8 Ways to Silence the Paleo Skeptics

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You’re standing there, eating ham and a tomato at a buffet laden with pastry.

You scrape off brown sugar from the top of sweet potatoes at Easter lunch.

You say ‘No thank you’ when your co-worker’s homemade birthday cake is offered around.

You see someone watching you and you know what’s coming…

A comment, or maybe just a look. Or a set of the shoulders.

It makes you feel anxious, your heart beats a little faster, indignation courses through your veins. You remember all times you made public statements about losing weight, then failed.

You feel like eating carbs just to calm yourself down!

I’ve been there. Many times.

Just how do we respond without feeling foolish, or so enraged we end up sabotaging ourselves?

Here’s 8 ways to deal with these paleo skeptics:

1. Role play or mentally rehearse ahead of time what you will say if you receive criticism. Say it out loud and practice it. Use your paleo buddies for help with this.

2. Don’t explain, apologize, justify or otherwise seek to vindicate what you are doing. You’ll just sound defensive and weak. You’ll give opportunities to your critic to pick holes in your argument and you’ll get stressed and your heart will race.

3. If asked, say you eat meat and veg. End of. Look them square in the face and say it with a firm, even voice. Don’t even say ‘vegetables’ – too long a word. You can even add a smile at the end and move onto a subject less controversial.

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!’

4. Disengage. If someone insists on making their non-paleo point, say something short like, “This works for me” then change the subject or walk away. You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. Resist the desire to. (Works for sassy kids too, by the way. :-))

5. Stonewall the truly obnoxious person. If someone will not give it a rest (I had someone follow me around hammering their points home once) break eye-contact, move to non-committal noises like “Uh-huh” or “I see” or silence. Give them nothing and get away from them as soon as possible.

6. Keep calm and carry on. What if the doubter is your spouse? Or your mother-in-law? If you feel you’re on stage while you eat with everyone observing you, perhaps waiting for you to fail, just quietly go about your business. Appear impervious to the signals you’re receiving (even if inside you’re a mass of emotion.) We teach people how to treat us. Do what you do, the way you do it. Be confident. Be proud. Sit up at the table and eat your food.

7. Learn and lead. The feeling of being watched as we eat is sometimes accurate but it can also come from our own lack of confidence from repeated past failures creating a miasma of doom. It feels like we are being watched, when, in fact, people are far more interested in getting their own needs met with their food than worrying about ours. Do you what you need to feel strong. Plan your meals, prepare them, learn from your mistakes and apply the lessons. Inner confidence will give you outer confidence and will make you a leader, not a victim, of those around you.

8. Get results. There is no better answer. And no words are involved. At all. ;-)

Do you have a saboteur in your midst? What do you do to neutralize them? Let us know in the comments.

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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.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat Eason March 20, 2012 at 8:26 am

I just say, I am allergic to it! It actually is the truth. Sugar, dairy, and grains make me itch! No one can offer a rebuttal to an allergy. So there!

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Alison Golden March 20, 2012 at 8:52 am

Absolutely Pat. If you have an allergy or diabetes or some other health related issues everyone is familiar with, no-one can say anything to you. At all. I would caution anyone saying they have a health condition when they don’t, though. As for me, ‘Sugar gives me endometriosis’ tends to stop the conversation stone dead and an awkward silence ensues so I prefer not to go that route. Now, I wish sugar made me itch. You’re almost lucky. :-)
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Melissa March 20, 2012 at 9:34 am

I really like the disengage part. I’ve done way too much explaining, apologizing and justifying. I just end up feeling sad and angry.
It’s funny, that the people in my circle of friends sort of roll their eyes at my food and call me a “health nut” (I guess there could be worse names to be called), but my real close friends are beginning to try it for themselves. Ah-Ha!

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Alison Golden March 20, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Melissa, I don’t know a soul outside my family in real life who eats the way I do, and two of my closest friends are vegetarians, but the person who has most respect for my way of eating is someone about to have weight-loss surgery. She will ask ahead of time what I can eat so she can prepare something suitable. We talk food. With everyone else I stay quiet. It took me a while but I eventually realized, like you, I just ended up in arguments, frustrated and angry. That doesn’t seem very paleo to me. ;-)

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John Briffa March 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Most important of all, I’d say, is why even give a rat’s arse what someone thinks of the way you choose to eat?

In response to that jibe or smug little comment, I suggest just saying something like “You’re confusing me for someone who gives a shit about what you think.” That normally does the trick, I’ve found. I find it particularly useful when talking to other doctors, by the way.
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Melissa March 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm

I must admit, I’ve never tried that approach.

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Alison Golden March 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Hah! I was waiting for someone to take a more confrontational stance. And it would be a Brit. (‘Rat’s arse’ gave you away, Dr John Briffa.) :-)
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Suz @ Paleo Australia March 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I second the allergy excuse! Sometimes I just don’t want to have a conversation about it and it’s easier to just blame an allergy!
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Helga Sigurdardottir March 29, 2012 at 11:51 am

I agree with all of the above – and the cool Brit is my new hero.

However, let’s say that you are a foreigner. Like a totally broke foreigner, struggling to support and adequately feed your 2 kids and yourself (real food is pricey) and staying healthy enough to function. And let’s add that you’re a single mom and people quickly assume that you are being mean to your kids by depriving them of sugar etc. Let’s say that you are new in the tiny little countryside village with next to no social network, yet sort of dependant on the kindness of strangers to find your way around in the new place (next to no public transport and the notion that “everybody has a car” seems to have been the guiding light in “city” planning).

Well, I do use the allergy / intolerance excuse – as it is also true in our case – but I am getting really tired of it. I too feel that I shouldn’t have to excuse myself and I feel that it’s not good for my kids to hear their diet excused all the time. Before I a) got divorced (had some backup, however limited) and b) moved to a new country I was a bit more self-secure in this regard. The thing that really gets me – every single time, is when people imply that I am doing harm to my children with this diet. No matter if it is a doctor or an ignorant stranger. Not that I think they have a point, it just hurts.

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Alison Golden March 29, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Helga:

I totally understand what you are saying. The dependency we have on those around us with different values is very hard to take when we have kids. We have to be out in the world. And the certainty we feel that we are right and the others misguided yet they insist their way on us makes us want to scream with fury, right? I would develop a self-soothing ritual for myself. Just like I taught my kids to go to sleep by themselves when they were little. Mine would be to go sit in my van and listen to music until I’d calmed down. Or I’d read a book. Or if I was so mad, I’d stare out the window until it had passed. That’s how I dealt with it, your mileage may vary, as Dr John Briffa’s does above. But you have a *lot* of stress going on in your life, so you must be on the edge often, and perhaps one of your priorities should be to find some stress relief in the form of a self-soothing ritual to help you manage this rocky time.

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Helga Sigurdardottir March 29, 2012 at 11:53 am

P.S. I just added this blog to my blogroll, as well as Dr Briffa and The Paleo Network :-)

See here: http://www.wholenewview.com
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Helga Sigurdardottir March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm

P.S. I added this blog to my blogroll (www.wholenewview), as well as Dr Briffa and The Paleo Network :-)
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Helga Sigurðardóttir March 29, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Thank you for taking the time to reply!

I have loads of self-soothing rituals and I am actually fine, most of the time :-)

Sorry if my post sounded pessimystic or even argumentative.

Still, I really struggle with a) being true to myself and my beliefs (= not making excuses for sth I really shouldn’t have to excuse) and b) not provoking, to make our adjustment to the new country and it’s customs, norms and values, as harmonious as possible.

I really like your point, and that you have given thought to how to silence the sceptics – and the fact that you wrote this post :-)

Isn’t it funny… the mainstreamers are all going to end up dead (or mad) in a few years time if they don’t change their habits – yet it is us who have to make the excuses…!

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Helga Sigurðardóttir March 29, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Oh, and obviously “pessimystic” is the new spelling of “pessimistic”… ;-)
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Annette April 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Serendipity is a wonderful thing. I started Paleo two months ago and saw immediate and wonderful changes. Instant convert. However, I have been surprised by the personal attacks. Friends, family, and associates all feel the need to comment, debate, and ridicule.

I’m flabbergasted.

It’s put me on the defensive and I don’t think I should have to defend how I eat. I’d certainly not ask anyone else to defend why they eat what they eat. At any rate, after a particularly frustrating day I found your blog via Everyday Paleo and I wanted to say, “Thank you.” I look forward to learning and reading more.

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Caleigh April 16, 2012 at 8:48 am

LOVE this. When I first went primal last year (I fell off the wagon when the holidaze hit- but am climbing back on now!) I was subjected to a lot of ridicule, confusion and arguments. ‘Cutting out grains and processed sugar?! What would I eat!?’ Um…everything else! LOL. I was a zealot at first (the very thing I dislike!) but quickly remembered that when a person does not want to listen, they just aren’t going to listen. The only thing I can do is do what is best for me. I’ve added your blog to my reading list, your tips are REALLY helpful! My fiance and the rest of my family are not primal at all and this is definitely a helpful blog as to how to deal with this! Thanks!

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Alison Golden April 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm

I’m glad it was helpful, Caleigh. The tips I learned myself the hard way…;-)

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Anne-Marie April 22, 2012 at 8:47 am

I think the one that really confounded me the most was a co-worker who told me I was “Taking this health kick thing WAY too far”. She’s an intelligent, very active woman herself who tends to eat healthy (except for the grains and dairy) as well. What I mean to say is you won’t catch her at a fast food restaurant and she doesn’t purchase or eat prepared foods.
She sat me down at lunch one day and found it necessary to tell me she’s afraid I’m becoming obsessed with food.
When I responded that I was simply obsessed with being as healthy and as fit as I could be in order to feel good and be able to keep up with my kids she said I was acting like a crazy cat lady only with food.
She actually said that our digestive systems have evolved to handle grains, gmo products etc. When I mentioned that evolution takes a few million years (after all, why the heck do we still have an appendix and wisdom teeth that have to be yanked out?), she shook her head and advised counselling for what she perceived to be a pending eating disorder.
It made me wonder – why does this seem to scare people? Do vegetarians have people tell them they’re quite literally crazy?
My husband behaves the same way – as if I’ve just gone a bit nutty and will eventually change my mind. I’ve lost 10 pounds without trying, no longer have daily debilitating headaches, have energy to spare and best of all I FEEL good. How can that be crazy? I’ve never been one for prepared or fast foods. I’ve always made my food at home (even the bread when I was eating it). It’s not as if any of this was a radical change for me – it simply felt like natural progression.
Ah well, onward and upward. Perhaps once they see that I’m doggedly following this path for good, they’ll shut up and join me :)

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Alison Golden April 23, 2012 at 4:28 pm

I know, it’s not rational is it? Ah well, as you way onward and upward. Hopefully one day, all those other people will say ‘Hey, that Anne-Marie, she *did* know what she was talking about! Who knew?” :-)

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Hailey September 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hi! I just wanted to chime in here really quickly!! If you have a history of disordered eating, going Paleo and doing your best to be completely faithful to it can be a trigger. There is a new spike of a disorder called Orthorexia. It’s the unruly spawn of anorexia and exercise bulimia. I had to take a step back from Paleo because it was starting to over take my life and I was experiencing unhealthy disorded eating patterns because of it. Yes, sometimes people genuinely don’t agree with or don’t understand why people “Go Paleo”, but sometimes they’re seeing
patterns that you may not see. Maybe take a step back and evaluate and see if the concerns are valid before taking offense and totally dismissing it.

Personally, I like a lot of the principles of Paleo -more whole foods, animals on natural diets – However, I am put off by a lot of the unsubstantiated claims of “curing” mystery/unrecognized ailments and it’s association with Mercola and AltMed scammers.

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Mallory May 2, 2012 at 8:49 am

I just found your blog through the Paleo Parents, and let me tell you, this post is just what I needed. I don’t live at home anymore but am close to my family and see them often. My mom is intrigued by the diet and has started cutting out processed foods as what I hope will be the first step in eventually going Paleo. My sister, on the other hand, is openly hostile toward my way of eating. She is a nurse, so she figures everything she was taught in pre-med and nursing school (aka conventional wisdom, USDA food pyramid, etc.) MUST be right. She says things like “whole grains prevent cancer,” “you can’t get enough calcium without eating dairy,” “you’re eating too much fat,” “it’s too restrictive,” etc. I’ve done a lot of research and feel like I know the scientific/evolutionary basis for Paleo pretty well, but she just won’t hear it. I do feel the need to defend it since it has done such wonders for my health and my life, but she is just so stubborn! Maybe I can use one or more of these tricks to prevent the eventual argument we will get into this weekend. Thanks!

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Alison Golden May 2, 2012 at 8:59 am

You are very welcome, Mallory! Tough one with your sister, but hey, great job with your mom. Focus on those successes and disengage from that conversation with your sister. Imagine a wall around you – that’s what I do. :-) Thanks for commenting.
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Leanna May 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm

We’ve converted most of our friends simply because of our amazing results and improved health, and my side of the family is exceptionally supportive. My in-laws, however, believe we are killing our children by not allowing them bread and pasta. To the extent they are confusing our children. I cannot simply disengage, as it’s creating mass chaos in my house. In addition, even my husband’s 30 lb weight loss and my children’s reduction in allergies and asthma makes me a horrible mother in their eyes. I feel like starting a world war at this point.

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Alison Golden May 22, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Hmmm, I suspect this goes deeper than food. If they are feeding your kids foods that are causing allergy and asthma attacks, you absolutely have the right to do that. And frankly, if they are ignoring your directions, they are being disrespectful and undermining you as the mother. And that should not be allowed. Can your husband step in and influence? Only you know the extent of your situation and values against which to set your priorities but I’d be having a good look at the damage done to the children by this – confusion can be rectified by direct and straightforward explanations but serious health effects and sabotage of mom is more egregious to my mind and warrants more strident action.
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Erin D. May 20, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I really like your tips, especially the ones centered on standing tall while doing your thing, that you know is right for you.
A year ago I would get into lengthy explainations about how me and my family eat. Now I usually just say, “I am more than happy to tell you what I eat and what I try to avoid and why, but a simple web search will connect you with people far more knowlegable and well spoken than me.”

Similar experience to Leanna. The results that my husband and I have gotten. Many of our extended family members are converted or working in that vein. Many times the results aren’t just visual, but you feel better; less depressed, chaotic, in pain. Whatever it is, its okay to let people know that its not just about looking the best you can, but rather trying to feel the best you can. You can look “good” and feel miserable.

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Alison Golden May 22, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Good for you, Leanna, for converting people! I like your reply, too. Very deft. :-)
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Stephanie July 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm

A lot of good responses here. However, I personally would never say I was allergic to a food if I weren’t. If someone uses a wheat allergy as a short-hand way of avoiding discussions and/or explaining why they eat a certain way when, in fact, no wheat allergy exists, their own credibility is damaged if they are ever seen consuming something that contains wheat and they do not have an allergic reaction. More importantly, the credibility of people with real wheat or food allergies is damaged as well. “Well, John said he had a wheat allergy but he didn’t react when he ate this, so I thought you would be OK with it.” See where I’m going? IMO, there are too many people too willing to disbelieve the existence of allergies to certain foods, grains, wheat, gluten or even celiac disease that I wouldn’t be comfortable using a food allergy as an excuse. YMMV.

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Stephanie July 15, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Oh, and FWIW, when people try to give me diet advice, I just assume they’re doing it from a place of caring. I listen to what they say and then say, “That’s interesting. I’ll think about it.” Then I change the subject. And I do think about their advice, for about the one nano-second it takes to tell myself I’ll keep my own counsel on matters that well, matter to me and my family. Same approach I used for some of my unconventional parenting choices like (gasp!) co-sleeping. :)

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Alison Golden July 21, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I think this is a great point to make, Stephanie – listen for the intention (which is often to help) and act accordingly. I have written about this subject:

http://alisongolden.com/can-you-be-gracious-in-the-extreme
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Sal July 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm

A CrossFit trainer of mine recently joked that when you talk paleo to non-paleo people it’s like you’re insulting their mothers’ cooking so one needs to tread very gently!!

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Alison Golden July 21, 2012 at 11:57 am

Wise words!
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Sabine September 6, 2012 at 11:02 am

I usually just do the smile and move on approach. The lesser you “explain” it, the more interested people become. I have 3 co-workers now changing their diets.

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Alex September 10, 2012 at 6:18 am

If they are particularly pushy, I just stare really hard at the part of their body that has been the most obviously disfigured by their diet and then look them straight in the eye and say, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

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NJ Paleo September 21, 2012 at 9:15 am

Most people I know are accustomed to my being a “weird health freak”, so to them, this change to Paleo was weird to them, but not weird in the context of me (if that makes sense). A friend recently asked, “Are you still doing that paleo thing where you eat bacon all the time?” I said, “Yes, it’s wonderful.” Her response was, “Well, I could never give up bread and grains.” I replied, “Everyone’s different.” And that was the end of that. Other friends have borrowed my books. Some people try to make fun of me, but when I’m the most fit and healthy person in our circle, they really can’t take it too far and still have credibility. And I just laugh it off or make a joke.
Thanks for all the good tips!

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Maria October 31, 2012 at 2:07 am

I am already ‘labled’ Alison! I watch the yo-yo dieters at work and I wonder……..
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kate March 28, 2013 at 7:26 am

I loved seeing this post about how to handle paleo critics or people in general who love to question or put their nose in your personal decisions..( I’ve recently had an issue with a sister in law that lovesss to do this)

I was working for a family who lives a paleo lifestyle, and I came into the situation not ever hearing of paleo at all. I’ve always been a healthy eater but loved my pasta and bread! I recently decided to begin living a paleo life which I thought would be easy since I knew I could give up pasta and bread all together. I’ve been enjoying the transition and already feel better :)
My husband and I head back to NJ this summer and I know I’ll have a million questions about my changed eating habits! All of your tips will come in handy, not only pertaining to my paleo life ;)

Thanks for all the great info!

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Alison Golden March 28, 2013 at 8:43 am

You’re welcome, Kate. The skepticism can get wearing so whatever we can do to limit it and minimize its affect on us is worth it.
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Barbara April 7, 2013 at 9:28 am

I had a guy tell me (when I asked if his wife was avoiding cheese because of an allergy – standard practice among servers) that it’s not a true allergy unless it causes anaphylaxis. Well, I have one of those, too, but I bet I could have avoided it if I’d changed my eating years ago! He was a real know it all jerk.

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Sean February 2, 2014 at 8:26 am

Another good method is to shut your eyes to refutation, plug your ears to criticism, and just say “la la la…” to yourself as you walk away.

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Follier Thurgood April 13, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Honest question – who are you people hanging out with that question your eating preferences?

I’ve never, in all my life, had anyone make an inquiry or accusation of me about what I am eating. And I have some eclectic eating habits.

Not to come off as a complete ass, but maybe you guys should eat out with different people.

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Alison Golden April 13, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Often it’s family. Close family.
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Jean July 7, 2014 at 11:31 pm

I usually just point them to the peer-reviewed and published scientific trials which show there are benefits from eating a paleo diet.

Oh hang on – there are none!

Oh well, maybe I should take dietary advice only from those who are experts in the field and can tailor their advice to my specific needs, like … dietitians?

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