I first looked at changing my diet in May 2012 to help heal my Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS). Since then, the changes I have made in my lifestyle have been incredible (to me at least!). I have learnt how to eat in a way that helps to heal my body, I have lost over 35 lbs, I have learnt so many new recipes and I have made some awesome friends along the way. My HS is still there, but eating clean means I only have the odd flare and those that appear subside or drain pretty quickly.
People who know me always want to know what the 'secret' of my diet is and those with HS want to know how they can take steps to start this diet. The answer is there is no secret. It is just a willingness to re-learn about real, whole foods, a shift in priorities, plenty of enthusiasm and determination!
Starting anything new is hard. Moving to a new area, a new job or a new diet – they are all things which take time. If you'd started a new job, would your new boss expect you to have grasped it all on the first day? The first week? The first month, even? Hopefully not. Like anything new there is an adjustment period. Do you remember your first day at work? The time you spent familiarising yourself with things – the place, the people, the organisation, the structure. You inhaled the new smells and you tried to envisage your place here in the future. It all seemed daunting, exciting and hopeful. Maybe it wasn't even the job you wanted, but you knew you had to take it to reach your goals.
Now a year down the line and it is home. The noises and smells that were so annoying at first are now strangely comforting. You are relaxed in your surroundings. Those strangers are now friends. You know how to do your job and you know how to do it well. You have learnt more than your ever thought was possible on that first day. There is still more to learn, but you are comfortable with that.
Well, this is your new job. You really can do it, no matter how hard or daunting it seems today. Remember, this is not just about a final goal. It is a learning process. The first few weeks will be hard, but you will start to see results.
This is a journey; a re-education. This is unlearning and re-learning almost everything you ever knew about how to eat. It is like a marathon along a country road – you need to take it all in, the smells, the sights, the people running with you; you need to enjoy the scenery, the sensations. You will hit a few walls and rely on those running with you to help you along. No matter how you do it – running, limping, walking – you will get there in the end.
Are you ready for these new food staples?
To get ready for your marathon, you need to work out where the start line is. You need to know what equipment you will need and you need to have an idea of your route. Now enough with the analogies, I'm sure you get the picture! It is good for us to remember that this is a long-term thing, to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves. Let's get going!
Plan big, start small!
To change the way you eat means that many aspects of your life will have to change – not just your diet. You will need to embrace this change by planning big, but to get started you need to start small. The big plan for most of us starting the autoimmune protocol diet (AIP), is to identify our triggers and ultimately, heal our bodies. You may wish to start out paleo. That is how I begun my food journey, as I found the autoimmune protocol a bit radical at first. It really is up to you. However you want to progress, I've prepared some baby step instructions to get you started….
You are probably more prepared than you think. If you have started your research (which you probably have if you have come across this post!), you will already be formulating an idea of the foods you can have and what impact this will have on you and your life. As we are all individuals, our starting points will all be very different. A good way to start would be to start a food diary for at least a week – if not a whole week, make sure at least one of the days includes your weekend/days off work/free days. Write down what you eat and drink and a rough time of day, including snacks. You could also write down the behaviour of your HS on a daily basis (or even morning, noon and night) to help identify trigger foods later on.
Books to get you started
Whilst you are doing your food diary, it would be a good time to invest in a good paleo book. I began with It Starts with Food, as I could only afford one book and it offered a structured introduction to starting out paleo with the Whole 30. The whole online community and forums linked to the Whole 30 were just such amazing resources and the book was super easy to follow. If you can afford to buy any other books, then I recommend The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf and Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo.
If you can afford to, buy some kitchen supplies. If, like me, you are on a budget and short of kitchen space, just start with the essentials. I have a list of Kitchen Supplies here. I started by buying one really sharp knife (super expensive, but so worth it to cut through big squash and sweet potatoes), a large chopping board (or three), a big salad bowl, a sharp hand peeler, a sharp grater, a cheap hand-juicer, a good wok with a lid, a dutch oven (also expensive, but we received it as a Christmas gift), a good frying pan and lots of storage containers.
Slowly built up this collection of beautifully sharp knives!
Other not-so-essential essentials are plenty more knives, electric salt and pepper grinders, spiral cutters, mandolins, food processors, blenders and, well the list is endless!
Can’t imagine how I lived without them!
Get your family on board!
Whether you are living at home with parents, living alone or living with a partner and 7 kids, you need the support of your loved ones! You should consider what impact this change will have on them and how you will manage that. Do you all eat the same foods, regardless of what's cooking? Is your partner willing to sacrifice their beloved roast potatoes or favourite pasta dish for you? Will your parents accept that you will not be eating the food they lovingly prepare for you anymore? Will your children be wooed by all the lovely new flavours you are about to subject them too? If the answer is no, then be prepared. This is not about a battle, it is about your health.
Get your kids on board…
If it's just you, the changes will be easier and you may only have to deal with the occasional situation where you will be saying no to many foods – Sunday lunch with the family, round at friends' houses. Most of our loved ones are caring and supportive of our choices, just be sure to give people plenty of notice before you go there for a meal. If you know it may be tricky, be sure to eat before you go and maybe take some snacks with you. You can also suggest people come to you and wow them with your newfound cooking skills (you will develop these – trust me!)
If you have a partner and children, talk it through in private with your partner. Ask them if they will want to adapt their diet to yours and establish how you will deal with it with the children (if you have any) BEFORE you get to the dinner table. There is a great article here about how you might want to manage the change within the family. If you know your children will be happy to make changes then this article may help, too. In our family, our main meal is almost 100% paleo (if we have a pizza night, I make them a regular pizza), and our cupboards are mainly stocked paleo. I do make homemade bread for them and they have regular, organic dairy. My eldest daughter eats whatever she likes, although she is now more conscious of her food choices. I wrote about this here and how it works for us.
Clear your diary!
For the first few weeks, you may struggle with this way of eating. There is plenty of support on the Whole 30 website, paleo nutritionist sites and of course, amongst Facebook groups, particularly HS The Diet Connection. However, to really help you stay on track, I would avoid going to any social events that are low priority. Your long-term health is more important than your colleagues leaving-do or Friday night out with the girls/boys. Instead dedicate the next few weeks and weekends to investigating new foods, new recipes and making delicious meals. Slaying that sugar dragon can be a nightmare and going out to a restaurant or an event with alcohol is a recipe for disaster. Unless you are like a dog with a bone, then make it easy for yourself – stay at home!
Meal plans and shopping…
Once you have prepared yourself for the transition, you need to get organised. If you have the Well Fed book, you will have a shopping list template and some fabulous recipes to get started. If not, there is 30 page sampler here! There is also a sample meal plan on Robb Wolf's site and at the bottom of this Whole 30 page, there are lots of lovely colourful, free meal plan templates/shopping guides.
For a completely comprehensive guide to getting started, you can visit Aglaèe Jacob RD's site, where you can print out all the beautiful free guides she has to help you get started, including what to eat/what not to eat (this is just a paleo list and may vary for AIP), simple recipes to substitute your everyday meals/snacks and much more!
Prepare a meal plan for the week and set time aside to do this, so you can be realistic about what meals will work for what night. If you are working late one evening, perhaps make enough the night before to carry over, or if you are super-organised, do as Melissa Joulwan suggests and prep on Sunday.
Don't be afraid to make your own meal plan, based on the recipes out there and be prepared to eat dinner-style meals for breakfast. If you know you don't want to eat salad for breakfast, make sure your meal plans include making enough leftovers for the mornings. Once you are organised and ready to go, get shopping!
Apart from all your lovely fresh produce that you will be buying, you will need some essential cupboard staples. At first may just be Himalayan pink salt, a few pots of dried herbs and some coconut oil. You don't have to splurge on everything all at once.
Looking good, tasting great!
Organic coconut oil – lavish it in your food and on your skin!
Make sure you have plenty to snack on. The first few weeks are hard and although they advise not eating too much between meals, I would say make sure you have easy to eat foods like olives, fruit and plenty of veg cut up in your fridge (cucumber and carrots will start to taste quite sweet eventually!). If you are following the autoimmune protocol, then stay away from nuts for the first 60 days. Even if you are not on the AIP, keep nut snacks to a minimum (a palm sized portion is plenty – no, not a heaped palm, just a small, slightly clenched palm!). There is a lot of information on the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios where nuts are concerned, but if you don't want to get bogged down in science at this stage, here is an easy to understand intro to why you would keep them to a minimum.
Don't make excuses, just get going!
There are a million and one reasons why you feel you shouldn't start. If you have done some prep and bought your ingredients, get going! I didn't have my Whole 30 book in the first couple of weeks, I just used the Internet and although it wasn't ideal, moving forward slowly was better than doing nothing at all.
Tiny kitchen? Campingaz stove? Do it anyway!
Obviously if you are having a crisis or are sick (I'm talking vom or serious man-flu – not just autoimmune sick), then you may need to put it off for a while. Emotional attachment to food is a big part of the change and we often seek comfort in foods when we are below par. Conditioning yourself to new comfort foods can take a while and as the article states, our comfort foods are usually quite carb/sugar-laden. That said, if you are a homemade-chicken-soup-kinda-gal/guy then get making some homemade chicken soup to beat that nasty cold!
Setting yourself up well in the beginning is a great way to start, but it doesn't have to be perfect. It will get harder before it gets easier, but so long as you are making changes, it is all progress.
Build your food repertoire
The Paleo community are super active online and this means that there are so many amazing recipes out there without you ever having to spend a penny (I much prefer the feel of a good old-fashioned recipe book though!) Some excellent sites to get started are nomnomplaeo.com, where Michelle Tam not only blogs about a huge variety of food, but provides beautifully photographed meals and witty, easy-to-follow instructions. Melissa Joulwans's theclothesmakethegirl.com also has beautiful recipes with lovely pictures, is well written and has plenty of tips and ideas on how to stay on the straight and narrow when following the paleo diet. Paleomg.com is also another great food blog. She offers tips, a funny slant on life and also a great variety of recipes for every season.
Pick a couple of recipes to start with – perhaps something similar to what you would normally eat, like a cottage pie or just some roasted vegetables with a roast chicken. Find what works for you, what you enjoy and tailor the recipes to suit you. At this early stage you may have to be adventurous if all you've ever eaten is potato waffles, baked beans and sausages with brown sauce (my staple diet for a LONG time when I was younger!). Things like sweet potatoes, courgettes (zucchini) and fresh coconut may all be new to you and they are things you should probably try sooner rather than later. For those of you who are foodies then trying things like plantain, different types of squash, spiral cutting vegetables and all the other amazing foods out there will be your starting point.
The key is not to overwhelm yourself with new vegetables/meat/fish that you will never get around to cooking. Eating a lot of fresh produce is not cheap and watching it all rot in the bottom of the fridge, because you are not motivated to cook it can be soul destroying. Keep it simple! You have all the time in the world to hone your cooking skills and try all those fancy recipes you have just discovered.
When you are ready, slowly introduce new foods in. This is not the same as the reintroduction of restricted foods, but foods that are new to your palate. Try a new type of food every 2-3 weeks– and do it more than once. Chances are if you don’t like it, you may not have prepared it in a way that is to your taste. For example, I’m not overly keen on sweet potato puree, but chop them up, roast those babies with garlic, salt, pepper and coconut oil and I am all over them. For plantain – we wait until ours are black before we peel and fry them in coconut oil, as I’m not so keen on them when they are not super ripe.
Your tastes will change as your diet becomes more simple and you will start to taste things differently. I never even liked coconut before I started this diet, but when i saw that it was so good for you and a good oil for cooking I forced myself to try it over and over. I still don't like certain things if they have a coconut flavour (like sweet potatoes mixed with coconut flour – not for me!), but fresh coconut?? I can't get enough of it!
Drinking these helped me slay my sugar dragon!
This can be the hardest part of it all. You start off on a high, you buy all the food, you cook for two,three or maybe even four days and you are feeling smug and inspired. Then you have a crap day at work and you are starting to seriously miss that sugar! These are the days you will need to push yourself. Get online, reach out to the huge Whole 30 community or any other group where good nutrition is promoted.
I found preparing food to be a bit like exercise. It can be hard to get motivated, but ten minutes after I get in that kitchen preparing food, I start to feel really relaxed and excited about the fact I am taking the time to nourish my body. It may sound unlikely, but cutting up vegetables can be very therapeutic!
You’ll be cutting A LOT of these…
…and a lot of these!
Above all, be kind to yourself. This is definitely not a sprint. You cannot be expected to reprogram the way your body, mind and soul associates nourishment in one or two weeks. This is a lifetime of re-programming and re-learning. Whilst it is important to stay on track, do not go beating yourself up if it is not working out as you had hoped. I am only just getting the hang of this and I have been Plaeo (ish) since June 2012 and following an autoimmune protocol since February this year.
Apart from all the other food resources scattered in this post, here are some more awesome ones! Some are paleo, some have restricted ingredients, but could be easy to substitute or omit. Some are not suitable until you have completed your Whole 30. However, at some stage you will want to try them ALL!:
I would love for people to add their tips and links to make this page a fabulous first-step resource for all the newcomers. Please go to the Comments section and help a sister out!