Ever make excuses for why you don’t partake in grains? Wondering the best way to pass on processed foods at a party? And how do you eat healthy when there are no healthy choices available? In this week’s edition of Ask a Health Coach, Erin is here to answer your questions about defending and maintaining a Primal lifestyle in a SAD world. Keep your questions coming in the comments section below or over in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group.
“How do you deal with relatives who totally buy into the dietary guidelines? I think my siblings actually believe I’m harming myself and my kids with my ‘crazy’ diet. What do I say to make them see my side?”
Trust me, I know how frustrating this is. And honestly, I don’t typically engage with anyone who tries to shame me for my choices (just like I don’t shame anyone who hasn’t realized how detrimental a Standard American Diet can be).
That said, when it’s family, it’s hard not to engage. It’s also hard to not let it rile you up. Hearing someone say that canola is one of those healthy oils or “I can’t believe you don’t eat bread” or “this soy burger is so much better for you” can make a sane person scream. And no amount of citing nutritional studies 1 or forwarding Mark’s Daily Apple links will convince them otherwise.
Our food choices have become as controversial as talking about politics or religion. And most people have a hard time seeing that their diet and their health issues are connected. They just go about their day, slurping down their ginormous sugar-laden coffee drinks and processed convenience foods and then running to the doctor when a health issue arises (which it always does).
Unless they’re paying a lot of attention, people become so disengaged from their bodies that they don’t realize eating certain foods is causing them to feel like crap. They don’t realize that being bloated or having indigestion all the time is fixable.
It’s not your job to fix them. But it is your job to stand up for what you and your kids believe in. Eating high-quality protein, healthy fats, nuts and seeds, and fruits and veggies is how our ancestors ate — before chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease became staples in our healthcare system.
You know that eating this way works for you and your family. That’s why the best advice is to lead by example. As your siblings see you indulging in red meat and big ass salads and forgoing grains and processed desserts, they’ll also start to notice that your weight is staying stable (or you’re losing weight) and you’re avoiding the typical illnesses that plague Standard American Dieters.
Whenever you get together with family, keeping eating like you always do without making it a big deal. Who knows? Maybe one of these days you’ll notice they’re slathering up their dinner with real butter instead of spraying on the fake stuff.
“I’ve been Primal about 2 years and I’m still struggling with how to eat healthy at parties when there are limited food options. I always end up eating what’s there because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Got any advice?”
Let me ask you this. What’s more important, your health or the host’s feelings? If passing on chips or cake makes you feel bad, you might want to dig a little deeper into why you’re choosing to eat Primally in the first place. I use an exercise called WHY x 5 with my clients that works wonders when it comes to gauging their deep-down motivating factors for change; and all you have to do is ask yourself WHY five times:
Why is living a Primal lifestyle important to me?
Why does that matter?
Why is that important?
Why would that be great to achieve?
And (to address any remaining questions) why?
My guess is that when you eat processed junk, you end up lethargic and bloated. Maybe you feel foggy, your cravings are out of control, you don’t sleep as soundly at night, and you don’t feel as rested in the morning. When you eat protein-forward foods made with real ingredients and healthy fats, you probably feel like a million bucks.
I get it though. It’s really hard to pass on a dish that someone has made from scratch and is being offered from the goodness of their heart. But here’s how you do it. Just say “no.” Or “no thanks” if you’re feeling extra polite. You don’t need to come up with an excuse to justify your answer either. You don’t have to say you aren’t hungry or that you don’t eat grains. All you have to say is “no, thank you.” So liberating, right?
Here’s another technique I use personally and recommend in my own health coaching practice. Bring a Primal-ish dish 2 (that won’t scare off your non-Primal friends). That way you’ll be guaranteed something healthy to eat — something where you know all the ingredients. Even if you’re not much of a cook, you can easily throw together a colorful salad and bring along a delicious Primal-friendly dressing that everyone in attendance will love (and ask you about). There’s also the possibility that your real food contribution will spark a non-confrontational conversation about why you eat this way and (hopefully) give them an alternative perspective on what good health is all about.
“When you are out and there are no Primal choices, is it better to eat unhealthy or nothing at all?”
Here’s the deal James. Once you have a solid understanding of what ‘healthy’ is, you can always find a better-for-you choice. When you’re hung up on following the rules to a tee, or the opposite end of the spectrum, having those “life’s too short not to eat the cake moments” — that’s when people typically get into trouble.
But let’s back up a sec. Say you’re at a restaurant and you’re starving, completely ravenous. Even with the best willpower, you’d be struggling not to scarf down the whole bread basket. Anyone would. Now, I love when my clients have the awareness to realize that they’re hungry (vs looking for something snacky to pass the time), however there’s a difference between being hungry and being hangry 3 That’s when all logic and reasoning go out the window.
When you answer hunger with a processed, grainy thing like bread, you’re going to have a blood sugar spike, then a big ol’ sugar crash — quickly followed by another round of ravenous hunger.
So, my first piece of advice is to eat a little before you arrive. When your blood sugar is stable, you’re more apt to make choices that are aligned with your goals. Meaning, you’re more likely to choose a healthier option than dive head-first into a basket of grains.
Second, you can almost ALWAYS find something Primal-ish at a restaurant. Order a burger and scrap the bun. Ask for a plate of steamed veggies with butter. Or sip on a cup of coffee with cream ‘til you can get your hands on something more satiating.
And third, the Primal lifestyle is all about balance, so if you end up eating the bread, don’t sweat it. While the 20% isn’t intended to be about cheating, it is about navigating real life scenarios.
Have you had to defend your Primal lifestyle to family or friends? If so, what strategies have you used? Share your experience in the comments below.
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.