Why It’s So Hard to Ditch Grains (When Everyone Else is Eating Them)

give up grainsWe’re lucky over here at Mark’s Daily Apple. We’ve got a solid group of individuals committed to improving their health by educating themselves on the oh-so-harmful effects of the Standard American Diet.1 But if you step outside this tiny corner of the Internet, there’s a whole world out there singing the praises of freshly baked bread smothered in butter substitute, hot-from-the-oven oatmeal raisin cookies, and bowls of “heart-healthy” cereal swimming in non-fat milk.

Not coincidentally, a lot of those same people are struggling with achy joints, brain fog, and extra weight, completely oblivious that a diagnosis of diabetes or high-blood pressure may soon be on the horizon.

This could, in fact, be where you are right this very second. Maybe you’ve been on the fence about cleaning up your diet. Or you’re finally fed up with being fat and foggy and have decided that you really do deserve to feel better. Or maybe you’ve been watching someone in your family deal with a chronic health issue. No matter what’s prompting your change, I’m glad you’re here, because the more people we can get to understand how food affects our bodies, the bigger impact we’ll have.

So, What’s Wrong with Grains?

If you’ve been around here for more than a minute, you know that grains are often problematic in the body. Not only do they elicit an insulin response and add to more fat storage (as do all excess carbohydrates), they contain lectins, a naturally found toxin that impacts the permeability of the gut wall. Which, of course can lead to everything from food allergies to auto-immune disorders. 2 But I digress.

You probably don’t need another lesson in why grains or industrialized oils or sugar is toxic to your body. What you might need though — if you’re struggling with the same types of things as my own clients — is how to successfully ditch them from your diet when it feels like everyone and their sister are Instagramming their overly art directed avocado toast 24/7.

It’s easier to avoid grains if you’re ready for snack attacks. Pick up a box of Collagen Fuel Bars to satisfy your chocolate, peanut butter, and even salty cravings. 

Why Are They So Hard to Avoid?

Grains are intricately woven into nearly every aspect of our society. And unless you were brought up on an ancestral kind of diet, your preferences for starchy foods were likely dictated from an early age. Studies show that most infants prefer sweet tastes over bitter and sour ones, which may reflect a biological instinct to choose foods that are more in the calorically dense carbohydrate camp. 3

The good news is that your likes and dislikes, even those influenced by innate preferences, can be modified. So, at least biologically, you’re not stuck with your sweet tooth.

But if it’s not physical cravings causing it, what’s at play here?

Research in social science shows that eating the same food as other people makes you feel more connected to them. It also makes you appear more trustworthy and cooperative. As a matter of fact, researchers from the University of Chicago, ran a series of experiments testing the effects of eating together and what happens when people ate the same food. 4

In one experiment, participants played the role of either a manager or union representative and had to come up with an hourly wage that was agreeable to both sides. At different times during the negotiations, the pairs were given the same kind of food to snack on. At other times, they were each given different foods. Researchers found that an agreement was made significantly more quickly when the participants ate the same things. They also discovered that they were more likely to trust the information each other was conveying when the same foods were eaten.

Simply Put, We Crave Connection

For most people, food is a shared experience that often imprints joyful, lasting memories. Think about holiday celebrations, birthday parties, weddings, a pre-Covid work BBQ.

Food is just one of the ways we connect to each other. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, eating the same foods as others creates a positive feeling of belonging. In contrast, when we choose to eat differently, even if those foods have been proven to drastically improve our health, our happiness, and the way our clothes fit, we can feel isolated.

That need to connect is so wired in our DNA then when social bonds are threatened, it can impact our confidence and self-esteem.5 That’s why, in most situations, we do whatever we can to prove that we’re worthy of belonging — even when it goes against our beliefs.

How to Go Against the Grain (Pun Intended)

I’ll tell you that 9 times out of 10, my clients who are new to the whole “you don’t eat bread?!” conversation will, at least temporarily, revert back to their old eating habits just to fit in. Or more, accurately, not to be left out or judged. That’s about the time I break out these strategies for going against the grain in a world where everyone seems to be bread-obsessed.

1. Be Comfortable with Your Why. I realize I sound like a broken record here, but understanding your deep-down reason for doing whatever it is you’re doing is a game changer when it comes to weathering the ups and downs of your health journey.

2. Check Your People-Pleasing Beliefs. Don’t be fooled here. People-pleasing isn’t about being amiable and easy-going. It’s about acting a certain way in the hopes that others will like and accept you, which in turn helps quantify your self-worth.

3. Get Clear on Your Boundaries. Without boundaries, it’s easy to get caught up in what’s important to otherpeople. Take time to figure out what’s okay with you and what’s not okay. If you really want to live a life you’re proud of, it’s crucial to know (and uphold) your boundaries.

4. Appreciate the Differences. What fun would it be if we were all the same? A bunch of robots walking around eating the same exact foods, doing the same jobs, it would be mind-numbing. Try embracing the differences in the people around you (instead of judging them) and see what happens.

5. Find Healthier Ways to Connect. Just because you’re not scarfing down plates of pasta together, doesn’t mean you can’t feel a connection to others. Carving out one-on-one time and (when it’s socially appropriate again) hugging also release the bonding hormone, oxytocin.

6. Know Who Has Your Back. Being part of a community, like the one here at Mark’s Daily Apple, creates a sense of belonging. It also gives you the confidence to know that your goals are not only obtainable, they’re supported by literally hundreds of thousands of other health enthusiasts.

6 Strategies for Ditching Grains for Good

Any kind of change can be challenging. But being surrounded by friends and family members who are up in arms because you’re not a fan of the food pyramid, makes it even harder. Kudos to you for following your truth — and remember to use these strategies next time you’re confronted by someone asking why you’re not eating bread.

  • Be comfortable with your why
  • Check your people-pleasing beliefs
  • Get clear on your boundaries
  • Appreciate the differences
  • Find healthier ways to connect
  • Know who has your back

Now it’s your turn! I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Tell me about it in the comments below.

TAGS:  Primal

About the Author

Erin Power is the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients regain a loving and trusting relationship with their bodies—while restoring their metabolic health, so they can lose fat and gain energy—via her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.

If you have a passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people like Erin does every day for her clients, consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. Learn the 3 simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in 6 months or less in this special info session hosted by PHCI co-founder Mark Sisson.

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15 thoughts on “Why It’s So Hard to Ditch Grains (When Everyone Else is Eating Them)”

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  1. A psychological perspective to “Why it’s so hard to ditch grains”; however it failed to give reasons other than the people-community connection. More information about the physical cravings and how to deal with them would be welcome.

    1. Erin has given input here for helping people develop an eating “philosophy” regarding grain consumption. Since only you know yourself, you will have to decide how best to apply it day-to-day. People who succeed seem to develop a “vision” of what their particular diet should look like, and they end up falling into one of three camps:

      1. Go cold turkey and give up grains entirely (hard, but people do it); 2. Give up grains during the week but allow yourself a cheat day on the weekend or during family functions (maybe the best strategy for most people – delays gratification, easier socially, it’s basically Sisson’s 80/20 rule); 3. Replicate your favorite foods using grain free products like almond flour rather than wheat flour (perhaps a good starting point with the goal of transitioning to #1 or #2 above).

      Best Wishes in your efforts!

  2. Good post. I’ve come to look at sugar and wheat products as crack to my system: delicious in the moment but bad on impact, onramp to eating-bad-stuff superhighway, as well as bloat/achey joints/weight gain. I do eat non-wheat baked goods (almost all baked at home), only use honey/maple syrup, coconut sugar, try to not bake frequently.

  3. It is easier now to simply say that you are trying to eat low-carb, or that wheat bothers your digestion. However, you also need to feel certain that you are eating the best food for your health. Convince yourself, and then convincing others is easier. The best persuasion I found to strengthen my will to leave the bread & grains out of the meal was to remember pieces from various books, and put together the picture of the meals of past royalty vs. peasants. The lords and ladies and the kings and queens ate the King’s venison or beef, and vegetables from the royal gardens. The peasants ate bread… It was cheap. Still is.

    1. Why do you need to tell other people that you’re eating low-carb? Why tell them anything at all? Other people usually won’t notice what you have on your plate unless you feel compelled to point it out. Your food is your own business. It isn’t necessary to justify your eating habits to anyone but yourself.

      1. If you are in a restaurant or the break room at work or whatnot, that is true. If, however, you’re going to a friend’s house for dinner, for example, or under any other circumstances where there are negotiations around food (group takeout order, potluck, family holiday), you may need to make people aware of your diet choices in order to have anything at all to eat. A case in point from last summer — I was largely keeping myself to myself while in a house full of family members, and so didn’t hear until it was time to sit down to dinner that the vegans were in charge that day. With the exception of about a quarter cup of zucchini, there was quite literally nothing on the table that I could eat. Buckets of lentils, mountains of pasta, bread — I don’t even think they made a salad. Do I blame them for this? Of course not. But obviously not telling anyone about my diet choices didn’t work out too well for me that day.

  4. Good article. As we go through life as adults we can pay attention to ourselves, what works, what doesn’t with where we are at the time so “how to do it” isn’t needed most of the time. This gives article us information on our journey with the why and how to manage changes in behavior, thinking, planning.
    It gives the people who are just “flying through life” and not paying attention to the little details a reason to slow it down and look at the details.
    A friend is just now “hearing her body” respond to foods that she LOVES but has now realized that some of those cause her pain, discomfort, etc and she is learning to use what is here to change her behavior.

  5. Thanks for this insight. I loved eating grains but they certainly didn’t reciprocate. When it was first suggested to me that I sort eating grains, I resisted at first, but once my nagging health issues began to clear-up, it was easier to stay the course. I mentioned this to my mother and she said, “That makes sense, you’re allergic to wheat.” I was taken aback. How could I have forgotten something that significant? In any case, that’s what I tell people when they ask, “why?”. And I think it would work for most people to say they have a wheat allergy. It sounds mainstream enough 😉

  6. I need to state for starters I’m generally 80/20 primal and regularly do weeks of more restrictive keto. It’s changed my life for the better in so many ways.

    If you’re educated about your diet it’s easy to have a conversation about dietary restrictions or your reasoning. The most important thing, and I cannot stress this enough, is that no one wants to sit down to a mean and feel like someone else is looking down their nose. Vegans get a bad rep for this—and in my experience deservedly so in general—but I know plenty paleo and keto adherents that aren’t much better. “Is that beef pasture-raised?” Please.

    My first 18 months of primal were really strict—really strict. No bread, no pizza, no tortillas, no pasta, no beans, etc. I barely ate out either due to seed oils and other variables I couldn’t control. (I never restricted dairy, but I’ve never had any perceptible issue with it.) In that period I lost of a ton of weight and health problems vanished.

    Since then though, the easiest thing has been having some bread once in a while. (I learned that I love, love, love real sandwiches when I’m not putting together a cheap one for lunch every day.) Cookies still exist for me as legitimate treats. When my family visits during the holidays there are still pies. This stuff is delicious and I love it—in fact, I love it and appreciate much more now than I did when it was a staple.

    Even then, as part of understanding my food baked goods and grains can be somewhat mitigated in their damage and, frankly, the food tastes better with real ingredients. I gotta say, explaining this route is easier and leads to better success when other people try it in my circle that “that stuff is evil poison and you can’t ever touch it again.”

    If you’re not dealing with some kind of specific disorder—my brother, for instance, is finally taking diabetes seriously and there’s no “treats” and won’t be for some time if ever—that’s one thing. But I gotta be honest, I don’t want to be the parent saying, “My kids can’t have any birthday cake.” That sucks and I don’t think the nutritional benefits/problems form one meal outweigh the issues related to that.

    Eating together and the same thing is a huge, huge, huge fundamental part of being human. It’s some of the oldest ritual we have. If you don’t have a serious health condition that prevents you from participating, I’m not sure it’s good for you to try and stay out of it—especially over a long period.

    I’ll echo others: I don’t believe in “cheat” days or meals. When I first went primal I developed some unnecessarily poor habits and stressors. “Oh no, I had too many carbs today…” and I’d worry about ballooning again. While the overall effects were good, that was one I had to work through. If I want some bread or rice, I have it. It’s not about a specific day or earmarking most things. It’s just about, “Hey, I used to have this stuff with virtually every meal. Now I have it when I go out once in a while or when I just decide I want some toast with butter with brunch.” Going from 21 meals a week containing the stuff to like… 1 means that 1 isn’t a big deal for most people.

    I really think hyper restriction without very specific reasons is a net negative. That doesn’t mean start eating bread by the load, but it does mean a burger on a bun at a family gathering doesn’t need a prepared speech.

    (And in this day and age, keto is so well known that you’re actually not really the odd man out. This is much, much simpler from a social perspective than it was around 8 years ago, that’s for sure!)

    1. What a great comment Joshua and I totally and full heartedly agree.
      I am not a 100% person and if someone had told me from the outset that I can never, ever have a slice of traditionally made, good sourdough ever again, I don’t think I would have gone down the LCHF and/or Keto way. In fact I know I wouldn’t have because it would have scared me. I grew up in Germany and sometimes my body just needs a good yummy nourishing slice of sourdough. The key word here is sometimes. 80/20 as you said.


  7. The truth is that many damaging grain-based foods were designed to be addictive. As you say, we are drawn to them, almost uncontrollably. Regrettably, many addicts can’t handle the truth. It’s not even worth going there.

  8. That’s all very well but if you live in a rural area of Scotland where can you buy alternatives??

  9. This totally resonates with me. I will definitely use those strategies to help me stay on the path that makes me feel so much better. Thank you!

  10. I have a question. Is it only our USA GMOed wheat? Are organic or non GMO options as detrimental to our bodies?