Hey folks, Board-Certified Health Coach Erin Power is here to answer your questions about Primal eating and how to make it easier! If you’re wondering how to eat healthier without the struggle, we’ve got strategies, tips, and backup! Have a question you’d like to ask our health coaches? Leave it below in the comments or over in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.
“Eating this way is such a struggle! I try to eat like you say but sometimes food is the only thing that brings me joy. What happened to ‘everything in moderation’? Also, I’m 67 and don’t like bringing attention to my weird diet around friends or family. I have high cholesterol and want to lose weight. Why can’t this be easier?!”
Before I dive in with answers, I want to take a moment to recognize that you’re here, showing up, asking important questions, and seeking to understand your health and eating patterns. At any age, that’s already a win. But I have special appreciation for folks who are in their fifties, sixties, and beyond and who never stop asking what shifts or changes might help them to feel better and thrive.
For many people, there is a strong pull to “do what they’ve always done”—even if it’s not working—to get them where they want to be. This pull gets stronger the longer they’ve been doing it. Good for you for being open to something different. It’s not easy. Oh, and by the way, your brain is wired to be wary of change; so it’s almost not even your “fault” that you’re feeling a certain kind of way about a whole new diet.
Now, just for clarification, when you write “I try to eat like you say,” I’m assuming that you mean in accordance with Primal guidelines. Even within Primal guidelines, an eating plan can look all kinds of ways. Essentially, we’re talking about real, whole food as close to its natural state as possible, including high-quality protein, healthy fats, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds, high-quality dairy, and occasional indulgences such as dark chocolate or other Primal treats.
Despite the rigid-seeming nature of that list of food choices, there is tons of nuance. Options and variations within these parameters are practically endless. For instance: for people who are sensitive to nuts and seeds or dairy; for those who avoid eating some or all animal products; and for those who aren’t in a socio-economic position to acquire the perfect grass-fed, grass-finished beef, there are still countless ways to craft delicious, nutritious meals.
What I’m getting at here is twofold:
1. There’s not “one way” to eat healthy or to follow a Primal diet.
2. You still can (and should) find joy and deliciousness with a Primal way of eating.
But…there is a caveat.
Everything in Moderation Might Equal Health in Moderation
Everyone’s version of “everything in moderation” looks different, but many of my clients come to me after their version of it decidedly did not get them where they wanted to be with health and wellness. Generally speaking, “everything in moderation” doesn’t seem to be working all that well for most people. I’m not really a tough-love kind of coach, usually, but I can’t argue with the fact that if something is not working, it makes little sense to keep doing it. If nothing changes, nothing changes.
Our bodies have not evolved to cope with many foods common in a modern diet. Highly processed foods, inflammatory seed and vegetable oils, sugar, and grains can wreak havoc on our metabolic health, endocrine system, and immune system while creating chronic inflammation and contributing to widespread diseases of modern living. Even small exposures to these “immunogenic” foods can trigger irritation and inflammation in the body—the thing we are hoping to avoid inflicting on ourselves.
That being said, we are also trying to cultivate an anti-fragile body. Your body is resilient, and can handle occasional exposures to naughty inputs like less-than-supportive foods, a bad nights’ sleep, or an extra glass of wine at a special dinner. We embrace the 80-20 principle for a reason. We also realize that everyone is at a different place in their wellness journey and brings a different set of circumstances to the table. Any supportive steps—however small—are better than none and will help create a positive feedback loop, encouraging next steps in your journey.
If we were working together in my capacity as a Primal Health Coach, I would gather more specifics on what you’re eating daily and where you’re struggling: what, specifically are you missing or craving, and what can we do to satisfy that for you so this doesn’t feel so hard. How can we fold in some flexibility and joy without backsliding into “moderation” no-man’s-land?
Changing the Story
Whether I’m working with clients or reflecting on where something feels out of alignment in my own life, one of the first places I look is the language we use and stories we tell. Might sound a bit out there, but I promise that the words we choose and the stories we repeat have a huge impact on our experience and reality.
A couple of phrases from your question stand out for me in this regard: “Eating this way is such a struggle!” and “I’m 67 and don’t like bringing attention to my weird diet around friends or family.”
Now, I’m in no way minimizing those challenges. Changing lifelong eating and lifestyle habits is objectively hard. In other words, I totally get it. AND, I also want to gently propose that so long as you repeat and rehearse a story of struggle, you will continue to reinforce that struggle as a lived experience.
When it comes to changing your stories and beliefs (and thus actions and experience), start with your thoughts and what you say to yourself and to others. Monitor that with utmost care, because you are literally speaking your reality into being. This is a process and takes practice, but each time you catch yourself thinking of Primal eating or making healthy choices as a struggle, I’d like you to:
Pause and non-judgementally acknowledge the thought, feeling, or action.
Gently and kindly offer yourself compassion: you’re making a big change, and change is hard.
The wording you use should feel resonant with you. Try stretching beyond your current stories and beliefs but not so far that it feels totally unbelievable. For example:
Choosing real food is challenging at times, but I love knowing I’m feeding my body what it needs to thrive.
The more times I choose to eat real, whole, nutrient-dense food, the easier it will be. Might take a while, but soon this will just “be how I eat.”
There are many delicious ways to nourish myself with Primal foods.
And, just for fun, here’s a really big reframe for you: Lots of folks are opting into “weird” health behaviors to take care of themselves these days. Maybe that whole “struggle” thing is an outdated story. Maybe the conventional diet that your social circle still subscribes to is actually the weird one!
Very possibly, this self-compassionate reframe exercise will feel awkward or forced at first. Do it anyway. Gently bring yourself back and treat your thoughts as though you are training a sweet but misguided puppy. Eventually, with kindness and repetition, our minds (and our puppies!) will learn.
Make It Easier
Ultimately, we are each our number 1 caretaker. Our thoughts, stories, and choices have consequences and those consequences are cumulative. Making healthy choices and giving our body what it needs to thrive is hard, but it’s not the hardest thing you’ll ever do. And it doesn’t need to be miserable.
When making changes, one of your most important jobs is to get curious and to ask: “How could I make this easier? How could I make this more enjoyable?”
The answers will differ for everyone, but hanging out here and in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group is a great way to gather ideas, inspiration, and support. Ask the question, write out a list of possibilities, and give them a try! For backup and individualized support, consider hiring a coach!
External accountability truly is a game changer, and we can help you troubleshoot your specific circumstances. Visit myprimalcoach.com to learn more and get started!
Do you find Primal eating easy…or not so much? Have any ideas, tips, or inspiration to share with Roberta? Please do and drop other questions for me in the comments!
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.