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Adapting Paleo to Your Eating Style

Chocolate, coffee, and alcohol

Pop quiz: you’re trying to minimize your sugar intake, but you’re craving dessert – specifically, chocolate cake. You’ve been jonesing after it all day – it’s so insistent you can almost taste it. Which of the following sounds like the best plan for you?

(A) Do something else to get your mind off sugar and wait to eat until your next meal.

(B)  Go out to your favorite cake shop and have a small slice of the very best they’ve got; as a once-in-a-while treat it’s not going to kill you. Or make yourself some truly decadent Paleo treat, and have just a little bit: if it’s really good, you’ll be fine with a taste.

(C)  Grab a big bowl of frozen berries: they’re pretty sweet, and you can eat a lot of them without racking up a bunch of sugar.

All 3 answers are equally “right.” The only “wrong” answer to this quiz is if you try to force yourself into a plan that doesn’t work for you – you know that you personally won’t be satisfied with just a taste, but you try to serve yourself a disappointingly tiny portion of chocolate ganache anyway because that’s what everyone else says they like, and then you just end up either feeling deprived and unhappy or eating the whole bowl.

The answers in the quiz all represent different types of eating styles, and knowing which one is right for you can help you adapt Paleo to your particular needs and goals.

Moderators vs. Abstainers

Gretchen Ruben famously distinguished between “moderators” and “abstainers” here.

If you’re a moderator, you…

If you’re an abstainer, you…

Neither of these two “types” is better or worse. They’re just different.

There is absolutely no point trying to force someone else to change their eating style. Moderators tend to waste a lot of energy trying to persuade abstainers that they’re being “too extreme” and they just need to “use moderation,” but for abstainers this is actually counterproductive – it’s easier to just say no. Abstainers tend to waste a lot of energy trying to persuade moderators that they’re not committed enough, but this is also counterproductive: for a moderator, “my way or the highway” just doesn’t work.

It’s pointless (and very frustrating) to try to cram someone else into a mold that doesn’t fit them; all you can do is figure out which type you are and then take steps appropriately.

For Paleo specifically…

Qualitative vs. Quantitative eaters

On top of the moderator/abstainer division, many people also seem to fall into either a “qualitative” or a “quantitative” category:

If you’re a qualitative eater, you picked (B) in the quiz above. This is you if…

If you’re a quantitative eater, you picked (C) in the quiz. This is you if…

Again, neither of these two types is better or worse. They’re just different.

For Paleo specifically…

Not Everyone is the Same!

The stereotypical “healthy foodie” is the qualitative moderator. This is the person who can cheerfully proclaim that they didn’t have to “give up” any favorite foods because they just eat smaller servings as a special treat, not every day.

Talking to this person sells diet books really well, because they can promise that “you don’t have to give up your favorite foods.” But not everyone is, and there’s absolutely no reason to force yourself into that mold just because someone else thinks it’s the “best” way to eat or be. You’re not necessarily being “extreme” or “unreasonable” because you prefer to avoid something entirely; it may just be an approach that works better for you than the much-vaunted “moderation.”

Instead of trying to eat in a way that works for someone else, think about where you fall in the spectrum, and make decisions based on that. You can modify Paleo for any eating style, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find something that really makes you happy for the long run.