My husband used to get on my nerves.
He’d read the dessert menu, then order just a cup of coffee. He’d eat just two squares of chocolate from a bar. He’d manage to stay away from the buffet table all night.
I can’t tell you how that level of restraint irked me.
Me, the sugar addict who’d preferred her cupcakes with a 2:1 ratio of frosting to cake. Me, who once had an economics teacher explain the law of diminishing returns by using the example of eating three Mars Bars – I always remembered that fondly whenever I ate multiple Mars Bars. 🙂 Me, whose idea of a treat was a one-pound box of Sees chocolate and no-one looking.
But when I went paleo and stopped eating this way, I started to notice something.
Buckets of ice cream started disappearing on their own. Cookies, stashed away on a high shelf, would disappear too. I wasn’t eating them, the kids weren’t eating them. Soooooooo….perhaps my husband wasn’t quite so strong-willed after all?
Perhaps the sedentary work combined with late-night snacking was the reason the latest family photos with him in the frame had yet to make an appearance on the dresser?
Stubborn marries stubborn
I’ve been married nearly 15 years. I know my husband well. I can be very stubborn and stubborn people often marry other stubborn people so we are perfectly matched. I knew he wasn’t going to be easily persuaded. Plus, he’d seen me go through so many diets even I wasn’t going to make much of this paleo thing until I was sure it would work.
He’d seen it all before and I couldn’t stand the prospect of barely suppressed eye-rolling or the ‘What are we going to eat for dinner today?’ type of questions that would ensue if I did.
So I kept quiet. Mostly.
Two and half years after I begain my paleo journey, my husband strikes up conversations with other paleo people – strangers in the street! (How does he do that? I’ve never met anyone who’s paleo besides me.)
Suddenly, new pants
Now he’s gone out and bought new pants. A new closet, in fact. He’s all-round smaller and unlike me, he doesn’t keep clothes that are a size or more too big.
So how did this conversion of near religious proportions come about?
Well, apparently, it was quite sudden. He hadn’t shown much interest in what I was doing at all. He even called it ‘a fad.’
Then one day, exactly one year ago, I shared a Marks Daily Apple success story. And that was that. He switched over to paleo at the end of that article. Just like that.
Except I doubt it was quite that simple.
My paleo thing
You see, over the previous 15 months, I’d quietly been doing my paleo thing. Seemingly solo and successfully. And in order to preserve family harmony (and to protect myself from ridicule if I gave up the whole idea,) I’d insisted on very little change from anyone else.
But now as I analyze it, I realize I had actually set up his conversion perfectly, and that changes were going on under the hood. The success story was simply the tipping point.
So what did I do? Well, I’ll tell you.
Selfish is as selfish does
I didn’t want anyone to mess up my plan. I didn’t want my stress levels to rise. I didn’t want to be laughed at.
So I was selfish. I put my needs first. And I certainly didn’t try to actively convert anyone.
And slowly over time, our house became paleo-friendly. And because I’m the mom in the household and wield a lot of power, more and more paleo aspects entered our lifestyle. Not just food, but things like how we spent our time, what we watched on TV, how we organized our home.
The kids got calmer, lost weight, got outdoors more. And almost by osmosis my husband became 60% paleo. Maybe more. Then when the success story came out, it provided the little nudge he needed to take it to the next step by rejecting the old way and embracing the paleo path.
Here’s what I did:
1. I put myself first
At first, I only worked on me. I didn’t think about changing anyone else. I observed my own behaviors, bought my own food, ate separately sometimes if I felt it necessary. I didn’t worry or concern myself with anyone else’s health habits but my own. Over time, I realized I had more influence over my kids eating so I altered their diet but I left my husband’s choices well alone. I also let him make his own food if he wanted something non-paleo. He made his own breakfast and lunch.
2. I managed my own stress
I am an emotional eater. I eat when I’m happy, when I’m sad, to bring myself up, to calm myself down. I would envy women who’d go through periods of stress and lose weight. I just gained, no matter what. So changing my eating behavior was also about managing my stress.
I slept when I needed to, I followed my interests, I took time to exercise. I did whatever I needed to plan and prepare my paleo food, to stay calm and centered. I still self-soothed. But not with food. 🙂
3. I didn’t offer explanations
Early on, when people debated with me about paleo, I got anxious. It’s like I gasped for breath while they were hammering me with their non-paleo arguments. So I stopped talking about it. I just quietly went about my business. I didn’t give my husband any long speeches about what I was doing or why. And I just didn’t get into those situations where we could be entrenching ourselves into position, one for paleo and one against, that are then difficult to back away from.
4. I let myself be imperfect
I gradually dropped serving non-paleo food. I didn’t want an out-and-out rebellion on my hands. I would have been constantly anticipating the next battle and potentially stalling my progress. I needed to keep calm and have time to experiment. I dropped the carbs with dinner, halved the amount of bread I bought, and stopped providing dessert on a regular basis. That was all I did for six months.
5. I built a network
I don’t know anyone who eats like I do. Not a soul. So I networked online by reading blogs, commenting profusely and blogging.
I had this need to learn all things paleo, to test the theories out, to feel normal about living this way. I couldn’t do that in my day-to-day life so I went online. It was a necessary but, ultimately, temporary part of my process. Now the only people I know that eat like I do are my own family. But that’s okay. 🙂
6. I patted myself on the back
I told myself over and over that I was ahead of my time. That I was the smart one. That, in time, people would catch up with me and realize that paleo was the healthy normal. In the face of doubting or complaints (my own as well as others,) this stream would go through my head.
7. I asked for what I wanted.
I wanted non-paleo food crack limited in the house. To have it always around me was very difficult. Like an alcoholic living around alcohol. My husband would come home from swanky business cocktail parties with mini-cheesecakes and enormous brownies. He would buy tubs of ice cream and stash them in the freezer.
One day, I simply asked him not to bring them home anymore. He stopped. He had relapses would forget. I’d remind him. He once brought me three pounds of chocolate back from a business trip. Naturally I ate them and felt horrible, so I asked him to bring me back a scarf or a T-shirt next time.
8. I didn’t buy food for him when I went grocery shopping
I would ask myself if I thought it was unhealthy, then what was I doing buying and cooking it for the person I loved? So I stopped buying it. It helped me stay on the wagon, made me feel better and caused my husband to slowly lose his own addiction to carbs.
Eventually I stopped buying non-paleo food like bread and peanut butter altogether. His response was to go out and buy it himself for a while but he began to investigate other options to his standard lunches. When he finally tipped over to paleo, most of the change had already occurred.
9. I risked his hurt feelings
One evening he wanted to go out for a Chinese meal. I don’t know about you but I can never find anything paleo that I want to eat on even the largest of Chinese restaurant menus. And I am always tempted by the fried, sweet, dishes. So I refused to go. Not rudely or argumentatively, I just stated it. He was a little disappointed and I suggested he take the kids without me, but in the end, with some brainstorming, we came up with an acceptable alternative.
This way, I think he learned to see that I wasn’t unreasonable and that while there were boundaries I wouldn’t cross, there was sufficient flexibility for a solution that he could be happy with. He can eat Chinese with his mates, after all.
10. I refused to be a servant
I did not cook two different meals, non-paleo for my spouse and paleo for me. What am I – a short-order cook? He ate what I cooked and if he wanted anything different, he made it. It sounds tough but it’s really about treating one another as adults. The biggest resistance was with hamburger buns. I headed off that complaint by replacing the bun with an egg. He loved it.
11. I wouldn’t eat his cooking
Occasionally my husband would offer to cook dinner. My first question was always, ‘What will it be?’ and inevitably it would be something with rice or pasta. I would accept his offer, thank him, but not eat the non-paleo parts of the meal. I had to keep on track and I had to demonstrate I was serious (builds respect.)
Perhaps because I ate what I could and we hold a ‘thank the the cook’ ritual at every meal (no matter what is cooked,) he never flipped out or complained that I was only eating part of the meal and over time he simply stopped putting non-paleo food on my plate. And he even started asking for suggestions.
12. I gave my own food greater priority.
At first, I didn’t hide non-paleo food, exactly. But I did give it a less prominent place on the shelves. I tucked it out of the way. No more! It wasn’t long until our fridge and freezer had shelves designated for non-paleo food. These are not the shelves you immediately see on opening, they are further down near the bottom. Jam, jellies and sauces were in the door shelves making them less prominent. Now they are gone altogether. 🙂
In the garage freezer, on high shelves, in drawers in low-trafficked areas of the house I would store cookies and cake. The main eyeball areas would house my food. On walking in my pantry (whose shelves are pretty bare these days) you will see nuts and spices dead ahead. Baking items are higher up and lower down. Other than that, there is no food in there any longer.
But back then, I even piled bags of sunflower seeds on top of the boxes of cake mix in order to stop the enticing images depicted on the boxes from burning themselves into my brain. And although I did this for me, the effect of this on my husband was that he often forgot we had these items, too.
You can’t really change others
I think the simple fact that I never expected my husband to convert to paleo was the key. For reasons that confound me, I have never been successful at inciting some change in him from verbal persuasion alone. I have no idea why, I have been totally right on many an occasion!
I have no particular insight into the workings of the male brain. I simply did what worked for me, what would get me closer to my goal – the natural outcome of which was to get my husband to the brink of paleo. From there it was but a gentle poke to get him over the line.
What about you? Is your spouse on board? What three ideas could you apply to your own paleo journey? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
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