Eat like a predator, not like prey.
Predators gorge and fast; prey grazes.
Rephrased for modern humans: predators eat meals, prey grazes on snacks. This means you need to eat meals which will carry you through to your next meal, but that won’t make you tired or sleepy.
Step 1: Eat Meat, Not Birdseed
Eat more meat. If it’s not meat, it’s not a meal.
Favor ruminants—animals that eat grass and leaves. (That means red meat: beef, lamb, bison, elk, venison, goat.) Ruminants are far better at converting plants into essential fats, complete protein, and bioavailable nutrients than humans are.
Buy grass-fed beef whenever possible: it’s better for you, and better for the Earth. Cows didn’t evolve to eat corn and soybeans any more than humans did.
Buy fatty cuts, buy occasional organ meats. Do not avoid animal fat! If you try, you will become ravenous for fatty junk food. Fake low-fat ‘paleo’ is known as the Faileo Diet.
Pork and chicken are permissible in moderation, but are far less healthy due to excessive omega-6fat content.
Frankly, you could stop here, as many native cultures did: as long as you eat organ meats and marrow, fatty, grass-fed ruminant meat provides 100% of your nutritional needs. But most of us enjoy more variety in our diets—and some vegetables and fruits offer tangible health benefits, even if they don’t provide meaningful calories.
Eat more fish and shellfish.
Favor oily fish like mackerel, sardines, and wild salmon, but be careful of methylmercury content: keep your intake of tuna, shark, and other high-level carnivores low. (The FDA’s table of mercury content can be found here.) In a Paleolithic world we could eat all the fish we wanted…but we humans have polluted the entire Earth so badly (mostly by burning coal for power) that one of our healthiest food sources is now universally poisonous. Good job, ‘civilization’.
Do not eat anything made with ‘flour’.
No bread, no pasta, no cereal, no crackers, no cookies, no donuts or danishes. Period. This is your most important step.
Flour is ground-up seeds. What eats seeds? Birds and rodents. If it’s poisonous to humans until we grind it into powder and cook it, and it causes mineral deficiencies and birth defects unless we add vitamins, it’s not food. (Read more about lectins, phytic acid, and the role of grains in autoimmunity and heart disease.)
Do not drink your food.
No soda (even diet soda), no sports drinks, no milk, no soy ‘milk’, no smoothies, no fruit juice, no yogurt or vegetable drinks. Tea, coffee, and mate are fine in moderation. Learn to drink water: once you get used to it, you’ll find that soda and juices no longer quench your thirst. (You can potentially add small quantities of dairy and fresh fruit/vegetable juices back in later, if you’ve met your other goals.)
Do not eat table sugar, or its equivalents.
This includes circumlocutions like “brown rice syrup”, “agave nectar”, and my favorite, “evaporated cane juice solids.” That’s what sugar is! Sheesh. Even honey is basically just sugar, though it has useful medicinal properties. Diet sweeteners are out, too, as are those goofy Atkins sugar alcohols.
If you can’t do without ‘carbohydrates’ (sugars), eat root starches.
Prefer foods that are high in glucose and low in fructose, particularly root starches like potatoes. (Don’t forget about sweet potatoes and yams.) If you must eat birdseed, rice is the least bad of the grains…but give yourself a couple weeks to see if it’s just withdrawal symptoms, or whether you really need it on a regular basis.
Important! If you are active and not concerned with losing weight (or trying to gain it), you’ll want to eat more carbs than the average person trying to lose a few pounds. Sports nutrition is beyond the scope of this article…but in general, I find a moderately low carb intake (~20% of calories), with occasional starch refeeds when necessary to refill muscle glycogen, much better than a constant diet of pasta, “energy bars”, and other sugary junk food.
Remember, fatty meat is your primary source of calories and nutrients. Quite a few ‘mainstream’ paleo books and sources sugarcoat or dance around this. You’re a predator: eat like one.
Congratulations! You’ve just made some massive, positive changes in your life.
You may be going through bread and cereal withdrawal, with periods in which you absolutely crave them. This is absolutely normal: you’re forcing your body to learn how to burn fat again, because it’s used to burning all the sugar (‘carbohydrates’) you’ve been eating.
However, you’re probably already noticing an increase in energy, a decrease in post-meal fatigue, and a lessened desire to snack. Stay on target! The cravings will dissipate, but the benefits won’t.
The best part about a primal/’paleo’ diet is that you don’t have to measure or keep track of anything: no counting calories, no ‘points’, no worries about macronutrient ratios. Eat real food, and you won’t have to worry about parceling out your addiction to junk.