Junk food? Paleo? Huh? Are you confused?
Let me explain.
I was living on mostly blueberries – the chocolate-covered kind that I made special trips to Trader Joes to buy – and strong British-blend black tea when I embarked on my paleo journey. I had spent most of my adult life trying to eat healthier with almost no success.
Junk food addicted
I was addicted. Let’s not beat about the bush, here. When you crave sugar or other carbohydrates and can’t stop yourself from eating over and over, you are an addict. Pure and simple.
Diagnosing and treating yourself when you’re surrounded by other addicts is not the most optimal environment for recovery. I’m sure even Charlie Sheen would agree with me there. But this is exactly what paleo people have to do when they decide to turn their lives around.
When you make this kind of a change, you are tearing down old habits that have taken a lifetime to build and which are embedded not only in your subconscious but in your body and you have to replace them with new ones. This is not a small process. Nor is it linear. You aren’t waving goodbye to sugar and wheat never to see them again.
Quieten your biochemistry
It’s sort of like breaking up with a boyfriend because although you love him, he’s bad for you. See him again and all the old feelings well up. It takes time and practice to calm things down so that you can look him the eye and feel…nothing.
Then there are the relapses. Every addict relapses. It is considered part of the recovery process. If you haven’t relapsed, you haven’t recovered. So they say.
From time to time, maybe often, you will fail and, frankly, you want to fail. Because what is important when you relapse or otherwise fall off the wagon, grab a huge handful from your co-worker’s candy bowl, eat that birthday doughnut, whatever, is reflection and renewing your commitment to the paleo way.
So, I hear you ask, why is it a good thing to eat junk food when you’re desperately trying to go no contact? Because you can learn.
When you eat junk food, you’ll gain so much intelligence into your own behavior, you’ll wonder how you lived this long with such a stranger. You’ll learn so much about this person who inhabits your body, you work out what makes them tick and like handling the difficult personality traits of your cubicle partner, you can work your way around them so you can co-exist comfortably.
So here are six reasons you should eat junk food. Now and again. Don’t beat yourself up. It is vital to your recovery.
Reason #1. You discover the scenarios that set you off
Perhaps you work in a restaurant (bad idea by the way) and you can’t help filching the after-dinner mints. Or your mother-in-law has produced a dinner of which Paula Deen would be proud. Or your child has lovingly decorated a cupcake during class for you and is watching with wide eyes as you take a bite. Once you identify the scenarios, you can anticipate problems and prepare a strategy. Until you realize these situations set you off, you are like a warrior walking into an ambush.
Reason #2. You identify your personal tipping points
Every time you cave in to junk food, you have an opportunity to learn what your triggers are.
Are you bored as a waitress and stealing the choccie gives you a little thrill? Do you want to avoid upsetting your mother-in-law because she has promised to look after the new baby while you work? Do those big doe-eyes beseeching you to eat that cupcake tug on your heartstrings as you consider the effort and love wrapped up in that concoction despite it being made from petroleum by-products and other toxic materials?
Ask yourself what were the triggers that tripped you up? What caused you to tip over into food hell? You will likely find it has nothing to do with food.
Reason #3. You develop strategies to stop paleo faileos in the future
From your trigger points, you can develop strategies to short-circuit them next time. Unwind the situation so that you can see where the problem lies.
Maybe you can take a different route around the restaurant. Or, better yet, change your job! Perhaps you can find another babysitter or situation that makes you feel less beholden or hold a conversation with your mother-in-law to clarify both your positions and remove the power imbalance. Take a picture of your baby’s cake instead of eating it or ‘preserve it’ so you can appreciate it for longer.
Plan and adapt for next time. Evolution, baby.
Reason #4. You get to learn risk assessment
This is an advanced skill. It means weighing the risks of eating junk food versus benefits and is best carried out when you’ve been at this paleo thing a while and understand your behaviors well.
You can ask yourself questions like: Will this cupcake tip me into full-blown sugar binge? Will I eat to the point that I regain consciousness sometime later, with no memory of what just happened and with empty wrappers by my side? How do I feel about disappointing my aunt who baked this cake especially for me? Can I eat just one bite or will that be offensive?
Ask yourself, ‘How important is it that I not eat this food?’ Then use the strategies you’ve worked out to act accordingly.
Reason #5. You remind yourself why you’re doing this
When we regularly live in the carb cloud, everything is foggy. We lose sight of how it feels to be good. It’s usually been so long since we felt healthy (childhood?) that we’ve forgotten what it’s like. We feel depressed, fog-brained, fatigued, in pain, on and on. It becomes normal. A way of life. We’ve normalized it. (A psychological coping strategy, by the way.)
When we move off of eating unhealthy carbs, we start to see breaks in that cloud. Blue sky peeks in and the sun shines. We start to move more, feel better, veg out less. But then after you eat junk food, the cloud descends again. Your aches return, your eyes dry up, your asthma gets worse or you yell at your kids over nothing. And you’re reminded how bad it was. The bad old days.
Reason #6. You recommit to paleo
You never want to go back to those days again. You pick yourself up, get out your meal planner and start afresh. It was just a blip, a momentary thing. Rewind, reject, start over. There you are, back on track.
Recommitting to paleo after a fail is a bit like recommitting to marriage after a trouble. It’s about seeing the whole picture, not a tiny flaw in the corner. We learn lessons, self-awareness and develop ideas. We set priorities, assess risks and do a reboot.
So when you eat junk food, even a lot of it, you are testing your plan. You’ll find you were right all along – you just needed reminding. So reset your sights on your target and take aim once more. But this time, more certain and confident of success.
So now can you see going off-paleo occasionally is a good thing? You have the opportunity to dial in your behaviors. Evaluate your progress and your way forward. And you can only do it by falling off the wagon now and again.
What causes you to eat junk food? What strategies have you developed? What insights did you gain? Let us know in the comments.
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