4 Mistakes People Make After a Paleo Failure (And What to Do Instead)


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We’ve all done it.

Taken one bite and sometime later, the length of which we know not, we come to. Staring out the window, wrappers beside us.

Wondering what happened.


Or we’ve gone to a party with our non-paleo spouse, staying away from the buffet table all night until we can stand it no longer.

Stressed and bored, we eventually sidle up to it, promising ourselves one bite…

…And 30 minutes later, we’re sitting down, crumbs around us, polishing vol-au-vent pastry crumbs off the chocolate fudge brownie before we pop it in our mouth. (At least I do, maybe you think vol-au-vent crumbs on top of the fudge are all good. ;-))

I repeat, we’ve all done it.

If you haven’t, well, good for you.

But I suggest you are in a tiny minority.

Thing is, most people take this capitulation experience as a sign they can’t control their eating. Paleo’s too difficult.

They blame our culture.

Or believe they’re a hopeless case.

And give up.

But they’re making a big mistake. Several, in fact.

And what’s more, if you turn those mistakes around, you can come out of this situation better informed and better equipped to handle the experience next time. And the next time.

And the next.

Because one thing’s for sure. This problem of non-paleo food isn’t going away anytime soon. You’ll be facing those vol-au-vents and the like over and over.

And pretty soon, I’m guessing.

So what are these mistakes we make after a paleo fail? Are you making them?

Mistake #1: You beat yourself up

You are not alone. But stop. Right now. There is no point. What if I was to tell you, you could come out of this stronger, and with a few short steps change your lifelong eating habits for ever? Read on.

Mistake #2: You don’t relive the experience

Criticizing yourself, or even picking yourself up and simply carrying on won’t help. You need to go over what happened and learn from it.

If you replay what happened in your mind, you gain a massive amount of intelligence.  Go over the fail in as much detail as possible. Write it down if necessary. (I am a big fan of journaling this process.) Envision everything in your mind that led up to the bad feed.

Ask yourself general questions. What led up to it? Who was involved? Where were you?

Ask yourself specific questions to drill down further. Were you bored and by what? Are you stressed and by what? Do you feel guilty or bad in some way?

Consider the practical landscape of the situation. How easy is it to get hold of non-paleo food? Where do you store it? Do you pass it constantly?

Mistake #3. You don’t identify your personal tipping point

We all have a moment when we cave in. These moments are often prefaced by controlled behaviors where you are behaving in a way around food of which you are proud.

But then, something tips you over. What was that? What was going on? What was playing on your mind before you even entered the situation?

You don’t want to offend your mother-in-law? The food is delicious? You’re starving after a day at work? Or the suppressed (or not-so suppressed) rolling of eyes when you don’t eat what everyone else is eating makes you shrink?

What were the specific triggers that tripped you up? What caused you to eat that food?

Understanding your personal tipping points is the key to unlocking the secrets of healthier eating. Identify those points and move on.

Mistake #4. You don’t develop strategies for the future

If we skip this step, we keep putting ourselves back at the beginning of our journey. Because we’re never really learning new habits. We’re just repeating the same ones over and over. Often with the same frequency and duration. Control, control, fail. Control, control, fail. And on.

Each time this happens, you need to create a list of avoidant actions you can take next time based on your reflections.

Can you change your route so you don’t pass the arsenal of candy you suspect your co-worker has purposely amassed to taunt you with several times a day?

Can you suggest a paleo recipe to your mother-in-law and help her to make it? (Hint: don’t tell her it’s a paleo recipe.)

Can you focus on the effort your child put into his Valentine cupcake and reward him some other way? Perhaps you can take a photo of the cupcake instead. “Oooh, I love this so much I want to take a picture and keep it.”

Unwind the Paleo Faileo

When you follow the steps outlined above, you are unravelling the negative situation you’ve just come out of so that you can see where the problem lies.

Your goal is to build a stockpile of strategies and tactics to either head off the threat before it occurs, or neutralize it. As you do this, repeatedly over time, you’ll get smarter and smarter about your choices and you’ll find your relapses become fewer and fewer.

Plan and adapt for next time. Evolution, baby.

What have you learned from your paleo failures?

Have you found practical solutions to head off an attack of the sugar zombie?

Let me know in the comments. I dare ya! :-)

You’ll find more practical advice like this in The Modern No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo. Navigate being paleo in a non-paleo world with success. Pick up a copy today!

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amazon, modern no nonsense guide to paleoAre you struggling to sustain a paleo lifestyle change? Or not sure how to start? Or perhaps those around you are resistant and you're feeling undermined and unsure. The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo provides practical tools to ease the transition to a full-on paleo life. Each chapter includes strategies, tips and checklists to identify the actions to power you on your paleo journey and create sustainable change. Buy it at Amazon.com.

Written by 

Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Ellen Berg February 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Great list! I’d add, “You don’t give yourself permission to be imperfect.”

I love Mark Sisson’s idea of striving for 80/20 every day, because that allows for imperfection. I’ve actually found I don’t desire non-paleo food very often because giving myself permission doesn’t create that need to rebel. I do my best, choose to occasionally eat off plan, and that’s what works for me.

The hubby and I eat out once a week which is usually when I’ll eat off plan, but it’s usually only a bite or two of his dessert or pasta. I like paleo food. Of course there was that experience with the two craft brews which reminded me why wheat is not my friend~how I feel after nasty food is usually enough deterrent to keep me clean.


Alison Golden February 21, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Hi Ellen! Great to see you here. :-) You make a good point. Being less than perfect is the un-doer of many resolution, don’t you find? And yes, once you’re feeling great, the deterrent aspect of eating off-paleo is very motivating!


Susan Plocher May 11, 2012 at 11:11 am

I LOVE Paleo Food – but i DO occassionally want to go off plan. I love your list. It’s so practical and gentle (as are all your tips) It’s wonderful to not have to whip myself with a wet noodle (GF of course… :-D – maybe I should say a spaghetti squash noodle?) over mistakes. I love the idea that Lysa TerKeurst puts forward that totally matches your philosophy – we are only one good choice away from being back on track. Totally inspiring and what a wonderful way of looking at life’s choices. Thanks for your tips and your sharing. Means a lot to a lot of people.


Alison Golden May 14, 2012 at 3:56 pm

I like that reframe ‘you are only one good choice away from being back on track.’ So true. Thanks for sharing that, Susan. :-)
Alison Golden recently posted..Priceless Paleo Lessons From Twenty-Five Year Weight-Loss BattleMy Profile


Olivia July 17, 2012 at 5:41 am

My one major major issue is being around friends, and it tends to be at the weekend. Funnily, I can be quite good around my boyfriend, even though he eats whatever he wants (still healthy but by no means paleo), but with a group of friends it all goes out the window.
I tell myself it can be part of my 20% and social engagements are bound to be difficult, but the only food around is always carb-based and potato chips are my enemy. This weekend for example I went to stay with friends, we were having a dinner party and she put out some chips while we had a drink and waited for people to arrive. I couldn’t avoid eating them. And then she made risotto (which of course I wasn’t going to shun, it was the main course and she’s a great cook), followed by 3 different types of cake! I’m not sure that amount of food even stays within the 20%!
My problem is I don’t know what strategies to form for avoiding the potato chips etc when I’m surrounded by friends, laughing and catching up. It seems we always stuff ourselves when we’re together and I get jealous if they’re eating and I’m not!


Alison Golden July 17, 2012 at 7:58 am

One chip can lead to a whole (large) packet as far as I’m concerned, although I do find them almost unbearably salty the longer I am paleo. I do understand.

My tactic is to stand well away from them. I won’t even go close and definitely push them out of harm’s way if they venture into my orbit. Sort of like someone you’re trying to avoid – you’re aware of their every movement and make sure you are diametrically positioned to them in the room at all times :-)

Eat heartily before you go? Stuff your hands in your pockets? Anticipate the temptations and visualize your response? Focus on the communication not the consumption?

A warrior doesn’t go into battle unprepared. Every eventuality has a strategy devised to be implemented as the threat occurs. Those of us paleo in a non-paleo world often have to be warriors until we have it dialed in.
Alison Golden recently posted..13 Simple Tips to Paleo Your Way Out of a CrisisMy Profile


Rose October 13, 2012 at 7:20 am

One thing I do when what I’m tempted to eat is non-Paleo is remind myself how it will make me feel later. I always feel bloated and nauseous after eating grains and legumes especially, so remembering that feeling and knowing I don’t want it to come back keeps me away from such things most of the time.

I still really have a problem with sugar, though. I’m constantly eating ice cream (I’m fine with dairy) and candy, and because it doesn’t have a short-term effect on the way I feel, it can be hard to avoid. I’ve been thinking about doing a sugar detox, but I know it’ll be super hard with three other non-Paleo eaters in the house (and Halloween right around the corner).


Alison Golden September 5, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I finally did it, and I feel better than ever. No sugar or fruit for me. The only time is when I take a tiny bite to try something I’ve cooked before serving. I cannot control sugar and so I just decided I had to take the same approach to sugar as an alcoholic does with alchohol. It has worked for me.
Alison Golden recently posted..Paleo Recipes: Lemon and Thyme Broiled Salmon with Blood Orange SalsaMy Profile


Tracy February 2, 2013 at 6:49 pm

I just started Paleo I am 5 weeks in and feel so much better. But week 4 was a tough one! First of all I had big time charlie horses in my calves, I craved dark chocolate and chocolate cake and I ate it. (gluten, soy, dairy and egg free) I ate a lot of it!! I figured there is no way I can be perfect all the time so I allowed myself to eat. I felt bad physically afterwards but I did not feel guilty.


sarah sprouse February 3, 2013 at 4:46 am

I’ve found that announcing my intention to eat healthy helps keep me accountable. This works especially well with the candy bowl at work. I told my co-workers I was doing a clean eating challenge with my sis (Whole30) and that I was going to stay away from it. I hate for them to see me eating junk after that so it helps me avoid it. I also like the commitment to another person – seems that other people respect it more when they see you as helping someone else. I’m not overweight (although like most women I’d love to lose 10lbs before bathing suit season!) but my sis is and they know that I am helping her to become healthier (and she has lost 40lbs, and gotten off her asthma and migraine meds in the last year!!).

And then there are times when I want to indulge and I try and look at all the choices and decide which I truly want to splurge on. Then I fill up on the good stuff and save my “treat” for last. Carrying around a bottle of lemon water helps too as it keeps my hands and mouth occupied.


Conni Stock April 1, 2013 at 5:23 am

Failure is SO hard for me. I do not subscribe to the 80/20 rule. I truly want to be HARDCORE #w30 but I routinely get sabotaged! (This is what I wrote in my journal at the beginning of my first #whole30) Wow… Did I truly blame everyone for my choices? Yes. Since then… I have been strict #whole90 and the Christmas hit… I did not blame anyone but I announced I would eat an English muffin with my Eggs Benedict… The sugar demon attacked and I have been on the quest to regain control again. I would say I am 90 /10 currently but ONLY because I will feel it at #crossfit if I drop to a lesser degree. My goal… Whole 30 to feel the insane clarity, strength and joy that your body creates when it works like it supposed to without my interference.
Just so you know… I love my life but I love it so much more through my healthy whole 30 eyes. Now to get on my horse….


Karen B. June 1, 2013 at 4:55 pm

I eat very well most of the time so I give in a bit when life calls for it. Just last weekend my mother made me a special meal of steaks marinated in a Dr. Pepper marinade, roasted veg, and a shortcake with fruit and whipped cream. Did I eat it? You bet your life I did and enjoyed every bite. She enjoyed me eating it too.
Then last week I had a book club meeting where the food had a mediterranean theme with huge round flatbreads and little cheese turnovers. Did I eat them? No. There were other things to enjoy that weren’t off limits and nobody noticed if I didn’t eat the bread or other wheat based things since it was buffet style.
I guess I weigh the entire experience and figure if eating the foods I don’t usually eat is worth it.


Carolynn @mylittlebitoflife.com June 14, 2013 at 10:31 am

I’ve really been struggling lately with staying on track. I’m pregnant and craving things I haven’t since I started Paleo (almost a year ago). When I do mess up (which is often) I try to remind myself how far I’ve come. I try to remember all the stomach and yeast issues I used to have and the migraines. If I’m really craving something bad, I try to envision how it will make me feel afterwards and if it will taste as great as I’m imagining (I’ve noticed that things don’t taste as good as I remember then tasting)! However, if I’m having a really bad day, I will try to focus on the 2 meals I usually get right! Right now I’m really struggling with the resistance from my kids. I get very offended when I work hard to provide healthy meals and they balk at them without even trying them!
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mark June 14, 2013 at 10:37 am

I’m not a fan of the 80/20 rule because I have seen too many people take it literally…and then every 5th meal they’re eating a big plate of junk to make up for that 20%.

I’m no longer focused on Paleo as a way to lose weight, so the real question for me around eating junk is how it will make me feel after. That is what I run through my mind when I’m in a situation at a party, or out to eat with the family, etc. Some people are truly strict Paleo. I am pretty strict except when *I choose* not to be, which is fairly often (once a week). An ice cream with the family. Or getting dessert after dinner out, etc. I didn’t do this stuff when I was trying to/needed to lose weight – I went close to a year without eating any junk. But I’ve found that indulging every so often is not a big deal for me and doesn’t negatively impact my weight. I guess I’m fortunate.


Rozzy March 18, 2014 at 3:53 pm

So much of this is really good advice and it’s heartening to hear so many of you have fallen of the wagon often but have been able to get back on again with great results. I have started today writing down what I eat to try to make myself feel worse about the bad stuff and the amounts and to spur myself on to eating better. I started going Paleo a few weeks ago and it was going pretty well until I went to a big 40th birthday party with a free cocktail bar all evening, since then I’ve been eating SO much more unhealthily and about twice as much as I was before because food has suddenly taken on a monumental importance! Particularly in the evenings as I write this I have just eaten 9 dark chocolate ‘continental’ biscuits and didn’t even particularly enjoy eating the last 3! I seem to be finding it really difficult to start again. One idea I had was partnering up with someone and wondered if anyone out there would like to swap what they eat on a daily basis for a week or two as motivation? I’m not doing this to lose weight but to boost my energy levels and to avoid bouts of depression and in the hope of improving my general brain function (I find myself having periodic brain fog and my memory has not been good the last few years). So anyone else going Paleo for similar reasons could be good. Starting a blog might otherwise be the way to go for me….


Rotunda May 6, 2014 at 12:44 pm

I did fabulous my first 3 weeks going Paleo. But low and behold came Easter dinner. I decided I would have a free day and avoid all the problems I could for see since the dinner was not at my house. BIG MISTAKE I was sick for 2 days and now know to forget about free days!! I have had small stumbling blocks since that incident but am learning more and more how to avoid them. Feeling so much better eating Paleo!!!



Alison Golden September 5, 2014 at 11:17 am

Everything is learning, and learning is everything. :-)
Alison Golden recently posted..Paleo Recipes: Lemon and Thyme Broiled Salmon with Blood Orange SalsaMy Profile


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