A Realistic View of Optimal Eating
Eating Paleo in a non-Paleo world
Once you start eating Paleo, you’ll notice that most of the world is very much non-Paleo. Like maybe your spouse, roommate or best friend. Fear not, it’s possible to be a happy Paleo eater in a non-Paleo world.
Sharing meals with a non-Paleo eater
Structure your meals around a protein, a vegetable and a starch. You can eat the same meal, just skip the starch and eat a bigger portion of vegetables. It’s a win/win situation. Your dinner companion gets more organic cheesy bunnies and you get more salad greens.
It’s not all or nothing (for you or anyone else)
Do you ever wish everyone you know would give up processed starches and stick with fresh foods? It’s tempting to feel that way. But for the majority of people, cutting out entire food groups is not going to happen. Pasta brings a lot of joy to some people. Noodles are practically a religion in New York. Without rice, billons of people would be hungry. In the grand scheme of things, starches play a major role in feeding much of the world’s population. The real issue is that grains are being lumped in with fruits and vegetables as health foods. People think they’re supposed to eat lots of grains to be healthy. Ideally, Paleo eating—fish, meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and healthy oils—would be viewed as the ideal diet, with some leeway for grain and dairy products. An occasional grilled cheese sandwich or bowl of pasta is not going to hurt anyone and can be very good for the soul. But compare that to someone who eats processed foods at every meal, day after day. There’s a middle ground when it comes to healthy eating. Being 100% Paleo may be your goal—and it’s an awesome goal—but there’s also a lot to be said for 75%.
I’m not 100% Paleo. Most of my meals are, but sometimes I eat non-Paleo foods like black beans and raw cheese. I also embrace occasional treat days. No one should have to give up eating pizza, forever! Eating a Paleo diet doesn’t mean being perfect. That’s asking a lot. The majority of your meals should be made up of real foods. Start with protein, add vegetables, natural fat, and get creative. If you allow yourself a little wiggle room, it’s easy to eat more Paleo, if not exactly so. Realistically, aim for 90% and watch the magic happen.
Eating out is easy
I live in New York City—a major food town. As I write this, it’s a Tuesday afternoon. If I stroll through my neighborhood this evening, every restaurant will be packed to the gills with boisterous eaters. I love eating out and I never worry about finding a meal that is perfectly Paleo. I almost always get fish or shellfish. Salmon, tuna, branzino, clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp…the list goes on. Most fish is served with a vegetable and sometimes a starch. Here again, it’s obvious what to do. Either ask that the starch be left off your plate or just ignore it (and if you’re tempted, have a bite—it’s not the end of the world). I never ask for a special preparation of fish in restaurants. Most chefs prepare fresh fish very simply. Besides, I’m not afraid of a little butter and salt.
As is the way in New York, we get dinner delivered a lot. This is just a small sampling of the meals I eat, but it shows a clear focus on protein and vegetables:
Chinese: shrimp and broccoli, steamed
Cuban: roasted chicken or pork, avocado salad and black beans
BBQ: Brisket with greens or chicken breast with salad
Italian: Meatballs or chicken with salad
Mexican: chicken or shrimp with salad, salsa, guacamole
“Chicken” and “salad” pop up a lot, but luckily, every place prepares them differently. I keep mixed greens, cooked vegetables and homemade vinaigrette on hand to supplement delivery meals.
You don’t have to talk about it
So you started eating Paleo, feel great, look great, and want to stand on the mountain top and tell the whole world, right? Or, maybe you just want to tell someone you care about how to improve their health by eating more real foods. Not so fast. Eating is similar to politics and religion in that most people have an allegiance to one viewpoint. Trying to convince someone to change their eating habits can be very tricky; instead, let them watch your transformation and be inspired.
Eating around people who expect you to eat the same food they do presents a different challenge. Most of the people you know—-friends, family and co-workers-—probably eat lots of stuff you don’t eat. Here’s the thing: there’s nothing strange about eating protein and vegetables. An apple is not strange. An avocado is not strange. Putting olive oil on your salad is not strange. You don’t have to single yourself out as having special needs. Eat what you dig. The best way to avoid the wrath of non-Paleo eaters is to avoid labeling how you eat. If you say, “Hey I’m Paleo. Grains suck,” you’re just asking for it. I spent YEARS in corporate America eating protein and salad for lunch and the only thing I ever heard was that I was “very health conscious.” No one busted on me for taking an interest in my health. I used to joke with one friend that I had three food groups: protein, vegetables and wine. It’s possible to get away with not eating birthday cake, donuts, cookies, etc. if you make the decision that those things don’t apply to me. If you happen to be someone who is dedicated to staying fit and working out, tell people you eat for optimum performance and recovery (if they really need an explanation). No one can argue with that.