Did you resolve to start Paleo or keto on January 1? If you’re still going strong - fantastic! But if you’ve been struggling lately or if you’ve already taken a fall off the proverbial wagon, this post is for you.
Here’s some perspective on “failure” when it comes to resolutions, plus a practical problem-solving guide with simple, actionable steps to help you address whatever tripped you up in the first place. It's fine to slip up sometimes; the trick is not to let one setback throw you totally off track. So if you're feeling guilty about messing up already, put on your problem-solving hat and get ready to recommit like a pro.
Everyone slips up and it’s not a big deal at all.
This study tracked people making New Year’s resolutions (most commonly related to food and smoking). They divided people into “successful” and “unsuccessful” groups based on whether they were still following their resolutions 2 years later. Here’s what they found:
Fifty-three percent of the successful group experienced at least one slip, and the mean number of slips over the 2-year interval was 14. Slips were typically precipitated by a lack of personal control, excessive stress, and negative emotion.
In other words, even people who end up successfully keeping their New Year’s Resolutions tend to slip up once every 2 months, on average. This is what resolution success stories look like: sticking with it most of the time, with unavoidable occasional slips. If you're experiencing your very first slip up right now, then buckle in for the ride because statistically you've got a bunch more to go and that's totally fine.
What time is it? Perspective time!
Let’s say you’ve been off the Paleo straight and narrow for a week at this point. That week is probably looming pretty large in your mind because it’s so recent and the memories are all fresh. That’s normal! But zoom out for a second and imagine what would happen if you get back on track right now - by January 1, 2019, that one week will just be a tiny blip on the horizon.
1 week out of 52 is about 2% of the year. So if you get back into Paleo after a 1-week detour, you can still have a 98% Paleo year. Even if you took 2 weeks of pizza and beer, you can still have a 96% Paleo year - which, overachievers take note, is still a solid A. So let go of self-recrimination, give yourself a pat on the back for doing something really hard, and focus on what specific things you can do to take a better shot at it, starting now.
If you think all this gushy self-compassion stuff is nonsense and you really just want to be harder on yourself, think of it like this: have the guts and discipline to do the un-glamorous, un-Instagrammable thing that really works in the long term. Real self-discipline isn't about impulsively careening from unrealistically "perfect" diet/exercise plans to wild guilt/shame spirals when life happens and your commitment to eat 100% Paleo and spend an hour at the gym every day runs headfirst into the real world. There's an addictive motivational "high" that comes in the first flush of absolute and extreme commitment to a new plan: if you really want to be hard on yourself, give that up and get down to the grown-up work of making realistic plans, including plans for the inevitable times when you'll get thrown off course. Instead of letting yourself just descend into a shame spiral, have the discipline and impulse control to get a handle on your own emotions and get back to work at your goals.
The trick isn’t to never stumble. It’s to learn from your stumbles and adapt so you don’t keep hitting the same roadblock again and again.
New Year’s resolution stumbles: a Paleo get-back-on-track guide
Look down to find your problem and see a couple of simple actions you can take immediately to address it so you can get back on the Paleo train right away.
Hunger & Cravings
Problem: I started craving something really badly and just couldn't resist.
- If possible, get rid of any non-Paleo food in the house so it's not there when the cravings hit.
- Pick any enjoyable non-food activity that will pull your mind away from cravings (an episode of TV, rereading a favorite poem, your favorite dumb mobile game, a walk around the block, anything). Make a note that says “Do [alternate thing] first!” and put it on any junk food left in the house + your wallet. Often the craving will go away if you can just redirect your attention for 10 minutes.
- Take your credit card information out of any online food delivery sites so you get a second chance to rethink before you order.
Problem: I was so hungry all the time and it was too miserable to keep up with, so I quit/caved and grabbed a bunch of junk.
- If you're calorie-counting, stop.
- Follow the basic Paleo meal template and eat as much Paleo food as you want. Eat until your appetite is satisfied and then the next time you're hungry, eat again until you're not hungry any longer. Do this for 6 weeks. By that point, your basic Paleo habits will be pretty established and if you’re not losing weight by then, you can reconsider more restrictions.
Problem: I got really hungry and the only food around was junk food, so I had to eat it.
- Channel your inner squirrel: stash at least one Paleo-friendly snack in EVERY place you usually spend time. Backpack, purse, gym bag, office desk, car, bike bag...everything. Physical hunger is a reason to eat, but it's not a reason to eat junk. Good portable snacks include: trail mix, mixed nuts, beef/pork/salmon jerky, packs or cans of tuna, and squeeze packs of nut butter.
More useful links:
- 8 more strategies to beat cravings
- How to stop craving comfort food
- Why am I so hungry on Paleo?
- 4 practical strategies for hunger-based eating
Problem: I was having an exhausting/stressful day, so I cracked and reached for the comfort food.
- Make a list of 5 non-food things that will make you feel better. Tape it to any junk food in the house and to your wallet/credit cards.
- If this is a problem that happens regularly or chronically, forget about Paleo for the moment (really!) and think about one single thing you could do to reduce stress in your life. Stress can be just as awful for your health as any amount of junk food, and if stress is preventing you from eating well, then stress is the logical first step in improving your health.
Problem: I felt too tired/depressed/low to put in all the effort of shopping and cooking, so I just ordered pizza.
- Search for grocery delivery services in your area: they make grocery shopping almost as easy as ordering pizza.
- Collect 4 or 5 Paleo-friendly freezer meals for emergencies. You can make freezer friendly meals (like soup or chili) yourself, or buy them from most fancier grocery stores.
More useful links:
- Escaping the emotional eating trap with Paleo
- Boredom eating
- Important nutrients for stress management
- Sugar, stress, and your brain
Problem: Shopping/cooking/cleaning took too long - who has time for that?
- Buy or order a slow cooker to save time and reduce pot-washing. You can find slow-cooker recipes here.
- Look up 1-2 batch cooking recipes and pencil in a time to make one. Check out more leftover-friendly recipes here.
- Try a grocery delivery service - it’s worth the $10 for delivery if it saves you $20 on takeout pizza!
Problem: Paleo food was way too expensive so I went back to pasta and rice.
- If you stocked up on a bunch of staples (spices, coconut oil, etc.), remember that those are a start-up cost and won’t be part of your regular grocery bill.
- Remove these relatively pricey treats from your shopping list: bacon, nuts/seeds, nut flours, dried fruit, and any Paleo-labeled processed food (Paleo cookies, Paleo pancake mix, etc.)
Problem: I didn’t know what to cook.
Problem: I didn't really understand what I was allowed to eat and what I wasn't.
- Check out this intro to the very basics.
- Go through this “am I doing it right?” checklist for beginners.
- Let go of the need to do Paleo perfectly right away. Think of the first few weeks as a Paleo apprenticeship: make a good-faith effort to buy/eat the right things, Google afterwards if you’re not sure, and if you find out that peanuts/quinoa/whatever you ate isn’t actually Paleo well, no big deal, lesson learned for next time.
Problem: I was expected to eat cake/cookies/brownies for a social event (e.g. coworker's birthday, catering for the office)
- Here’s a magic incantation for exactly this problem: “No, thank you. [topic change]” - repeat as necessary. Don’t give any justification: you just don’t want any right now, and then change the subject.
- Next time there’s a birthday or similar, bring a Paleo-friendly treat or plan a really great dinner when you get home so you don’t feel deprived.
More useful links:
- Money-saving tips and even more tips
- Your first Paleo grocery trip
- Paleo grocery shopping 101 and 201