Common Pitfalls

ith the first day of the 30-Day Paleo Challenge under your belt, you should be feeling pretty good about recognizing and acting on the need for change. Believe me when I say this Caveman is proud of you. But the next 29 days are filled with hazards that threaten to derail your goals. I will help you navigate through the sugar jungle and over the spaghetti snake pits so that you can reach your goals without getting bit.

Pitfall # 1: Break the mental hold that food has over you

This is by far the toughest habit to deal with as it causes you to face what’s sure to be a lot of emotional baggage. Ask yourself the following questions:

Why do I eat the way I do?

What do I eat when I’m in a bad mood, bored, feeling lazy, happy, in social situations, away from home?

Do I enjoy the first bite of my food just as much as my last?

How do I feel after I eat certain foods?

Do I use food as a reward?

Do I really know what “healthy” food really is?

Am I addicted to sugar?

What do I reach for when I’m hungry?

Do TV, billboard, or magazine food-related ads elicit a hunger response?

Your responses may surprise you. When I first asked myself these questions, I found that food had a really crushing hold on my emotions. Any time I was depressed, I reached for pizza, ice cream or a candy bar. Well, as someone who is lactose intolerant, I was essentially poisoning myself and though I got some temporary emotional comfort, the regret was far worse. Later, when I cleaned up my diet quite a bit, I still used food as a reward via cheat meals/cheat days. I’m not saying that cheating is wrong; in fact it’s a vital part of maintaining your long-term sanity (but if you’re doing a Paleo challenge, don’t you dare cheat!). After your 30 days we’ll talk about cheating and the 80/20 rule. Nowadays though, I’m very conscious about when I stray from Paleo and I do everything I can to get back on track as quick as possible. That level of food cognizance is something you have to discover for yourself.

If you don’t enjoy the last bite of your food (almost) as much as your first, you’re doing it wrong. Paleo eating is supposed to be delicious, and that’s the reason I provide recipes: to show you how good food can be without grains, dairy or sugar. Trust me when I say your taste buds will re-align and you won’t miss two-thirds of the stuff you ate before.

Pitfall # 2: Lack of planning

Nothing kills a change faster than inadequate planning. As someone who has broken more diet plans than you’ve probably ever tried (South Beach, Abs Diet, Apex, Bodybugg, The Zone), boredom and poor planning prevented me from reaching my goals. The difference with Paleo is that the foods are so simple, it’s tough to fall off the wagon in a spectacular fashion.

Here are my tips for ensuring you stick to it:

- Recipes are great for trying new foods, but nothing will serve you better than learning how to grill, sauté, and steam. I make 80% of my foods these ways and the remaining 20% is oven or crock pot recipes. All you need to do to sauté is put some fat in a pan (coconut/red palm oil or animal fat), brown the meat, add veggies, season with spices and serve!

- Eat before going to the grocery store. I make my worst food decisions when I’m hungry at the store, and am more likely to miss the things I’ve cut out. Fortunately, these days I usually just end up buying more Paleo foods than I need!

- Plan your meals out for the week, including snacks. Make sure you add a safety factor in case you get hungry or have to face temptation; having some “clean” jerky, nuts, coconut flakes or tuna on hand will go a long way (the engineer in me loves safety factors).

- If you know you’re going to be in a bad social situation eat beforehand and avoid being anywhere near the food. Just seeing people enjoy sweets is enough to elicit an insulin response and make your cravings worse.

And that brings us to…

Pitfall #3: Being social and eating out

Social situations are a tough one to avoid since you don’t want to be seen as that loner with 30 cats who sits at home alone in the dark. You will find however, that your friends and co-workers are very forgiving if you explain what’s going on. Or you could just lie. Either way, try to avoid putting yourself in situations where you will be tempted to fail. Your social life will still be there for you when you finish the 30 days, so don’t worry too much about not joining your friends at the local bar to watch the big game. Hey, look at the plus side, at least you’ll be done with the challenge before the Super Bowl (better believe I’ll have a post on this later)!

If you don’t drink alcohol, awesome for you. However, most people go nuts without having a drink or two each week (or night). As most college students know, drinking leads to poor decisions, and eating Paleo is no exception. Short story, if you’re  on the 30-Day Challenge, don’t drink and don’t go to bars.

But make sure you still have fun with eating! One of my favorite Paleo experiences has been my CrossFit gym’s holiday party where everyone brought Paleo dishes. It was the first time I was at a party where I didn’t have to show restraint, I could eat as much as I wanted!

Eating out at restaurants is tough, and because I’m a masochist, I’ll be doing the 30-Day Challenge while also at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. If I can eat clean in Sin City, you can deal with your own temptations. Here are the keys to eating out and staying Paleo:

- Tell the server right off the bat that you have to eat gluten-free. With the rise of Celiac Disease, restaurants are much more accommodating these days. This covers soy sauce too because (surprise!) soy sauce has gluten in it.

- Look for dishes that are grilled or steamed, and get any sauce on the side.

- Steamed veggies are legit!

- Ask what the dishes are cooked in. No vegetable/peanut/grapeseed/canola/soybean oils or butter allowed (now you see why I opt for grilled or steamed?).

- Eat a salad. Normally salads are the lowest thing on my eating totem pole (but still above non-Paleo foods), but when eating out, they’re a great option. Never underestimate the power of seared Ahi Tuna.

Here are some more resources on eating out:



There you have it. By avoiding these big three pitfalls, you’ll be well on your way to success. Now I’m looking forward to dinner in Vegas at Pampas!

The Lazy Caveman
  • Sean Falconer

    Hey, any recommendations for paleo restaurants in the Palo Alto area?

    • http://www.thelazycaveman.com The Lazy Caveman

      I've started compiling a list here: http://www.yelp.com/list/paleo-eating-mountain-vi…. I haven't been eating out too much of late, but lots of places will acquiesce to your requests if you ask.

  • http://www.neelfirst.com N

    "Eat before going to the grocery store"

    I remember the learning of that lesson. :)

    This is the first I've heard of this kind of stuff. Sounds like a more extreme version of what I have been doing. I look forward to your self-testing results.

  • Doug

    Forgive me for naivete, but isn't the main benefit of this diet that it specifically prohibits junk food (whether packaged or freshly cooked), and mandates fresh fruit and veggies? That is, I can support any diet that prohibits fatty foods, fresh fruit and veggies, and requires portion control and sparing amounts of oil.

    I agree avoiding fast food at all costs is the #1 way to keep healthy.

    • Doug

      Oops, "requires fruits and veggies"

    • http://www.thelazycaveman.com The Lazy Caveman

      Hi Doug,

      Actually, the main point of going through the 30 Day Challenge and eating this way is to train your body to run off of dietary fat instead of carbohydrates. As Robb Wolf points out in his book, there are no "essential carbohydrates" that need to be consumed; your body can make the carbohydrates it needs to run biological processes from protein and fat, and it does so rather well. So while the return to whole foods and cutting out the junk helps with the your overall health, your body will still run sub-optimally if it still depends on carbs as a main fuel source.
      Thanks for reading!