A very good friend of mine just finished a “Paleo Challenge” in his Crossfit gym—a weeks-long regimen of exercise and dietary changes—with exceptionally good results. He said he wanted to continue the diet, but was afraid he wouldn’t have the willpower.
My girlfriend and I made the switch to Paleo (via 4HB, which was our gateway diet) more than a year ago, and I’ve encountered that fear in a lot of people: Paleo is “hard”, it takes “willpower”, it involves dark nights of the soul and great struggle and stress.
As a life strategy, willpower doesn’t work. Or rather, it only works under ideal circumstances. If you never have a tight deadline, a late night at work, an overdue bill, an annoying situation, a difficult relationship, a troubling emotion, or a personal crisis, congratulations: Willpower is the way to go. But if you’re like the rest of us, you have to design your life in a way such that even when everything else goes wrong it’s still easier to stay on the diet that to fall off it. You’ve got to plan in advance, you’ve got to plan for adverse circumstances, you’ve got to plan for failure.
In the time I’ve been living with the diet, I’ve discovered a few tactics that make it easier. This is not an exhaustive list; these are just some things that come right to mind when I think of how I’ve made Paleo work for me and how I’ve managed to stick with it. I wrote them in an email to my friend, and am publishing it here. Here’s the list. I hope it’s useful.
META TIP: NEVER DOUBT THAT WHAT YOU’RE DOING IS REALLY IMPORTANT AND REALLY HARD
You are a very important friend to me, and I’m very glad you’re focused on taking care of yourself in a lot of different dimensions. The world will misunderstand and attempt to trivialize or mock your efforts. Fuck them. Know this stuff instead:
1) Plan to pay attention. America produces ~3500 GM-corn-derived calories per citizen per day, and enormous moneyed concerns have a huge interest in shoving them down your throat. The default options are shitty, the deck is stacked against us, and you have to stay vigilant. It sounds like a drag, but there’s no way out of this one.
2) Plan to fuck up. Don’t make not fucking up the condition of your success, because you will. Repeatedly. So have a plan for how to recover. Have a little private “fucking up” ritual with yourself where you remind yourself that you are not bad, worthless, or a failure.
3) Plan to make planned exceptions. From time to time you will make exceptions to the diet. This is OK. But when you do, don’t mindlessly eat a bag of crappy corn chips while binge-watching old TV on Netflix. Your exceptions should be excellent, and you should consciously enjoy the fuck out of them. Here are a couple guidelines:
Make exceptions very infrequently. Plan them well in advance (“In two weeks, we’re going to the greatest French bakery in town!”), and never at the table or when you’re hungry. Keep your regular shopping/cooking rituals entirely free from exceptions: Make special trips to special stores for special fancy cheese.
4) Plan to mitigate your bad habits, not eliminate them. I’m an emotional eater, and it’s been super important to have paleo snacks accessible a lot of afternoons. It’d be better if I didn’t eat snacks. But when I do, I prefer it be a handful of almonds rather than a handful of M&Ms.
5) Plan to eat this. Cut an avocado in half, and crack an egg into the little crater. Bake that in the oven until the egg is how you like it. Add Tapatio. it is the most delicious fucking thing on the planet. Except wait until spring/summer, because the avocados are seriously shit when they’re out of season.
6) Plan to get some Tapatio. I don’t know what’s in those red bottles in New England [My friend lives in Boston], but it sure as hell ain’t hot sauce. You’re welcome.
GO FORTH BROTHER CAVEMAN
Guys, are you ready for two more photos of the cutest fucking pandas, like ever?
Guys, this panda is seriously blowing my fucking mind. I’m thinking I will convert this into a panda blog.
I get there early and I find a chair.
I squeeze my plastic cup of wine. I nod.
I maladroitly eat a pretzel rod
and second an opinion I don’t share.
I think: whatever else I am, I’m there.
Afterwards, I escape across the quad
into fresh air, alone again, thank god.
Nobody cares. They’re quite right not to care.
I can’t go home. Even my family
is thoroughly contemptuous of me.
I look bad. I’m exactly how I look.
These days I never read, but no one does,
and, anyhow, I proved how smart I was.
Everything I know is from a book.
I really have come to enjoy Emily Nussbaum’s writing in the New Yorker:
Networks, like people, have personalities. FX, for example, is a smart jerk with annoyingly excellent taste. Showtime is a brilliant basket case who overdoes it at parties. USA is a suit who is surprisingly good in bed; Bravo is Andy Cohen; PBS doesn’t own a TV. Among this crowd, ABC Family had always struck me as a conventional teen-age girl, all white teeth and scrunchies.
You can’t clean a toilet with pee.
Though God knows I have tried.
Artisanal Coffee on the South Bank: Monmouth Coffee
Performance Art outside the National Theater
Southwark, London Bridge, Borough Market