I’m an avid lurker on paleo/primal forums (I’ll refer to this lifestyle as paleo from now on to save myself some typing) and have noticed so many people write about cheating, or falling off the paleo/primal wagon, or getting off track, or something similar. I’m assuming that these folks think of themselves as somewhat paleo since they are reading and posting and striving toward that goal. At the same time, they are admitting that they are not, at least at that time, because of what they are eating.
I’m one of those people (a paleo wannabe?) who mostly chooses to remain silent. I like my paleo diet. I think of it as the way I’d like to eat for the rest of my life, not as any short-term quick fix. I feel better and look better when on it, and most of the time, my relationship with food seems to be a lot healthier than it’s ever been. So why do I find it so difficult to stay paleo for more than a few weeks? After a period of time (once I’ve detoxed from sugar and flour for about 48 hours), I stop wanting or even thinking about my favorite SAD or binge foods. And then something happens and I can’t stop thinking about them and usually wind up eating sugary, fatty baked goods with lots of flour. I feel lousy when I’m done and it’s always a relief to slip back into the paleo way of eating. My lapses are slowly becoming fewer and further between, and I’m consuming less and less food during them (although they are still too frequent and too big).
I know I’m not alone. I read into others’ posts and comments that they have the same problem as I do. And I’m hoping that for them, with time and effort, paleo will become easier as well.
My question: Am I paleo? I’m not sure. When I’m not diving into my cookies, my diet is super-clean, maybe close to 95-97% compliance. I’m guessing that might be some of my problem, since I’m a perfectionist and often it’s a little slip (a bite, lick or taste) that will lead to a full-on binge. But really, heirloom cherry tomatoes and my sweet and sour cabbage (made with fruit) are things I look to for treats and desserts on my “on” days. And to make my question less specific to myself, how many days do you need to string together to consider yourself paleo? I’m so interested to hear people’s thoughts; for me, this is the elephant in my living room.
I’m not judging in the least, and even if you’ve only thought about moving toward paleo, I think it’s terrific. I hate it when people dismiss it without trying, saying, “I could never give up bread,” or “How can you work out without eating carbs?” My yoga teacher last night was talking about her tofurkey and I half wanted to cry, half wanted to smack her. I think once the seed is planted, the journey has begun, but I’m guessing that there are others who believe you need to walk your talk before you can consider yourself paleo. Thoughts?
PS: I am a recovering bulimic. I attribute a decent part of my recovery to adopting a more paleo lifestyle. And some of my cheat days are not disordered. But some are. That’s why I feel like I’m in a bit of a conundrum: although my perfectionism and “all-or-nothing” thinking leads me to disordered eating and thinking, surfing the gray areas of the paleo lifestyle (cookies made with almond flour and stevia, coconut flour bread and pancakes, etc.) can sometimes trigger a binge. So although I crave wiggle room, sometimes I can’t handle it.
Edited to express gratitude for the support received. I really don't care about earning my paleo merit badge; I was just wondering at what point in the process people considered themselves "paleo," regardless of their compliance and their deviations. It's really gratifying to see so many people taking a gentle, non-radical approach. I describe my diet as based on high quality whole foods, not "paleo" foods. But a lot of the time I feel like a poseur when I talk "healthy" most of the time and still eat crap some of the time. Thanks for reminding me that I don't have to be perfect and that walking down the road and straying sometimes is a million times better than giving up before I even started.
I try to eat well most of the time. The direction I focus most of my attention on, because it works for me, is in "pre-agricultural-oriented ancestral nutrition". For me, that includes some dairy (mostly hard cheeses, sheep, and goat dairy). I spend most of my time eating in ways that support that, and a small percentage of my time making choices that don't support my physiological and ethical mindset -- but that doesn't change what I believe and doesn't change my mind-set. Even when I am making a choice that I know is pretty far afield from what I know works for me and supports the ethical choices I feel are important (because for me this is as much a philosophical choice as a physical one -- though it doesn't have to be), I still know what my ideal is - and recognize that I'm straying from it, and am clear about my reasons for doing so at that particular time.
No matter what philosophical or lifestyle choice we make, we are rarely there 100% -- there are always going to be things that pull us off track. The difference, for me, in embracing primal/primordial/paleo/pre-ag mindset is about what I believe to be my "foundation" -- the thing that is what I go back to when I'm not wandering off the path. See, this road isn't about perfection, for me -- it's about finding a path that someone else has taken the trouble to clear for me, at least to some extent. I still have to do the walking, watch my step to make sure I don't step in a hole or trip over something, and do my own part to clear the way for the folk who come after me who choose to walk down the same path I'm walking.
As far as I'm concerned, you're on the path. Today, you and I met on that path, to have a little conversation. Maybe you'll keep walking in a similar direction -- maybe you'll stray off the path and go exploring -- maybe you'll turn around and go back... but the path will still be there -- and if, when you're off the path, you're genuinely looking at how you're going to get back on, then I don't see anything wrong with you calling yourself "paleo"--because you acknowledge that path as one you associate with.
There are no paleo police. You can call yourself whatever you want. I personally do not ever refer to myself as "paleo". It's not a part of my personal identity. I eat a paleo(-esque) diet, but I rarely even refer to my diet as paleo outside of conversations within the paleo community. If someone asks me about my diet (which is rare), I just tell them what I eat and what I avoid. That way there is no confusion and I am not being labeled.
Labels are problematic. This is one reason I say I'm into ancestral health rather than specifically paleo or primal or anything else. Most of the time, I try to eat in a way that acknowledges my evolutionary past. Having done this for a year (never 100% compliant), I'm very pleased with how this has worked for me.
Could I do better? Sure. But like you, I've got disordered eating in my past and we live in a world where there are cues to eat SAD food 24x7. I envy those with Kurt Harris-like convictions who can avoid their candy cigarrettes; I'm not one of them.
I've mentioned it before, but I like Yoni Freedhoff's concept that you have to live the life you'll love, not the one you'll tolerate. Lots of folks here love 100% paleo. And over time, I've found that my desire for off-paleo meals (usually once a week for me) has lessened. Perhaps in a another year or two, I'll be 100%.
I have found that, for me, the issue is less the number of paleo days strung together than the number of off-paleo days. More than one of those and I think it's easy for the lack of nutrients and excess of sugar, wheat, veggie oils to wreak havoc (I think of it as the cruise ship phenomenon). That's why I mostly limit my off-plan meals to once a week. When I travel, I limit it to once a day.
It's a tricky line to walk, and I think we all need to find what works for us!
Is paleo really the issue here?
Sooner or later you need to accept that you are not a person that needs to eat crap and that eating crap will get in the way of your goals.
You know what you need to do to feel, look and be healthy, yet you keep on sabotaging your efforts.
If you knew that the crap you were binging on was laced with rat poison, would you still eat it?
Are you scared of success?
You have many different labels going on, all at once. Most are labels that limit or narrow your sense of possibility, rather than labels that open up new options beyond past behaviors and choices. "Am I paleo or not?" is an example of the former. Look how it creates a standard that you fall short of. "Cheat days" being another one; when you fall short of this or that paleo ideal, this finds you "cheating." How's that label working out for you, vis-a-vis self esteem? And some of your "cheats" are even worse than normal, they're "disordered" according to some harsh measure. Finally, "compliance." To whom or what do you feel compliance is required? Are the same choices better or worse, when labeled "ordered" or "disordered"?
Evidently there are days, or moments, when you're more clear about what's best for your health and wellbeing. Look for ways to increase those moments, multiple and magnify them. Such that when the nay-saying voices try to chime in, you will find the voices increasingly irrelevant. As that happens, those voices will find another place to live because you will no longer be hosting. First step is to stop inviting them in. Stop hosting. Call off that party. Ask yourself honestly: is there any secret payoff for you in this cycle of failure/self-recrimination? If so, focus on ways to get that payoff in better ways.
I agree with no labels, there is no need really. You have to do what is best for you and no worry about this person or that person or that community will say. I too was following the diet to the letter and had no cravings, and then that one bite set it off, I knew it and could feel it but it overtook me and I gained about 5lbs. in the past 5 days I shaved them back off and my craving are gone. If you are falling off the wagon and climbing back on and you say that the episodes are becoming further between, then you will get there. Just believe in yourself.
The biggest issue I personally face is struggling with eating the same "paleo" foods the majority of the time. Repititon and boredom lead to anger and self pity with my food choices if I'm not careful. I started eating "paleo" to address inflamation and improve my overall health and I remind myself often of the reasons I radically changed my diet. Consequently, my relationship with food and my overall health has significantly improved. I am also a recovering alcoholic and drug addict with twenty plus years of recovery and wish to avoid labels. The "paleo" diet/lifestyle has become a new paradigm for me to contemplate my chemical dependency as it relates to my sugar/carb cravings and the twenty plus years I was eating a very SAD diet. I believe my sobriety has helped me avoid the non paleo food relapses and I need to continue practicing my program (reading paleo approved literature, seeking support and spirituality) in order to keep myself healthy.
Thank you so much for posting this. I think many can relate to your struggles.
It sounds to me like the best label for you is human. You sound very human to me. As life is a journey our "food path" is also one. I would encourage you to remember how far you have come and all the progress you have made and have faith that this whole foods plan you now follow will continue to evolve for you and you will continue to find out more about what works for you and what does not. When you fall you pick yourself back up and take a look back to see if you can figure out what happened and what you might have done differently in the hopes that next time (and there's going to be a next time) you can do something that might give you a different result. It's all about learning about yourself and mastery of self.
In the end all we can do is give our best each day and look to make a little progress however we define it. And when we fall or we veer off the path or we take a leap backwards or even a big leap off of a steep cliff we stop, get our bearings once again and give it another go. Just keep picking yourself back up then looking back and seeing if you can recognize the stone that got in your way...then be on the lookout for more of those stones. With practice one day you will be able to see most of the stones up ahead of you and you'll manage to maneuver around it quite nicely and keep on going.
And yes I would call you paleo. To my mind being paleo is just an acceptance of the major tenants of the diet (no grain, legumes, industrial oils and whole fresh foods) and a desire to follow them to the best of your abilities. We have all stepped onto the paleo path but your paleo path and my path may be very different. And that is as it should be. Different but none more of less paleo than the other.
My best advise is to relax into it a bit more, accept yourself warts and all, and let the journey unfold before you. (Oh and enjoy the hell out of it!)
Am I allowed to cheat? How often? 4 Answers