9 Steps To Protecting Your Relationship With A Paleo Skeptic

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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!

Uh-huh. Really? Interesting. I see. Thank you.

Last week I received an email from a friend politely expressing concern about the effects of my ‘special diet’ on my children’s health. Hmmm…

The argument against arguing

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know I tend to generally take a non-confrontational approach with paleo nay-sayers. Some people roll their eyes at this, preferring to deal with things directly. There’s value to being head-on at times, certainly, but there are many situations where this isn’t appropriate or will lead to an undesirable outcome.

I find arguing my way through life takes up a disproportionate amount of my time and energy – resources that I could put to better use in other ways. I have things to do and people to see – things and people that I like and with whom and what my energies can combine to create an outcome that is larger than the individual pieces. That is where I want to spend my time. Not arguing. Perhaps you feel the same way.

Family we’re stuck with

Then there are our family members with whom we usually have to get along with. We may interact with them in person intimately and frequently and with whom we have bonds and a history that are greater than a simple connection based on personality or interests. It is best if we can at least rub along with these people. Frequent confrontation doesn’t work well in these circumstances and many family relationships can’t tolerate any type of obvious discord.

Very Important People

And then there are your Very Important People to consider –  those people in your life on whom you simply and utterly depend for its smooth running. If I don’t like them, I can leave my job and fire my clients easily enough but I learned years ago that my kids’ school secretary was fundamental to my well-being. There are some people we really need to keep on-side.

Arguing causes stress and that’s definitely not paleo in my book so having a variety of weapons at our disposal for dealing with paleo skeptics will ultimately be better for our relationships, better for our own self-fulfillment, better for our family units – our kids, better for our health.

But, wait…

When I read this article on how to disarm a verbal aggressor, I went ‘Meh.’ The responses offered made it sound like agreement when it wasn’t and that didn’t feel honest or powerful. So, in truth, we have to find a point on the line between confrontation and capitulation that we are comfortable with.

The Tao of Paleo

That can be difficult and I thought of a question I got recently from a regular reader.

I’m in my first year of paleo/primal. I cook and eat what I want and I let my fiancé do whatever she wants. I am finding she wants to eat more and more like me without me saying anything. It’s like a slow Jedi mind trick. I’ve asked her for cupboard room and asked her to hide the candy and it has gone over surprisingly well. My current problem is when my fiancé says something like “Y’know, isn’t it great this non-paleo food is so good for you?”

It’s not junk food, just conventional “heart healthy,” low fat- high carb fare like steel cut oats, brown rice, or really, really high glycemic fruit like over-ripe mango’s, pineapple, and bananas. Sometimes it is something that is sneaky high-carb at a restaurant like a soup that has white potatoes and peas, and carrots, and some little flour dumplings or bow-tie pasta. Sometimes it is something that I know was fried in a lot of PUFA.

It drives her crazy when I say, “Well, I’m glad you like it but I don’t think it’s “good” for you and here’s why…” But if I just smile and nod my head and say “Yes, dear” I feel like a little piece of my soul dies every time. Should I just smile and endure for the sake of our relationship and wait for her to come around to the paleo side (if she chooses), or is there a more tactful and assertive way to respond?

Good question

When we try to “fix” someone else, we imply we come from a more enlightened point of view.  We send a message that we are wiser, smarter.  Unfortunately, this message sends an even more powerful and negative message that the other person is not “good enough.”

It amounts to rejection and as such (even in small amounts) it builds resentment, smothers affection, and creates distance. So even if we are coming from a place of love – wanting others to be healthier, happier, live longer – that isn’t what it feels like to them.

And whether someone does this to you, or you do this to someone else, if a counter-attack is launched, you are in for an argument and a relationship that has been badly damaged.

Consequential thinking

The challenge is these instances is to be aware of the cost of our actions and to decide whether that course of action is worth it. It is particularly important at times like this given that pointing out fault isn’t likely to achieve very much that’s positive. But ultimately, it depends on your personal set of values and only you can make those decisions.

My suggestions:

1. Limit your response. Most of the time, keep your response to a ‘Uh-huh’ or other non-committal response.

2. Make the tone of your voice even and without any undue emotion.

3. Occasionally, respond directly to the comment.  You decide how often. I usually counter every 3rd or 4th time, especially if they come in rapid succession. Maybe your relationship can tolerate a response more often. Or maybe less.

4. Make your feelings and viewpoint known but do it calmly. Again, don’t have any strong emotional tone in your voice.

5. Wait. Don’t respond in the moment. Delay a little, partly to take any irritation out of your voice, partly to prepare what you’re going to say and also to communicate more effectively. If you’re in the middle of preparing dinner, juggling kids, or worst of all, have other people with you, now is not the time.

6. Lead up to it. Surprises cause intense emotional reactions and if it’s a negative surprise, well, you’re likely to get a flea in your ear. So prepare them a little, not a big preamble but simply say ‘I want to address something about our conversation earlier…’

7. Use an ‘I message.’ When you start with ‘You say this or that…,’ it puts others on the defensive, they feel accused, stupid and then angry and resentful. Turn it around to say ‘I believe that…’ and then say your piece succinctly. Then pause.

8. Stop entirely if there is a poor response. Leave it alone and go back to #1.

9. If there is an interested, or otherwise positive response, have a friendly discussion. And then move on to other, more interesting, things. :-)

To my friend’s email, I replied with a simple, ‘Thank you’ and changed the subject. I know that confronting a situation like this can easily cause a loss of face in one or both parties and that would have been counterproductive in the bigger picture. I wanted to deal with it quickly and efficiently so I could move on to other more productive activities while acting in way to save the relationship so that we, and our children, could continue to be friends.

There are some people in our lives for whom we don’t care to invest this amount of effort or consideration but most of us have relationships we want to maintain, protect and nurture.  Yet we also need to stay true to ourselves. It’s a fine line but if you can tread it, you’re a smart one. And about as paleo as I think you can make it. After all, we all need a tribe to survive. Our relationships are essential.

What do you do in instances like this? Tell us 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.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Meredith November 27, 2012 at 9:31 am

This is timely for me…

I have a husband who is sort of on board… he understands the basic premise of Paleo… and supports my choices, but feels like I’ve made militant decisions for our family, and that he’s afraid to say that he misses his homemade pasta because he predicts my eye roll.

This is tough for me, because it’s my passion… and not his at all. Despite the fact that he’s a scientist, he’s not at all interested in reading anything I put in front of him about the ‘why’ behind my food choices.

I find it’s much much better to broach the subject between meals, and to offer bits and pieces of information at a time for him to chew on.

It’s all a matter of perspective for me. I’ve seen amazing health results from my real food diet in the short term – and I also see the long term benefits of prevention – particularly for disease that may not physically manifest itself for decades (I’d like to enjoy my entire life). I can’t get him to think beyond today.

I won’t give up!

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Alison Golden November 27, 2012 at 9:46 am

Don’t give up, Meredith. Pace him. He is going through a transition – one not of his own choosing. And that’s a hard job.
Alison Golden recently posted..9 Steps To Protecting Your Relationship With A Paleo SkepticMy Profile

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Lisa November 27, 2012 at 9:57 am

This is a very important subject Alison! Good one! When I started going Primal, my husband was rather sceptic. He ate what I cooked at home but would still eat “normal” when doing business travel. It was not always easy since we did have smaller arguments around it (“did I really have to be so strict?”) Then – the turning point was – I showed him the nerdfitness homepage. My husband is big on working out lifting weights. He started reading that, and then went on searching for more and more information and now he is much more strict then I am!! Well – in the sence that I eat more fruit and still drink wine – but he avoids fruit and alcohol for the moment (and doing his absolute personal best in weight lifting!!) I’m soooo relieved that we both share this lifestyle now. Other people – I just say – this works great for us, but you need to decide what is best for you. Then change the conversation… :-)
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Alison Golden November 27, 2012 at 10:05 am

My husband was the same, Lisa. Skeptical then suddenly a light went on when he saw a Friday success story on Marks Daily Apple. He is now as strict as me food-wise and stricter re. exercise.
Alison Golden recently posted..9 Steps To Protecting Your Relationship With A Paleo SkepticMy Profile

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Christina November 27, 2012 at 10:38 am

Great blog! I get so confused with Paleo/Gaps/BED/Primal/ versus raw food vegan. Both sides have very convincing arguments to support. Both have research. Both have doctor’s backing up their positions. How can it be so darn different – meat is ok for paleo, etc. but not with raw vegans (acidic to body) and
raw vegan is supposedly (not healthy enough?) for the body? I tell ya it’s enough to scream (Primal scream?) :) Anyway… it is true we are all biologically different, but there must be some consensus somewhere? Anway… still confused, but I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write this.

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stacey November 27, 2012 at 10:43 am

Ahhh. Relationships. I have one with my mother and although she knows that Celiac is hereditary (she was the one who told me it is hereditary) and her grandson and I can’t eat grains and I can’t eat dairy, she keeps finding recipes for me that are gluten-free. I know I can’t eat corn – the bulk of gluten-free baking. It took me over a year of her “being helpful” to realize that she really thinks she is! She won’t get tested or try cutting out grains even though she suffers from at least two autoimmune issues.

Over time I came to the conclusion that I just nod as she bring up yet another ailment she or my dad has and when she hands me or tells me about some new “gluten-free” recipe I should try, I thank her and tell her I might use it for a special occasion when my son and I can have treats. Then I file the recipe away – have to keep it in case I need to show her I still have it! – and never use it.

She feels as if she is contributing and my son and I stay safe and follow a diet we really can eat : )

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Michelle November 27, 2012 at 10:46 am

I have had more praise then criticism from my kids’ friends families. My son, who is 15 y, will not eat any junk. If it is a choice of going hungry or eating junk food, He’ll go hungry. All that to say, most of the mom’s are impressed….even jealous somewhat. They may think I’m over the top, but I am the one with healthy kids. When its your kids, it’s easy to say, “uh huh, thanks for your input.” And then move on. It’s one of those things that people just don’t get, so why try to explain.

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Alison Golden November 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm

I occasionally work at a school and it shocks me how sick the kids look. And yeah, you are absolutely right – your kids are the healthy ones and there’s nothing like that for confirmation you’re doing the right thing.
Alison Golden recently posted..9 Steps To Protecting Your Relationship With A Paleo SkepticMy Profile

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Katie November 27, 2012 at 9:13 pm

How did you raise your son so that he won’t eat any junk food? At what age did you start him on a paleo or whole foods diet? I have a 3 year old and 1 year old and am trying to figure out how I want to approach food with them. I don’t know how many times I have heard people say that if I restrict their diets too much they will eventually go crazy and gorge on all sorts of junk food that they were denied all their life. I know that is a possibility, but personally I have struggled with food so much that I want to give them the best start possible, and when someone offers to share organic goldfish crackers with my kids I literally get a pit in my stomach and want to scream “no! Just because it says organic, it doesn’t mean that it is good for you!” But, when my oldest was around 2.5 I found her at a playgroup hiding in the corner eating crackers…hiding because she knew I wouldn’t want her to eat them. Obviously, that is not the outcome I am looking for. I’m not really sure what approach is best.

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Alison Golden November 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I sympathize, Katie. I didn’t start changing my kids diet until they were 6. I have tried all manner of things – I drove us all mad for a year being so strict. And I don’t think that was any healthier (emotionally) than being lax. Certainly caused a lot of stress. I aim for compliance in the home at a 95% level and above and when they’re out, I loosen up. If your kids can make a connection between unhealthy foods and some kind of health issue like a tummy ache, that can help. Otherwise, give them paleo treats when they go to other people’s houses for playdates and offer to host playdates in your house so you can control the snack menu. Find paleo snacks she loves and ask your friends/playgroup to be supportive – but don’t get over anxious or insistent or they’ll get anxious too and then the playdates start to become less frequent I’ve found. There was a time when I thought I was doing the right thing with organic and lower salt goldfish crackers so I try to remember that.
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Kate Koger May 20, 2013 at 2:31 pm

We have been primal for over 12 months. We have three kids all under 10. They all attend birthday parties held by their friends. In the beginning we restricted what was eaten at the parties but now we have relaxed and we let the kids eat what they want. It is better to have a balanced approach than to not let them have it at all. We have found more often than not the kids enjoy the food whilst having it but end up with a sore tummy afterwards. I would much rather them learn themselves instead. We just remind them that this is something that doesn’t happen all the time and they understand it. Our eldest prefers to avoid all ‘processed party foods’ but our younger two dive in. They will change as they get older we are quite sure of that! Best of luck!

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NJ Paleo November 27, 2012 at 10:55 am

Great post, Alison! I think most of us have to deal with this from time to time. I have been able to stop arguments and negative comments cold with, “You know, I thought I would NEVER be able to give up pasta/bread/etc. but when I did I found that I feel 10 years younger!” Who can argue with that? And no one is bored with the scientific concepts of GMO wheat and corn, insulin response, organic vs. conventional, grass-fed vs. feedlot meat, etc. And for my friends who are interested in finding out more, I loan them one of my books and offer to answer questions.

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Alison Golden November 27, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I agree that scientific stuff is not party conversation. It’s like when I worked for a couple counseling agency. I thought (still think) relationship dynamics are the *most* interesting thing, I soon learned my enthusiasm was not shared. At all. :-)
Alison Golden recently posted..9 Steps To Protecting Your Relationship With A Paleo SkepticMy Profile

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Roger November 27, 2012 at 11:49 am

Hi Alison
Great post and it got me thinking.
Here in the uk things are, interestingly, slightly different. Over the past month we have had quite a lot of visitors all on different diets, I am primeval, my wife is on the Neways diet ( used to be Amway but have got into health !), one friend was on the Slimming World diet and another on their own diet trying to find out what was wrong with them.
Guess what, give or take a slice of bacon, they were all the same! Hopefully there is some convergence, and the Paleo/primeval diet will become the norm.
One dissapointment was when I showed the friend on her own diet Mark Sissons site, thinking it might help her, she just dismissed it out of hand, I could have been showing her the secret of eternal life! Perhaps I was?
Roger

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Alison Golden November 27, 2012 at 4:20 pm

You could well have been, Roger, but she’s heavily invested in treading her own path. It’s frustrating when that happens, and so easy to take it personally. We just have to move on…
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Rusty November 28, 2012 at 9:17 am

Hi Alison! Going Paleo has made my life so much better, I just want to shout from the rooftops. Unfortunately, the world at large, and my family are convinced that the USDA would not steer them wrong! So, if anyone asks, I tell them, if they start getting that glazed (or sometimes horrified) look, I stop.

Fortunately, I am the cook in the family, and although I can’t talk the adults into healthier eating, they are stuck with what I make for dinner! HA!! Since there is always meat and veggies on the table, no one can complain that much.

Great article! Thank you so much.
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Linda Sand November 28, 2012 at 6:51 pm

For kids you can use the same methods you use for swearing or whatever. I always said something like, “in our house we…” You know the kids are going to try otherwise elsewhere but most of us eventually adopt what we learned at home.

For adults it helps to have been through some type of 12-step program where you learn its all about attraction. Live what you hope others will want to emulate but you have to wait for them to be ready.

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Allison November 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm

The kid thing is not so easy when you have teenagers! You can’t force them to eat they way you want them to. You can control what is in the house but they spend so much time outside the house, at school, in town, at friends’ houses and they have their own money to purchase those “bad foods.” So instead I have tried to model the good behavior. They see what I eat and how it makes me look and feel. When I am given a window I jump in and explain to them why certain foods are better choices than others. I hope that I will impact their choices but I’m afraid that’s all you can do once they hit a certain age. Anyone have other ideas?

P.S. Allison – so mean that the other mom sent you that email. I’m totally offended for you! She’s clearly jealous.

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Alison Golden November 29, 2012 at 6:48 pm

:-) Thank you Allison. She meant well. And she was polite. I’ve had worse.

Re. the teenagers. I have soon-to-be teens and you are right – there are many social forces acting on them. Doing what their parents say (or even do) is not part of the developmental process at this age. Identifying with their peers is. So we will have limited affect on them but role modeling will eventually pay off, I’m sure. I keep home paleo clean but when they’re out, they get to choose and they choose off-paleo more often than not. We talk about our different choices and they are old enough to live the consequences and decide if it’s worth it. I’ve noticed they make the connection between good choices and skin and weight but not ill health. A work in progress…
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Mollie February 25, 2013 at 7:57 am

Thank you for this article! I’m just now starting to educate myself about Paleo and have begun worrying (just this past weekend) how to approach “the food issue” with the rest of my family. I started veering down this path in March ’12, without realising where I was headed (I was on a grain- and starch-free diet — and muscle-building exercise plan — that was basically paleo, except that it included dairy; once I started having severe problems with adult acne, I realised that I was most likely reacting to the dairy and have since been trying to survive on a dairy-, grain- and starch-free diet — much easier after finding paleo recipes on facebook). In April ’12 my husband broke his leg and, having seen my dramatic body change after starting my diet & fitness plan, he decided to join me in my low-carb eating in order to avoid a big weight gain while limited in his mobility.

It was very successful for both of us …while it lasted. The trouble is that he is Italian. Italian-Italian. A weekly pasta or two is part of his mental wellbeing, he thinks, and he is CONVINCED that pasta/grains are actually needed for a healthy brain (I’m not convinced, as about 50% of all the Italians I know of have either a mental illness or diabetes/a pre-diabetic condition). Now that some months have passed, and he is again able to take part in his 3x weekly spinning classes, he is definitely not following the low-carb diet, and I’ve noticed that he’s been quietly packing our food cupboard with all kinds of (the worst) carbs — crisps, crackers, biscuits, croissants and pains au chocolats…. That is all fine, as far as I’m concerned: he is a grown up and can make his own food choices (with the exception of the dinners I prepare!). The part that has me uncomfortable is that he believes grain-based carbs are necessary for our daughter’s healthy development, and he actually argues AGAINST the protein-and-veg-based meal options I offer up (he tries to convince her instead to eat pasta or sandwiches, and if I sleep in on the weekend, he gives her bread + Nutella, and amaretti biscuits! Aargh!). I will soon begin the ‘Information Tack’, as he tends to respond fairly well to well-supported research studies (if you know of any that are particularly convincing, I’d love to hear suggestions), but I’m sure even that approach will take a lot of commitment on my part, as there seem to be as many studies supporting a “mediterranean diet” as there are ones supporting a more paleo/primal diet.

Anyway, I’ve a long, slow road ahead of me, and I appreciate your input (and that of the others here who’ve been working on it longer than I have). Thanks for the tips!

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Jamie Fellrath March 8, 2013 at 5:54 am

I find myself bristling a lot at the story that you mention above of the guy whose fiance makes comments like something like “Y’know, isn’t it great this non-paleo food is so good for you?’ That’s just passive-aggressive crap and her LOOKING to start a fight.

I think that at some point, you have to put your foot down and say “look, I know you don’t always agree with how I eat, but it works for me (and my family, if you’re at that point) and I’m feeling better than I ever have. I don’t appreciate you trying to start a fight with me over this. You know how I’m going to react, it makes me really angry, and even if you don’t agree with me, I’d like you to stop.”

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Alison Golden March 8, 2013 at 11:41 am

Hey Jamie! You make a good point. I think the key is “at some point…” As I say above, I tend to operate with a three-strikes rule. If a person presents with three passive aggressive comments or behaviors, I’ll say something. I rarely get beyond two strikes because it seems that people get that I’m serious and stop it (or fade away). But one person did continue with some major stuff even after I asserted my position so that relationship is no more.

I also think there are some other considerations besides the words used – tone, body language, frequency, relationship history – that need to figure into a situation to determine the correct response. I didn’t read the comment above as being as aggressive as you did – I think you’d have to be there to do that accurately – but you are right absolutely, lines do need to be drawn when the behavior is obnoxious. :-)
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