When I first attempted the Whole 30 (a more intense version of Paleo) in early 2016, I made it clear to my friends and family that this was only a 30 day stint, and I’d be able to eat like normal when I was all done. Knowing that it was a temporary diet, they all accepted it and almost kept a countdown for themselves to know when I would be done with all my restrictions.
After my diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease in late 2016, I decided I wasn’t going to immediately jump to medications, and attempt to heal my body through diet, exercise, and natural living. A big part of that was continuing this lifestyle for an indeterminate amount of time. I went back on the Whole 30 for round 2 (a year and a half after the first) and halfway through, officially decided I was going to stick to this lifestyle (incorporating back honey and maple syrup to be more traditional paleo and sustainable.) I made it known that I was no longer going to eat any gluten or dairy or refined sugar. Wine was going to be a VERY occasional treat, and even just plain “gluten-free” treats weren’t really going to cut it.
Two very distinct things happened.
1. My friends started to pay attention to what was in the food around us.
In planning for our girls vacation, my best friends were texting me recipes of paleo desserts they wanted to try to make for me so I could indulge when they ate our traditional Star Crunch and Zebra Cakes. They sent me restaurants that had gluten free meals clearly marked. At the office, my friends would surprise me with treats they found at the store, where they checked every ingredient to ensure I could eat it. Everyone was so unbelievably supportive and sweet, and took the time to understand why I was doing this, and how they could help make me feel included. (Ok, aren’t my sweet friends just the best????)
2. I learned to stop saying “I can’t” and just make do with what was there.
Living on such a restricted diet can make you a serious pain in the ass to be around. That’s never something I want. I want to just live my life as I always have, by being the laid back Callie I had always been. But it’s hard. You check a menu and immediately think, “shit… there’s nothing.” But you can still make do! Bring a snack, or eat before and just enjoy a drink. Plan ahead and make the best of it. You’re there to be with friends anyway, so be with your friends! Most restaurants will accommodate some odd requests, so if you’re really concerned, call ahead and let them know you’ll have some special requirements that you’d appreciate if they can abide by. 9 times out of 10, they’ll help you out.
So how can you be the “Paleo Friend” that’s not obnoxious, but the same old fun person to be around?
- Stop saying, “I can’t”- No seriously, don’t. It first puts a negative connotation in your own head that you’re now restricted and makes your new lifestyle more of an annoyance rather than a choice. Also, always being the person that’s like “I can’t eat that. Or that either. Or that,” can make your friends feel like you can’t be accommodated no matter where you go.
- Change it to say, “I don’t”– That small change of “I can’t eat dairy,” to “I don’t eat dairy,” is shockingly huge for your psyche and those around you. “I don’t” shows yourself and others that this is a choice you’re making, and in this case it’s for your health. But, don’t fall into the same trap as before. Say something like “I don’t eat that, but I’ll find something that works!”
- Study menus ahead of time- If you can get a jump start on where you’re going out to eat, research the menu for options. When you get to the restaurant, you’ll already know exactly what to order and how to ask for any modifications, so you’re not caught in an “oh shit” moment when the waiter comes to the table.
- Suggest a place– Your friends may not always understand where you can eat or what you can eat, so if there’s a planning process going on to find a place for dinner, throw out a couple of suggestions where you know you can get something that fits into your diet. If your suggestion doesn’t make the cut, don’t freak out or cancel plans. Just make the best of the situation and try to make it work at the restaurant that’s been selected.
- Bring snacks- Bring some tried and true snacks that you know will tide you over, and have them at the ready for any given moment. In my purse right now, you’ll find: An Epic bar and an Rx bar. I know these will be a great munch that will keep me full for an extended period of time, and since they’re non-perishable, they’re great for on-the-go snacking. If you find yourself in a place where there’s just nothing for you to eat, you’re covered at least for a little while until you can get somewhere to grab a full meal.
- Educate your friends– But only if they want to know more. You don’t want to be “that guy” preaching the paleo scripture to anyone who will listen. But if your friends are truly interested in understanding your new lifestyle, talk to them about it. Explain why its working for you, and how it’s impacted your health. When I started feeling like myself again, my friends were so overly supportive of my new diet because they knew I was on the road to health.
Going paleo isn’t a life sentence that forces you indoors where you can’t enjoy dinners and parties with your friends and family. It’s a lifestyle that you chose to get healthy for whatever reason, and its a lifestyle that you can absolutely maintain, no matter the situation. Be prepared, be positive, and be light hearted and you’ll be able to educate those you love. Embrace being “The Paleo Friend,” and you’ll not only make it better for yourself, but for all around you.