Surviving the Paleo Challenge

In preparing for a paleo challenge, the biggest factors for success are discipline and preparation. Knowing how to cook a few things helps too. Having a clear purpose in mind will help you stay on track and focused. So you have to ask yourself, "Why exactly am I doing this?"

If I can get up on my Paleo-Evangelist pulpit for a second, paleo eating is not a "diet," it is a lifestyle change. If you stick with it you will feel better, look better, perform better, recover faster, and kick major ass. It will change your life. Who wouldn't want that? Your friends and family may not get it, or their eyes will glaze over if you try to explain how and why you eat the way you do. The simplest answer (other than "I am doing a nutrition challenge at my gym") is to say, "I'm cutting out certain foods that don't agree with me, and eating this way makes me feel a lot better overall." It's simple, the word paleo isn't mentioned once, and you don't have to field any questions about hunting and gathering, intermittent fasting, or why you're incapable of growing a full beard. 

Getting Started
Step 1: The Purge - The first thing you need to do is purge your kitchen of all the crap. It's much easier to eat junk food when you keep it in the house. But don't just throw the unwanted items away; donate any unopened canned or boxed food items to a local food drive.

Step 2: Keep it Simple - Meat (beef, chicken, fish, pork, eggs), veggies (mostly the dark, leafy kind), nuts (minimal), seeds (minimal), fruit (limited and preferably post workout), and some starch (e.g., sweet potato, also in the post workout window). Meat and veggies should comprise most of your meals. Simple. Nuts and seeds are fine in small amounts, but coconut, olive oil and avocado are far superior fat sources.

Step 3: Pack a Lunch - Don't leave the house without food. Ever. Keep a bag of nuts in the car. Carry small snacks on you (see Paleo Snack Ideas below). Cook in bulk. Prepare your own lunch every day. You'll save money and have complete control over what you consume.

Step 4: Make Smart Choices - No one is forcing you to eat that cupcake or cheesesteak. You choose to either eat crap or eat real food. However, every item you consume does not necessarily need to be organic or raw for it to be good for you. Whole9 has a great reference chart for buying produce. It details when certain foods are in season, when you should buy organic (if possible) and when the conventional kind will suffice. 

Buying grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, pork, eggs, and wild-caught fish is ideal but not always available, practical or economical. Another good source of information from Whole9 is their article Paleo Poor: Your guide to the grocery store, and all related articles in their Conscientious Omnivore series.

Paleo Cooking Substitutions
Avocado has the same creamy texture (it feels like softened butter) and can be substituted for it in a 1:1 conversion ratio for cooking and baking.

Coconut milk (full fat) is great in smoothies or to sip on by itself. Although, I have found that drinking the entire can at one time gives me a headache. Some may also suggest almond milk as an alternative but I've yet to find a brand that doesn't have some form of added sugar or sweetener and/or soy. If you can find one without sugar or soy, give it a try and let me know.

Coffee Creamer 
Try drinking your coffee black. People will respect and fear you. Plus, it's not really coffee if you're adding things to it. But if you must have something sweet and creamy in your coffee, coconut milk (full fat) makes for a nice treat. Wholes Foods' store brand is the best value. 

Photo: Paleo Brands
You can make a very tasty paleo version of angel hair pasta using a spaghetti squash. It has a very similar texture to pasta and tastes great by itself. Here's an example recipe from Crossfit Santa Cruz Central Presents: Eat This!

Almond meal or coconut flour can both be substituted for traditional flour. Trader Joe's makes a great and affordable almond meal. 

A little while back, I posted a Paleo Pecan Pancake recipe. Use unsweetened applesauce in place of honey, and feel free to substitute (or add) blueberries, strawberries or bananas. Or, just leave them plain. For the sake of the CFDV Paleo Challenge, however, maple syrup (even 100% pure organic) is not allowed. So keep that in mind. 

You can still have pizza, minus the cheese, using this great pizza crust recipe from Everyday Paleo. Having a pizza stone is key. I've had many failed attempts on baking sheets. One try with a pizza stone and it came out perfect.

You can rice cauliflower, either by chopping it very fine or using a potato ricer. See my Paleo General Tso's recipe for directions. 

Paleo Condiment Substitutions
Soy sauce - Coconut Aminos. This can be found at Whole Foods. It's pricey, but unless you use soy sauce daily, this will last you a while.

Salad dressing - Bragg Organic Healthy Vinaigrette and Bragg Organic Sesame and Ginger Dressing. Both can be found at Whole Foods and are probably your best option for salad dressing on the market. Most salad dressings have high fructose corn syrup, soy, and sugar, but the only sugar in the Bragg brand is a little bit of organic honey.

Ketchup contains sugar and white vinegar. You could try your hand at making your own Paleo Ketchup, or skip it altogether and make some paleo salsa instead. Here are two recipe options from Everyday Paleo and Mark's Daily Apple

I've never attempted this recipe but Everyday Paleo has an olive oil mayo that sounds interesting. The recipe is toward the bottom of the post.

Drink that damn water. Staying properly hydrated is key to athletic performance, recovery and weight management. The current rule of thumb for hydration is to take your body weight and divide by two. That number is the minimum number of ounces of water you need to consume each day. I shoot for a minimum of a gallon per day, but I really like water.

Paleo Snack Ideas
Celery sticks with almond butter
Baby carrots
Small handful of walnuts and an apple

Paleo Recipe Resources


  1. I read your 10 tips for success for the crossfit newbie and LOVED it! I started crossfit in December and can relate to almost everything in the article. I also did the 30 day Paleo challenge and today is my final day. My husband and I plan on continuing to eat paleo so I'm glad that I stumbled upon your blog.

  2. Anonymous, thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you liked that article and hope you can find my blog useful and maybe good for a laugh too. Keep up the good work.


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