaky clean” advocates (not us, not Robb Wolf, not Chris Kresser) suggest that people do a super-strict program long-term, We’re asking for people to give us 30 days. That’s all – just one month of their lives, and a serious commitment to following guidelines that have, over the last few years, produced a remarkable track record.

    Our only interest is making people WELL. Not making people feel bad about themselves, not making people feel like failures. (Frankly, people do that on their own, regardless of the dietary program they happen to be following.) We just want to make them NOT SICK. And the best way we’ve found to do that is to encourage folks to give a strict 30 day approach like ours a shot. If we observed the same stunning long-term success with those people who “eased in,” we’d certainly offer that as an option. But after working with thousands of people and three years of our Whole30 program, that simply has not been our experience.


    • Hi Melissa, thanks for stopping by! Always appreciate your perspective.

      In no way am I suggesting this is the only way it can be done. As I mentioned above, people come to this WOE for different reasons and with different goals in mind. I am not coming from a position of needing to be “healed” of anything, and I recognize those folks are out there, and luckily there are folks like you and Robb and Chris out there to help them.

      But let me tell you. I was into this for nine months before trying a Whole30, and I struggled a lot. I know several friends who have tried it and dropped it after a week or so due to various issues, always followed with lots of defeatist sentiment. So I think it’s important for people to hear that it’s hard. If I, a stay-at-home mom who loves to cook with the amazing local bounty available here and whose husband makes a good living for us, struggle with this, then it is going to be especially hard for folks who work all day, come home to a messy house, bills to pay, and several screaming kiddos who all have homework they need help with.

      And that’s what I’m hearing a lot lately. That plenty of normal folks think it isn’t possible for them or that they don’t belong here. And I think the real food message is too important to be dismissed. There’s no reason to package this up as a one-size-fits-all program if it means that only a small percentage of the population can participate. So all I’m saying here is that there isn’t one way to do it and that you can do this however you need to do it to make it happen, whether that’s all at once or in a more gradual fashion.

      We’re asking people to sacrifice a lot. We’re asking them to dismiss large parts of their education about diet and exercise. We’re asking them to go against the flow of their families, friends, doctors—hell!—American culture in general. It’s a huge leap, and sometimes that takes more time. And if there’s anything I can do to make that leap a little less scary, I’m happy to do it.

  5. Great post.

    Start with gluten and sugar

    I’d say: Start with gluten, sugar, vegetable oils, and artificial sweeteners. Also, avoid processed foods as much as possible – and make sure you always read the labels.

    As for sugars it is important to understand that some sugars are worse than others. Unless intolerant, I wouldnt worry about the sugar in milk. Consumption of regular sugar should be limited, and fructose avoided if possible. An exception can be made for fruits (in reasonable amounts). Sugary drinks of any kind should be avoided.

  6. I’m with Melissa on this for the most part, but only cuz that’s what worked for me. Jump headfirst into a challenge to revamp your taste buds, kick the sugar addiction, and reap the benefits right away. However, I have passed on the option of easing into it to friends who were interested in trying Paleo. I didn’t want them to quit if they didn’t do it perfect. Also, none of them were starting with an official challenge, either. The most important advice I gave them was to stock up on Paleo friendly food BEFORE the official switch. Having the right foods onhand make a huge difference in compliance. I do see any change towards Paleo as beneficial, but I have to agree that you won’t really get why Paleo fanatics are the way they are til you experience the increased energy, mental clarity, constantly level blood sugar, and immune boost that only comes with full commitment.

    • Totally. But that’s what’s so great, we can do this in a way that works for us so it sticks. I just worry that the all-at-once message is a little loud and that lots of folks feel like that message doesn’t represent them. I tend to be in the middle—I rip a band-aid partway, take a break, then rip it some more. But I’m also very good at ignoring what other people have to say, especially when they argue that there’s only one way to do something.

      The other thing I worry about here are the promises Paleo makes. I experienced some great energy gains the first two weeks, and since, I’ve returned mostly to “normal”, but without the afternoon crashes (though I still have them once in a blue moon). Mental clarity? Mmm…maybe? Level blood sugar is definitely awesome.

      But my husband’s eczema is as bad as it’s ever been. I have friends who haven’t lost the weight they were hoping to lose. I worry about people’s expectations getting too high and again feeling like a failure or that they’re doing something “wrong”. I guess we just have to slap a disclaimer on it: individual results may vary. :)

  7. I always appreciate your perspective, and the discussion that your posts provoke. I’ll add one thing to my comment above, which I don’t think I made very clear.

    I don’t care how you GET to the Whole30. It doesn’t matter to me whether you jump in feet-first the day you hear about it, or ease on in over the span of a week, a month or a year.

    As long as you eventually do get there.

    Because I truly believe that without an awareness tool like a 30 day strict elimination program, you never really figure out how the food you are eating is affecting you. And as far as I’m concerned, that would be a shame – to put in all that effort of giving up some of the foods you love for a week, a month a year, but not learn all that you could from those efforts.


    • I agree, so much to learn there. I was finally able to objectively look at dairy and alcohol in my life and, after an initial period of gorging on both after the Whole30, determine that neither were doing me any favors. I’ve been much more discriminate about their presence in my life.

      And I think it’s a learning experience for people even if they drop out of the program. I’m guessing they learn a lot about themselves and their food pitfalls. Along these lines, what I learned was how steadfast we have to be to protect our own health, because this culture is loud and obnoxious and if we listen to it, we’ll end up very unhealthy and unhappy. It gave me a bit more spine.

      So much of any change is integrity. We humans can be very good at self-deception and rationalizing. It’s important to figure out how and why we do this to ourselves in order to overcome it.

  8. LCHF (or Paleo or Ancestral or ???) is unfortunately unlike any other diet/lifestyle. The idea of easing in only extends the difficulty of adapting to such a big change. It was only after I went ‘all in’ rather then using it as a temporary fat loss diet that I finally understood how easy it can be. The cravings will never subside until you go ‘all in’. You hunger will not abate to the extent that the cravings will no longer have sway over you until you go ‘all in’.

    The first week or two are always the hardest when forcing such a big change upon your body. Simply putting of the hard part is no plan for success. If anything its a sign you’re not ready to make the commitment.

    It is a hard adjustment to make, but the sooner you do, the sooner you will reap the rewards.

    Thats my $0.02, you may need to adjust for inflation.

    • Different strokes for different folks. I totally get the all-in approach, but after seeing dozens of defeatist messages in the past several weeks, I decided that people needed to see this as a life continuum, not as a do-or-die situation. One night of desserts is not a reason to chuck the lifestyle out the window.

      As I’ve mentioned elsewhere too, folks with families struggle with this stuff more than those who are in it for themselves. They need tools and ideas in order to make this a sustainable option.

      I probably should’ve included a timeline. I’m not talking about months here. I’m talking about taking things one step at a time in a relatively short amount of time, maybe one month tops. Or if you’re following a book, maybe chapter by chapter. It all has to make sense, it has to stick, it has to be honestly integrated.

      It’s like in that movie Inception. They had to go deep into that guy’s subconscious to get him to change his mind about his father’s company. They couldn’t merely plant the idea and hope that it took root. It had to arise within him as it would have naturally. That’s the approach I’m talking about.

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve been reading all about Primal/Paleo for a year or so, but just couldn’t make the jump into 100% commitment. I started easing into it, adding more veggies and using less starches, finally going gluten free a little more than three months ago. I am almost ready to add corn to the “NO” list. Then I will attempt sugar. I haven’t read much about easing into it, but it’s working for me. A band-aid rip approach would have only brought guilt and failure for me.

    • Thank you for this. I’m glad you’ve made this work for you, that’s what it’s all about. Keep going and keep challenging yourself, it only gets better. :)

  10. I first heard of Paleo/primal eating about 1 year ago & immediately started off on a reading adventure. 3 years ago my husband was preparing for a significant surgery & did a medically supervised ketogenic diet, but it was just too much for me at the time. I just didn’t know how to cook for it. And the maintenance phase was still filled with grains & legumes…surprise, the weight he lost didn’t stay off! I kept 10-15 of the 20 I lost off, so not bad. I wasn’t in metabolic trouble, anyway.

    All that to say…my intro was slow. I was training for a half marathon, in a very primal way. By experimenting, I found that I am VERY gluten intolerant…I get migraines & have ezcema & a ton of inflammatory issues… But migraines is the kicker for me… Now, there is nothing good enough to make me eat gluten, no social setting, no awkwardness, nothing is worth the horrendous migraine that awaits me if I stray from the GF path.

    Right now I’m doing a Whole30 challenge with a friend as a partner. I don’t think I would have been successful before now, because i am now less dependent on cream & butter…but using them did get me off gluten & most of the sugar. My “kicking up my heels” is limited to a drink, maybe a small bit of white rice/sushi, or a GF cupcake/dessert. Wild, huh? But I feel awesome.

    I’m newer to this blog, but so far, the food is yummy! I thank you for your posts.

    • It sounds like you’re doing a great job of figuring it out for yourself! That’s the key. I hope your Whole30 goes well for you. At the risk of sounding like a teen girl counselor, it really is a special time and if you’re anything like me, the lessons you learn from these 30 days will reveal themselves to you over the coming months.

      And I hear ya! I had a GF cookie and a glass of wine at book group last night! Whoo-hoo!!! ;)

  11. I think you touched on a valid point here. One thing that some people in the Paleo community fail to take into account is the psychology of change. Just because people know that eating Paleo is much healthier, it does not mean they can instantly adhere to, in some cases a drastically different lifestyle. In coaching people I have found that often extremely small and clear changes (goals) over long periods of time develop habits and this is the key to lasting change. Not a sweeping all or nothing type of approach.


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