So you probably have an idea of what the diet entails by now, but maybe you’re wondering what it actually looks like.
How much do you eat? When do you eat? How do you choose what to eat? What does a meal look like? How do you weigh and calculate your food? What supplies do you need? Can you eat at restaurants? Are there snacks? Can you cheat?
This blog will answer all of those questions.
Let’s get the heavy lifting out of the way. One of the most important parts of this diet is calculating macronutrients. So, how do you do that?
If doing the Animal-Based Paleolithic Ketogenic variation:
- Maintain a 2:1 fat:protein ratio with each meal (i.e. if your meal has 50g of protein, it needs to have 100g of fat)
- Limit carbohydrates (usually to 25-30g net carbs per day, this can vary slightly from person to person)
- Eat to satiation and only when hungry
If doing the Animal-Based Paleolithic variation:
- Eat your body weight goal in grams of protein per day (i.e. 150 grams of protein per day)
- Take 1.5 x that amount; eat that amount in grams for fat + carbohydrates per day (i.e. 225 grams of fat + carbohydrates per day)
- Eat in a time-restricted window (i.e. first meal at 12 pm, last meal at 5 pm)
For both variations, the bulk of your diet should be from animal foods. Most sources say 70% or so. The plant foods should be low or moderate in toxicity.
If your goal is ketosis, to confirm that you’ve hit it and are maintaining it successfully, I recommend getting a meter to test. This one is great as it tests for both ketones and blood sugar.
Use the Macronutrient Cheat Sheet as a general guide for what foods to eat.
If you have sensitivities to certain foods (say, certain fruits or vegetables), or if you’re eliminating eggs and poultry for now, for example, obviously don’t eat those foods.
In the beginning, prioritize fatty cuts of beef, lamb, and pork. I don’t have all of the cuts listed on the cheat sheet, so if they’re not on there, it doesn’t mean they are off-limits. Same with some fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. The list will be developed and updated over time.
Refer back to the below chart and prioritize low toxicity foods, eat medium toxicity foods in moderation, and stay away from high toxicity foods.
In regards to fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices that are not listed on this graphic, use your own discretion. If you can eat it without reacting to it, it’s probably safe to assume you can keep eating it.
If you find you don’t feel as good eating a certain type of protein (say, pork – some people don’t do as well with pork), limit or eliminate that category of protein initially.
Wild game is good too, but it can be pretty lean, so if you want to eat it, make sure you add enough fat.
Poultry such as chicken and turkey, and seafood such as wild-caught salmon and shrimp, are good to eat every once in a while. But their nutrient profiles are inferior to the above options, so for now, it’s best to limit them. It’s not the end of the world if you want to have some chicken here and there, but if ketosis is your goal, you may find it’s hard to maintain your fat:protein ratio.
Don’t Forget Organs
Yes, organs are on the list too, and they’re not something to skip over. Beef organs have so many nutrients!
Start by eating 2-3 oz beef liver 2-3x per week.
When you read about beef liver online, people act like it’s the most repulsive food in existence. We all have different tastes, but when I tried it for the first time, I had no problem with the taste. Every time I eat it, I wonder if I’m the oddball or if people are just overreacting. I have been eating this way for a very long time though, and perhaps my palette is different than most.
If you’re someone who is not fond of the taste of liver, I have killer Beef Liver Waffles and Beef Liver Pancakes recipes. If you add a small amount of honey and some fruit (like berries), you may not even know you’re eating liver (dessert versions here: Waffles / Pancakes). Seriously.
It may be hard to adjust at first, but don’t skimp out on organs. Start with liver and add the more complex organs later, like brain, heart, and tongue.
If you absolutely refuse to eat organs, desiccated organ supplements were made for you.
Heart & Soil Supplements has some amazing blends. Start with their Beef Organs, Warrior, or Bone Marrow + Liver blends (all grass-fed) first. And if you want to add targeted support, check out their other products (also all grass-fed): Firestarter, Gut & Digestion, Skin, Hair & Nails, Lifeblood, Histamine & Immune, Bone Matrix, Immunomilk, Mood, Memory & Brain, Her Package, and Whole Package (male optimization blend – my husband loves this one).
The idea is “like supports like,” meaning that if you have a deficiency or weakness in a particular organ, it may be good to incorporate that organ into your diet.
When To Eat & How Much
Let your body decide when to eat. Many people end up eating one-two meals per day. I eat my first meal between 10am – 1pm depending on how hungry I am, and my second meal between 3pm – 5pm. Some days, I only eat one meal. One rule I suggest that everyone follow is to eat your last meal as early as possible, at least 3-4 hours before you go to sleep.
In the beginning, your meal times may be erratic. Some days, you’ll eat once. Other days, maybe three times and even that won’t feel like enough. But over time, you’ll find a groove and your meal times will become stable and predictable. Two meals – a lighter first meal and larger second – is a great baseline to shoot for. Time-restricted feeding (eating in a short window and fasting the rest of the day) will likely happen naturally over time.
Since you will be limiting volume and type of carbs, your hunger signals will change. Instead of feeling ravenous and like you need to eat (or else), you may feel a slight dip in energy, less mental clarity, your stomach growling, or even a bit lightheaded as your cue for hunger in the beginning.
The hunger signals will become deeper as you learn to listen to your body. You will also find that you can go much, much longer between meals. Fasting for longer periods of time will naturally happen.
In regards to how much to eat, listen to your body here too. You now know how to calculate macronutrient ratios. If you’re hungry, just eat more and make sure you’re maintaining your ratios.
As you transition, you will probably deal with some carb cravings. Don’t fall for them in the beginning. If you feel ravenous, eat fat to satiation first.
The longer you do this, the more metabolically healthy and flexible you will become, and the more you’ll learn your body’s signals.
Can You Cheat?
You can do whatever you want, but I wouldn’t recommend cheating in the beginning.
And by cheating, I mean overeating carbohydrates or eating unapproved foods like sweeteners, packaged and processed goods, or industrial seed oils. You don’t really hear about people slamming down large amounts of ghee or ribeyes to get a fix.
Transitioning into a ketogenic state can be unpleasant for newbies. If ketosis is your goal, I wouldn’t recommend transitioning in and out of it when you’re new. I’ve been there. It’s not fun, doesn’t feel good, and it can be defeating.
Commit to this way of eating for 30-90 days, see how you feel, and reassess. You may feel so good that you can’t imagine going back, or you may want to start to add more carbohydrates back in.
Once your body is metabolically flexible – meaning it can efficiently use both glucose and ketones – you may be able to switch in and out of ketosis with more ease. This can take time though, so be patient.
Watch Your Sugar Intake
Sugar is insanely rewarding for the brain. It’s way too easy to fall down the sugar rabbit hole, even with natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables like berries and sweet potatoes.
If you find yourself chasing sweet fruits, it may be wise to take a little break from them for a few days to reset your palette and reward system. Choose vegetables like squash, zucchini, or avocados instead.
It can be tricky to eat at restaurants, but it can be done. Just make sure the restaurant doesn’t use any chemicals, additives, industrial seed oils, or any other unapproved ingredients. And if ketosis is your goal, make sure you uphold your ratios.
Do your best with this.
If you’re familiar with this way of eating, you can eyeball an approximate volume of carbohydrates that would keep your ratios in check.
So, as an example, you could head to a steakhouse, order a ribeye steak (cooked in no oil or in animal fats only, salted only) and a small amount of steamed sweet potatoes on the side. Bring a jar of ghee (yes, I do this) to add fat to your meal, and eat the volume of sweet potatoes that would meet your carb intake.
If you don’t need to maintain ketosis, this will obviously be much easier to do. Just focus on the ingredients you’re eating, and not the volume.
Hydration & Electrolytes
When your body switches over to ketosis (or when you’re eating low carb), it dumps water and electrolytes. Water dumping is great – bye bye bloating and edema. But dumping of electrolytes? That’s not so great.
If you’re not replenishing your electrolytes regularly, you can (and probably will) feel horrible, at least at first.
Almost without fail, whenever I feel like crap, I need electrolytes – usually sodium. For example, when a sudden bout of nausea comes on, I drink a packet of LMNT or put a dash of salt on my tongue with a swig of water, and I’ll usually feel better in minutes.
I recommend supplementing with sodium and magnesium.
To learn more about sodium, read this blog post.
To learn more about how to supplement with magnesium, read this blog post.
Do Not Underestimate The Importance of Stress Management
Stress management is huge. It is arguably just as important (if not more important) than eating well.
I think this is the piece many people miss, largely because stress is a big, bad, abstract monster. We all know we have it, but we don’t really know what to do with it. It’s much easier to just control what goes into your mouth.
If you live a life of high demands or if you have a history of trauma, you probably chronically live in “fight-or-flight.” Aka: with your sympathetic nervous system constantly engaged.
The sympathetic nervous system has its place (like when we need to deal with a threat), but it’s not a state that you want to exist in. It’s not good for the body or the mind, and will likely wreak havoc on both if you don’t know how to find a break from it.
The opposite of the sympathetic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system, also called “rest and digest.” And as you would guess, if your sympathetic nervous system is constantly engaged, you’re probably rarely resting or digesting properly.
Each person is different, but I suspect the food issues many people have are largely due to living with their sympathetic nervous system constantly on.
Manually engaging the parasympathetic nervous system is a practice. It often doesn’t just happen on its own, especially if you live a stress-filled life or if you have endured trauma. Learning how to voluntarily engage your parasympathetic nervous system is called “stress management.”
Stress management is a fairly new and active practice of mine, so I am always learning new ways to make it work. The best ways I have found so far: a good cry with music I resonate with, muscle relaxation practice, and deep breathing practice (ujjayi is a favorite of mine).
Some other sources recommend these activities – gargling, massages, prayer, light exercise, laughing, positive social relationships, positive thoughts, time in nature, prosody, humming, yoga, and splashing cold water on your face – although I find many of those either challenging to manually induce (i.e. laughing or positive social relationships) or not as quick of a fix (i.e. time in nature). I’m sure they all have their place in the stress management puzzle though.
Meditation practice is also great, but I find it harder to focus my mind during a meditation practice compared to a breathing practice or muscle relaxation practice.
When I’m relaxing my muscles or concentrating on my breath, it’s easier for me to focus my mind because I feel like I have a task. This engages my parasympathetic nervous system.
I’m not a proficient meditator yet, and sometimes when I sit for meditation, I just zone out in my thoughts until the end. The muscle relaxation and breathing practices are more tangible (thoughts are abstract!), and it’s easier, at least for me, to feel the benefits.
Engaging the parasympathetic nervous system is important in general, but it’s especially important around eating.
Here’s a simple exercise to try: the next time you eat, relax your muscles and take some deep breaths before, during, and after your meal.
When I do this, I notice my food reactions decrease in frequency and severity, I bloat less, and I feel less fatigued and just generally better post-consumption than I do when I don’t relax my body around meals.
A stress management practice works wonders. I can’t stress (no pun intended) this enough. If I find myself in a period of high stress, I usually lose my appetite, libido, and ability to sleep well, focus, and connect with animals, music, and people. When I observe myself like this and I do some stress relief exercises, I can literally feel my body turning these things back on (sometimes in real-time from just one breathing or muscle relaxation session).
Pushing Through The Discomfort
I would be lying if I said it was easy and effortless to eat this way. It’s not. It requires discipline and hard work. It took me years to get here, personally. And I still waver.
I still hear the voice from the part of me that wants to face plow an entire platter of brownies in one sitting.
It can be difficult at times, but the rewards far outweigh what I give up, so I continue to persevere.
I’ve found that most people are drawn to this diet because they don’t have another choice. They’re sick of how bad they feel and they want to feel better. There’s a lot at stake, so when it comes time to sacrifice, they can stick it out because they know why they’re doing it. And their why is strong.
If you’re serious about changing your life and feeling better, I ask you to ask yourself these questions:
Why do you want to do this? What are you willing to give up? What are you willing to sacrifice for a better tomorrow? Are you prepared to turn down the food at the BBQ? Or the cookies at the party? Or control yourself at the grocery store when the cravings come knocking? These things will come up, so what will you do when they do?
You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Both literally and figuratively.
Maybe you’re not ready to give your current life up, and on that note, you’re probably not ready for change.
Or maybe you’re sick of how you feel and you want nothing more than to change.
Figure this out – really figure this out – before you commit to starting.
With half-ass commitment, you set yourself up to fail and will only feel worse in the end. And that’s not good for you or anyone.
Where To Go From Here
There’s a lot of info here, and it will probably take some time to sink in.
Once you start making meals and living the diet, it will become second nature. You will learn to eyeball portions and it will begin to feel less and less mechanical.
And once you do it long enough, you’ll start to be able to feel what your body needs. More fat, more salt, a fast, etc.
What I’m trying to say is: reading about a diet with tons of rules is probably overwhelming, but once you start, it becomes less overwhelming.
And I’ve tried to do my part by making it even easier for you.
I create tasty whole food, animal-based recipes with low- and moderate-toxicity plant foods. Many of them are high fat and low in carbohydrates to support the ketogenic state.
And just so we’re clear, these aren’t your average meals. And they certainly aren’t boring.
I have recipes for things like pancakes, tacos, breads, muffins, soups, casseroles, and more.
Don’t forget: I’m a recovering glut. This part of me, while much quieter than a few years ago, will always be alive. Even while eating this way. 🙂
I’m also around for questions in case you have any. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you join the tribe!