Q&A: Overwhelmed While Grocery Shopping

Here’s a question from a member I thought some of you might be able to relate to.

Q: I am brand new to this diet. I was recommended to it by my CrossFit trainer. Wanting and needing to get in the best shape of my life is a huge priority to me. Especially since I am working on a career in Law Enforcement. Being 5″1 and in okay shape just will not cut it as a police officer. So, my goal – Get in shape!

Okay, but enough of my ranting and raving about my goals. My real question is in regards to the shopping itself. All these recipes seem fairly easy to make, which is exactly what I love – simplicity. When I went to Trader Joes yesterday, which was a new experience for me having shopping at Walmart or my local supermarket. My initial thought was, “This just isn’t for me.” Then I started shopping and when I had a full basket of groceries for the week I felt extremely overwhelmed. Between the searching through the store for the right product and wondering if I was reading labels correctly, I broke down, emptied my basket and left the store. I couldn’t believe shopping got the best of me! I was very excited to start this new chapter of eating healthy in my life but disappointed because I felt lost. I was so concerned with making sure I had everything that fit the Paleo diet that my mind raced with what if I spend all this money and its all wrong?

Secondly, being recently out of my parents house and living on my own with my fiance, our budget is extremely tight. I suppose if I put all into perspective what I spend at a normal grocery store buying unhealthy junk would be equivalent to shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joes. Maybe it is just a system overload and feeling of confusion and panic. My fiance was a tad bit overwhelmed himself but trying to be supportive offered to just go to our normal grocery store and shop for “healthier” foods that his personal trainer suggested, chicken and rice with a vegetable. But, of course not, I have been studying this diet since I signed up little less than a week ago. I wanted strictly paleo diet! Needless to say, we didn’t return home with one item.

So, today, I am going to brave this again. But Please! Help me with this. I read your articles of Whole Foods and Trader Joe Shopping Guides to help ease the worry. But, in a nutshell, what are ingredients to ABSOLUTELY stay away from and what are things that are paleo okay? Secondly, on average, what is the normal cost of a week plan in groceries? I hate to admit it, I’ve gone grocery shopping and spent upwards of $150 with items like, Kraft Mac and Cheese, Taco Kits, IceCream, Frozen Pizza, Etc. All these items on average last me about 1 1/2 week. So, am I really freaking out over the cost of this diet for no reason?

If anyone could point me in the right direction back to sanity and help me with this new adventure – I’d greatly appreciate it!

A: You are not alone, and thank you for your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable.

The things you should try to avoid are: grains (bread, pasta, rice, bagels, crackers, cookies, corn products, etc.), dairy (yogurt, cheese, milk, butter, cottage cheese, etc.), refined sugar (any sweetener besides a little honey here and there), and legumes (especially soy, black beans, peanuts, all other beans). That’s a lot of foods, though, right? It probably freaks you (and many others) out to see that list.

Just try to trust that it’s not as bad as it seems at first.

What I don’t want to happen is exactly what happened to you at Trader Joe’s – you don’t think you have it perfectly right, so you don’t buy anything. 50% Paleo is better than 0% Paleo – always remember that. If you can get up into the 80 to 100% range most days, you’re doing great.

Start off with just buying some vegetables that you know you like (maybe broccoli, spinach and peppers?) and some meat that you like (any will do for now). Chop it all up, heat up some olive oil and saute it all in a pan at the same time – then add a little salt (if you want) and eat it.  That is a perfectly Paleo meal.

When you’re ready to follow the recipes on Paleo Plan, just come as close as you can to the ingredients on the shopping list, and start trying them out.  As you read and research more, it will become clearer to you what you should be buying at the store. You’ll start looking at things like organic, grass-fed, and the extra ingredients in meats, knowing what you should and shouldn’t be buying. You’ll begin to know that there’s actually milk and flour in a lot of canned soups, or that there’s often a lot of sugar hidden in packaged products. It just takes time and patience to read ingredient lists and read your Paleo books and blogs.

The books I suggest you read are Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution, Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Diet for Athletes and perhaps Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint.  Besides this blog for further reading, those guys all have blogs, as well.

You can do Paleo(ish) shopping at a “normal” store, but I’d start gradually going to Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or any other health food stores, since, as the name implies, those stores cater more to your health. They don’t usually carry products that have nasty extras in them – preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, food colorings, etc. – so you have to worry less about getting it right.

As for the cost, that’s a tricky one. I’m a 5′ woman myself, and I spend about $600 a month or $150 per week on food – sometimes more. But I eat almost exclusively organic produce and pasture raised/grass fed animal products, so you don’t HAVE to spend that much (although it’s ideal). If you’re not at that point yet, it’s ok.  Hopefully, the more you learn about the benefits of things like organic produce and grass fed beef, the more motivated you’ll get to start buying it. Either way, the better you start to feel while eating this way, the more of a priority it might become. You might find yourself downsizing to a less expensive car or not going out to eat as much so that you can afford to eat only really clean Paleo foods.

So, in summary, start slowly, eat meat (including organ meats), fish, eggs, veggies, fruits, and some nuts and seeds. Cook with coconut oil, coconut milk, olive oil, and rendered animal fats. If you’re missing your carbs, bake up some sweet potatoes or make some savory tapioca crepes.  If you’re craving something sweet besides fruit, eat a little honeyHere’s our Paleo Plan food guide, which will explain all of this in more detail. Eat breakfast, lunch, a snack and dinner every day and don’t overeat! You’re going to be a lean, mean, crime fighting machine in no time!


  1. Hi Neely,

    I am the author of this post and I was excited to see my Trader Joe excursion made your blog post. So, I wanted to give you an update since this post. I successfully made it back to Trader Joe’s the following day. I purchased all the items on the shopping list for the week and felt really good about everything. I was able to take my time and review the ingredients list and I went with my knowledge that if I don’t know what it is and it doesn’t sound natural – don’t get it. Anyways, I have been on the full paleo plan since last Tuesday, so about a week now. I have lost 7lbs and feel great. This first week definitely was a testament to my willpower and dedication to be a healthier person, especially fighting those withdrawals and cravings! But my mindset is paleo and I am always checking the labels first before eating anything and love all the recipes I have tried. BTW, I love the paleo candy bars. I treat myself to one every so often since I’m trying to lose weight. Oh, and absolutely LOVE the almost oatmeal! I eat that probably every morning with an egg or two. I purchased the books you suggested so I now have some more material to read on my Kindle. Thank you so much for helping me through this process of my adoption of the paleo lifestyle. I love it and have been strongly advocating it to everyone I know. My mom will be joining me on my next shopping trip at Trader Joe’s so she can jump on board the Paleo Lifestyle. Oh, and with regards to the fiance – as hesitant he was, he’s enjoyed a few of the meals and I think he was pleasently suprised. So I allowed him to pick a few recipes that he liked to swap out for this coming week to help him get on the paleo train.

    Thanks again!


    1. Hi Jaimie!

      Thanks so much for the update – I’m glad we could help! It sounds like you’re on the right track for sure – 7 pounds in one week?! Awesome. Keep up the great work and please let us know if you have any other questions. Good luck to your mom and fiance, too!


  2. Love this question and answer! I have been eating paleo and following this plan for 15 days! I have a hard time with trying new veggies besides mushrooms, spinach, peppers and lettuce. Also I hate sea food although I had a awesome swordfish the other day! I do like spicy tuna rolls. I had shrimp the other night and I realized quickly that I don’t like shrimp. I bought some salmon and I was too nervous to try it. It went bad before I could get it out. I love chicken, steak, and pork and I’m willing to try other things besides seafood. Am I goig to be able to eat a healthy enough paleo diet?

  3. WOW- This was an absolutely fabulous read! Thanks. It is very overwhelming to be starting! I have cleared my cupboards of non-paleo and donated them to a food bank to help ease the urge to just fix them. I have been stalking your site for about two days and have just found some absolutely fabulous things! Definitely one of my favorites! Thank you :)

  4. Neely, you have such a welcoming forum. I’m sure people feel comfortable sharing information and comments. I went to a different store today, Vitamin Shoppe, and found some things the local grocery stores don’t have (or I couldn’t find.): pomegranite juice, tart cherry capsules, and coconut oil. They usually have tart cherry juice, but it was featured in the Dallas paper recently, so they sold out. I was surprised that the coconut oil comes in a jar, somewhat like mayonaise. I think this will open up some bread-substitute muffins and such. A Vegan Coconut Pumpkin Pie calls for coconut oil and I can’t wait for that. I have the Paleo Solution and Paleo Answer, and two “100 Healthiest Foods” books. I am reading some every day online to learn more, and your site is very helpful. Thanks! http://www.happyhome-jewell.blogspot.com is the site I started to talk about Paleo recipes. Maybe you can check it out, although it is very basic.

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