Tips for Navigating the Paleo Transition With Your Partner (or Family)

I went paleo pretty much overnight (literally, I couldn’t sleep one night and spent about 6 hours reading all about it). I’m not sure exactly what it was about the idea of it but it immediately appealed to me. I loved the idea that I could DIY a bunch of the stuff I used to buy, I loved the idea of knowing where my food comes from, and I loved the idea that I could potentially heal my chronic health problems by addressing my nutrition and lifestyle.

Realistically, my decision to go paleo extended past me and affected my family, most of whom now also live this lifestyle. But this road to family-wide paleo has had it’s bumps and I hope that my experience with dealing with such problems will help others as they embrace the paleo lifestyle.

transitioning-with-your-partner

#1. Open and Continuous Discussion
Realizing that a change in your dietary habits will require ongoing communication with your partner will make your life infininitely easier in the long run.  This is because things will problems and concerns will inevitably come up…and approaching yet another discussion with an attitude of “oh no, we have to talk about this again?!” will likely sabotage any productive trouble-shooting and problem-solving you could possibly have together. Instead, I recommend agreeing to have short conversations at regular intervals (it’s a lot less emotionally charged if there isn’t a problem…yet!) and to predetermine that both partners will bring up questions or concerns as they come up.  My husband and I have found that by doing it this way, we minimize the chances that we’ll have a larger, more unpleasant “discussion” (aka: fight) if things fester and someone’s needs aren’t being met (we learned that the hard way too, so let us be your guinea pigs!).
#2. Expecting Support vs Expecting Adherence
Changing over your diet is a huge life change! And one that should be applauded. As a natural extension of that, it certainly makes sense that your partner would support the new positive changes you decide to make and even aim to help you with your new and ongoing goals.  However, there is an important distinction to make between expecting support from your spouse and having a “do-as-I-do” attitude.  After all, you two are different adults who are able to make your own choices! (If your concern is that you want your partner to be healthy–a very valid concern–I recommend using that as a topic of discussion as mention in #1…using force or coercement rarely work as motivational devices.) Let me give you a real life example: my husband is not gluten intolerant and therefore will occasionally bring bread or other treats into the house (like when Girl Scout Cookie season strikes…and who can blame him?) .  While it can be difficult at times to have these things in the house and not be tempted by them, I believe it always up to me–and not him–to make the choices that I know are right for me.  In fact, I use it as an opportunity to feel empowered that I have control over my food choices and not the other way around! (When I was chronically nutrient depleted, you couldn’t pry the Swedish Fish from my cold, clammy fingers.) That being said, setting yourself up for failure isn’t the way to go so I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask your partner or family to either partake of their treats outside of the house or to keep treats in a separate location.

#3. Share Information In Small Doses

I can completely relate to the feeling that when you’re super excited about all the nutritional knowledge you pick up, you want to talk about it all the time. (Heck, that’s one reason I started this blog!)  But for partners and family members, it can be overwhelming to hear all sorts of information without any context. My approach to this problem is to share small amounts of information at a time. Furthermore, I try to make the information relevant to either me or out family so that they feel engaged in why I do things a certain way. (Example: “I really feel like this resistant starch has been helping with my digestion by increasing the quantity of beneficial gut flora.”)  If the person I’m talking to isn’t interested by the topic, I just move on with the conversation and bring up something else at a later time.

#4. Lead by Example

Nothing deters people from making a positive life change than having a know-it-all tell them they’re making the wrong choices. (Say what you will, people are stubborn like that!). As a result, I never start conversations first when it comes to introducing the paleo lifestyle. My plan generally involves showing people glimpses into what I do and they usually become interested and ask themselves. When it comes to partners or family, this becomes even easier since they see you living your choices and can observe the amazing changes in you! Once you’ve demonstrated that it works, you probably don’t need many words to convince them. Not to mention, using this approach means that you won’t risk alienating the people closest to you.

#5. Start Slow and Think Long Term

Even if you’re like me and dive right into paleo head first, it’s important to realize that your partner or family may need a slower transition into this whole new lifestyle. In fact, I even advocate that approach for people who already sold on paleo. While I completely understand reading about someone who is eating liver, getting all their food from a local farmer, and making their own toiletries and think, “Cool! I want to do that too!”, I still believe that it’s better to break down the transition into smaller, more manageable pieces. This is because I think trying to do more than you can comfortably do can lead to frustrations with finances and time management which can lead to abandonment of the lifestyle entirely. But the same thing can happen to family members that are along for the ride…Like I said in #1, communication is absolutely key (you can’t fix what you don’t know!). But from a more practical standpoint, this is the step-wise approach I tend to consider:

A) remove a crap food from the house. In the spirit of not shocking your partner or family, I generally don’t throw food away but instead let them finish what we have and don’t buy anymore (replace with something similar but healthier).

B) Start removing toxins from the environment. This includes switching to glass Tupperware instead of plastic, using more gentle household products, and getting more natural versions of personal hygiene products. You don’t have to go extreme (for example, my husband has a favorite brand of toothpaste so I don’t replace his) but here’s my general rule: if they don’t feel strongly about a product, it’s worth a try to replace. (Another example: I sometimes bleach our bathroom even though I use homemade products the rest of the time. It’s a subtle enough change that no one really notices but it reduces our exposure significantly.)

C) Broaden your paleo approach outside of diet and products even further by thinking about stress management, how much sleep you get, and the amount of activity you have in your life. It’s often by this third step that people start feeling amazing and want to delve further into the lifestyle!

D) start to incorporate paleo superfoods such as liver (or other organ meats), bone broth, sardines, kefir, sauerkraut. I’d start out by trialing one thing at a time and continuing to cycle through them (post peoples palates change so it’s quite common that multiple exposures get the job done).

E) start looking at your food quality. Start going to a local farm, farmers market, or even local health food stores. Use those trips as an opportunity to make a connection to where your food comes from. Often, making connections makes the lifestyle more sustainable from a community standpoint and, additionally, it allows you to get deals you might otherwise not find (so it’s a sound financial choice as well as being good for your body).

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