The Beginners Guide to the Paleo Lifestyle

I want to tell you a secret: I’ve grown to hate the word “Paleo.” Every time I type it, I want to put quotation marks around it, and every time I say it aloud, I have to stop myself from using those obnoxious air quotes. It’s almost become a dirty word to me. And I’ll tell you why.

It’s not because I don’t stand by the lifestyle movement itself one hundred percent. I do. It’s changed so many lives, helped heal chronic conditions, and given people who otherwise would have a terrible quality of life a second chance at thriving. But lately it’s been deified in such a cultish manner and now has become like one of those words that, when said over and over, no longer sounds like the original word. “Going Paleo” is now a trend with young hipsters over the land rejoicing, flannel shirts and funky boots marching to the nearest farmers’ market.

What I take issue with is that it’s become a “diet” featured on daytime TV or with actresses on the front covers of tabloids claiming the way they got down to a size 0 was this newfangled Paleo thing.

I feel like the word Paleo has evolved from describing a lifestyle of wellness, sourcing local foods, getting to know your farmer and your land, and really evaluating yourself and your relationship with nutrition into a fad. A diet. A temporary passing experiment. And that brings out the air quotes in full force from this Jersey girl. I get defensive when people ask condescendingly, “Well, don’t you follow that Paleo/Primal diet? That caveman thing?”

I take a deep breath and tell them no. I am not, nor will I ever be again, on a diet. I tell them I eat real food. Beef that came from happy cows pastured on the grass they were meant to eat, bacon from pigs that aren’t kept in pens and loaded up  with antibiotics and hormones, fresh vegetables from my garden or at the very least local when possible, fruit not coated in pesticides, and lots of healthy sources of fat. I don’t eat grains and though I do eat full-fat organic dairy, most do not. This way of eating was labeled and made famous by Loren Cordain in his book, The Paleo Diet (Wiley, 2002).

So where am I going with this heartfelt confessional? I want to share this lifestyle with you and give you the tools to implement Paleo principles into your life so that you can be the best version of you possible. I don’t think I can do that if you have it stuck in your head that this Paleo thing is a diet, a label, a trend. And how can you not when lately the media has vilified it into the next weight loss fad? When even someone like me, who has been doing this for years, is irritated by what it’s become? So, in the spirit of solidarity, trust me. Trust the science. Do your research.

What is Paleo?

By strict definition, people who follow a Paleo way of eating do not eat grains, legumes, or dairy. Mark Sisson, founder of the Mark’s Daily Apple website and author of The Primal Blueprint (Primal Nutrition, 2009), coined the term Primal, which is very similar to Paleo except he allows for minimal full-fat dairy (organic and pastured when possible). There really isn’t much difference and the heart of the matter is basically getting your body back to how it should function, how humans evolved to function. And I hate to break it to you, but no, Homo sapiens did not evolve on focaccia bread. Agriculture and the ingestion of grains and dairy are but a tiny millisecond on the face of humanity’s clock.

I am neither a certified nutritionist nor a doctor, so I am going to leave the science and research up to you. I’m going to give you the tools to do this, though, and share with you the resources that helped me change from a morbidly obese woman—over 300 pounds in my early twenties on multiple medications—into a healthy, thriving, active mom in her thirties who has kept off 120 pounds for over six years.


The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson (Primal Nutrition, 2009)

The Paleo Diet, by Loren Cordain (Wiley, 2002)

The Paleo Solution, by Robb Wolf (Victory Belt Publishing, 2010)

Practical Paleo, by Diane Sanfilippo (Victory Belt Publishing, 2012)

It Starts With Food, by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig (Victory Belt Publishing, 2012)


Well Fed, by Melissa Joulwan (Smudge Publishing LLC, 2012)

Against All Grain, by Danielle Walker (Victory Belt Publishing, 2013)

Primal Cravings, by Brandon and Megan Keatley (Primal Nutrition, 2013)

Make It Paleo, by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason (Victory Belt Publishing, 2010)

Everyday Paleo, by Sarah Fragoso (Victory Belt Publishing, 2011)

Note: All of the authors of these books also have successful websites with articles, blogs, photos, and recipes posted often.

So you have the info, you’ve done your research, and you’re ready to make a change. Now what? You and your spouse work full time jobs, you have peanut-butter-coated toddlers running around the house, school-age kids needing help with homework, sports practices to juggle, PTA meetings, and business trips. You don’t have time for this, right? A microwave meal is so much easier.

Guess what? We’re all busy. It’s time to pull up your britches and get over it. If you can tell me how the series finale of Breaking Bad was, then you had an hour in your life to spare. When something is a priority, you make the time. You wouldn’t tell your child you had to skip their soccer game to read The Hunger Games, so why would you put something as important as your health on the back burner for Katniss? (Pick Gale! No, Peeta!)

Here’s what I’ve learned in making a lifestyle like this work in a busy modern world.

Meal plan. I cannot stress this enough. Once a week, sit down and go through all of those little pins you’ve been posting to Pinterest or through the recipes you’ve dog-eared in your new cookbooks and make a meal plan for yourself (and your family). Then, create the shopping list from that meal plan and stick to it. Make your dinners large enough so that you have leftovers for lunch. Make notes of what days you need to take out what meat from the freezer to defrost and tape it to your fridge to remind yourself. Get a whiteboard for your fridge/freezer to keep your meal plan just a quick glance away.

Prep veggies ahead. Once every few weeks, set aside some time to chop peppers, onions, celery, carrots, mushrooms, and the like. Store them in plastic food storage bags in the freezer. Finely dice some for adding to omelets, meatloaf, or a soup base. Slice others into strips for fajitas or stir fry. Having these already prepared saves a ton of time during the week and in your meal planning.

Learn to love your slow cooker.

• Place a few sweet potatoes in the crock, poke a few holes in them, and set on high. In 4 hours, you’ll have a perfectly cooked, easy to peel, excellent source of fuel.

• Slice 5-7 large onions (mix up red, sweet, and white for best fl avor). Place them in the slow cooker and add 4 tablespoons of pastured butter, ghee, or coconut oil and a pinch of salt. In 6-8 hours, you’ll have amazing caramelized onions to keep in the fridge to use as toppings or stuffi ng in anything you want!

• Make a soup, chili, or stew in the slow cooker over the weekend to have easy lunches on hand all week long.

Make snacks and breakfasts ahead. Set aside some time to prepare make-ahead options like egg muffi ns, a breakfast casserole, or Paleo banana bread for quick grabbing all week.

Never leave the house without a snack. If you fi nd yourself stuck late at the offi ce or at your kid’s soccer game, that snack you threw in your bag or car earlier in the day will save you from a low blood sugar crash that can cause you to make bad choices. Easy things to keep around that will last in your bag all day include nuts, bananas, beef jerky, Larabars, and Quest Bars.

Know your options when you are out. Friends going out on a Friday night? Don’t skip socializing just because you won’t be sharing the plate of pulled pork nachos. Go online, read the menu ahead of time, and go in with a plan of what you want to order. Don’t be afraid to ask for substitutions. Most places are very accommodating. Chipotle, Qdoba, and most other Mexican restaurants are great places to eat Paleo. (Order extra guacamole and skip the cheese and sour cream!) Starving and need to stop at a convenience store? Check the refrigerated section for hardboiled eggs or veggies, or grab a V8 in a pinch.

Offer to bring a dish to share. You’re invited to a party. There’s going to be tons of beer, chips, and foods you’ve decided to avoid. Instead of worrying there’s not going to be anything for you to eat, ask what they’re planning on serving and if you could bring a dish to share. Bring fresh fruit or raw veggies and guacamole to snack on or try your hand at a Paleobrownie recipe! No one will be mad at you for bringing free food and you can relax knowing you have food you can eat. Skip the beer and have a NorCal margarita instead (2 shots top-shelf tequila, club soda, lime). Beware though, after eating this way for a while, your tolerance will no longer exist. If you choose to drink, do so slowly and with lots of water. No one wants to see your pants on your head.

The best advice I can give anyone when starting a lifestyle change, especially one as deeply rooted as the way we eat, is a quote from Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Just get back up. You can do this.


AndreAnna McLean balances her career, marriage, CrossFit, and passion for developing gluten-free real food recipes without refined grains or sugars for her gluten-intolerant family. Prior to adopting her journey to health and fitness with the Paleo lifestyle, AndreAnna weighed over 300 pounds.


Disclaimer: All nutrition facts on Gluten Free & More are meant only as a guide and may differ depending on product brands used or ingredient substitutions. Some errors may occur, so you are encouraged to confirm the recipe’s ingredient and nutrition suitability for your own diet.
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