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Why Paleo Feels Boring and What to do about it

Tired man

Maybe you’re just starting out and craving pizza something fierce, or maybe you’ve been Paleo for six months and you’re ready to shoot yourself before you eat another bowl of spinach. Either way, it’s a common complaint: a lot of people feel bored on Paleo. And even people who don’t feel bored themselves have to deal with everyone else in their life constantly pestering them: “aren’t you bored with just meat and vegetables? Don’t you want some real food?” – as though meat and vegetables somehow weren’t “real”!

For those of us who love the diet, this complaint is downright confusing. There’s such an incredible variety of flavors, textures, and recipes to be had in Paleo cooking. In fact, Robb Wolf even created a food matrix calculating the number of different Paleo meals at 81,000, not even counting different cooking methods. How could anyone possibly get bored with that?

The answer is pretty counterintuitive. Paleo itself isn’t boring, but that’s not the point, because feeling “bored with Paleo” isn’t really about the food. It’s still a big problem, but it says more about the person who’s bored than the food they’re bored with. So if it’s not actually about the diet itself, what is it about, and how can you change it?

Culprit #1: Withdrawal from Processed Junk

If you’re new to Paleo, this is a likely suspect. Processed junk foods are designed in labs by teams of crack nutritional scientists who know exactly how to tweak their products to make them maximally addictive. They put together chips and candy that overwhelm your taste buds, so you become desensitized to the natural flavors of ordinary foods.

These foods also encourage you to eat for entertainment, instead of for hunger. Processed junk food is hyperstimulating enough that it tastes good even when you aren’t actually hungry, so eating becomes a way of dealing with other kinds of boredom, like feeling stuck in a bad job, or having nothing to do on Sunday afternoon. The food isn’t a solution, but it does a pretty good job of hiding the problem.

Paleo meals can be a jarring change from this kind of modern food environment. Instead of being designed in a lab to get you to eat more, they activate your body’s natural hunger and satiety mechanisms, but if those natural systems are used to the extreme intensity of lab products, they might not pick up on the more subtle flavors and textures of real food. Since they don’t override your body’s built-in systems for regulating hunger and fullness, these foods also don’t work as entertainment to distract you from other kinds of boredom – the boredom isn’t caused by the Paleo food, but you notice it again now that you don’t have junk food to disguise it with.

Paleo cookingThis doesn’t mean that real food is boring. It just takes a little time to re-set your taste buds, and it requires you to find another way of coping with stress or boredom in the rest of your life. After a month or so without all the processed junk, you’ll be able to appreciate the richness of roasted broccoli, the sweetness of butternut squash, and the spicy crunch that raw onions bring to a salad. Commercial chocolate will start to taste waxy and overwhelmingly chemical in comparison. Just give your taste buds a few weeks to detox, and Paleo food will stop tasting bland or monotonous.

As for the inability to hide other kinds of emotions with food, think of it as a blessing. Drowning your feelings of dissatisfaction or incompleteness in chocolate cake might work as a Band-Aid, but in the long run, food is not the answer to those problems. Now that you’ve freed yourself of the addiction to chips and candy, you can see the problem for what it really is, and get to work on fixing it for good.

Culprit #2: Artificial Limits

After the first couple weeks, this is the most common reason for the complaint that Paleo is monotonous and has no variety. For whatever reason, a lot of people take “Paleo” to mean “whatever Paleo meals I happen to already know how to cook,” or “whatever Paleo meals I’ve already tried and know I like.” So their version of Paleo is artificially restricted to a tiny group of foods, and they never venture out into the wide variety of choices that Paleo actually offers. In other words, Paleo becomes a net loss of variety, because they cut out a bunch of foods they used to eat, without adding in any that they’ve never tried.

This is incredibly tedious! Who in their right mind would want meatloaf for dinner every single day? But there’s absolutely no reason that Paleo has to be like this. The cure is simple: expand your horizons. Try different vegetables, new spices, or strange cuts of meat. Experiment with organ meats. Maybe set yourself a challenge: each week you’ll learn to cook one new recipe, or use one new ingredient. If you’re eating only spinach and chicken breast day in and day out, it’s because you choose to eat that way, not because you have no other options.

Breakfast also deserves a special mention in this section, because this is one meal where people tend to limit themselves the most. Breakfast does not have to be bacon and eggs. It doesn’t have to be “breakfast food” at all. You can eat anything you like for breakfast: steak, soup, leftovers from last night’s dinner…or skip it altogether. There’s nothing wrong with eggs if you like them, but you have alternatives.

Culprit #3: Social Challenges

Sometimes, when people say they’re “tired of Paleo food,” what they really mean is that they’re tired of the social limits Paleo food puts on them. They would go out to eat with their friends, but there’s nothing Paleo at the restaurant. They would go out on Saturday night, but clubbing isn’t fun unless you’re drinking too. They would enjoy the office birthday parties, but they’re too busy feeling irritated that they can’t have any cake, so they end up staying at their desk instead of enjoying the celebration.

In this case, it’s not actually the food that’s the problem. It’s the loneliness. It’s feeling cut off from your friends and family. So focus on that issue, instead of blaming it on the food itself being bland or boring. It can take a little planning to integrate your new diet into your social life, but it’s not impossible. If you miss restaurant dinners, try taking everyone to a steakhouse (where you can usually request just a steak and potatoes), or over to your place for a home-cooked meal. Or just do the best you can at a restaurant, think of it as an occasional “cheat meal,” and move on: sometimes, spending time with your loved ones is more important than avoiding canola oil.

At parties where there’s a lot of cake and other junk food, you can try bringing your own Paleo-friendly treats, or just joining in the celebratory spirit without a piece of cake in your hand. After all, it’s really about the social connection and the event that’s being celebrated, not some cheap grocery-store sheet cake. If anyone comments on your cake-free socializing, the best way to answer is “no, thank you,” and then just change the subject: don’t try to justify your diet, just get their mind off it and move on.

With respect to drinking, it’s always possible to join in the social time with a glass of sparkling water, or just enjoy a moderate amount of alcohol and leave it at that. But if you’re still feeling isolated because you aren’t getting blackout drunk, it might be time to re-consider your social life. Do you really want to hang around with people who aren’t interested in you unless you’re totally wasted? Is that the way to respect yourself? Maybe it’s time to find a different hobby, and get to know people who share more of your values.

Culprit #4: Other Emotional Reasons

Sometimes, other emotional rough spots in your relationship with food can feel like boredom, even though they aren’t. Cravings or feelings of deprivation can make you feel like Paleo is the most boring diet in the world: “I just want some Fritos. God, I’m so sick of Paleo. I can’t have anything I like.” In this case, it’s not that Paleo doesn’t have enough variety overall; it’s that Paleo doesn’t include the specific food that you want. There could be an infinite variety of Paleo foods and it would still feel boring, because it’s not a bag of Fritos. There are many ways of dealing with cravings, from just white-knuckling it to making a Paleo version of whatever you’re jonesing for. But again, the problem is really the craving, not Paleo.

Then there’s that irritating aspect of human nature, that the grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe you remember having so much variety back in the old days – but did you really? Think about the way most people eat: a bagel or a bowl of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch. Does anyone complain about being “tired of grains?” Not usually, because they don’t see it as restrictive. They’re fine with eating the same thing day in and day out, because from their point of view, they’re eating what they want.

The trick to having this attitude yourself is to focus on all the things you love about Paleo, and make sure to find and cook some recipes that you really enjoy. Don’t think about what you “can’t” have; think about what you can have, and all the ways to make it delicious. Dream up the most mouthwatering Paleo meal you possibly can and cook it up in style, even if it’s just for yourself.

It also helps to remember all the ways the standard American diet and lifestyle are tedious and restrictive. Chronic illness is boring. Living in a hospital room is boring. Missing time with the people you love because you’re tired and sick is boring. Spending hours of your life waiting around for doctors and driving back and forth for tests is boring. Paleo is sparing you that – there might be some restrictions on your diet, but in the end your life overall will be so much more interesting because you’ll be able to enjoy it to the fullest.

Conclusion

Paleo isn’t a penitential “diet” that restricts you to dull and bland food, unless you make it that way. Sometimes it does force you to confront uncomfortable issues surrounding your relationship with food, your relationships with other people, or your own mental health – but that’s not the same thing as the diet itself being boring. If you’re “bored of Paleo,” it’s probably about you, not about Paleo. Harsh, yes, but it also gives you the chance to really address the cause of the boredom in a constructive way. Whatever the real problem is, you can have better physical and mental health by focusing on that, not blaming your diet and giving up on your efforts to enjoy healthy food.