Do you start off eating Paleo, but can’t keep it up for more than a week or two at the most before you’re lured back into unhealthy food for one reason or another? Are you struggling to make it in the long run?
You’re not alone – it’s actually a very common issue. Whether it’s giving in to a craving (and then getting derailed for the next three days), getting stuck with nothing healthy to eat, or just having trouble making all the cooking work, plenty of people are good at going Paleo, but bad at staying that way. But the good news is that you don’t have to just live with it. Here are a few common reasons why people get stuck in the cycle of quitting and restarting, and some advice on how to overcome them.
You’re Not Eating Enough
One of the biggest reasons why so many people have trouble committing to Paleo is that when they try to eat Paleo they end up accidentally starving themselves. It’s very possible to do this without feeling hungry, so it might still be an issue even if your stomach isn’t rumbling.
For a few days, this might be fine, but eventually your body starts getting worried because it thinks there's a famine. This is a deeply ingrained survival mechanism, and it served us pretty well back in the day when "not enough food coming in" usually did mean "not enough food available to eat." Unfortunately, your body's response to this is to drive you inexorably towards the closest sources of easy calories it can find (read: junk food).
Most people will try to exercise willpower or self-control and not eat whatever it is, but you can only fight your own physiology for so long. The result is usually a period of increasingly strong cravings for calorie-dense junk food, before you give in to the chocolate cake for a few days and you’re back to Square 1.
This is not a sign of weakness or moral failure. Trying to overcome it with “willpower” is not the answer. If you want to try fighting several millennia of hard-wired evolutionary instincts with the desire to look good on the beach, go ahead, but you’ll probably lose.
So what to do instead? Avoid the whole mess in the first place by eating more Paleo food when you try to change your diet. How much more? That depends on you, but if the pattern above sounds awfully familiar, just start slowly increasing the size of your Paleo meals until the cravings go away. Add more healthy fats, more high-quality protein, and more safe starches. Remember that this isn’t a get-skinny-quick scheme; it’s a change for the long haul and there’s nothing wrong with taking it slow.
You’re Not Planning
Failing to plan is planning to fail – especially when it comes to food. Don’t let yourself keep coming home to an empty fridge, with no idea what you’re going to make for dinner: the temptation to blow it off and order takeout is just too great. Before you try going Paleo again, make sure you’ve planned for all of the following:
- Breakfasts: if you need breakfast on the go, either cook double for dinner and just bring leftovers, or set aside time on the weekend to make a big batch of mini frittatas or something else you can grab.
- Lunches: buy a lunchbox if you don’t have one, and leave reminders to yourself to pack up your lunch the day before – don’t try to do it while you’re running out the door!
- Snacks: carry something healthy with you all the time, just in case you get stuck and you’re hungry. A bag of trail mix, an apple, or a package of jerky would all be good.
- General meal planning: here’s how to get started. This will save you an unbelievable amount of pain, and completely put an end to the days of “there’s nothing to eat, and (like any reasonable human being) I don’t want to drive 45 minutes to the store and buy a bunch of ingredients and then come home and cook them when I’m already hungry, so I’ll just call for pizza.”
- Special events and occasions: make a plan going in, so you won’t feel helpless or overwhelmed during the actual event.
It’s easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm of a new diet change and forget about all the boring little details like making a grocery list or setting out your lunch beforehand – but ultimately you’re setting yourself up for failure this way.
You’re Expecting Miracles Too Fast
Reading through amazing success stories is inspiring, but don’t forget to look at the dates! With the “before” and “after” photos so close, it’s easy to forget that most of these transformations took months if not years to accomplish: it’s not going to happen in a week, no matter how amazing your diet is.
Unfortunately, a lot of people struggle with this: they want results yesterday, and if they haven’t lost 5 pounds in the first 24 hours, they assume that it’s not working and give up in despair for the next thing.
Don’t get discouraged and give up because you haven’t lost any weight after three days – three days is nothing. Sometimes your body needs to heal a little before it can lose weight (or do anything else) healthily. You can rush the process with crazy juice fasts or cleanses, but in the long run, that won’t get you where you want to be. Just be patient, give it a month or six weeks, and let your body take things at its own pace. After several solid weeks of Paleo, if the weight loss still isn’t happening, here are some tips to help you out.
Summing it Up
There are all kinds of other reasons why someone might keep starting and quitting Paleo, and it's rarely an issue of "not enough willpower." Some people just have trouble committing; other people keep getting derailed by life events that they can’t control. But not eating enough, not planning well, and expecting miracles too fast are three of the most common hangups that prevent too many people from really making Paleo work for them. If you can conquer those, you’ve got a much better chance of making it all stick in the long run – and that’s where the magic really happens.