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Will Momentary Compromises Derail Your Efforts?

Anyone who’s ever followed the Primal eating plan [1] for a significant length of time has probably made a few compromises [2] along the way. If you live, work, or otherwise commiserate with regular folks, you’re bound to be exposed to grains, sugary desserts, and sodas, and austere abstinence can be difficult to maintain in these situations. It’s not even as if the food itself is necessarily tempting; it’s more accurate to say the social pressure to comply and dig in can be overwhelming. If your boss gets you a cake for your birthday, you’re probably going to have a piece regardless.

With our August Challenge [3] finally coming to a close, I figured it’d be helpful to address whether these little indiscretions will actually throw you off your game completely. I’ve always said that it takes about three weeks – give or take a week or two, depending on your previous diet and insulin sensitivity – to make the transition to a fat-burning metabolism from a glucose-burning metabolism. Newcomers to the PB are probably settling into their new status as fat-burners, having just passed the four-week point of their journey, and I’d imagine the last thing they’re interested in is wasting all their efforts because of some errant food choice – a complimentary donut, a slice of company-funded birthday cake, a bag of popcorn at the movies. Many of you have lost weight, gained lean mass, slept better, improved your sprint times, eliminated processed foods, converted your family/pets to Primal [4], made your own medicine ball [5], avoided migraines, or severely cut back on the alcohol [6] intake. Heck, maybe some of you even did everything on that list.

But everybody gets a little worried that all their effort is for naught because of a slip-up. If it’s not the immediate guilt that gets you fretting, it’s the acute stomach pain, the nauseated sensations, the bloating, or the instant drop in energy. You feel like utter crap after eating that candy bar or this muffin – and isn’t that a sign that you’ve just ruined everything? Are you therefore back to square one, left to toil for weeks just to get back to that Primal sweet spot [7]? After all, it took so long just to get your body acclimated [8] to the new mode of eating; doesn’t it follow that the slightest deviation from the routine will send you flying from the tracks?

I’ll be quick to assuage your worries with but a single word: no. Absolutely not. What you are feeling is the heightened sensitivity to carbohydrates and insulin that accompanies a full transition toward a Primal, fat-burning metabolism. Those stomach aches and bloating? Momentary inconveniences that ultimately serve to let you know you’re on the right track. You suffer because you’ve just introduced a macronutrient ratio that is now foreign and unrecognizable to your body. It expects (nay, needs) fat but gets glucose instead – how do you think it would react?

A single meal – or even several meals – of carb-laden foods won’t be able to throw you off your game. In fact, it would take about three or four weeks of junk binging [9] just to get you back to an insulin-resistant, carb-dependent state. Luckily for us Primal Blueprinters, three weeks of feeling sick and having no energy is nearly impossible to pull off. In the new fat-burning state our genes are happy, our body’s leaner, and our internal mechanics have reached a nice level of homeostasis. When you toss a monkey wrench into all that, you’re bound to disrupt the tranquility for a little while.

But the gears keep on turning. They might make a few loud screeches, but it’s only when you provide a steady stream of oversized rusty monkey wrenches that progress actually grinds to a halt.