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Tips to Stick to a Paleo Diet: Struggling to Turn Down Free Junk Food

May 3, 2016615Views

When it comes to sticking to a paleo diet, one of the most well-known struggles is the allure of free food. The catered office lunch, the gourmet birthday cake, even free samples handed out. We much more easily make the right choices at home or when we are choosing for ourselves off of a menu. So why do we struggle to say no to free treats even when we know there are health costs associated with them?


This phenomenon extends even to immediate health costs. We accept free sugary treats which exact a cost in terms of a sugar-fueled crash 15 minutes later. The cost is not far in the future, it is not abstract, and we know we’ll regret the splurge as surely as we would regret a monetary splurge. Yet a splurge is much easier to resist when the cost is money than when the cost is health.
The bottom line: why do we struggle to say no to “free” junk food more than turning down any other temptation?
The reason resides in the concept of the food as “free”. When something is offered to us at no monetary cost, we see it as being worth more than if we were being asked to pay for it. To put it another way: because it is free, we see it as disproportionately more valuable, more desirable than if we were asked to pay any amount, even one penny. To illustrate this, Dan Ariely, a Duke Behavioral Economics professor conducted an experiment. He offered students the opportunity to buy one piece of chocolate. They could buy a Lindt truffle for 26 cents or a Hershey’s kiss for 1 cent. The majority of the students purchased the Lindt truffle. That meant that the students assigned a value to the truffle that was greater than 25 cents more than the kiss. Then Ariely’s team set up a second experiment where students were able to have one piece of chocolate, either the Lindt truffle for 25 cents, or the Hershey’s kiss for free. The price difference was the same, the Lindt truffle was still 25 cents more than the kiss, so the results should have been the same. The students should have bought more truffles since they had indicated by the first experiment that they found the truffles had a value more than 25 cents greater than the kisses. However, now that the kisses were free, the students overwhelmingly picked the kisses.
Why? When the price difference was identical, why were the kisses preferable when they were free but not when they were 1 cent? The answer, as shown by the experiment and explained by Ariely in his analysis, is that we assign a value to “free” that goes beyond the value of the money that we are saving. The kisses became significantly more valuable to the students purely because they had the idea of “free” attached to them.
So what does this mean for our struggle to stick to a diet? It makes “free” junk food the easiest to fall for because “free” has such a hold over us. It’s not just that the food is appealing, it’s that it is made significantly more desirable to us just by being “free”.Knowing this, how do we stick to a paleo diet?
The first thing is simply realizing that we are susceptible to this. Watching for this effect can make you pause when you are struggling to resist a free snack. When you notice the effect and pause, ask yourself this: do you really want the food or is it so seemingly irresistible because it is free? Would you want it if you were being asked to pay even a tiny amount?
This pause allows us to pull ourselves out of the knee-jerk response we have to want free things and cool off enough to think. If you still find yourself struggling to stick to eating paleo, have some strategies planned out to help you. Remember, success with any new goal or positive habit is all in the planning. Here’s a few that have worked for my clients:

  1. Promise yourself an alternative. If you can turn down the cheap cake from a box at work, reward yourself with a luxurious dark chocolate or a homemade paleo treat. This particularly helps if you struggle because you feel deprived when having to say no to something you want. Redefine what it means to be deprived. If you can have a wonderful paleo friendly treat that will taste great and make you feel great, then how tempting is the junk food that will taste mediocre at best and leave you feeling ill?
  2. Ask yourself, honestly, is it going to be worth the consequences. Are you going to feel sick? Drained? Unable to concentrate? Are you one step further from regaining your health or fitting in your favorite dress? Think about both options as a future choice (rather than one an immediate choice and one in the future). If you had a choice between having junk food on your next beach trip or fitting into your favorite sundress on the trip, which would you pick? Why should it be different if you are choosing between junk food today versus wearing your dress this summer? It should be the same answer, right?
  3. Look at everyone else eating the junk food. Do you want to struggle with the same health troubles that they do? Or do you want to feel and look the best you can?
  4. Or, my favorite as a Questioner/Upholder who isn’t afraid of looking “fussy”; simply make the decision once and be done with it. Rather than struggling to make decision whenever you are offered cake, decide that you are not going to eat cake, even free cake, and let them know. When they push, simply repeat “no thank you”, “no, really, I couldn’t”.

This struggle to stick with a paleo diet when being offered free food can be particularly hard for people identifying as Obligers, particularly if the food offered is homemade. Obligers feel external expectations and pressures more strongly than the other types. If you know you are an Obliger, your best bet to stick to the paleo diet may be to recruit accountability partners, either at home or at work (or both!). Promising your partner makes it much easier to turn down well meaning offers and opens you up to explaining that you couldn’t possibly let your friend/co-worker/husband down and it wouldn’t be right to eat the cake and then not tell them.
A bit of planning ahead and self-knowledge will set you up to successfully overcome this struggle. But if you stumble, don’t look at it as a failing, a reason to beat yourself up or give up. It doesn’t mean that you are not a strong, self-controlled person. You are strong, with so many successes behind you, you are simply pushing against your own nature and tendencies and you need to make sure that you plan ahead so circumstances can support you. Don’t let a minor blip undo the work you’ve done.
That’s it for today! If you’ve got a great strategy you’d like to share, please leave a comment.

Source: Rx Primal Blog

Becky Davis

Becky Davis

Hello, I'm Becky! I'm here to help you make the Paleo diet an easy part of your daily life. With my quick recipes, tips, and strategies readers and clients add healthy practices and stick with them! To hear a little more about my background, check out the "About Me" section or find me on social media.

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