Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

We thought this might be a good time to check in with newer folks who have taken on the 2009 Primal Challenge. (With four weeks in, how’s everyone doing?)

But the truth is, the title has bearing for all of us. Old hat or not, a healthy lifestyle always encounters challenges at some point. External pressures – heavier work load, added family responsibilities, etc. – can suddenly shift the ground we thought was solid and stable. Internal factors – stress, injury, illness– can creep up on us and make us realize we’ve taken our motivation a little for granted lately.

Whether we’re committing ourselves to a new plan or reinforcing a long-time program, we end up playing psychologist to ourselves. For some of us, we may identify with the dual voices battling for our ear – our better self on one shoulder and the trouble-making naysayer twin on the other. For others of us the struggle takes on other shapes: tempting social distractions, consuming work habits, a guilt-laden conscience as we learn to balance family and self-care.

Since the beginning of the new year, expert opinion on issues like motivation, stamina, and dedication have been front and center in health and lifestyle sections everywhere. The problem is, feature stories move onto other calendar-appropriate themes about the same time people fall off the wagon in droves. New eating habits are thrown to the wayside. Gym memberships go unused or are cancelled. Forget April: perhaps February is the cruelest month – the falling off point of many a good intention.

We thought we’d weigh in with a little perspective – and a bit from those now archived expert opinions. Barely a month into the new year, the question often revolves around short-term gains. Blame it on whatever you will, but we as a society expect a pretty quick turnaround when it comes to returns on our investment. (O.K. – so not the best metaphor these days, but the figurative connection stands, right?) However, our efforts (particularly if we ease into change with baby steps) don’t often deliver a deluge of blatant benefits. It takes an overcoming of short-term attention span and a commitment for the long haul to really make things happen. And if we’ve had problems in the past or we’re tackling a long-term health issue, our abandonment tendency can spike. As Dalia Llera, psychologist and professor at Lesley University reminds us, “You can’t accomplish in a few weeks what you haven’t accomplished in a few years.”

Perhaps some of you are still in the phase of solidifying a new habit or practice. Though experts’ opinions range on how long it takes to mentally establish a routine, one month surely falls short of their estimates, especially if you’ve had some fits and starts along the way. But the progress is there to enjoy the same. Sometimes success isn’t just measured by our sustained attention but by our continued commitment to refocus when we get off track.

Where we get into trouble the most, some say, is when we refuse to accept responsibility for our own trajectories, however straight, skewed, and circular they might appear. Can we look into the heart of our lapses and see what’s really staring back at us (that would be, well, us) or do we see a myriad of circumstances all conveniently beyond our power of self-determination? “Excuses, excuses,” our mothers might say. Potential “self-handicapping” some experts would suggest. Self-handicappers, in fact, block their own success right out of the gate by lowering expectations for themselves typically in an effort to shield their egos from failure. In their minds, experts, say, it’s easier to accept a limited life than the menacing prospect that they might truly “fail” despite their best efforts. For these folks, it’s less a dearth of actual ability than a constant crisis of confidence and even self-worth. To accept, let alone pursue, a life of health and vitality, you first have to believe that you deserve it.

So, then, what about all those lapses, the fits and starts, the slips, blunders, drifts and tumbles? We say there’s no problem accepting them as par for the course. Wear them proudly like battle scars – even if it’s a battle with the likes of breakfast cereal or a punching bag. As the old saying goes, “It’s not where you’ve been but where you’re headed.” A primal life is, just that: a life, not an image. A static, two-dimensional trophy shot in time isn’t the point. It’s not what you’ll see at first but how you feel. Maybe at first a little stronger, a little more energetic, a little less stressed throughout the day. Keep following it and see where it goes, how it unfolds. We’ll check in again next month.

Benchmarks you’d like to share? Stories you have to tell – of lapses, refocus, successes, benefits both felt and seen? Hard-earned advice for continuing the commitment over time? Thanks for your comments.

pattista Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Have You Decided to Be Healthy?

Living a Healthy Life is Simple, but Not Easy

10 Primal Meals in 15 Minutes or Less

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

17 thoughts on “Excuses, Excuses, Excuses”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Yes this is a very timely post. I think I’ve been doing well with the Primal Challenge but this week was my first real “challenge” – travel.

    Being a former Boy Scout I should know to “be prepared” and planning is crucial for success. Unfortunately I didn’t really plan ahead and I learned that finding primal food options on the road is not an easy task.

    I did manage to make mostly primal choices in restaurants but yesterday’s chicken wrap for lunch followed by the indulgence of half a brownie left me with a headache and an incredible feeling of weariness. Perhaps this was a good thing as I will be able to recall how I felt after eating those things the next time I’m tempted by non-primal foods.

    At the airport on the way home the food choices were again limited (Every jerky package I looked at contained sugar). I ended up getting a bag of mixed nuts and a dark chocolate bar (yes I know it had sugar in it). Dragging my tired and hungry body in the door late in the evening, it took every ounce of will-power not to reach for the box of cereal in the cupboard. Happily, a bowl of hot soup and a piece of fruit won the day.

    Lesson learned: Be prepared and pack primal foods to keep temptation at bay when traveling. Next time I’ll have a nice batch of Primal Energy bars, some fruit, and raw almonds and cashews packed in the overnight bag.

  2. Great pointers Dave! Those definitely are helpful things to have on hand. My biggest “issue” is ensuring I get enough sleep. I constantly fall back to my old patterns of “I dont really need it”/”its a waste of time”/”i dont have time to sleep”/”i have too much to do.” But in the end, I’m always shown(kind of like Dave w/ the reminder of what eating non-primal feels like) how important at least a decent night’s sleep is. It just requires some organization and effort to make sure i get my 7 or more hours.

  3. I just wanted to say this: if you fail to achieve your goals (sticking to diet, training regularly, no matter what) dust yourself off and try again.

    Simple as that. Plus, there is a cool Aaaliyah music vid under the same name too 🙂

  4. I’ve been following the 2009 primal challenge.

    I’m doing good so far. A bit more energy, better skin, more motivation, better sleep. No weird feelings in the stomach.

    I’m taking “baby steps”. I follow a strict no-grains policy. But I currently eat small amounts of cheese, about once every 3 days. I still have a morning coffee with cream and coconut oil. I’ve found that as long as you have a go-to salad and go-to fruit/greens smoothie it’s not too hard.

    Just today my friend brought home 2 sandwiches. It’s sorta weird turning that down, and it would be so easy to say “just this once” but oh well — the extra energy is worth it.

  5. I’m trying the challenge and so far so good. But I am taking baby steps as I feel like I still have so much to learn and am confused at times (can’t wait for the book)! Diet wise, I have eliminated grains but still consume “too much” dairy. I am trying to reconcile getting enough protein from fish and eggs alone without getting bored and letting the years of low fat training subside. As a quasi-vegetarian the vegetables are the easy part for me but I have to watch my intake of dried fruit which is my candy substitute. Exercise wise I need to make more progress but that will come easier when the snow stops falling …. I hope it will soon!

  6. I’ve been going mostly Primal for a while now, with a few tweaks here and there to account for my weaknesses (craft beer mainly, also ice cream based on an extensive discussion over at the Crossfit Forums). I’ve dumped off ~15 pounds since October.

    Luckily, I started before the New Year, and coasted through Thanksgiving in great shape, and Christmas/Hanukah with only the barest uptick in weight. This year, my goal is to kick my strength up a serious notch, eliminate the grad-school-fueled belly that’s been hanging around for 15 years now, and move ever further away from borderline high blood pressure (other “danger” factors are already gutted: I cut my triglycerides in half at my last bloodwork appointment in December).

    I also ease my own stress by adhering to an 80/20 approach: if 80% or more of what I eat on a monthly basis is Primal-ish, the few other things won’t really hurt me, nor do I worry about them. This makes everything a lot easier, and by not worrying about the occasional “cheat,” I’ve also found that I’m really more at 90%+ Primal, with one, maybe two meals every 4-5 weeks breaking the pattern.

  7. I’ve been Primal since Jan. 1 and haven’t really had that difficult of a time. I thought that not eating bread was going to difficult, but I’ve almost already lost a taste for the stuff at this point. Give me rich, fatty, tasty veggies and meat any day. Breakfast has probably been the most difficult meal of the day. I’ve been eating either omelets (if I have time to make them) or apples and macadamia nuts (or almond butter). Sometimes I’ll have cottage cheese and berries even thought dairy is sort of one of those gray areas on the Primal Blueprint. As for how I feel, I’ve noticed an increased energy (I didn’t have the 3 week slump many speak of), better sleep and I’ve lost 4 or 5 pounds of fat. I probably have another 15 to go but I’m not even stressing about it. I know it will come off naturally by eating this way because my sister has been doing it since last year’s primal challenge and has lost at least 25 lbs. Thanks Mark. I can’t wait for the book and t-shirts!!!

  8. Same here, been on the PB since Jan 2, last weekend I had a very unPrimal pizza. Didn’t think anything of it, just woke up the next morning and made myself a salad.

  9. I agree with P. Singh – breakfast is the hardest time to be creative so I don’t get bored with the same every morning, especially since I generally prefer to sleep in a bit longer than wake-up and make a super yummy breakfast. I have noticed though that after not having any “sweets,” things that were once not sweet to me are – apples and grapes are like dessert now! It’s awesome!

  10. Whenever I have something unPrimal I am always craving a good hunk of meat the next day, or I feel bloated and just want water and nothing to eat for a few hours.

    Shoveled lots of snow and busted up ice today. So did the hubby. I got all Martha Stewart and decided to make real hot chocolate with milk, sugar, Valhrona cocoa, vanilla, and a little piece of Valhrona bittersweet chocolate. So, just about a half hour ago I end up with a gurgling gut and have to run to the bathroom. So, that was my non-primal lesson that will last for a while. I am assuming it was the milk, since it was about 1 cup. Cream doesn’t seem to bother me, and neither does cheese or sour cream. But protein drinks do for the same reason. Wow, that really, really sucked even though it did taste good and I felt all homemaker-y.

    Usually that’s how I get right back on track. I feel so bad that I immediately want to detox.

    My goal for 2009 is to get off of the Blood Pressure tablet that I take. Since I have lost quite a bit of weight, that could very well be a possibility soon. At least my doctor, a woman in her early 50’s, had the sense to tell me to cut carbs like South Beach. I found that South Beach didn’t work for me (I was hungry!) and it didn’t get rid of processed foods which was one of the things I was trying to do.

    Holly, I’ve found that if I don’t have time to cook eggs or something in the morning that I am will to eat certain leftovers when I get to work. Usually something with beef works best in terms of palatability (leftover beef stew, ribs, steak), but homemade fried chicken which is good cold can work for me too. I like boiled eggs, but sometimes they don’t agree with my GI tract first thing in the morning. I like beef jerkey or some nuts too. Fruit is one of those iffy foods for me, so I don’t eat quite so much of it.


  11. “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
    – One of my favorite quotes. Success consists of a series of failures. Those who succeed know more about failure than you think!
    Stay Strong!

  12. Mark, SUperb post. Sometimes I think it can be as simple as not letting your mind get in the way. Our mental chatter is exactly that and should be ignored. Half the time our energy is zapped by listening to draining negative thought patterns which de-motivate us from realizing our dreams and goals.

  13. I did manage to make mostly primal choices in restaurants but yesterday’s chicken wrap for lunch followed by the indulgence of half a brownie left me with a headache and an incredible feeling of weariness. Perhaps this was a good thing as I will be able to recall how I felt after eating those things the next time I’m tempted by non-primal foods.

  14. I have just recently discovered this site and I think this is for me. I have been eating primal for one week and I can’t believe how much better i feel already. Usually by saturday I’m dead and I woke up with relative ease this morning. The one thing I have not been following is that I have old fashioned oatmeal for breakfast every morning. I guess I will have to phase that out but it has been surprisingly easy to not eat bread and sugar. It’s usually so hard to resist but the time and planning that goes into my meals now distracts me from missing the other foods. The one time I almost faltered was in the diner, someone I was eating with had french fries that looked so good but then i remembered how they make me feel.

    My only complaint is that I don’t think this site is that easy to navigate, I wish all recipes were in one spot.

  15. My excuse is the weather. I’ve been sort of semi-primal for years now ever since I discovered the diabetes/reactive hypoglycemia/impaired glucose tolerance and used the responses of my BG meter and lipid panels to tell me what was and what was not good stuff to eat. Grok would approve of most of it.

    It’s not only been damp and cold but dull, and that really tends to shut me down. I’m designed for northern latitudes, stuff myself with carbs then go torpid and live off the stored fat until spring comes.

    As a result the energy levels have dropped off and some of my activities like gardening and housework have fallen by the wayside to the extent that I have frightening amounts to catch up on. Which makes it harder to restart. Even my hunter gathering trips down town are too easily broken by the need to stop and chat, even with cats. And my long walks with several kilos of photographic gear have stalled

    the only good thing is that I recognise the pattern, and already the increasing daylength is helping.

    WRT breakfasts I favour mainly fish and salad, a double whammy, with a couple of oatcakes to fine tune my BG. Smoked salmon, mackerel, kippers, bloaters, and for a change bacon, chicken or even lamb chops, with a big handful of mixed salad, a small handful of toasted sunflower seeds and a couple of olives will keep me even for a few hours.

    More low-carb breakfast ideas here


  16. Was Grok exposed to wine and if so how often is it acceptiple to drink dry red wine