What if falling off the Paleo Wagon is a good thing?

What if falling off the Paleo Wagon is a good thing?

That’s right, I said it.  I want us to consider what’s right about falling off the Paleo wagon and indulging. Aside from the small portion of the population that struggles with food addiction, perhaps we should consider that there’s nothing wrong with indulgence at all for the majority.  In fact, there are some pretty amazing things that happen when you do indulge.  Those of us that adhere to the Paleo lifestyle often spend an inordinate amount of energy focusing on staying as Paleo as humanly possible, but sometimes we “slip”. After all, we are all human.  But more importantly, what if we actually needed that indulgence to succeed?  Let’s discuss. 


1. Progress and Change 

When a child falls down when they are learning to walk, they don’t think to themselves “Oh, maybe this isn’t for me.” No, they get right back up and try again!   Why?  Because making mistakes is how we learn as humans.  And, in the wise words of Joel Salatin,  “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first.”  

Unfortunately, so many people are under the impression that the path to health is a straight line, and any deviation is “bad”: 

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In reality, the path to health looks closer to this:  

falling off the paleo wagon

The path to greater health and a sustainable lifestyle has twists and turns, ups and downs because life isn’t as simple as going from eating donuts to eating broccoli. 

Our individual food situations are constantly changing, and the best thing we can do as people is to embrace that change.  One thing worth considering is that everyone’s journey to health is different, but we all have a path to our progress.  

Some will be more straightforward than others, and some will have more ups and downs.  But there are solid psychological reasons to the “why” behind these natural progressions and deviations, the trick is simply to understand the “why” so we can continuously move forward to a better state of health.

For instance, maybe the beginning of your Paleo journey didn’t actually begin with a Paleo diet.  Maybe you started simple;  like excluding all grains from your diet because there was a concept that you didn’t understand or didn’t initially agree with.  But after excluding grains from your diet, you probably felt you made real progress (and did!).  But maybe there was something more to it you couldn’t quite put your finger on.  Something that just wasn’t quite right.  Something that you still needed to change. 

Having the time to reflect on how you felt, the numbers on the scale, or the person in the mirror gave you a new perspective on what healthy was or could be.  Believe it or not, that time is a necessary part of the process to help you think about your choices, and how to make better food decisions for your personal goals.  So when a coworker brings in donuts to the office and you taste the sweet sugary bliss of regret, you can remember your old self and your old habits and why you started your journey to health in the first place.  In fact, regression is important for perspective, as it can be a powerful reminder of the habits you are trying to break.

“I have not failed I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

From Thomas Edison’s quote its easy to see that he had quite an empowering mindset when it came to what many of us would call “failure.”  We aren’t asking to you to invent the light bulb, but testing yourself under different conditions is important for growth and progress.  The next time your coworkers brings in donuts, test yourself to see if you can resist.  Resisting a fresh donut takes willpower, which is a skill that has to be exercised just like any other.  So if you’re terrible at resisting donuts, and believe us when we say we aren’t judging (we 100% feel your pain and your struggle), accept that you might fail.  The path to healthy is not a straight line, and those curves in the road to healthy are normal AND perhaps necessary to help you learn from your mistakes and remind you why you started your health journey in the first place.

Simply put, failing allows you the opportunity to succeed.


2. Indulgence and Self-Reflection: An Opportunity for Learning

When the coworker with a donut comes by your desk, and you succumb to the magic that is a donut, do you find yourself ultimately regretting your decision?

These moments can be wonderful “teaching moments” and have the ability to give you a look at yourself at the moment of impact, so to speak.  Right when you find yourself reaching for that donut, take a mental snapshot of your state of mind.  Instead of filling yourself with regret and shame over breaking your routine, take a moment and observe the “why” behind your desire for a donut.  The function of “why” you reach the donut is far more important to your health, because making substantial changes and progress comes with understanding.

So ask yourself a few questions. Like,

“What exactly is this donut doing for me at this moment?”

“Am I actually hungry or am I using this donut as a reward?”

And if humor helps, you could quote from the “Eddie Murphy Raw” sketch and ask your donut, “What have you done for me lately?”

“How important is this donut to my life?”  

“Who do I become when I’m eating this donut?”

It may seem strange to ask so many questions, but the truth is, we want that donut for a reason.  Whether we want it to fill a gap or kill time in the workday, recognizing the habit for what it is can help clear up the reasons why we would fall off the Paleo wagon.  And once you have the reason you reach for that donut (or whatever your food kryptonite may be), you can begin the process for a sustainable change and not repeat the mistakes you made yesterday.

The key to finding a sustainable path to health is understanding.


3. The Wagon

Falling off the wagon isn’t a sign of defeat, as it means you were on the wagon to begin with, trying to make better choices for yourself.   Therefore, getting right back on it is a reward in and of itself.  If the donut represents falling off the wagon, saying ‘no’ to the donut the next day represents your willingness and determination to make a positive health change and that you’ve gained a measure of progress within your mental discipline.  And making that change feels pretty damn good, too.  

There’s definitely a component of motivation by pain; the hangover from beers with friends, the pain on the toilet the next morning.  Even if you miraculously dodge the symptoms, there’s still a feeling of “OK, I’ve had my fun and I’m ready to get back to work.”  Nothing makes you want to get back on the wagon like feeling like crap the day after eating something you wish you wouldn’t have eaten. A single indulgence— provided you are dedicated in some way to promoting your own health— will not send you into an out-of-control spiral of unhealthiness.  So don’t beat yourself up over it too much.

e donut does not define you.  You must define… the donut

4. The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Indulgences

It behooves us to mention that there is a clear and discernable difference between healthy and unhealthy indulgences.

A “healthy” indulgence is something that brings meaning to your life, something that you truly enjoy that brings you happiness that isn’t at the expense of your mental or physical health.  As a food example, a Paleo donut could be considered a “healthy” indulgence because it may align with your goal to eat healthier while supporting the Paleo Movement.  Yes, it is a donut, but by making a choice to find and purchase from a company that bakes grain-free/ Paleo donuts, you are actively choosing a product that aligns with the food choices that you believe in.  And there is a deep meaning behind that choice.

There are non-food indulgences, too.  For example, leaving work a few hours early because you wanted to take a motorcycle ride on a beautiful day or spend time with your loved ones in a park are great examples of a healthy indulgence.  This kind of indulgence has meaning and brings a sense of fulfillment into your life.  On the other hand, an ‘unhealthy” indulgence is the exact opposite.  If the donut from your coworker impedes your progress to a healthier you leaves you feeling empty and regretful, that’s an unhealthy indulgence.

Think about indulgences like you would your friends.  Let’s say you have two friends that want to go out and have a drink.  A healthy friend will meet you at the designated place, buy you the first round, ask about your life, and listen to you about anything you talk about.  An unhealthy friend will ask you to pick them up, make you buy them drink after drink, not ask you how you are doing and simply ramble on and on about themselves only to puke in your car on the way to take them home. Basically, the biggest difference between a healthy and unhealthy indulgence boils down to how you feel at the end of it.  One leaves you recharged and feeling fulfilled and the other, well, not so much.


5. Okay Got It, Now What?

Hopefully, by now you have had a bit of a paradigm shift on what’s right— or wrong— about falling off the Paleo Wagon, and can see your indulgences in a different light knowing that they may simply be a natural part of the progress to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

So now when you feel the urge for that donut, start by asking yourself a few questions to get to the ‘why’.  Questions like:

“Is this a healthy, or unhealthy indulgence for me?”

“Will this indulgence negatively or positively impact my goals to a sustainable lifestyle?”

“After I eat this donut, will I be able to return to my progress?”

Determining what kind of indulgence you’re about to get into will help you make the decision whether to ultimately participate or not.  Remember, knowledge is power.  Now you must have a plan, and be honest with yourself.  If you have a goal for yourself in mind and an idea of what to expect when a situation, having a plan could be the difference between a bump in the road or falling off the wagon completely.  If you are fortunate enough to have a friend that shares a similar health goal, buddy up!  Buddy systems are the best support anyone on a health journey can ever ask for.

Next, find your balance before you stray too far from your goal.  One donut may be fine, but eating a whole box in one sitting is  likely going to fill you with more than just a little regret. 

If you miss a workout or screw up your diet though, welcome to the club. There are like 6 billion of us.  Missing a week or two, however, might leave you feeling listless and be counterproductive to all the work you’ve done the weeks prior.   So when you start to feel those old habits creeping back in, remember why you started in the first place. And finally, enjoy the hiccups and bumps and Paleo donuts, they are there to help you grow.


And now for a personal note from the Paleo Foundation. 

At the expense of potentially sounding like a broken record here, I’d like to say that the key to individual health is highly individual (surprise) and, universally speaking, finding a diet and lifestyle that you can maintain over time is the key to sustained health, wellness, and happiness.  At least, this is what the science and psychology says.

Further, a sustainable and healthy lifestyle includes all aspects of health: physical, mental, social, emotional, etc., and none of these facets can be ignored when striving for true Health with a capital ‘H’.  And while it is common to hear that there is only “one true diet” or path to health and wellness,  that’s wholly unsuported by scientific literature.  

At the Paleo Foundation, we stand for finding your ideal, sustainable diet and activity that helps you achieve your goals.  In fact, we don’t care if its 80/20 Paleo— or not even Paleo at all.  We are in the do what works for you camp.  So grow at your own pace, and move forward.  And, if eating a “paleoified” donut makes you feel like your indulgence is a healthier option for you than a Krispy Kreme donut—or helps you avoid falling off the wagon for good— we support that.






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