It’s a popular quote among paleo enthusiasts:
“Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”
Or, as Robb Wolf so eloquently puts it:
“Learn the difference between your mouth and a vacuum cleaner.”
But let’s face it. Family dinners help bond a family. Special occasions are often marked with a special dish if not a feast. Food is part of how we socialize, how we bond. I find it a very rewarding bonding experience to bake cookies with my two daughters. I enjoy cooking for company and making special meals to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. One of my mom’s tips for dealing with teenagers is to bake something right before they come home from school so that there is a delicious smell in the house when they arrive home and something yummy for them to eat. Food is part of our emotional and social lives, whether we like it or not.
But we can still make some positive changes with food associations. Food can still be an important part of social gatherings but we can make sure that the food served is healthy, paleolithic food. If you are cooking, treat your friends and family to an exclusively paleo meal (you may just inspire some of them to try a paleolithic diet for themselves!). If you are bringing a dish to a potluck, bring something paleo that you know you love so that if there isn’t much else healthy to eat there, you will still be satisfied. If you don’t have control over the meal, make the best choices you can with what’s presented to you. Be aware of your portions so you don’t go crazy. Be aware of the sugar content in the foods you are eating so you don’t eat too much more than normal. Even if you allow yourself bigger portions and less healthy food than normal, don’t give yourself license to eat however much of whatever. These social gatherings are important though, so have fun and try not to stress about your food choices. Just do the best you can.
When I talk about changing food associations, I’m not thinking as much about the big social gatherings, but mostly about the little, daily bad habits that we have with food. Do you eat in front of the TV or your computer? Do you snack constantly for two hours instead of sitting and eating a proper meal? Do you rush through your meals and then crave a treat later? Do you skip meals and then eat something unhealthy because you are starving? Do you always have to get a big fancy coffee on your way to work? Do you always stop for ice cream with the kids on the way home? Do you finish your kids’ food? Do you always allow yourself a treat when you give your kids one? Do you have friends that you always eat with when you see them? Do you always need to eat dessert? Do you snack while you’re cooking? Do you eat when you’re stressed or when you’re bored? Do you eat when you’re tired? Do you eat right before bed? Do you eat when you’re lonely or depressed? Do you eat more when you’re eating with friends or extended family? Do you snack while you study? All of these bad habits have two things in common: they stop you from enjoying your food and they inhibit your self-control when it comes to food.
Changing your bad habits requires two things: awareness and discipline. Yes, I said it, the D-word. Normally, you don’t need much discipline on a paleo diet. After the first adjustment period, you shouldn’t be dealing with too many sweet cravings. There are great paleofied, low-sugar options of your old favorites for those rare days where you just have to have something. But discipline will be required to effectively break those bad food habits and change how you associate food with certain activities. There will be another adjustment period (think 2-4 weeks), but eventually you will have complete control over your choices of when and what to eat and you will truly enjoy your food when you eat it. And achieving this goal of healthier food associations is key to enjoying a long life of good nutrition.