Gateway Foods: The Slippery Slope of “Just a Bite”

The holidays are coming and with them the food. Maybe with Halloween come and gone, the season is already upon you in your social/work/family circles. Beyond the actual meals themselves, there are the umpteen parties, open houses, potlucks, lunches, brunches, happy hours, coffee hours, bake sales, soup suppers, and bazaars – as well as the continual conveyer belt of office/shop/home display of every sweet and savory (mostly sweet) treat known to humankind. As fun as it all is, the holidays can be a seasonal equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle – a festively decorated abyss where good intentions get swallowed along with the latest Martha Stewart recipe.

We Primal types bring both common sense and the reasonable 80/20 Principle to the holiday season (as any other occasion). We partake moderately and selectively. We use ingenuity and well cultivated Primal taste to create (or adapt) our own choice holiday delicacies. In short, we have no problem enjoying the party. We’re just rarely the ones with the proverbial lampshade on our heads at the end of the buffet table, so to speak. We can enjoy our favorite dishes without chucking every goal and standard we have for our health. Nonetheless, even those of us with the most stalwart wills and number of years under our Primal belts wisely steer clear of a few foods out of sheer sensibility.

Most of us have at least one. I’m talking about those foods you know in your heart of hearts (and maybe hard experience) can send you down a slippery slope. Maybe it’s the taste, the plain sugar rush, or the emotional association. Whatever the source of temptation, it’s a Pandora’s Box better left undisturbed.

I’ve been Primal so long that I don’t get conventional cravings much. Even when I indulge and have a few bites of really good pie or bread once in a while, I’m no worse for the wear. When I’m done with the piece, I’m done. That was delicious. Case closed. Some foods, however, are more problematic. For me, it’s Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream. (Yes, there it is.) Ice cream was a relic of my extreme training days, and there’s just something about Cherry Garcia. A little too easily turns into a lot. I find it’s just better to stay away.

Is your mind wandering to any particular foods now? It seems the holidays are a common time for their appearance – or maybe omnipresence. They’re the foods that once tasted, beckon you to keep coming back. (You can just hear that apple strudel calling you….) More than just good, more than just run of the mill tempting, they’re downright precipitous.

True gateway foods can wreak havoc with more than just your intended portion size, however. Suddenly, other things start looking good that you’ve had no taste for in a long time. This particular surrender to temptation can become a catalyst for a broader descent like a gateway drug leading you to something bigger and badder. You’re one brownie away from inhaling half the dessert buffet. (Or half those leftover Halloween candies taking up space in the cupboard still?)

Histrionics aside, these are foods I suggest leaving out of the 80/20 picture because they’re just too complicated to be worth it. As much sentimental value as they might have or as good as they might be, if they can’t be a moderate end in themselves, it’s just better to bench ‘em.

All this said, it’s illuminating to see how much power we often assign to food. It’s an inanimate object. It’s one among a bazillion choices we have for things to eat. Yet, we can feel certain foods have a hold on us. We consider them a nemesis, their presence on this earth a continual threat to our well-being like some kind of personal kryptonite. It’s a power relationship, of course, entirely constructed in our heads. By all means, avoid a specific food if it imposes more complication than it’s worth. If it’s a presence in itself even when you don’t eat it, that one likely calls for some deeper examination.

With the holidays coming, I always suggest folks think about how they’re going to enjoy it Primally – especially if this is your first holiday season since going Primal. Think about each event and how you’ll handle it – what you’ll eat and what you won’t. Being honest about any gateway – or otherwise thorny – food items is a big part of this. It’s usually easier to control our environments at less social times of the year. What will it mean to stay Primal within a fully conscious 80/20 framework this holiday season – in the midst, for example, of a big family Thanksgiving dinner and the other upcoming celebrations? Sometimes the best strategy is knowing where, when and how you’ll graciously say “no thanks.”

Now I’ll turn it over to you. Do you have a “gateway” food that you steer clear of for the greater good of your Primal self? Share you tips and stories, and thanks for reading today.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending more than three decades educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates flavorful and delicious kitchen staples crafted with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils, and dressings in their lineup, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prep mouthwatering meals that fit into your lifestyle.

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