There are a million reasons that eating Paleo is challenging… like blackberry cobbler, loaded cheese fries, popcorn, chocolate milk. The worst reason to have, in my humble opinion, is that you had not one other option than to ‘cheat’. C’mon. You had the option to prepare better, always. Cheating is always a choice, unless you’re locked in a Hershey’s Chocolate factory in the last stages of starvation (my ultimate fantasy)…. It is a choice.
That said, I’ve used the excuse a million times. “I was just starving, so I grabbed a bag of chips because there wasn’t another option” #excusesmakemefeellessguilty. Obviously, you may not always be able to get perfect foods– your almonds might be roasted when you’d prefer raw, your jerky may have cane sugar in the ingredients list, or your apple might not be organic (gasp!), but there is almost always another option than those sinful faileo chips. Every single time I know I deserve the guilt, bad breath, and gluten baby I receive from that bag of Munchies, Peanut M&Ms, and Strawberry Nesquik. KIDDING. Kind of.
My solution? Plan. Plan. Plan. Plan. Plan. I’m a planner–ask my boyfriend, he hates it. I plan everything and I’m always on a schedule of some kind. It’s annoying, but it works for me. It especially works when it comes to food. There are tons of situations I am put into where, without planning, I’d be f#$%*d.
I’m in a long distance relationship with a non-paleoer (gasp!). That means long drives and days of non-paleo temptations. I go to school full time far from home at a university with basically zero low-carb paleo options. I work at a bar for heavens sake! I’m not always perfect, but I plan well. I have a cooler that I fill with containers of easy leftovers (like chili, pulled pork, or stew), hamburger patties, Chameleon cold brew, bacon strips, and hard boiled eggs. I pack a bag or five of kale chips, seed/nut mixes, jerky, dark chocolate (if I’m feeling wild), sustainably caught canned tuna and sardines and salmon (I prefer Wild Planet), nut butters, raw fruits and veggies (usually apples, bananas, bell peppers, and carrots), and canned olives.
This is how I make it easy for myself in a world of drive-thrus, coffee shop treats, and pizza delivery. When I want a snack while I jam out to NPR and guilty pleasures, I have a healthy one available. When my only option for food is lasagna and tiramisu, I have others packed with me (but I’ll probably still eat the tiramisu, let’s be real). When I feel like I cannot get a good source of protein or vitamins and minerals, I have my tuna or my bell peppers. I pack myself lunches/dinners for school and work when there is even a chance I’ll be hungry for a meal while I’m away. I have a stash of nuts, jerky, and dried fruit in my purse at all times. I am prepared, maybe I seem like a paranoid survivalist waiting for the end of the world, but I am prepared for dangerous non-paleo situations.
This brings me to a topic that I see often cause failure in eating styles, including but not limited to paleo-ers. Perfectionism. The more comfortable I get with paleo, the more I desire to be perfect. I desire to make my only cheats “paleo-friendly”. I desire to not have fantasy dreams about cheese, icing, and peanut butter. I desire to stop eating even the slightest non-paleo thing (“Did you just spray that pan with Pam?!?!”). As much as I desire these things, it’s unrealistic, at least for myself, and I find that it leads to worse cheats later.
70% paleo is better than not paleo. Bacon cured with sugar is better than Cheerios. Conventional steak (as opposed to grass-fed) is better than pizza. The stress of perfectionism is counter-productive, in my opinion. Of course when the option for ideal foods is there, we should pounce on it. But the likelihood your life is set up to always have readily available paleo foods is incredibly low. We all go to weddings, vacations, family gatherings, work parties, etc. with people that just do not eat paleo.
I just stressed the importance of planning, but we all get stuck in situations where planning flat out does not work. In those situations, I suggest you make a reasonable amount of effort and the rest of the time do what you can with what life provides you. Drink water, not soda, juice, or beer. Fill your plate with as many veggies as you can even if they might have been cooked in ‘bad’ oil (the goal here is to consume all those vitamins and minerals the conventional diets are so often void of). Eat protein–conventional or not. Rip the breading off deep fried cuts. Try to avoid the sugary coatings (like barbecue sauce) and creamy sauces (like alfredo or cheese) that conventional diets love. Nuts, butter, avocado, olive oil, olives…. these are all easy sources of fats if you can get them. Another option is to choose to a beneficial, healthy fast during these inconvenient times.
All in all, I’d say more often than not planning has saved my ass (saved my ass from extra body fat, that is). People look at you weird, ask a lot of questions, and usually call you some sort of health freak. So what? Isn’t that worth it? When you sit at a family reunion eating a bunless burger and avoiding alcohol & the dessert table, you are saying that your health is more important than gluten, sugar, and “fitting in”. And, hey, maybe those questions like “what the hell are you eating?” can lead to paleo-spiration for some people or at least a more paleo friendly dinner next time you go out. Good luck in your paleo journeys, don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t be afraid to feel like a health freak sometimes! Sooner or later, you’ll learn to embrace it!