Most people find their way to the primordial blueprint via food. They want to start eating “right” and get well. Maybe they’re asking a few friends whose lifestyle they admire, or they Google a few buzzwords — low carb, paleo, keto — and finally their way here. However they come here, I like the unbridled enthusiasm of someone on the abyss of change. They are ready to listen and do whatever you advise. Just say the word. And when they ask where to start, the word I say is: pure.
Any good primordial transformation begins by eliminating the “big three” health offenders: grain, sugar, and industrialized seed oils (canola, corn, safflower, soybean, etc.). Get rid of the foods you no longer plan to eat to make room for the meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, nuts, seeds that make up the Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid.
If you are planning to start eating differently, you have set your environment for success. This is habit change 101.
Do you want to stop eating so much sugar? Toss all the candy, ice cream and whoopie pies, and instead get protein-rich snacks and 85 percent dark chocolate.
Do you need to kick that soda habit? Say sayonara for the cool drink, buy some sparkling water, and stop taking the elevator to work that drops you off at the vending machines.
During our 21-day Primal Resets of Keto Month challenges, one of the very first things our participants ask to do is a pantry cleanse for this reason. At first glance, it’s pretty simple: get rid of the big three, plus any products made with it. Except that it’s not that simple. Nothing is ever. We always get a lot of questions about how, exactly, to undertake the pantry cleansing. Hence today’s post. I’m not going to cover what to clean when cleaning your pantry. This older post covers it in great detail. Today is about strategy and how to navigate the sometimes thorny complexities here.
First stop buying things that you will have to throw out later
Let’s say you’re not quite ready to start eating Primally yet. You take your time to learn about the primordial blueprint, whether you wait until January, your birthday or after that holiday you have planned for next month. That’s good. In the meantime, however, give your future self a leg up by buying fewer chips, frozen desserts and containers of energy drinks starting now.
So often people feel the need to go on a junk food bender (whatever that means to you) before they “get well”. It’s a self-sabotaging mentality that starts you off on the wrong foot. The implication is that you are leaving the good life behind and stepping into something less desirable. I take exception to that. Overeating is not boring, you should not feel deprived, and it is certainly not a punishment. You do not have to throw yourself whatever the food equivalent of a bachelor party is.
Resist the urge to go out on a limb, and save yourself some money by not filling your pantry with stuff you’ll have to clean when you’m ready to take the plunge.
Go Big: The Ruthless Purge
In the past I have advocated what I call the “ruthless purification”. This is where you enter your kitchen with the biggest garbage bag you can find and pour out anything with grains, excess sugar or seed and vegetable oils. Check the fridge, freezer, pantry, cupboards and drawers. Do not forget the spice rack. Read each label, and if something is even a little suspicious, get rid of it (recycle any recyclable packaging, of course). Start your Primal reset with a completely clean lead.
Now, I still think this is a good way to start, but I have occasionally had a setback on this strategy that I think is valid. Let me address those concerns one by one.
“What if I can not afford to replace all my food at once?”
In this case, a more gradual purification is in order. I would still suggest throwing the worst offenders if you can. To me it means things like:
- Non-primal cooking oils: the large bottles of vegetable oil, canola oil, and so on
- Salad dressings and other spices made with those oils
- Baking ingredients such as bags of white flour, whole wheat flour and sugar
- Desserts such as ice cream, cookies, cakes, sweets
- Conventional snack and cracker snacks (the better-for-you alternatives made with almond, coconut or cassava flour in addition)
- Sugary breakfast cereal
Especially for people with a limited food budget, I would never suggest throwing conventional eggs, meat or produce. Yes, I personally choose grass-fed and organic whenever I can, but Primal is all about making the best possible choices given the options available to you. Conventional meat is always going to have many more benefits than marshmallow cereal.
As for the “borderline food” – foods that are not strictly original, but also not the most unoriginal in the grand scheme of things – it depends on what you can afford. Maybe you eat through your existing stock of oatmeal, legumes or rice, but do not buy more once they are gone, at least for a while. If you suspect that a particular food is causing acute health problems, such as your IBS flare-up, just get rid of it. It’s not worth it.
At the end of the day, I trust that you are going to do the best you can. If that means eating all the food you have in your kitchen, Primal-aligned or not, because you can not afford to throw something out, you will not get anything from me.
“I feel guilty for wasting so much food.”
Food waste is a big issue and something I try hard to be conscientious about in my own life and at Primal Kitchen. So what are you supposed to do if you do not want to throw food in the trash, but you also do not want to eat it? The obvious answers are to donate unopened items to your local food bank or shelter. Or use that food to make meals for others — think new parents, elderly neighbors, friends who are sick or recovering from surgery — or for events such as office parties where a baked pasta casserole or batch of cookies would welcome word.
However, when I suggested this in the past, some people joined in, arguing that these approaches are problematic in their own right. Why, they ask, is that food good for other people when it’s not good enough for you? Does not this exacerbate the problem that people with lower incomes have more access to hyper-processed, less nutritious food than they have to meat and produce? I see this point, but I also think the issue is much more complicated than that. To be honest, I see both sides and do not have the definitive answer here. You will have to decide where you end up in this debate. (Feel free to keep it out in the comments). One compromise option might be to donate your toaster strudels and pasta along with canned fish, canned vegetables and a monetary donation, which many food banks will use to buy perishable items.
You always have the option to do the gradual purification described above. Ask yourself what feels like the lesser evil: eat food you no longer want or throw it away. This can be a difficult choice. Remember this and use it as an incentive to keep these items out of your kitchen in the future so you do not have to go through these again.
“My partner / roommates / children will be furious if I throw away their favorite food.”
“What if the people I live with are not on board with my new way of eating?” We get this question all the time during our Primal Challenges *, and it’s a tough thing to do.
First things first, do not throw away their non-Primal favorites if they are not committed to going Primal with you. It will only cultivate conflict and resentment.
Yet it is completely understandable if you want the cookies, potato chips and soft drinks out of sight and out of mind. Communication is essential here. Explain why you are making the changes you are making and what your housemates can do to support you. I have found that the best strategy is to create kitchen zones. Let them have their food, but keep it separate from yours, preferably in a specific cupboard that you do not open.
You can not force other people to go along with your Primal diet no matter how much you want them. Lead by example, and hopefully they will start arriving on time. In the meantime, keep your eyes on your own plate. (And no, it’s not easy. My colleague Erin Power still has some great tips for dealing with unsupported partners.)
* Speaking of Primal Challenges, keep an eye on this space for upcoming announcements about our January plans!
This is it from me. I would love to hear about your experiences with Primal. In terms of diet, have you jumped in with both feet or made gradual changes? Would you do it differently if you had to do it over?
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