Adopting a new lifestyle is tough, but it’s even harder when you’re one half of a team that doesn’t want to adopt the same lifestyle. For so many people, this is a very real situation. It’s the second most cited reason I hear from people who explain to me why they can’t go Paleo or do a Whole30. Having to cook one meal for dinner is hard enough, but two? And then multiply that by two for breakfasts and dinners? Add to that lunches for the Paleo person? That’s a lot of extra work, and can be a pretty huge reason to just not do it.
I was facing the same battle. Although Sherry got us into eating better and adopting what we believed at the time were healthier ways of eating in the past, after our multiple failures, I think she had given up and resigned herself to a life of being heavy. When I mentioned to her that I wanted to do a Whole30, she scoffed and told me I was crazy. When I suggested Paleo instead, she thought it was ridiculous. I kept reading and looking for options for me, but the more I read, the more I was led back to Whole30 followed by Paleo. Finally, one evening, I had a very frank discussion with her.
“If we don’t do something, anything, to help me lose weight, I will be dead within the decade.” I wasn’t being passive-aggressive, nor was I using hyperbole. This was what I was being told by my doctor based off declining medical markers. I was at the precipice and my health was still at a point where the damage could be reversed. Another year or two? I would be doomed with conditions that you don’t or can’t come back from.
I told her, “I will abide by whatever you want to do, but I want to be around for a long time to molest and annoy you. I want to see grandchildren. I want to be a part of their lives. I don’t see a way for me to do that if I continue on the path I’m on now.” It must have hit home with her, because she relented and said she would read into it and strongly consider it.
Let’s do this
After a week or so of reading, and Sherry is a voracious reader, she came to me and said, “Okay, we can do a Whole30, but we aren’t starting until after my birthday.” This was in late July and her Birthday is at the end of August, so that meant we had a month to prepare. We stopped buying foods with added sugar and started getting rid of all the foods we had on-hand that had added sugar or forbidden ingredients in them. We also went to restaurants and ate food we would no longer be able to eat. Sort of our “Goodbye to Bad Foods Tour of 2015.” We would indulge in these high-sugar foods and reminisce about how much we loved the foods or about the memories we had associated with those foods, and then we said farewell to them. We might visit them again sometime in the distant future, but only in strict moderation, and only after we’d reached our goals in weight and health.
When we started, the day after her birthday, we were filled with doubt. Not so much in our resolve, but in the efficacy of Whole30. We were incredulous, but hopeful. We had both read at length about what to expect on our Whole30, and sure enough, we were going through the classic symptoms. Our mindset was good, though, and we supported each other when one of us was faltering. There were days when Sherry would feel like no progress was being made, or that she was feeling far worse without sugar than she did with it, and I would have to encourage her. There were days when I really, really wanted pasta. I have Italian DNA in me; it’s a thing. She talked me off the ledge more than a few times.
I think one of the major breakthroughs in her mindset fully adopting the healthier lifestyle was when she stopped drinking milk and noticed she was less inflamed, or “puffy” as she called it, than she was before. She used to start her days with a glass of milk. The last time she lost weight, she lost 40 lbs but was still always “puffy.” This time, after losing just 10 lbs, she looked thinner than after losing 40 lbs. She felt great. She had more energy. Her mind felt clearer. The only thing she changed aside from getting rid of the sugar was dairy. When she tried to reintroduce it, her body swelled and her joints ached. She had learned, thanks to Whole30, that she had a dairy allergy that she had been unaware of. It wasn’t serious enough to cause easily recognizable symptoms, but now she was certain.
For me, I knew we were onto something good when I started feeling better, more energetic, and my mind seemed clear early in the mornings, even before my coffee! I no longer awoke in a fog. My mind was sharp and I was able to concentrate and think while in the shower, something I hadn’t been able to do in many years.
Where do we go from here?
As we completed our Whole30, we looked for what to do next. Whole30 is a way of eating that can be sustained, but it’s very limited. Something Sherry and I were both adamant about is that whatever healthier lifestyle we adopted, it had to include food that was delicious. We finally understood that food is fuel, but that fuel should at least be tasty. We thought back to our pre-Whole30 research and found that Paleo was the logical next step. We decided to try it and see how it went. Never in our lives did we expect it to work so well.
I’ve talked about the benefits, how our experience has been with Paleo, and even the effect it’s had on our friends. What I only touched upon in the past, however, was just how important it was for my wife to be on my team.
As I stated earlier, we pick each other up when the other is down. We continually cheerlead each other. When Sherry has a bad day on the scale, I remind her that she looks amazing and that while the scale may not be her friend that day, the fit of her pants sure are! When I beat myself up for having eaten a bit more than I should have, it’s Sherry who reminds me that it’s likely because my body was craving more calories. She reminds me that I still look good, and that the scale is still rewarding me with results. When I am up in weight, she asks me how my pants are fitting. When I tell her I’m down a belt hole, she smiles and reminds me to stop worrying about the scale.
Venus and Mars
It’s a constant give and take, and it’s that support that makes the lifestyle not only successful, but possible for us. It enriches our lives, and I have to say that an unexpected consequence of this is that we have grown closer in ways I never thought possible. We are both more engaged together in our meal plans and execution. We discuss our fitness more, our health, and anything out of the ordinary. We talk about our successes, but also our challenges as we look to each other for ideas and solutions. Heck, the fact that my wife solicits solutions from me is a huge step.
So, how do you get a partner to engage? This is a difficult question to answer, because each person and each relationship is different. What worked for me may not work for everyone. There are many different tacks you can take when addressing this with your partner, but one that is very hard to argue against is, “I need your full help and support to be successful at this.” It is the passive-aggressive argument and really brings a lot of risk with it. The implications of someone who refuses this argument has larger consequences than adopting a diet plan or lifestyle, so it should be used with caution. If you’re using this argument, you should be prepared for the emotional backlash of your partner refusing to help you. That’s something I risked, but I went into it with the knowledge that I may have been asking too much or have been too selfish, and that she may have had just as valid a reason for not supporting me. It was a gamble for me that paid off.
An option is to join a support group, forum, subreddit, or online community of people who are on the same path. While this won’t help with the double meal prep or having to watch your partner eat foods you can’t eat (or at the minimum, shouldn’t eat), it will help keep you motivated and moving forward.
If you’re having to make meals for or with your partner who refuses to go Paleo with you, perhaps you can make meals that incorporate Paleo elements that can easily be removed and eaten without the non-Paleo components. Grilled chicken sandwiches: your partner can have the bun while you eat the chicken without. Spaghetti and meatballs; you can eat the meatballs with sauce and perhaps spaghetti squash while your partner eats the pasta and garlic bread.
What if they threw a war and nobody showed up?
The last option is to just make Paleo-friendly foods without telling them. Why fight about something that doesn’t need it? There are so many options and alternatives that can fool most anyone that are tasty and filling that you may be fighting a battle that doesn’t need to be fought. At our last holiday party, my wife made a Paleo chocolate tort and some non-Paleo cupcakes. Many of the people were shocked and surprised to find that the delicious, moist, and amazing tort was Paleo. If we hadn’t told anyone, they would have never known that it was Paleo. The same is true for many of the dishes we serve our guests.
Help and support are important to everyone; patients in recovery, people training for marathons, and college-aged kids, for example. Adopting a new lifestyle like Paleo is no exception. In many ways, I think it may be more important than most support situations; eating goes to the core of who we are, is a large part of the human experience, and is the root of our culture. We are changing something that is very intrinsic to how we see ourselves and literally what we’re made of. Going about it alone is difficult at best. Get a partner, a buddy, or at least a person in your corner to help you and to answer questions when you have them or to pick you up when you need it. If that person can’t be a partner, engage someone who can help. It may be the difference between success and failure.