How to Say “No” to Yourself

Yes, No, Try Again?It’s opening day at the ballpark. You’ve been waiting for this for many long, cold months. Some of your favorite people are with you. It’s a beautiful day. You’re off work. Life is good. You ate before you came because, having decided to go Primal, you know to prep yourself. That said, a few innings into the game the beer is looking good and your tap water – not so much. “Surely, one can’t do that much damage,” you think. “It’s the season opener, for Pete’s sake.” Two more innings later, you’re hungry. You’re caught up in the fanfare. You’re mildly jealous of the friends around you and their “devil-may-care” eating habits. You watch the vendors making their way around the sections. You conjure up the concession stand menu in your mind as you remember it from last year (or a few years before). The inner negotiation begins. Which is the least of all evils? (And what’s coming around the soonest?) You settle on a hot dog because you don’t feel like getting up and missing any of the game. Five bucks later you’re settling in with your snack, even pushing the envelope on how much of the bun you’re going to eat. A few minutes later it’s all gone except for the tell-tale smear of mustard on your lip. Though your team eventually won the day, you’re not faring as well. Your stomach turns funky that evening. You feel that old familiar bloating. Even the next day you admit you’re in recovery mode. You realize then, you’re going to need a better “no” plan next time.

Ah, the Nancy Reagan line made famous – just say no. It sounded so simple in the 80s, and even today we find ourselves wanting to believe in the easy button mantra for all our big, bad temptations. It should somehow be enough, we think – through sheer willpower or at least rational intellect – to deny ourselves what’s clearly not in our best interest. Too bad the human brain has such a capacity for irrationality, particularly when set in a modern environment rife with all manner of unhealthy lures – versions of what, in a twisted way, resembles what might have been adaptable long ago in prehistory.

Think about when you find yourself wanting or choosing to say no to something non-Primal – the foods and behaviors that seem fun and no-big-deal at the time but always come back to bite you in the you know what. Maybe it’s not the season opener but partying or work events that get you going down that road. Maybe it’s loading up on typical carb-based food when you take clients to lunch or eat at your Aunt Selma’s for dinner. Maybe it’s staying up late on the weekends or “indulging” in crappy roadside food when you’re traveling. Maybe it’s bowing to social pressure during the weekly card game or just bowing to old self-sabotage when you’re having a crappy day and want to remember your old “rewards.” And how many times have we all made the same mistake with the same consequences? How many bouts of bloating, itchiness or upset stomach will it take? How many hangovers (bread- or beer-induced)? How much grogginess, crankiness, and lethargy? How much weight gain (or regain) will we put ourselves through? Speaking of bad choices, it reminds me of that old Tootsie pop commercial – how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop? (You decide what’s at the metaphorical center here.) The point is, how long will it take before we stop catering to our present selves’ desires at the cost of our future selves’ health and well-being?

Whatever the case, at some point it comes down to the question of how. How do you identify and then catch yourself in the pattern? How do you gather the fortitude to make a different choice? Finally, how do you reinforce the behavior and make it solid habit?

Identifying the problem

You’ve undoubtedly seen photos of drunk or passed out (drunk) people whose “friends” captured the often unflattering moments for posterity. Sure, some are funny. Others could be cautionary tales in and of themselves. (Make sure there are no Sharpies in the house before passing out.) As ridiculous as these antics can be, there’s something undoubtedly clear about a lasting visual. One of the games we play with ourselves in these scenarios is telling ourselves in a weak moment that last time really wasn’t as bad as it was. We sugarcoat the past memory to serve our present hankering. Maybe some of us need an unbecoming image to remember genuine reality. Maybe it’s a selfie of yourself collapsed on the couch after some fast food. Maybe it’s a photo of the handwritten sign you put over your toilet, noting you really don’t enjoy spending the better part of an afternoon there and that cheese pizza wasn’t worth it. Maybe it’s what your stomach looks like after you eat wheat. Most of us know what does us in (and, if you don’t, some self-experimentation can easily get you there). The real problem is remembering it’s the problem. One strategically unsavory visual can be an exceedingly effective reminder.

Catching yourself in said problem pattern

Oh, more mental games… Here, I think, we tend to selectively simplify a problem and dismiss its varied permutations. If we’re a moth to dairy’s flame (those of us who just can’t go there without major physical malfunction), we need to get specific about what we need to say no to – ahead of time preferably. Sit down one afternoon (maybe this one), and write out all the ways and times dairy (or whatever yours is) has done you in. Yes, milk, cheese, yogurt, butter. But other stuff too. Not checking the label on protein shakes. Asking a host or server for the recipe when you’re in doubt. Forgetting to say no cream in your coffee. Eating anything your mother makes. If something particular registers as a problem in your intellect but tends to squeeze by the rationalization center of the brain, put it at the top of the list. Especially if you have strong sensitivities or really want to make a hard and fast commitment to Primal living for optimum success (highly recommended), make this script second nature. Mentally consult it before saying yes to anything.

Saying no in the moment

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. You can do all the mental and logistical prep in the world, but you’ll still have a million moments in which you can go either way. It doesn’t matter that you ate before. It doesn’t matter than you have two full baggies of your favorite jerky staying cool and fresh in your mini-fridge under your desk. It doesn’t matter that you got your work done by 5:00 for once to avoid staying up late again. You’ll still face the pattern head on – whether it looks like fancy leftovers from the Board meeting now sitting in the break room or the Breaking Bad final season that just arrived via Netflix that day and is wooing you to stay up into the wee hours.

When we’re feeling lured into decisions we know will have negative consequences, we tend to purposefully isolate ourselves in our own swirling head case. The tempted part doesn’t want outside input. That’s exactly the time, however, to rely on someone else’s good judgment. Maybe you have a good Primal friend – or someone who is close enough that you can text him/her, and it won’t seem bizarre. Maybe you employ a trainer or personal coach who takes these kinds of messages. Even if the person is unavailable to call/text back, getting your thinking out of your head and into the light of day alone can give perspective. Alternatively, you could log on and send a message on the forum. Too many think in those moments if they only read some information that it will do the trick in convincing them. My experience is those moments are too late for that brand of intellectualizing. Reach out instead.

Do you have those aforementioned unappealing photos on your phone? (This is a good idea btw – making them mobile.) Again, this is a tactic that doesn’t require mental gymnastics and will evoke a basic emotional response. (Remember, the more dramatic the picture, the better.)

While this might require a bit of patience, think of your choice in that moment as a game show. Maybe it’s the Price is Right. Put your current option in the context of that narrative. Do you really want to spin the wheel (insert offending food/beverage/behavior) again and go over rather than quit while you’re ahead of the game? You’re in the eternal conflict of the psyche weighing present versus future gains. Inject some humor into it and feel the cascade of perspective. Do we really get that hooked by something unhealthy for us? Yes. Visually imagine yourself taking your body or brain off that hook.

Finally, remember that you’re not really saying no. You’ve chosen to live this way in order to say yes to many incredible things – yes to good, genuine food. Yes to feeling vibrant, balanced and energetic. We’re masters at creating our own (or buying into others’) sense of scarcity and deprivation and imagining dramatic emotional and social fallout as a result. See all that for the b.s. it is. Saying no to the ballpark fare means saying yes to having the intestinal well-being to go out afterward for a real dinner – and feeling great the next day.

Reinforcing desired choices

This isn’t about rewarding good behavior (unless you want to see it that way). I always caution people to not get too caught up in the idea of good and bad. We’re not practicing for obedience school. We’re cultivating consciousness of our own behavioral and emotional patterns in order to better exercise free will. Remember those unflattering photos of what you don’t want to remember? Try the same thing of what you do want to repeat. This is you happy and fully sober after a sporting event. This is you looking relieved and proud having managed to avoid the party buffet (or giving it a subtly obscene gesture to indicate your victory). You get the idea. Make a collage of these moments. Log them on your computer or FB if you enjoy (and your friends enjoy) that kind of thing. Now hold in your mind what genuine Primal luxury you’re going to grant yourself. Sometimes reward has its place after all.

Thanks for reading, everyone. How do you catch yourself on unproductive paths and say no to what led you down them? Share your thoughts and stories.

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 three decades researching and 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 Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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133 thoughts on “How to Say “No” to Yourself”

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  1. Wish that I had read this before the ice cream last night. It’s difficult when for me the only real “symptom” of non primal life is obesity. If I felt worse when I ate off plan, I might do it less. (This is not to say I don’t feel crappy – especially after a prolonged period of primal living – but I’m not stuck on the toilet or doubled over in pain). However one of my 450+ pound pictures would probably do the trick. It’s all about what works out in the balance!

    1. Hello,

      After weaning from unwanted food choices, I have found that partaking in consumption of said foods made me feel worse during the latter portion of weaning than that of the former. I didn’t appear to have much trouble when I relapsed earlier during the weaning phase. Nowadays, I do. One thing to remember is that this an issue among yourself. It is not worth being completely stressed about. My body had gotten used to eating junk from an early age. Sure, I ate foods loaded with vitamins and minerals, but the problem was, I ate all foods. After spending time through college and learning about my body, I have come to the realization that it is me, and what I find to make, and keep, me happy. If it means giving up the junk, then so be it. It is difficult to notice the differences right away due to the bodies amazing ability to cope. I am currently 25 years old. I hope this helps, that is, having another perspective.


      1. I take comfort in the fact that I’m entirely responsible for my wellbeing – nobody else is actually forcing less-than-desirable food into my mouth. It’s up to me to do something about it and make sure it doesn’t get any further than a synaptic snapshot of senses in my imagination.

        I also once read a very well written passage about how willpower is what separates us humans from animal mentality. Animals (generally) act on impulse and instinct, whereas we as people evolved the capability to use willpower and have an actual choice. I try to remember this everytime I’m having a stand off with a slice of pizza, drifting tumbleweed included.

        I’ve found it empowering when I think back to this and that’s helped me build momentum to live this amazing lifestyle for which I’m seriously grateful! It’s genuinely changing my life!

    2. Hey Jane, good luck with your weight loss. I was just reading a book about Neuroplasticity, and if you can replace positive traits, characteristics, and habits with the old bad habits, the old habits neural circuits will weaken and you will build the strength of new circuits whenever you attend to a new positive habit. Think I’m really craving Hagaan-Daazs right now (strong neural circuit created through repetition), but I would get far more satisfaction learning how to garden (weak neural circuit). Every time you attend to the good habit (gardening), the circuit will become stronger, and the choice to avoid bad food will become easier as long as you do not repeat that circuit (atrophying). Sorry for the complexity, I just want to encourage you to keep making positive decisions, because it will pay off.

      1. It’s true. When I first started this primal journey I thought I would never stop wanting/craving beer. Now I never think about it. I now instinctively order the red wine. It takes practice.

      2. I think you may have just changed my life with this comment. Thank you so much.

  2. There are so many good little points in this article, I love the food buddy idea.

    I’ve found that one key thing is to learn to make a final decision. If you let the temptation linger and say something like “I probably shouldn’t have this today, but I’ll decide in a few minutes”, it gets harder to say no.

    When you firmly say that “no, under no circumstances will I have this today”, all of a sudden you’ve made your decision and can think about other things without the temptation in the back of your mind.

    1. I agree with you. It’s being wishy washy about it that makes it easier for me to give in. If I just make a decision to say no, then I have an easier time of it. There’s so much tension when I’m deciding. All that tension or anxiety about wanting it, mentally going back and forth about whether I’ll eat it or not goes away when I just decide not to and move on.

    2. I agree, and sometimes not even with food related stuff. I tend to postpone things I should do and procrastination works the same, you must be assertive and just stand by your “no”.

  3. I just tell myself “Yeah, you can have that. You are an adult making your own decisions. And now, before you eat it, think about tomorrow and how sick you will be, and now travel back in time and stop yourself.” and then I don’t eat it. And that works (almost) every time!

    1. Thinking about tomorrow is indeed the key. To me it is ALL a matter of time preference. Which do I desire more, instant satisfaction from SAD foods, or a long healthy life?

      As for fighting urges, relying upon willpower, well, I see that as a method to guarantee failure, as it is a NEGATIVE focus. If I feel like I can’t help but to eat some junk, then I’ll gorge myself on it until it makes me sick.

      Next time around, the junk has suddenly lost it’s desire. I remember back when I first went Primal, seeing “goodies” in the break room at work, and feeling the Pavlovian “want” response kicking in. These days, I look at something, like say, a glazed donut, and the thought of eating it makes me nauseous.

      1. This is a great idea, but it’s something of a double-edged sword. Often the reason people eat those foods is emotional, and when you’re feeling extremely low, the choice becomes instant satisfaction or a long UNhappy life. Not hard to make the (wrong) choice in that situation.

    2. You’re a very strong person to talk yourself out of it, but I’ll give your technique a try, too. 🙂

    3. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, the key is to remind yourself that you always have the choice and you can eat it if you want to. That takes away the urge to rebel. Then decide not to eat it! I find reminding myself that there are a million yummy but unhealthy foods out there, they will always be available if I change my mind. It takes the immediate desperation out of the decision. Oh, and there is no stronger way of saying no than putting it in the bin and squirting washing up liquid on top! I save that for my really weak days….

      1. Ok when my ex and I were first dating we had some leftover cake from an office party at our house. I basically have no willpower to stop at one piece ( or at least then I didn’t). I had no qualms about fishing the thrown out cake out of the trash either. I jokingly said “if you love me, you’ll pee on that cake.” And he did. Proof of love?

  4. Where I struggle the worst is when I go out. We go to our usual restaraunt and 1 beer turns into 2….a meal turns into an appetizer of chips and wings, then the entree and before you know it BAM! 3000 calorie dinner!

  5. This is why I pack snacks and take-along food: the smell reminds me of the taste I used to be familiar with, and it’s back to the old feeding-the-tongue (before Paleo) instead of feeding-the-brain (now). I can either avoid the smell by not going, or take along something that smells and tastes just as good, and would put that park hot dog to SHAME! Avoiding malls has helped me get over the smells of a food court. Watching movies on my computer helps me get over the smell of theater popcorn.

    Thankfully, I never developed a taste for beer. Two alcoholic parents were lesson enough for that.

  6. Great article Mark, thank you. I can add this much, having suffered from burning mouth syndrome, which has spread to my lips and now face over a 10 year period, that even I, having every reason not to eat wheat starch and sugar as it burns worse in the mouth, I still look longingly at yummy looking desserts. Clearly, if you have an emotional and or psychological tie to certain foods, it can linger beyond all reason…then you reach out…pick it up knowing it will burn and for heaven sakes, pop it into your mouth. Yechk…something like having a coffee burn in your mouth and then drinking more hot coffee on top of it…yep, it burns more. Who does that? I am getting better as the years go by, but still, the desire should be totally gone by now…you would think.

    1. Hahaha I love stories like this that illustrate the obvious difference between our present selves and our future selves, our rational logic and our emotional logic (“but I was good today!”)

      One of my favorite studies found that for people who ordered groceries online, there was a significant difference between what they ordered based on if they knew when it was going to be delivered. If they knew it was going to be delivered in 2 days or less, people generally ordered more ice cream and less veggies. If they knew it was going to be delivered a week or more out, people always ordered more veggies and less ice cream.

      1. It doesn’t make any sense why we humans would self-sabotage what we know is good for us, but obviously SOMETHING is happening.

        That’s why I love articles like this. I sense the secret is really in little “tricks” we use on ourselves (or “hacks,” as I like to call them) that trick the emotional, irrational part of our brains into doing what we logically knew was right all along. Install these little “tricks” into your lifestyle, and as they say, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

  7. I eat one meal a day and I try to keep it low carb and Primal. If I want to flex the rules badly enough I do to various degrees that I have found I can handle from years of experience but if it’s outside my one meal per day I will not eat period.

    1. I started doing a 4 hour eating window about 3 weeks ago, and I’m slowing getting to one meal a day. It’s amazing the time I save planning and cooking only one meal a day instead of 2 or 3. With Lent beginning this week, I had a 3-ounce tuna pack for a snack in the afternoon, and then a normal dinner. There is quite a bit of freedom when you’re not tethered to the feed trough all day!

  8. I am going to take a picture tonight I think, I am a master of rationalization, and I can make anything “no big deal” or a “One time thing” but I have way more willpower when I picture how I look now, and how I want to look

  9. Impeccable timing , Mark. It’s close to lunch time here at the office. My employer has catered lunches 2-3 times per week (no joke). Today is one of those. I packed my lunch of a BAS with loads of veggies, oil/vinegar dressing and leftover pork. But I was starting to wonder if I should just save the BAS for tomorrow and eat whatever lunch the company is providing today (likely pizza or subs with chips and cookies and pop). I read this article, then thought about what has happened in the past when I make a poor lunch choice – an afternoon of sadness, stomach irritation, and skipping my afternoon workout.

    I’ll stick with the lunch I packed for myself, and have a good afternoon and evening.

  10. This issue really is a difficult one. The subconscious is just so unbelievably powerful, not very well controlled generally and it can be very sneaky. I like your trick of thinking of a game show! That could be useful.

    Some of what you touch on is “mindfulness” which I find really works, but it’s also very hard to do properly and keep going. I like to think that I’m looking after my body with self-care and self-love and ask if someone was really caring for me, what would they do in such situations? Or as Kamal Ravikant said, “If I loved myself, truly and deeply, what would I do?”. I find these thoughts can be very powerful.

  11. Good article today. I’m usually pretty good around everything, especially sweets when before I was a sugar-holic. My vice now is tortilla chips. I can say no at home, we have other options, but if we’re out somewhere it’s so much harder. And you can never have JUST one. Good inspiration to get to the root of the cravings/desires and learn to say no more forcefully.

  12. I have a way when shopping with my wife to keep to a budget–I ask her three questions.
    1. Do you want it?
    2. Do you need it?
    3. Can you afford it?

    Usually the answer to the first is YES! Same with me when I am tempted to go off the rails concerning food choices.
    But by question #2 I admit to myself I don’t NEED it.
    Finally if I make it to #3 I honestly must admit I can not afford it!

    Now it doesn’t always work– but about 90% of the time– if I take the time– it will kill the desire to cheat!

    1. I like the idea of comparing food choices to a budget. I got my financial life in order by following Dave Ramsey’s plan, and now most of it is just second nature. Part of the plan is using cash for almost everything so you know what you have and how much you have left to spend in a month. It makes you more aware of every expenditure and slows down the outflow of cash.

      I think of non-Primal foods as being the same as discretionary spending in a budget. You can only do so much of it before it becomes painful. I try to pick my moments in advance so I can “budget” an off-Primal occasion or two during a month. It’s not the same as using bad food as a reward, but more of an acknowledgement that I’m fallible and that there will always be situations where it will be difficult to stay Primal. It doesn’t always work out that way, and it’s definitely harder for me when it comes to exercise and activity than when it comes to food. I love whole, real, unprocessed meats and veggies, but there are plenty of times when getting a little exercise is just a chore and not a pleasure.

  13. Well, this all depends on so many things for each individual. Things such as their natural will power, current “shape”, and their “history”.

    For me, and I don’t intend to sound like I’m bragging, I have excellent will power. I’m not a “follower” either. For these reasons alone, I never drink or smoke. Never did, never will. I could be in a bar/club and buy a water without feeling out of place. Never got drunk and never tried pot. And no, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I got excitement out of other things, from hanging out with friends (some drank, some didn’t) to playing hockey.

    As for food, I have always been health conscious. I’ve been so far removed from soda and adding salt to things, I feel zero urge for it.

    I do like having some “bad” stuff once in a while. The thing is, I don’t feel too guilty because of my general, daily living habits. I’ve also learned that being too extreme is not healthy. Learned that the hard way and I went all organic, vegan. Got too skinny (yes, that is possible) and my hair starting coming out some which it never did prior. Took Bioton and many other supplements, but it didn’t matter. I slowly introduced some meat and other things I stopped eating and that stopped immediately.

    Anyway, my point is what I started out saying: Saying no depends on so many things. I feel for those who have a tough time saying no. I truly do. I can’t quite relate, but can certainly imagine how stressful that might be. Mark seems to have given some great advice. Hopefully it will help many of those who need some.

    All I can say is, from my experience, the more you remove yourself from “bad stuff”, usually the easier it is to stay away from it. I know many others who stopped excessive sugar, salt, etc. and in most cases, they don’t seem to miss it much after a while.

  14. I find that I usually crave junk when I am bored or tired. So if it’s during the day, I will take it as my cue to go for a walk or to the gym. If in the evening, I will take it as my cue to turn in for the evening. Often I get hungry if I stay up past my normal bedtime, and I think it’s just my body confused that we’re still up, so we must need food. This is another case too of Advantage = Autoimmune Disease. The consequences for me of a cheat, even a “primal one” like a coconut date roll, is all too clear, so that makes it much easier to stay true to paleo. I’ve so bought into Grain Brain/Wheat Belly/Primal Blueprint, etc, that I have absolutely no appetite for anything with gluten. I can happily watch my officemates eat a birthday cake without wishing there was a piece for me or wondering if the icing is GF 🙂

  15. Sometimes, I think it’s very difficult to know when you should or should not have something off plan. 80/20 doesn’t work for me because I slip into 50/50. Amy Kubal, just wrote an article over at basically saying that we shouldn’t deny what we want food-wise all the time lest it lead to a neurosis. Meanwhile, this article is pretty much saying the exact opposite, namely don’t let yourself go with one beer or one slice of pizza because it could lead to other bad food habits. It’s just all very hard to apply this in practice and keep things consistent, which is made even worse by the fact that the part of you want that wants the bad food is the irrational side of you more often than not.

  16. This is a fab post! I’m more or less the same as Jane, the main side-effect of off-roading is weight gain, or maybe a little heartburn. I keep a list on my phone of all the reasons I’ve gone Primal and most of the time that is all I need to make a different choice. I think the idea of photographic motivation is a great one though. Thanks Mark!

  17. Ok…I ask myself ‘is it worth it?’ The answer is never ‘yes’ but sometimes a ‘maybe’ squeaks out and I’m so happy about the 80/20 rule….until I’m not. Then its a reminder and sometimes thats just what I need.

  18. Usually when temptation strikes I tell myself I can have some dark chocolate later and I’m fine with that. But this week I had a different problem. Have been eating low carb primal for nearly a year and love it but ate maybe too much homemade sauerkraut plus other veggies that were hard on my stomach. Ended up with what I call a tender tummy and meat or veggies make it worse right now. I had some scrambled eggs and made butternut squash soup, but had a baked potato, no skin, for dinner with butter and cheese and then ice cream last night… Did not really like those last two choices but they soothed my gut (I have no problem with dairy but don’t usually eat ice cream). Would love some other more primal choices that are bland and coat the tummy. I did have a little avocado and some bone broth, but potato and ice cream truly helped the most, so I decided to cut myself some slack, temporarily. Sometimes I think, at least for me, it’s a rational choice to eat some things that seem to help my body through a rough spot.

    40 years of acid suppressing meds and damage from gluten and other foods has done a number on my gut lining and while it has healed to a large extent, some things like fermented veggies just seem to do me in. So I pay the price for my good primal eating! Will be more careful to eat less of some of those foods in the future.

    1. Do you eat homemade kraut and cultured veggies often and have you been doing this for a while? If it’s a new thing for you, then you probably need to tough-out the tummy issues and not give in to the carb/sugar cravings. Google “die off symptoms”… sometimes the bad bacteria give you Hell on the way out (diarrhea, constipation, pain, rashes), but after a few days you could start feeling so much better. However- the bad bacteria CRAVE the carbs and sugar, so if you consume them, you are feeding the bad guys. If you’re a kraut veteran, then this probably isn’t the issue. Just wanted to put my 2 cents in, bc the fermented foods journey has been very rewarding for me and I’d hate to see one of my fellow Grokers turned off from cultured veggies.

      1. Not turned off kraut at all. Just too much of a good thing plus some other high fiber veggies and it got the best of me. Thanks for sharing!

    2. Laurie,

      I’m not writing against Beck – I’m one of those people who simply can’t tolerate any type of sauerkraut so I can’t have an opinion on it – but I think you’re probably going the right way for *you*. I’ve had the stomach flu the last few days (which I thought at first was a food issue) and right now can only tolerate liquids. No meat, no veggies, I’m on chicken stock and water and GF crackers until this passes. Other than feeling like cr*p I’m not concerned about the diet change because I know it will be for a week at most. Trust your body, and feel better soon! 🙂

      1. Mo, you’re right; sometimes due to illness your tummy just can’t tolerate meat and veggies. I don’t crave potatoes or ice cream. It was just the only thing soothing on an ailing tummy. I am feeling better and hope you are soon, too!

  19. The ballpark setting for this post is apt — we usually attend at least 10 baseball games a season. One big drawback to eating ballpark fare is the outrageous prices — makes it much easier to say no. But that cold beer? I take a healthy snack of primal trail mix but, using my 20% for the week, I’ll have the cold beer. Go Twins!

  20. How to find out what someone is serving when invited for a meal. I have, once again, been invited over for dinner. The problem is these folks poo-poo my eating habits. I don’t know if they are going for sabotage or misunderstanding (like so many folks). I politely thank them for the invitation and decline. That is the only way to stay away from say: pasta-based meals, breads and desserts.

    1. “How to find out what someone is serving when invited for a meal. I have, once again, been invited over for dinner. The problem is these folks poo-poo my eating habits. I don’t know if they are going for sabotage or misunderstanding (like so many folks). I politely thank them for the invitation and decline. That is the only way to stay away from say: pasta-based meals, breads and desserts.”

      it’s too bad you have to forego your relationship with these people – is there a way you could really explain why you are doing this, and perhaps ask for their support? I can’t believe someone would do this to you on purpose, I bet it is a misunderstanding. If they’re real friends, they will not want to make food for you that makes you feel bad! On the other hand, if they continue to poo-poo then do what you usually do with that substance – flush them.

      1. Ha! My own sister at Christmas said that she would not “deprive” her kids of the only things they eat (bread, sugar, bread, sugar, bread) and that we would have to suck it up and let our kids eat that crap too so that nobody would be subjected to “special treatment”. Her PhD hubby then chimed in to tell us that we are unnecessarily depriving our kids of important nutrients by not feeding them bread products and pointed to Canada’s Food Guide (our version of the US Food Pyramid).

        On the other hand, my friends have been much more tolerant if not understanding. They also can’t argue with the results.

    2. I am always amazed by people’s reactions to my eating habits and how they absolutely lose all ability to reason, seemingly! People who I know tend to eat meat, potatoes, and veggies (all things I eat) panic as they try to figure out what I will be able to eat! Gluten free breads, snacks, and pastas appear despite my assurances that I don’t need, even prefer not to eat, these things. But my assurances are just seen as being “difficult”, apparently. it is so bizzare! But if i were to ask them what they had for dinner the night before they’d say they had roasted chicken, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. Does anyone else have this baffling experience?

  21. Haven’t there been other posts that would suggest this can be worked in as part of the 80/20 rule? You know the season opener is coming. You plan for this, look forward to it, knowing it’s not your “habit” but an exception (the cheat meal).

    I’m gluten free, high fat, high protein, primal 90% of the time. My family (Italian) lives in another city that I visit maybe 3-4 times a year. When I go, I just relax and respect the family/cultural tradition. I sit down and enjoy whatever family cooking is on the table – cannelloni, manicotti, crespella, all high carb, gluten etc. that has been prepared from scratch. Then, when I get back to my home, I happily get back to my normal eating routine.

    If you take the “long view” and examine the sum of your choices and that season opener does not represent ow you eat 9 days out of 10, is it really that big of a deal?

  22. Then there’s the flip side, which is that for people with a history of eating disorders, saying “no” all the time triggers destructive behavior. I’ve found that saying “yes” on a regular basis (in small amounts) keeps me free from ED behaviors and in fact helps keep me on a healthier trajectory overall, rather than the constant up-and-down, all-or-nothing, yo-yo dieting cycle.

    1. Yes I totally agree with this. If I go extreme and deny myself everything I end up binging….and man can I binge. Having a little now and again signals to my brain that I can if I want and that I am not deprived of anything. The trick is to learn the difference between REALLY REALLY want and just quite fancy but can take or leave it…and leave it if the craving is not that strong.

      1. I agree, too. Sometimes being too neurotic about adhering to the “rules” 100% can be detrimental. I don’t have the willpower issue so much, but i fall into the trap of “if 150 grams of carbs is better than 300, then zero must be spectacular, right?” With that kind of logic, pretty soon I end up with too few I can eat in my own “legal” opinion, and develop all sorts of digestive and health issues. So more strict is not always better. I honestly think that sometimes it’s the “moments of weakness” that actually save people from neurosis and malnutrition. Of course, as several people have mentioned, it all depends on the person. I’m much healthier when I go with what sounds good (within reason), even if it’s not strictly primal all the time.

  23. Or just say Yes, enjoy the moment, and live with the consequences.

  24. Willpower is finite.

    You either have to change your perception from deprivation to abundance (diet v lifestyle) or you have to allow yourself a primal “cheat” once a week, which is planned ahead of time.

    I stay strict all week because I’m trying to lose those last 5 lbs or so. On Sunday, I don’t wildly go off plan, but I do allow myself a square or two of dark chocolate. I might eat a little starch (from vegetables) and/or put more add-ons in my salad (a small bit of blue cheese and fruit goes a long way in magnifying flavor). I stay primal, but I totally relax about it. I can always pass on temptations because I look forward to Sunday. Chocolate isn’t disappearing from the universe, it’s just not my day to have it.

    I can’t say I agree with the fat/bloated photos of one’s self idea. If you feel bad about yourself at a certain stage in your life, I don’t think it’s healthy to reinforce it. It’s better to have photos of your hot-looking self (or your new and improved self) and say – why would I mess with something this good? Or if you’re just starting, look at a photo of a primal success.

    Someone here once said (paraphrasing): “there’s nothing (food) that looks better than the way I feel right now.”

    1. Actually, there is a shortage of chocolate. Better grab some while you can.

    2. That sounds like a misquote of Kate Moss’s supposed mantra: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

  25. I have found through my years of “low carb, losing weight, feeling great, negotiation, cheat, can’t stop, regain weight, feel like crap” cycles that I can’t negotiate with myself successfully. One of the reasons I chose “no grains, no processed sugars” this time was because I could measure success like an alcoholic measures no drinking. (This was prior to me noting about Paleo or Primal eating) I literally counted days. It gave me a goal and a way to stay on track. After 90 days I started counting months instead. (I’m now at 8 months)

    I know this doesn’t work for everyone. I know some people can drink and not get drunk. I know I can’t have just a little, so now I don’t.

    By the way, since learning about Primal eating, my eating has evolved. I’m now down 56 lbs, feeling fantastic and not looking back.

    1. That is me – food addict! 2 1/2 years and counting…
      one day at a time 🙂

    2. This is me too! Last year I managed to stay Paleo for three months (Jan-Mar) then fell of the wagon and couldn’t stop. I picked up the pieces again in early November, made it through to mid December when family visited and I got into the old habits. Finally decided enough is enough 14 days ago and have been on the absolutely no grains no sugar plan. For me this also means no fruit as one piece leads to more and then to candy, cakes and pies. I’m fine, I don’t crave it as long as I don’t start eating it. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I try I cannot seem to lose weight, which is very discouraging. I’m trying to concentrate on the fact that acid reflux has gone and I’m off the 4 omeprazole and 2 ranitidine per day regimen that I’ve been on for the past 5 years, IBS has vanished, psoriasis has disappeared, acne has gone and my knees don’t ache…but it is hard. One hour at a time, one day at a time.

      1. Hi Deb,

        I completely understand your stance on fruit and your concern of where it will lead. That is why I stay away from any flavored cold drink. My addiction to soda was intense.

        I don’t know if it will help you, but for me, an occasional sweet potato has eliminated the junk food cravings. I came about this by chance. After about 4 months of going strong I was blind sided by intense cravings for cakes, cookies, etc. After two days of these I was getting concerned as I knew I could live long term like that. I had not had a sweet potato in a while, so that night I had one with butter. Next day cravings gone!!

        I now make sure I have a sweet potato a couple times a week and the cravings have not come back.

        Hopefully you can find the food item that helps you.

        1. Thanks for the suggestion Mark. I was eating sweet potatoes back in my November-December Paleo stint. While I cannot for the life of me drop 5lbs, I can gain weight eating any starchy carbs. I also found that sweet potatoes were sweet enough to keep those sweet taste buds searching for more.

          I just decided this time that I have to accept that I have an addiction, even if mainstream medical opinion is that sugar is not addictive, and go cold turkey. I want to see of I can do 30 days without anything even remotely bordering on sweet to try to retrain my palate and establish new behavior patterns. If I can make it through 30 days, then I’ll reassess and decide whether or not I can try introducing a small amount of sweet potato back in to my diet.

          For the last 14 days, sticking to this rigid plan, I can honestly say that I have not been at all hungry and I have not craved anything since day two – not even coffee, my drink of choice. Day one was scary, I held on just by the skin of my teeth. Reading MDA and the wheat belly blogs every day help to keep my resolve going to do this. I hope that eventually my body will surrender and lose a few pounds, which should greatly increase my motivation and fortitude.

  26. My biggest problem is with alcohol. I will convince myself 5-7 night a week that I will only have one or not drink at all. Then when I get home I start to rationalize a reason why it will be ok or that I can stick to just one. The next morning I always wake up with regret and disappointment in myself. Besides the obvious effects of the alcohol I am not overweight and have really good blood pressure, cholestrol, and am in the normal range for all other blood markers. I just wish that I could overcome this. Does anyone have a good idea or faced the same challenges?

    1. Eric, sometimes we do the same things because it’s habit. If that’s the case it may be that you need to change what you do, what you see and move things around a bit in your life. (some people move the furniture around, quit watching the same shows on TV, sit in a different chair, etc)
      Once you have one drink your motivation and will power are compromised, that makes the next one easier to rationalize about and decide tomorrow is another day to begin.
      From my experience throwing away something that you don’t want to eat or drink can be empowering. I’ve taken a bite of something (or a sip) and decided to stop before it’s all gone and once that goes down the drain (into the garbage disposal, etc) I feel more power to continue. One day without alcohol will help you proceed through the next day without. Once you say “no” by your actions your power to stay that way will grow.
      Not an easy road to travel, however, just do it for one day. The next day you can decide to continue for that whole day. I hope this helps you.

  27. One person asked about taking the “long view” and is the cheat really that big a deal. No – unless it makes you sick. Then it’s a really big deal. Everybody’s tolerance is different.

    I have celiac – GF is not optional. But grain-free makes a huge difference in how I feel, too. Do I cheat? Only on non-gluten grains. Should I cheat at all? Nope. Still recovering, almost a week after some lovely tortilla chips. And really, I think I’ve learned this time. NO Corn for me. Very bad. Blech.

    But if you can cheat a little, is it easier? Or is it harder to only cheat a little? I think if I could get away with frequent cheats, I would try to. And then, so much for the diet.

  28. My relationship with wheat can be accurately described with the toilet picture described in the article. With dairy the picture would be a doctor’s office sign since 2 or 3 or 4 or…..rebellious moments too close together lead to a steroid shot and antibiotics for a severe upper (if I’m lucky, upper and lower if I’m not) respiratory infection.

    I learned about the dairy thing in my 40’s and the wheat/gluten last year in my early 50’s.

    The big change in my life since listening to my body and not hurting it so much? I only need a doctor when I eat dairy. When I mess up and eat wheat the pain tells me. I don’t want to live that way anymore. Ever.

    Long story short, I can’t cheat. I would love to have the option, but since I was never good at following rules this way is probably best for me anyway.

  29. Just like most people, I’ve faced these types of situations many times and have struggled to say no.

    Thankfully, I found a way that work for me.

    I rely on self talk and ask myself, “What am I gaining from giving up on instant gratification?” Saying no to processed food helps me stay energized and productive. It’s worth it for me to say no because I need to stay energized and productive to get work done.

    1. This is it
      ..well said and sums up my issue! Thank you…

  30. Such an appropriate post for me! I just made the decision to stop eating cheese, because it just messes up my digestion too much.
    I really need to make the same decision about ice cream, but I am scared. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets scared in the face of giving up one of their favorite foods!) I love ice cream sooo much, but it messes up my digestion for DAYS afterward. I am pregnant, and, honestly, at the end of the day, all I want is something fatty or fatty and sweet, and cheese or ice cream would do the trick. Any suggestions for what I should do/eat instead?
    Regardless of the details, though, I just need to take the plunge! Hopefully following some of Mark’s tips will help me to stay “on the wagon.” Maybe I should write and sign a contract for myself first…

    1. Have you tried the Coconut Bliss ice cream? No dairy, no soy. It unfortunately uses agave as the sweetener, which I don’t much care for, but the texture is really close to ice cream.

      I like the mint chocolate chip flavor. It’s expensive, but I feel like it’s so rich that it takes me quite awhile to get through a pint.

      1. Brooke, I’d get some Coconut Butter and eat two spoonfulls. That tasty fat really satisfy’s.

        1. Two spoonfuls of coconut butter and a piece of extra dark chocolate will fix any craving you will have.

        2. I melted down Baker’s 100% dark chocolate (not sure of its purity from toxins but I can’t always afford organic cacao) with coconut oil and blackstrap molasses and drank/spooned it. It was pretty good and filling.

      2. Good idea! I don’t know how I forgot about coconut ice cream. It’s a good alternative for a once-a-week ice cream treat. 🙂

    2. I am giving up cheese for Lent (except for Parmesan I can scrape off a rind on Sundays). It will be brutal. I love cheese. Every extra pound I have ever carried in my Life has been directly caused by cheese intake. I will eat all cheese in the refrigerator within a day. I ate a 1/4 wheel of double brie in 4 hours about 3 months ago.

      Good luck.

    3. I too loved ice cream and when I could no longer eat dairy I thought I would really miss it. I don’t so much but when I want something like that, thick, eat them with a spoon smoothies do the trick. Also, if you like bananas, you can make an “ice cream” with the texture of soft serve with sliced frozen bananas whipped up in the food processor. There are numerous recipes on the web. My only hint without going into particulars is to freeze the banana slices on parchment paper or some other non stick surface. We maybe make that once or twice a year but the smoothies are at least a once a week thing.

      1. Sharon, thanks for the tips. I do like thick fruit smoothies. I usually add coconut cream or coconut milk, so that adds in some good fat, too. 🙂

    4. If you really need something sweet (but without the dairy and sugar) there is an awesome recipe for fudge on the paleomom website. It’s made with ginger but you could leave that out if its not your thing. I’ve yet to find anyone who doesn’t like it (including kids and non paleo hubby) and you don’t need much because its rich and filling. Good luck with your pregnancy!

  31. This article came at a moment when I really needed it and it’s even broIght me to tears. For years and years I tried to lose weight and get healthier… for a long time I didn’t know what was the right way or the wrong way… I tried all the yoyo diets and I couldnt stick with anything. I bought into the whole grains and low fat 6 small meals a day. Sometimes when I was really motivated I could last a week or two without cheating but then I would give in once and I would fall off the bandwagon completely again.

    Finding primal and paleo had really helped me in many ways… food and health actually makes sense now. I know what is truly healtby and what is not. I get it. I know it all. I do really well for awhile.

    BUT… there has always been my mental “me” that gets in the way and sabotages all my great effort and progresd. My biggest hurdle is myself. I just can’t say NO fast enough before I make bad decisions. Then I would have terrible remorse because I felt like a failure. Even though I have made a big effort to be primal… and I am doing it most of the time… there are times of weakness and it just makes me doubt myself. I have always felt like I have the knowledge and tools to do well but the inner me says you can’t win and then I give into my temptations.

    So this article has truly pinpointed this destructive behavior in myself and I can’t thank you enough! I need to find other ways to snap me out of those negative states of mind and remind myself that a feel good impulse now is not benefiting my future self. I don’t want to live the rest of my life half trying and then being disappointed with myself all over. I want to feel good inside and out and be the best I can be.

    I have to keep trying. Cant give up. My life is worth it. Thank you Mark. Thank you for showing me the tools to get my life back.

    1. Hey Stéphanie, I totally relate to what you said….It’s my story.
      Thank you, keep strong!

  32. Eric – alcohol is the fastest way to relax quickly. 15 min. in and you’re zen, right? What if you made a habit of going straight to the gym? Or a trail to walk/bike etc? Get some endorphins going. Don’t even go home until you’re relaxed and feeling good. Do you drink while making dinner? If so, come up with a replacement drink (a new healthy habit), something that is relaxing/soothing, like tea with (or not) a bit of honey. Or maybe club soda and lime. Make this new drink a habit, even if you give in and have alcohol.

    Also (don’t shoot me), my father-in-law is recovered and says that when he was drinking, he’d only have one martini a night, but he couldn’t go a night without it. He says he hadn’t had more than one drink a day for years and never ever got drunk. Today, he’s nearing 80, spent years (his 50s, 60s and 70s) mountain biking and in the woods. Biking is a huge part of what keeps him healthy, not drinking and in better shape than most adults I know.

  33. Ugh, the final season of Breaking Bad on Netflix destroyed my sleep for the couple days it took me to watch it… I find looking at the Friday success stories helps me. It’s Friday, there are doughnuts all over the place in my office, the weekend it beginning and It’s time to go wild. Then I read a story and remember why I eat the way I do.

  34. The other day I was in Costco, and I really felt like a soft yogurt swirl. I even got in live to order it, but I had made a vow to clean up my diet since it has not been great since Christmas. I told myself “No” and left the line and went home. That may not seem to anyone else, but it was a first for me. High five myself.

  35. This is very good information! I have the hardest time saying no to myself. It’s like my brain just takes over and im screwed.

  36. There is this great pub close to my house and their specialty is this big bucket of delicious french fries with specialty dipping sauces to choose from… and I have an unusual attachment to fries… “fries” was even my first word after “mom” and “dad”… so there’s your background. Well, the other day I went there with my family to celebrate a happy event. They ordered fries. The fries came to the table and were placed within arms’ reach of me. I sat on my hands. Then my crunchy salad with locally grown organic buttercrunch lettuce and almonds arrived (after the fries were done). I chowed down. They were all completely stunned… *I* sat in front of a bucket of fries and didn’t partake. Victory!!! Made my week.

  37. I love my mother but she is my kryptonite. I eat primal with ease and suddenly am eating a homemade muffins, cakes, biscuits etc. it’s like a tidalwave of sugar and carbs.

    1. My mom, too, Mary. She actually stresses that I’ll feel deprived. I am so far past the goodies that she can’t shake me loose any more, but she still frets. I stick to meat and veggies.

      She used to eat the sweets saying, “This doesn’t taste very good.” when she caught my eye. 😉 She has no idea how rich and delicious my diet is!

      Actually, I struggled with treats until I was diagnosed with diabetes. That was a game-changer, and I put my foot down.

  38. My lovely wife just coined the term for this a couple days ago: Self-Disciplinitis.

  39. Saying no used to be really easy for me. Now I’m three months pregnant and feeling bloated no matter what I eat, primal or otherwise. I’ve never missed bread since going primal and now all I want is sandwiches and sweets! It’s crazy. I always thought is eat super healthy when I got pregnant but that’s proving to be difficult.

  40. I have the same problem as Jane in that cheating causes no really bad effects (except a bit of carb fog if I have a lot of sugar). I’ve never really been overweight either (I’d consider myself as having been a few pounds too chubby but to a lot of others I’m really slim!) What I have gained with eating primally is more energy and clarity and knowing it’s better for my body.

    So, I do indulge, some wine, dark chocolate, strawberries and cream with a bit of stevis and every now and then I’ll have a muffin or a piece of toast if I really want one and just not worry about it ~(we’re talking once a month or something).

    Other than that if I really want something I’ll find a more primal way! The other day I was craving cheesy fries. I don’t have any physical problem with dairy (I’m 100% Irish so it would be almost strange for me to have a problem with potatoes or dairy!), so I made myself some celeriac fries (I do eat potatoes fairly regularly but not too much due to carb content) and melted some cheese on top and ate them with homemade primal garlic mayo. Delish and truly actually just as yummy!

  41. Through so many trials and errors and numerous hours laying in bed awake instead of sleeping, thinking about different ways to resist in a moment when things are tempting beyond the power of rational thought – probably my best way to go about this is not think about it at all. We can *always* convince ourselves to get back to old patterns, and it’s incredibly easy to do so; so I just decide to avoid that entire void of thoughts by saying no and doing whatever I was going to without much thought.
    Sometimes I feel like I’ve betrayed myself, and it’s really dreadful when I think about those moments of ‘weakness’ – it’s almost like I’ve turned into another person that doesn’t have the best intentions for me…
    Thank you for sharing this!

  42. Great article Mark, thank you!
    It is challenging for me to think of long term gratification (improved health, performance, appearance) when our culture daily presents me with multiple opportunities for short term gratification (junk food, late nights, etc.). My solution is to try to focus on what I regard as medium term gratification. That is, focusing on how good I feel about myself when I make the appropriate choices…..not as instantly gratifying as biting into chips/candy/whatever yet gratifying none the less.

  43. This article kicked me right in the truthticles; my phone background is now the nastiest, fattest picture of me, ever. Thank you Mark, I needed this article.

  44. I say ‘no’ to myself 49 days out of 50 on average. But if I do a 5k, 5 mile or 10k run at a local brewhaus or brew pub you can bet that I’m going to enjoy one of their offerings afterwards. I went to a home game for my beloved Green Bay Packers this year and as soon as I bought the tickets I told myself, I’m going to sit in Curly’s Pub before the game and enjoy some beer and some deep fried cheese curds…and I did! Me and my g/f (also Primal) threw caution to the wind for that handful of hours, and we had a blast.

    Maybe those couple glasses of beer or in the case of the Packers game at Lambeau Field also serve as a bit of a reminder of how good we do feel staying primal.

    1. Try gluten free beer! There are actually a few good ones out there!

      1. Nah. I was a beer drinker before going primal so when or if I do have a beer it’s a good, rich lager….and, I’m in Wisconsin, the ‘Graceland’ of beer!

        Last Saturday I had three glasses of beer at a 5 mile race. Prior to that it was early December at Lambeau Field. I don’t have any trouble saying ‘no’ in any situations.

  45. I like the way Mark stated it in the article. I feel more like I am saying yes to health instead of saying no to a “treat”. Once my diet was clean for a while and I tried old foods, they made me feel so bad, I just decided it wasn’t worth it! That’s not to say I never eat anything I shouldn’t, but it is not a daily struggle. Primal/Paleo makes me feel so good I don’t want to screw it up!

  46. For me, the temptation to “cheat” has become completely negligible. I feel like absolute awful, for a week or more, if I so much as accidentally ingest gluten– and knowledge, for me, is power.

    My issue is how to turn down food offered to me with grace and brevity. I was raised to accept what you’re offered, and it is incredibly rude to question the contents. This has been hardest part for me. I detest sounding pretentious or picky. And though I don’t mind answering questions, I don’t like to feel preachy. Does anyone have any tips for gracefully declining what you’re offered?

    1. You have a legitimate gluten allergy/ intolerance. Try “That looks delicious but unfortunately, it probably wouldn’t agree with me”. If pressed, just say that you are allergic to gluten. With practice, it should become second nature.

      Most people will not pursue you beyond the second offer. If they do, you would have every right to drop the politeness. I once said “I Don’t Want That!” to my well-meaning but pushy aunt who was trying to physically deposit a piece of lasagna on my plate – after I had refused it multiple times already. She looked surprised and puzzled, but she backed off.

      I don’t have the reactions you do, but still choose not to eat non-primal foods. I am also not above taking something from a pushy person and promising to “save it for later”, then throwing the offending cookie (or whatever) in the garbage.

      Back to the *practice* though; the longer I am primal/Paleo (about a year now), the easier it is to “just say no” without resorting to underhanded strategies. You will find your voice as well, and it will get easier. Because it really is more about true confidence rather than “politeness”. You can (usually) do both, and with a smile, but the confidence needs to shine through above all. Good luck!

  47. Don’t know about you guys, but I’m using this comments section to boost my willpower in the future 🙂

  48. Although willpower can get depleted, it seems it can also be strengthened. Doing anything, no matter how trivial, that requires willpower seems to strengthen willpower in all areas. Get a hand gripper and see how long you can hold it, and then go a little longer longer. Trivial, but it tests and strengthens your willpower. Itching to check your e-mail? Wait a couple minutes before checking. Again, trivial but it works.

    The other day I absent-mindedly grabbed a handful of nuts in the car while driving. I made myself wait 10 miles bfore eating them. That simple exercise seemed to strengthen my willpower all day.

  49. “isolate ourselves in our own swirling head case” – Damn, you’re good Mark!

    I’ve been pretty good but I did have rough patches where I thought I could cheat more. My gurgling digestive system and itchy skin told me otherwise! So I got back on the program of treating my body like my temple.

    I was a foodie and pretty good cook prior to becoming Primal over three years ago. I got into the mode of thinking and feeling that more elaborate meals meant better. That food artistry was a goal unto itself. I watched so many episodes of Iron Chef etc. I had foodie-ism, and I had it bad.

    What I had to come around to was that it is entirely okay not to cook up a new concoction every dinner. I pared it down and pared it down, and the more I pared it down – the less time I spent cooking, shopping, thinking and over-thinking meals and food. And the less time I spent thinking about food and cooking, the more free I felt. (I’m compulsive, you see.) Anyway, with the yoke of food-as-art thrown off my shoulders, I embraced food as health instead. Now I cook as simply as I can – not over-processing the whole, natural ingredients anymore. Just enjoying them as they are, with simple cooking and accompaniments of butter and coconut oil and condiments of kimchi and natural pickles.

    How this relates to today’s post? In becoming less self-pressured to think about food and cooking all the time, I felt myself not thinking about snacks and cheats and eating in general. If I feel like I need some oral stimulation (minds out of the gutter people!) – I’ll have a coconut water or mineral water with lime that I sip.

    (Now, I do still use my food processor – to make fresh herb chimichurri sauce, salad dressings and homemade nut/seed butters.)

    This transition took some time mind you – I have an expensive collection of beautiful gourmet cookbooks that I have not used in a couple of years. Maybe I’ll auction them off or something.

    1. I still love cooking, sometimes complicated recipes and I spend FAR too much time thinking about food and what to cook etc, just that these days it doesn’t include grains (other than a little white rice with curry or chinese), bad oils or sugar!

      A lot of recipes can be primalised pretty easily and there are a few chefs out there who have done some great cookbooks. We have one here in the U.K., Nigel Slater, who does some brilliant ones. He also doesn’t do much pasta or rice etc. and uses a lot of root veg so most of his recipes are totally fine anyway. They’re often usually very simple too, with only a few natural ingredients.

      Get the cookbook “Eat” by Nigel Slater if you want one that’s actually useful, very simple but really delicious. And do try the “pig and fig” recipe, only 3 ingredients but really gorgeous.

  50. I find that if I get enough salt and fat in my diet, I do not crave the cookies and junk that my family keeps around the house. Salt is a big deal. I have found that I get salt depleted and then start feeling like crap and/or craving carbs.

    1. Very interesting, I def. don’t use much salt at all while cooking, I enjoy the flavor of nature. That being said, I will start adding salt, because my sugar cravings are freaking intense.

  51. I’ve fallen off a lot of diets in the past, but when I switched to low-carb about half a year ago I realized that I couldn’t afford to fall of this one — when I eliminated grains from my diet, I saw a dramatic and immediate reversal of several health problems that had been plaguing me for the past couple of years. Very dramatic, so I was motivated.

    BUT — I know I have no will power. None. No advice has ever worked. Say, for example, I’m hungry and am driving by a fast food place. If I stop and think about the benefits of avoiding the junk food, I can go past it — so within a couple of days stopping and thinking becomes as difficult as ignoring the cravings!

    What I did instead — and this has worked for several months now, knock on wood, so it seems to be sticking — is to stock the car ahead of time with permitted snacks, and to stop and buy something if I think I’m going to get hungry before it gets too bad. For example (and obviously this list will be different for everyone, depending on your particular diet) I buy Atkins bars for emergencies, bags of nuts, jerky, and dried seaweed snacks. Some of these aren’t particularly great, but they’re a 100 percent better than McD’s or Taco Bell, and my body can tolerate them. (Again, this will vary for everyone!).

    Another point at which I crave high-carb snacks is when watching TV, or during sudden hunger pangs during the day when I don’t have time to cook. For this, I stock the fridge with hard-boiled eggs, pre-made Chia seed puddings, leftover casseroles, quiches, soups and home-baked low-carb breads and crackers, I can grab and eat without cheating.

    Finally, I’m in a store surrounded by high-carb snacks and suddenly realize that I’m just starving. Then I head straight for the jerky, nuts, and Diet Cokes. (By now, I know the carb counts of every jerky brand!) Some convenience stores have also begun carrying peeled hard-boiled eggs, and single-serving meat and cheese packages.

    By saying “yes” to one of these things first, and filling up, it takes away the necessity of having to say “no” to something tasty.

    I also have to say — it does become easier over time! I’ve actually gotten out of the habit of buying junk food while driving, which I never thought would happen.

    A couple of months ago, I miscalculated the carbs in butternut squash and had a an *extremely* high-carb bowl of soup for lunch. By mid afternoon, I was starving. By the evening, I was ready to go and eat a whole pizza, and throw the whole diet out the window. I didn’t care what I was going to look like, or what would happen to my health. I just wanted to eat. I ate my way through all healthy food in the fridge, including the pre-cooked meals for the next two days, and would have jumped in the car and gone out for pizza except for the fact that I was so tired that I fell asleep in the middle of the evening. The next day, I realized how easy I have it now — previously, my WHOLE LIFE had been like that. Always ravenously hungry, always tired. Any doubts I had about the value of staying on the low-carb diet were immediately resolved — I never want to feel that way again.

    So that’s my advice, To avoid situations where you can’t force yourself to say “no,” make sure you have plenty of stuff around that you can say “yes” to, instead.

  52. The body is the boss. It pays the piper
    and it calls the tune. Saying “no” to
    the boss is counterproductive and just
    makes the boss more adamant that it is
    going to do what it is going to do. The
    solution is to resolutely cease from
    telling the boss what to do. Become a
    servant of the boss, not a censor.
    It takes time to reintegrate one’s self
    into one piece, so start now.

  53. I just ate not-very-primal for about a month and lazed around in an institution. reading some Robinson Crusoe and an informative book about early 20th century esp-person Edgar Cayce. Light exercise feels right (walking around all day), and primal foods are hitting reward circuits (raw beef liver and home-made chocolate tasted awesome tonight).

    1. Though besides the healthy stuff I’ve done since leaving said prison institution I went too far yesterday celebrating my ability to do whatever I please and consequently had trouble falling asleep, had a cruddy sleep, and woke up feeling sickly/very off and looking rough. My chemistry feels horribly wrong. I feel like I’m tense and can’t relax no matter slack I get and how tired I’ve felt all day. Walking around in the sun and cool fresh air helps but I need rest and relaxation after motoring about yesterday with uncoditioned muscle so I need to limit exercise and be lazy, more’s the pity. I already spent too much money having fun and now it appears it might be in my best interest to spend yet more on my recovery, on things like organic vegetable juice – I basically cured my last hangover with near a liter of carrot plus lemon juice. In my opinion, juicing works well, but I wouldn’t do it often because the carbs. Speaking of that I need to sneak in a little corny joke I came up with about how I need to catch up on my fish consumption since I’ve had barely any seafood over the past month, that being that I have been on a low-crab diet.

  54. Read this “The real problem is remembering it’s the problem.”
    Heard Captain Jack Sparrow’s voice in my head saying “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Savvy”

  55. I don’t know if the mechanism is the same in men but I do know that many women discover just how adept our brain is at getting us to forget unpleasant/painful experiences … going into labour for the second time many suddenly ‘remember’!

  56. Hi,

    Say the word “NO” is very difficult, but for the sake of our health becomes mandatory. he excess sugar is very bad for our health we should replace healthier for something sweet, such as honey.

    Nice Article.

  57. I’m still trying to find my feet with primal eating, but doing pretty good so far. In 2 months I’ve had 2 major bad decisions.
    1. Two weeks ago went to Ikea with mother in law, and thought having the meatballs and fries and gravy wouldn’t kill me “just this once”. I was sick for 2 days, couldn’t believe it.
    2. Went away for the weekend, cheated a bit but over all didn’t do too bad. Even had pita bread and while I bloated up, I wasn’t ill. Till sunday .. probably in the mindset of “we ate cheat food while we were away and it didn’t kill us”, we got a chinese take away for supper because of sheer laziness. Its now Friday and I’m still sick. Bloated, headaches, lethargic and tummy is all messd up.

    From a few experiments here and there, I think one of my big no-no’s is all those nasty veg oils. Anytime I eat anything with those in it, I get sick

  58. Great advice just when I needed it the most! I like the idea about focusing on what you are saying yes to during these times. I seem to be putting too much focus on the foods I am saying no to eating. I do well when I remind myself of all the benefits I get when I keep myself healthy. Something I have been forgetting to do lately.

  59. Wow… Above the message itself, I find there is a finesse in the writing of this post even higher than the usual Mark. That is some excellent writing, down to each and every word. Inspiring and universal, this touches without a doubt anyone reading. It just flows from beginning to end, and hits all the right notes.

    I am in awe.

    Thanks for these wonderful 10 minutes of prose.

  60. Good grief, so much stress. Enjoy the game/event, the food, your friends, the moment. Or say, “no” to going.

  61. Developing willpower in specific situations is akin to training your dog to do certain tricks.

    Each situation requires repetition, persistence, and struggle each and every time you face whatever it is. But, I think there is definitely an inflection point where we develop into our psyche the ability to get over the mental hump and just say NO from there on out.

  62. I am late to this party but have a success story to relate on the subject.

    Honestly I have not a problem eating primal and don’t have any cravings for some past favorite food. My problem was with candy kisses. Yes, I it is true, I had a problem with kisses.

    I clean my husband’s office every weekend and there are two bowls of kisses for patients (he is an optometrist) in the office. the bowls of kisses have been offered for at least ten years, started by one of his employees.

    While I am cleaning, the kisses would call me so I would eat one, then one would turn into more, sometimes as many as 20. Maybe…I loose track.

    I don’t mind cleaning the office but dreaded facing the aggressive kisses that could care less about my health. So to stop myself from eating them I tried these things.

    Get them out of the office. No go. Patients complained.
    Have husband hide them while I am there. I found them.
    Put a sign that said POISON! on them. Apparently I like poison.
    Bring something healthy to eat instead. Ate that, then the kisses.
    Bring dark chocolate to eat instead. Worked for a few weeks, then I ate the dark chocolate plus the kisses.
    Eat them until I feel sick. Didn’t get sick
    Portion out a few and only eat that many. Can you guess what happened?
    Guilt myself by confessing my kissing sins to anyone who would listen. No one really cares about my sins and obviously guilt did not stop me.

    Mind you, I have been fighting this for 10 years or so, probably longer, I have no idea actually. But now….now…I think I have this conquered. I decided to go on a 30 day elimination diet for a few reasons that are not pertinent to this story. No dairy, nightshades or sugar. I thought if nothing else, it might cure me of my weekend kiss addiction. And I am happy to report that the elimination diet is over and 4 more weeks have gone by and those little buggers don’t call me anymore. YAY!

    1. I enjoyed this comment. It made me smile a few times. “the kisses would call me” lol
      I just ate a small handful of chocolate chips the other afternoon because I hadn’t had cacao in a while and the roughly 50/50 chips were what was immediately available.
      Though two nights later, as I mentioned above, I made some of my own thick liquid chocolate and that was good. I’d prefer to use organic cacao but for the moment I must budget frugally so I used some freely available Baker’s dark chocolate and fairly affordable coconut oil and organic blackstrap molasses. I put some of all three in a pot and heated on about 1/3 temperature until it was mostly liquid and drank/spooned it. I was kind of careless with the portions: about 3 parts of the Baker’s chocolate, 2 to 3 parts coconut oil, and 2 to 3 parts molasses.
      Oh and as for my recovery (referring to above comment again), since I don’t want to spend too much on juice for the extra influx of curative vitamins/phytochemicals/whatever, I first turned to plenty of Angostura bitters in coffee, which helped slightly (I only drank a bit of the volatile mix, catering mostly to current taste), and then after that only barely helped, just a short while ago I turned to cheap fortified red wine (sherry), which feels like it’s working wonders. Maybe so, maybe not; if I were to guess I would hazard one it’s doing both good and bad. I wouldn’t recommend the remedy to most but in my particular case I think it is at least somewhat wise to utilize alcohol from reasonably healthy sources for “loosening up”. I’m guessing my organs other than the brain are none too pleased since I had a number of drinks over the last couple days but my musculature feels much better as in relaxed, not tense from some recreational synthetic tweaking chemical. Alcohol literally loosens you up. It makes your cell membranes more permeable/fluid. I guess it’s a bit like insulin (as Mark says, a “master hormone”), though I don’t know enough to make an accurate comparison.

  63. This is my last week. So many work functions I’ve been expected to attend, with sandwiches, sausage rolls, little quiches, tarts, brownies. I’ve generally eaten my salad before hand, and just mingled instead.

    I’ve felt like I’ve been through a minefield and come out relatively unscathed. First world problems I suppose, but you are right on the mark with this column now.

    I can’t get over how they think these foods are treats. To me a treat now is a big salad with tuna or meat. Bacon and eggs, a rich casserole bursting with flavour…

  64. Yes HB! At my work, they serve cookies and/or donuts for breaks. Sometimes there are a few lousy looking apples and bananas. Catered lunch? Usually pizza, or sandwich boxes complete with processed meats and cheeses, a bag of chips, soda pop, another “healthy” apple the size of a softball, and another cookie. (Funny aside: one of my co- workers peeled back the sandwich bread to inspect the fake cheese. He said “what is this, reconstituted plastic?”, and ate said sandwich anyway.). Most recently, we’ve received several emails urging us to join a new wellness program! I eat my eggs for breakfast and bring my lunch to these events. Skipping the wellness program, too.

    1. The other day, I was in the cancer ward at my local hospital. While walking down the hall I noticed a comfort room for family of cancer patients, nice. Next, a meditation room, also a lovely idea. Then a tiny food store selling giant cookies as big as dinner plates, sweet rolls and soft drinks. Really?

  65. There is an incredibly useful and interesting book by Dr. Kelly McGonegal called
    “The Willpower Instinct”. I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone who has ever wondered how they started out with good intentions and used “mental judo” on themselves to give in to temptation (food, procrastination, etc.)

    The research is fascinating and this book is full of very useful techniques to help you stay on track, whatever your goals are. I confidently say in advance, “you’re welcome”.

  66. I lived with obesity for 40 years. I look back and it’s unfathomable how much I wasted feeling bad, bloated, with no energy, how much I was bullied and how I much I fooled myself into thinking “it’s my genes”.

    So no thanks. I had all the pizza that was reserved for me in this life.

    So far it’s been easy for me to say no to crap food.

    Lets hope I can hold on to that 🙂

  67. Ohhh boy. This just happened to me.

    Pizza Friday night. It wasn’t even good pizza, since the chain changed their crust recipe and made it even MORE artificial and chemical-laden than it was. Then there was bread in conjunction with lentil soup. Lentil soup is a favorite recipe of mine pre-primal, so I make it every so often. One generous bowl is the limit. We ate it Saturday night with bread, and I would have been fine if I’d stopped there. A little gas maybe, but nothing serious. But Sunday instead of making a salad for lunch, I decided I wanted another bowl of soup. Talk about a one-way ticket on the Intestinal Express. Come about 9 pm I was in serious, serious pain, and my stomach was bloated out like I was about to birth an alien. By midnight, even the slightest pressure on my gut felt like something was trying to claw its way out of my large intestine, I was on my way home from the 24-hour Walgreens with a bottle of magnesium citrate and a pack of simethicone, and I was trying to establish which level on my personal pain scale would be enough to take myself to the ER.

    Its taken me some time to decide for myself when and how much nutritional off-roading is and is not worth it. Its like disciplining a toddler: you have to catch them at whatever they’re doing and put them in time out immediately so that the association gets made. That’s why it’s so hard to put the pieces together with food: it takes hours to empty the stomach into the small intestine, and then a day and a half to get through to the large intestine where all the fun happens. So really, the pizza was probably hitting the final stretch right as the second dose of legumes was making it onto the track. One of those things at a time might have been okay, but the combination was just too much. It took a vomit-inducing migraine to put me off chocolate at long last, I had to really meditate on associating sugar with my incredibly nasty mood swings this January, and I’m pretty sure I now have my bread/legume overdose associated firmly with the pending birth of the anti-Christ. Next month I think I’ll just stick to a pint of Haagen-Dazs and call it good.

  68. I am new to the Paleo diet. I have lost 19 pounds in 6 weeks. My husband is doing this me and has lost weight too. I love bread, cake, and donuts. The Paleo allows us 3 cheats a week. So far I have only cheated 4 times in the 6 weeks. Being able to cheat helps me to not feel like a failure. I get to taste what I think I have been missing and then realize it is just food. It helps me take my power over it back. I feel so much better eating primal and am down a pant size, so I am being very careful and sticking to Paleo eating. This is the only type of diet that has ever worked for me and I love it!

  69. Wow. What a GREAT article! Thank you!! I just shared it with my three best friends…