There are a lot of us attempting this paleo challenge alone and are constantly tempted by other non-paleo foods and friends around us! Here is some advice to succeed in these situations.
1. Control what you can and accept the rest.
Your spouse is an adult (I hope!) Ultimately we cannot control the mind and thoughts of others. You can only control yourself. No exceptions. Focus on yourself, your eating, your health. It’s time to put your oxygen mask on.
2. Demand respect.
You have a right to believe what you believe, to be confident, to eat the way you want. Respect underpins everything, including a marriage and despite whatever differences there are in the way you eat.
3. Respect the transition.
Transitions are a vastly undervalued/disregarded in our society. We are rush, rush, rush, switching from this thing to that thing at a moment’s notice. We get crazed and ultimately crash.
We have to afford our spouse the time to change too. They may not be disillusioned with how they eat. Or disillusioned enough. Mentally they are not ready to make a change and any efforts we make to persuade them are doomed to failure and will likely make the tensions worse.
4. Be patient.
A spouse will not embrace a new way until they are ready and that will take time. The trigger might be seeing the example you are providing, or it might be a doctor giving them some bad news. However it happens, we can’t be disillusioned for them. It’s tempting but back to #1, we don’t control other people. We have to wait.
5. Accept it may never happen.
Acceptance is a tough call. It implies loss and sadness and giving up and we hate it and avoid it. When that acceptance involves someone we love, it is very difficult. But sometimes we have no choice. When people are adults we have to accept their right to do things their way. We might not like it but we have to respect that.
6. Hope for change but don’t plan on it.
It is never too late to turn things around. Keep on keepin’ on. It took my husband 15 months of me eating paleo before he bought into it. And I certainly never expected it. Then, whoosh, he 100% jumped in. “Softly, softly, catchee monkey.” I can’t guarantee your spouse will do this, but it is possible. Keep hoping. Keep focusing on yourself. Keep being an example.
7. Be assertive.
Ask for what you need. If your wife is bringing home coffee room leftovers, ask her not to. It may never have occurred to her (you’d be surprised how often this apparently obvious no-no behavior is unconscious.) Ask for a united stand in front of the children. Negotiate what you can both accept – maybe it’s sandwiches for lunch or dessert twice a week. I had to stop my husband taking our kids for Sunday morning doughnuts. Until I asked him, it had never crossed his mind not to. All he thought about was how that was a fun thing to do in his family growing up and he wanted to re-experience those emotions as an adult with his own kids. Take a non-judgmental stance and probe a bit. Find out what emotions are driving those behaviors.
8. Keep calm and carry on.
As parents we think children will stay as they are right now and that every stage is critical. Speaking as a parent of former preemies, both of whom nearly died from illness as preschoolers and whose little bodies were saved but also destroyed by drugs, please know that they can heal. And they can do that at any time. We forget (or don’t have the perspective until we’ve been through it) that children grow, evolve, survive and thrive. What is happening right now, is not the be all and end all. Relax. They have a long life to live. If they can’t eat healthy now, put the building blocks in place for when they can make their own choices.
9. Work on yourself first
‘The key to life is healthy boundaries.’ I love this quote by Linda at talktherapybiz. Unless we recognize where we stop and other people start, life gets messy and uses up a lot of wasted energy. Make sure you know where your paleo eating boundaries are. Are you 80% or a 100%? Do you take days off for holidays or just your birthday? Do you eat absolutely no grains or will you eat white rice? Can you look at a cookie and have it stay silent or does it call your name? Are you committed to paleo or are you waffling. Focus on you, your choices, your health.
10. Avoid enabling.
Sounds obvious but doing research for this post, I went to Gam-Anon, the support organization for families of addicted gamblers and I came across this point. Don’t buy non-paleo foods or bring them into the house. Don’t encourage non-paleo eating. It’s one thing to have a rule that they can eat anything they buy or outside the home, it’s another to buy it for them or make a dessert. If you’re going to eat off-paleo, discuss it beforehand – what you’re going to do and why. And make it a rare occasion.
11. Move slowly and often.
Where you have a mixed household situation, take the transition to cleaner and cleaner paleo slowly. Going cold turkey is fine, even desirable if you are both/all in agreement, but a little subtlety is required if you’re not. Start with one meal and paleo-ize it. I dropped the carbs with dinner. Get your first step down and move onto something else. You can still eat 100% clean yourself if you choose, just don’t expect the family to follow suit. Take them slow.
12. Thank the cook.
If you are the one putting in the time to cook the meals, you deserve the respect of everyone who benefits from that. No matter what you put in front of them. No complaints, no arguing. You deserve a thank you for producing the meal they get to put in their bellies. If you don’t have that, this should be the place you start. Explain how important it is to perform this basic courtesy. And let them know how to do it.
If you are a couple with kids make sure you model respect for the cook’s effort in front of your kids. There should be lots of praise for the chef no matter who or what is cooking. Even if it’s food you don’t approve of. First things first.
13. You want it, you buy it, you prepare it, you eat it.
Hold the expectation that whoever shops and cooks controls the menu. In our house, I do the shopping and the cooking so I get to determine the menu. If anyone wants non-paleo food, they have to take responsibility for providing it and that includes the kids. If they want buns with their burgers, they go buy them, toast them, put the burger in the bun, etc. They are responsible for their choices and I make sure I don’t enable. Things get very clear, very quickly this way.
14. Negotiate the menu.
You can ask your family what they would like to eat (although you don’t have to see #13 above.) Give them choices within a spectrum. For example, give them a choice between three paleo meals and let them choose one. Rotate who gets to choose. Decide if you’re willing to go off-paleo, set a limit and make choices within that framework. Do this for as long as it takes to transition.
15. Eat paleo in, free choice out.
Maintain a strict paleo household but let family members eat what they want when they’re out. You’ve pretty much lost control when you’re out and about anyway. There are too any temptations and social pressures. That includes Dad at the office, kids at their friend’s houses, etc. When we’re out, I will allow my kids to eat burgers with a bun and French fries. It pains me but I have explained what and why and they are old enough to make their own choices.
16. Gather a support network.
During the time I was the only paleo-eater in the house, I read books, blogs, commented, tried new recipes. I surrounded myself with all things paleo. This is essential. If you don’t have a support group at home, or in real life, create one online.
17. Choose your resources wisely.
Try not to influence others directly but if you do, choose a medium that works for your spouse’s or kids personalities. My family love reality shows where 21st century people recreate life in a period in history (1900 House, 1940s House.) So when I saw I-Caveman was coming up, I got them to watch it. They loved it, it spawned some great discussion and my husband particularly got a bit warmer to this whole ‘weird’ paleo thing. Perhaps your spouse will read a book – the 21 Day Transformation by Mark Sisson is good for a beginner. Or a success story which is shorter and results oriented. To my delight, there are kids books coming out shortly. And if anyone is interested in developing a board game, or even a computer game, let me know!
18. Be prepared.
If a spark of interest in the paleo way of eating does ignite, be ready. Answer the questions, have the resources available. Do not carry an attitude. Don’t nag. Be delighted, be 100% supportive, take it as far as s/he will go at that moment. That might not be as far as adopting paleo, it might fall far short, but water the seed a little. Then wait for the next spark.
19. Don’t be rigid.
Accept and plan for imperfection. We all slip up. You and me and us and them. Work on yourself, identify your triggers, accept them and move on. And accept your wife sitting next to you eating dessert. It is her life, her body. The consequences of her actions may ultimately affect you in some way but you need to let that go. You don’t know what will happen. Things change. She may change. Let it go. Be prepared. Hope. Work on yourself.
20. Allocate house space to your food and non-paleo food.
I have special places in the house for non-paleo food. It is either: difficult to get to – the freezer in the garage or a high shelf; tucked behind my own food where I can’t see it; or on a shelf that I have trained myself to overlook every time. Those cookies that were brought home as a nice surprise -they go on a high shelf for example. An added bonus is that eventually the family forgets about them too, and I can quietly throw them away. Sometimes I freeze them and wait for a time when cookies are planned.
21. Buy a thermos, teach menu scanning.
Pack him/her paleo leftovers for lunch in a thermos instead of sandwiches. Brainstorm paleo options (soups, salads, even half a sandwich and soup is better than a whole sandwich.) Teach substitutions and menu scanning in restaurants. Many spouses are completely dumbfounded on how to do this. But if they show a crack of interest, help them.
22. Slowly remove the tension food.
Take your time. Just as you transition healthy food slowly in, transition trash foods slowly out. This may occur naturally as you get more aware as a couple or family or you may need to ask for it not to be purchased. Politely. And then you might have to offer up reminders until the unconscious behaviors are removed as a habit. Just go slowly and keep in mind the bigger picture. Keep asking yourself – are you a healthier household than 6 months ago? If yes, you’re doing great. Baby steps, aim for progress not perfection.
23. Commit to paleo eating.
Commit yourself to paleo. Don’t waffle. Set your boundaries. Educate yourself. Believe in it. Stand for it. Don’t complain. Don’t explain. Be sure in your actions. Your spouse will see that you’re not for turning.
24. Manage your frustration with non-paleo eating.
Don’t take it out on your spouse. I once got some great advice. When you are frustrated with someone else, work on yourself. Improve your life in some way, develop an interest, or do something to offset whatever is frustrating you that you have control over – improve your own commitment to paleo, for example. Find someway to feel better about yourself. That way, the focus is taken off your partner and her actions. It’s amazing how this works. It is what it is, now what can you do about it? For you.
25. State the obvious.
When my kids were babies, I’d load them in the jogger every day for a walk. My husband’s job was to get the drinks while I did this. Every day he’d ask me what I wanted, Coke or water. Every day, I said the same thing, ‘Water.’ One day, I told him. ‘I want water. Every time. Water. Please don’t ask me each time. Every day. Water.’ He never asked me again. Sometimes, just stating the obvious is enough. ‘I don’t eat pizza. Ever.’ Don’t underestimate what appears to you to be the obvious.
26. Keep it simple.
When asked, I say I eat meat and veg. I don’t go into no grains, limited dairy, evolution or any of that. Most people can grasp meat and veg. I don’t even say ‘vegetables.’ I want to get the thought into their brain as quickly and effectively as possible. I also keep it positive so that I’m saying what I can eat, not what I can’t. If you’re having trouble with a spouse keeping up, keep your explanations and your words simple. Then employ short syllable words. ‘No,’ ‘Yes,’ and ‘Thank you,’ are very effective. I’m not kidding, either.
27. Remind yourself you’re ahead of your time.
You are probably experienced with passive aggressive and not-so passive aggressive behaviors if you’re reading this. I’ve lost count of the number of people who joke about my way of eating. Or get concerned for me. It can get exhausting! In twenty years, I tell myself, paleo will be considered the normal, healthy way of eating and people will be saying, ‘Alison was right.’ (They probably won’t think that but it’s what I repeat to myself as a kind of mantra.) We are simply early adopters and like the missionaries we have to deal with prejudice and obstacles. Our ability to deal with this in order to achieve a goal is awesome and worthy. And something to be proud of. Be proud. And stand firm in the face of naysayers. Even if one of them is your spouse.
I think like any change, it’s a delicate dance this paleo/non-paleo marriage thing.
It’s frightening sometimes to get on a different wagon, while our partner remains in place. The temptation is to fall off the one we’ve just got on and climb back on the old one alongside our partner. If we carry on on our separate wagon, though, our fear is that the two wagons will go in completely different directions. Plus it’s plain frustrating. The neutral, in-between zone, is always uncomfortable.
Stay on your wagon, go slowly, see the bigger picture and control what you can and leave the rest. It is an exercise in forbearance, patience and self-control. In other words, it is about building skills greater than eating paleo. Find a way you can live with a non-paleo spouse, for life if necessary. It is a discipline, a daily practice but you will be a better person, and parent, for it.
Children, marriage, they’re not static entities. They change, evolve, just like everything. What is happening today may be different tomorrow or next week, next year. You don’t know.
Once the transition has been integrated and you’ve both found a way to live with each other, things will level out. During the storming, adjusting phase, things are tricky. Keep at it, break it down, deal with obstacles one by one. Even if your spouse never gets on board, make sure you do the best by yourself. And maybe one fine day, the sun will shine and he’ll jump ship.
And you can fly the universe together.