Once you get over the shock of not eating stuff like pasta and bread and wine and Holy sh*t! I can’t have cereal or yogurt for breakfast anymore!, the real challenge of paleo begins to emerge: socializing. I’m fortunate because many of my friends are at least paleo-aware and some of them are as committed as I am to this lifestyle. I also know and love a bunch of people who fall into the “eat whatever they want” category, as well as the “stay up late” and “enjoy adult beverages every evening” groups.
So what’s a dino-chow devotee to do when fun sounds fun but you want to be happy?
Through the trial-and-error of many years, I’ve learned a few tricks that take most out of the sting out of remaining true to my convictions – without becoming the weirdo who never wants to have any fun.
1. Bring your own food or eat before you go.If your priority is socializing, rather than the food itself, your pre-meal doesn’t have to be the world’s greatest. It just needs to be nutritional duct tape to help you navigate the experience. Every meal need not be a sit-down feast that feeds your soul and all your senses. Sometimes you just gotta eat. If you’re going to a restaurant, investigate the menu and plan your strategy.
Unless your friends are completely cold-hearted, you can probably convince them not to choose, say, a pizza joint for dinner. (If they refuse to bend, you may have a bigger problem than “eating weird.”) At most restaurants, you can find something. It might not be the best meal ever, but you do get to hang with your friends and enjoy some very important-to-your-psyche social time. I also usually eat a snack before I go, that way if the food that lands in front of me is sub-par, I’m not starved into making poor choices.
Once, I was in the middle of a strict Whole30 when it was time to go to a friend’s wedding. I wasn’t sure what kind of sugar and gluten would be hidden in the food at the reception, so while the bridal party posed for photos, I sat on a sunny bench and ate a snack pack – chicken sausage coins, black olives, snap peas, jicama – I’d hidden inside my giant faux crocodile handbag. (I later deposited the big purse in the car and replaced with a cute little evening bag. I’m not a heathen!) I endured some good-natured teasing from my friends, but I had the last laugh. They, without exception, said the food at the wedding wasn’t very tasty and expressed some envy of my handbag snack.
At a restaurant or social occasion like a party or wedding – anywhere your friends will be drinking cocktails – head directly to the bar as soon as you arrive and…
2. Order club soda.
Immediately get a glass into your hand. Strut up to the bartender and request a large club soda with two slices of lime and a few olives; I like to call this a Mediterranean Fizz! Now you (a) look like everyone else in the room with a glass in your hand; (b) have a drink that appears to be a cocktail to stave off inquisitive friends who want to know why you’re not drinking; and (c) can enjoy a refreshing drink that’s not just a boring glass of water. This mocktail also allows you to dance your ass off, pose for silly photos, and remain in control of your vocabulary while the people around you potentially devolve into drunken idiots.
3. Enlist helpers and enjoy yourself.
When I attended that wedding, I told all my close friends that I was sticking to my Whole30 and not drinking booze. They heckled me a little, but they also encouraged me. Don’t be shy about creating an army of support. Unless the occasion is a dinner party thrown in your honor and prepared by a kickass chef, a social situation is not necessarily about the food and booze – it’s about enjoying yourself and the company of your friends. WARNING: Sometimes, when the pleasure of food and the lubrication of booze is subtracted from a social situation, it becomes dull. This is a natural step in your evolution; do not despair! Other good and healthy and valuable and fun things will emerge. Believe it.
4. Use your true voice.
Mostly, no one notices what you’re doing, and if they do, they don’t care. If someone is antagonizing you – the waiter, a co- worker, a “friend” – look them in the eye and say, “I’m choosing to make my health a priority right now.” It’s not a bad idea to practice saying that phrase. Also, in the right circumstances, “Mind your own f*cking business.” works like a charm.
5. Eat when you get home.
Congratulations! You stuck to your guns. Now celebrate a little. I always make sure I have one of my favorite paleo snacks waiting in the kitchen after a night out: an egg or two scrambled with some chives, or hard-boiled eggs topped with homemade mayo, or a handful of caramelized coconut chips. Then I put on my PJs, snuggle with my husband Dave and our cat Smudge, and sleep the sleep of the righteous, knowing I’m going to wake up feeling healthy and strong. (Sometimes I think of those poor suckers with hangovers, and I allow myself to gloat for just a second.)
What are your favorite tricks for navigating social situations? Share in comments!
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