Doing a Paleo 30 day challenge for the first time doesn’t have to be intimidating! These five tips will help you get started with ease.
Paleo challenges are a popular way to introduce more healthy protein, veggies, and fruits into your diet. The idea is to use a time period of strict Paleo eating (typically 30 days) in order to create healthy new habits so that you’ll be primed to make healthier choices after the challenge is over.
Many people join Paleo challenges to lose weight, to heal chronic diseases, or simply to develop cleaner eating habits. In this article, I’m going to share five steps to planning your own Paleo 30 day challenge at home.
If you’d prefer the guidance of a licensed Paleo nutritionist (with over a decade of experience), then I invite you to join my 30DC: 30-Day Paleo Challenge! Over the course of 30 days, I’ll teach you everything you need to know about the Paleo lifestyle with a step-by-step guide on how to eat healthier and feel your absolute best.
What Is Paleo?
Paleo is eating the healthy, natural foods from the Paleolithic era. Our Paleo ancestors were lean, fit, and free from the countless chronic diseases that plague modern humans today. By mimicking their eating patterns, we opt for a nutrient-rich diet that supports optimal health.
Stated simply, Paleo involves eating a variety of good quality meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and eggs. It excludes foods like wheat and dairy that contribute to common health issues.
Why Do a Paleo 30 Day Challenge?
Many people don’t realize that their health problems often stem from their diet. Weight gain, depression, anxiety, and skin problems are just some of the issues brought on by a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars. Researchers are also starting to realize that a healthy gut and microbiome are essential for maintaining good health, on virtually every level of our lives. (1, 2)
In my case, I was able to reverse my rheumatoid arthritis and lupus by living and eating Paleo. After healing myself, I became a nutritionist so I could help thousands of people achieve vibrant health results too!
Here are some of the benefits my guided 30-day Paleo challenge has been able to provide to our members:
- Lose unwanted weight
- Regulate blood sugar levels
- Reduce inflammation
- Discover hidden food allergies
- Reverse diabetes
- Improve skin and hair
- Boost mood and sleep
- Enhance muscle tone (even if you don’t work out)
- Reduce leaky gut and other GI problems
- Increase fertility
- Decrease dependence on medications
- Start reversing a multitude of chronic diseases, including autoimmune disorders
5 Steps for Doing a Paleo 30 Day Challenge
Before you start your Paleo challenge, you need to create an action plan. Pick the dates of your challenge and stick to them. We recommend that you avoid times when you know you’ll be on vacation or away from home for too long, as that can make the challenge trickier.
It takes about four to six weeks to allow your immune system to “reset”. While you’ll certainly see results sooner than this, most people report feeling the “magic” around 30 days. Plan and prepare your kitchen in advance to help set the stage for this level of success.
These five steps will help you to get started on the Paleo diet and conduct your own Paleo challenge.
Step 1: Identify Paleo Foods
First and foremost, it’s important to know what you should (and shouldn’t) eat during your challenge.
Your best bet is to go for organic, unrefined, and pasture-raised choices whenever possible. These foods are ideal because they contain the most nutrients with minimal toxins. However, it’s important to work within your budget when starting out. You don’t need to fully disregard conventional foods all at once. The main idea is to incorporate high-quality foods into your diet at a reasonable budget that works for you, then build from there.
The primary focus of a Paleo diet is to nix the foods that are harmful to our health and replace them with wholesome, natural choices. Below are some of the main foods you’ll want to add and avoid, but keep in mind that different bodies require different needs. For specific health issues (like high blood sugars or food allergies), you’ll want to be mindful as to which foods to enjoy in moderation or by tolerance.
Paleo foods to enjoy:
- Meats and seafood. Opt for grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, and wild-caught fish.
- Vegetables. Any and all kinds are free game! Keep in mind that corn is actually a grain.
- Eggs. Pasture-raised is best.
- Fruits: Eat fruit in moderation if you’re trying to lose weight or control blood sugar.
- Nuts and seeds: Make sure there are no added oils.
- Healthy fats: Shop for cold-pressed and unrefined oils like coconut oil, tallow, ghee, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil. Any sort of processed vegetable oil is a big no-no.
- Natural sweeteners. Maple syrup, raw honey, coconut sugar, and stevia are all acceptable in moderation.
Non-Paleo food to avoid:
- Grains. Stay away from wheat, corn, and gluten-free grains, including quinoa.
- Legumes. Beans, soy, and peanuts all fit into this category.
- Dairy. Skip the milk, cheese, and yogurt, but you can enjoy grass-fed ghee or butter if your body tolerates it.
- Vegetable oils. This includes canola oil, corn oil, soy oil, and other industrialized and heavily processed seed oils.
- Refined sugars. White and artificial sugars are off limits, but you can use the natural sweeteners mentioned above.
- Processed foods. Avoid fast food and make sure to read all ingredient labels closely. A lot of times there are hidden additives in store-bought “Paleo” options.
For more details, here is a complete list of foods that are allowed and are off-limits on the Paleo diet.
Step 2: Start Hydrating
Hydration is always key for keeping body functions in check, but is especially important when eating Paleo. Not only is dehydration taxing on your kidneys, but it could also cause other health problems like headaches, dry skin, fatigue, blood pressure issues, weight gain, and even dementia! (3, 4) Do your best to drink a minimum of 60–80 ounces of water each day, or at least half of your body weight in ounces of water.
Paleo-friendly drinks include:
- Kombucha and other fermented, non-dairy drinks
- Herbal, caffeine-free teas
- Filtered, spring, or mineral water (you can even infuse them with fruits or herbs!)
- Club soda, soda water, seltzer, sparkling water, or any type of plain carbonated water
- Almond milk or other non-dairy milks
- Coconut water (in moderation)
You’re definitely going to want to avoid all soda, most fruit juices, energy and sports drinks, and anything else loaded with sugar and chemicals.
There’s a gray area when it comes to caffeine. Coffee is technically allowed on the Paleo diet, but we highly recommend that you consider giving up your daily cup during the Paleo challenge. Caffeine triggers the release of cortisol, which can slow down metabolism and contribute to extra fat storage. If you simply cannot give up your coffee, keep consumption to 1–2 cups per day, restrict your intake to mornings only, and be sure you’re using Paleo-friendly creamers, like coconut milk, with no added sweeteners.
Alcohol should really be avoided as well. While drinks like wine and clear liquors are technically allowed on the Paleo diet, it’s not a bad idea to steer clear during your Paleo challenge. If you must enjoy a drink, avoid non-Paleo beer and dark liquors, and limit consumption to 1–2 drinks per day. You’ll also want to avoid drinking two hours before bedtime.
For more details, here is a complete list of drinks with info about how to keep your coffee and alcohol Paleo-friendly.
Step 3: Determine Your Macros
Everything we eat digests into three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The ratios of these nutrients breaks down into percentages, so that we can adjust them for each meal. This will allow us to mimic the diets of our primal ancestors, equaling a higher percentage of fat and a lower percentage of carbohydrates.
The macros for our PaleoPlan meal plans are approximately 60:25:15, meaning that 60 percent of the calories come from fat, 25 percent come from protein, and the remaining 15 percent come from carbohydrates. Comparatively, the average American diet is roughly 35:15:50. All those carbs are a big factor in obesity and chronic illness!
To determine your own macronutrient ratio, calculate the macros for every meal you eat until you get a feel of what your plate should look like. You can take an average of your macros for your daily meals to determine your daily macros. While there will be some fluctuation, try to stay as close to 60:25:15 for each meal as possible. The program MyFitnessPal is great for calculating your macros (and you can get a free account online!).
Step 4: Set Yourself Up for Success
There are a number of temptations you’ll battle during your challenge. From the cookies in your pantry to the birthday cake at your child’s party, you’ll probably have to flex your self-control muscle quite a bit. However, you can make things a whole lot easier on yourself by taking the time to prepare in advance. Here are a few steps you can take to make your Paleo journey easier.
- Clear your fridge. Remove non-Paleo foods from your fridge and pantry so that they don’t become distractions during your Paleo challenge. Here are some helpful tips for purging your kitchen to make it Paleo-friendly.
- Speak with your loved ones. Let them know about your Paleo challenge. Tell them what your intentions are and ask for their support. If you can get a friend or family member to eat Paleo with you, it makes things a lot more fun!
- Join a community. This can be really helpful when making a diet or lifestyle change. My 30DC program is a great source for connecting with other like-minded individuals and includes a private Facebook group you can use for support. Join the forums and groups for discussions and support, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Step 5: Embrace the Paleo Lifestyle
It’s important to understand that Paleo is much more than a diet – it’s a whole lifestyle. Aside from healthier food choices, there are plenty of activities you’ll also want to incorporate into your daily routine.
Below are a few pointers on how to make daily modifications to keep your body in at its peak performance:
- Exercise every day. There is no hard and fast rule here: just move, every day. It’s the only way to maintain your physical fitness. Challenge yourself to hit reasonable goals a few times per week by walking, weight lifting, swimming, or cycling. It doesn’t matter what you choose – just keep moving!
- Sleep at least 8 hours a night. Did you know that your body does the majority of its healing and repair while you’re asleep? A lack of consistent sleep can trigger inflammation, an inability to lose weight, and chronic disease. Turn off all electronic devices two hours before bedtime and make your bedroom as dark as possible to ensure you get a solid night’s sleep.
- Get outside for 30 minutes a day. Not only is sunshine helpful for vitamin D production, but our mitochondria (the tiny batteries that power our cells) also need sunlight to recharge. Breathing the air outside also helps diversify our microflora, which correlates to better health.
- Reduce your stress levels. Stress is one of the most unhealthy things in our lives, and can trigger gut inflammation and the inability to lose weight. Minimizing stress is one of the best things you can do for your digestion and overall health! Try to relax by meditating, doing yoga, or going for a walk. I also highly recommend writing down three things you’re grateful for every day to help foster a positive attitude.
Remember that the changes you make during your Paleo challenge will help set you on a wellness plan that exceeds the thirty days. It might seem like a challenge now, but it will become second nature soon enough!
The Bottom Line
If you’re teetering on the edge of trying the Paleo diet, I encourage you to take the leap! We all owe it to ourselves to experience how good we can feel on a primal-based diet. It’s what our bodies are designed for, and is something anyone can do in just 30 days!
As a licensed nutritionist, I would love to help you on your Paleo journey. Whether you’re just getting started or refining your existing knowledge, I can help guide you along the way with my 30DC: 30-Day Paleo Challenge.
With this program, you’ll get a 30-day meal plan complete with recipes and grocery shopping lists. I’ll also be available to answer all your questions through regular Facebook live chats and our private 30DC Facebook group. It’s a great resource to voice your specific needs and get the help you need from a professional healthcare provider (at half the cost).
Space is limited and starting soon, so if you’re interested, be sure to reserve your spot at the link below. I can’t wait to see you there!
In good health,
Kinsey Jackson, MS, CNS®, CFMP®
Certified Nutrition Specialist® Clinician
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner®