Choosing the best foods for your health is tricky enough. But how do you handle social pressure when family, friends, and coworkers re-introduce bad habits?
“I could never give up bread.”
“You’re saying you don’t like the food I made?”
“You’re good all the time. Come on. It’s just a little piece of cake.”
If you’ve been Paleo for long, those phrases probably look painfully familiar.
Once you decide to change your life, it doesn’t take long for social pressure to heat up.
The people you spend time with every day—your family, friends, and coworkers—might not be thrilled with your new lifestyle. Even the most well-meaning people can discourage you from sticking with Paleo…
But you don’t have to let them.
With the right strategies, you can navigate sticky social situations, stay Paleo, and not end up like Tom Hanks in Castaway.
Do You Have to Choose Between Your Health and a Social Life?
But you can’t escape social pressure.
Huge portions of our social lives are tied to food and drinks. There’s going to happy hour with your coworkers. Or meeting up at that trendy new restaurant with a group of friends. Even simple things like being asked to a homemade dinner with family.
Staying Paleo is straightforward if you’re eating every meal alone. But it can be tough when there are other people around—people who knew you before you changed your lifestyle.
Whenever there’s socialization, there’s bound to be social pressure. It might be genuine curiosity, passive-aggressive remarks, or open hostility. It might be a mixture of all of those things.
This pressure can really get to you if you aren’t ready for it. It can make you feel like you have to sacrifice your health just because you enjoy eating with other people.
How can you handle social pressure gracefully without compromising on your health?
How to Handle Social Pressure
In an ideal world, everyone you know would be wild about your decision to go Paleo. They’d encourage you and support you without reservation.
Things don’t work like that. Sometimes even the most well-intentioned people can throw a wrench in your commitment to a healthier life.
Here are some guidelines to help you navigate different types of social pressure:
1. Don’t Try to Convert Anyone to Your Cause
You’ve made the switch to Paleo. The weight’s coming off, you’re sleeping better, and you’re turning your life around.
Wouldn’t you want to spread the good news far and wide?
Not so fast…
One of the biggest drivers of social pressure is pushing too hard to convert people to adopt your Paleo lifestyle.
It doesn’t matter if your intentions are good. It’s easy for others to misinterpret your concern as you being condescending or judgmental. Your attempts to get someone to “see the light” only end up making them feel like they’re backed into a corner.
The best solution, then, if you want to convince people in your life to give Paleo a try, is to lead by example. You put your money where your mouth is by making the right choices and letting them notice the positive results.
People will notice when you lose weight, have more energy, and seem happier and healthier than ever. Some of them will even get curious enough to ask how you did it.
2. Don’t Make a Big Deal of It
There’s a reason why the “annoying vegetarian” is a cliché:
This is the guy or gal who makes a huge deal every time someone around them eats meat. They get in your face and urge you to consider the ethical consequences of your food choices…when all you wanted was to just have lunch in peace.
You can learn what not to do from these people…
If someone in the office is serving cake for your coworker’s birthday, don’t announce to the room why you can’t eat it. Don’t launch into a diatribe about insulin spikes.
Instead, just smile when you’re offered a piece and say “no thank you.” Carry on socializing like you normally would.
Not making a big deal out of what your family and friends eat is tougher—you love them and you’re worried about their health. But any lasting decisions to change their lives will come from them—not your impassioned pleas about omega-3s.
Don’t make a big deal out of the foods you’re avoiding, and most of time you can fly under the radar. If someone is pressing you and won’t let it go…
3. Have a One-Line Explanation Ready to Go
Social pressure to your Paleo lifestyle can come at unexpected times—and from unexpected people.
One minute you’re ordering lunch on a stressful workday. The next, your waiter makes a snide comment about all the special requests for your salad. Then you find yourself embarrassed or getting angry. It ruins your entire afternoon.
You can avoid a lot of these emotionally charged situations by having a one-line canned response ready for questions about your food choices.
Something like this:
“I don’t eat gluten, grains, sugars, or legumes because that’s what works best for my health.”
Keep it short and sweet. Make it easy to remember. Practice in front of a mirror until you can say it with confidence.
There’s no need to over-explain your choices or try to justify yourself. That can make you come off as defensive, which can ratchet up social pressure.
If someone keeps pressing you, I’ve found that repeating, “it’s just what works best for my health” a good way to shut it down without upsetting too many people. As long as you don’t get emotional, it’s hard to argue with a statement like that.
4. Steer the ‘Social Ship’
Are you in a social rut?
Going to a lot of happy hours, dinners, and events focused on food?
A lot of people are. It’s true that many social events tend to center on food and drinks. But that’s more a default setting than anything else. It doesn’t have to be like that!
Instead of waiting on others to plan all the events, you can take charge of your social calendar. These could be little things—like suggesting meeting at a coffee place or taking a walk instead of happy hour.
There are tons of things you could do that aren’t centered on food and drinks. Most people in your life will be happy to do them with you. But you have to take charge and plan.
One good way I’ve found to stay Paleo and enjoy time with friends: invite them to your place for dinner. It’s a great chance to show off some delicious, Paleo-friendly foods. And you can avoid awkward discussions about turning down someone’s home cooked dinner.
5. Don’t Assume People Will React Negatively
Maybe you’ve heard horror stories that have you convinced social pressure will come hot and heavy as soon as you pass on the bread basket next time at dinner.
Resist the temptation to make assumptions and pre-judge people’s reactions to your lifestyle change.
If you’re assuming people around you will react negatively when they find out about your new lifestyle, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You come off as defensive, which actually people more likely to get upset and pressure you.
The reality? You’ll probably be surprised at who is supportive and who is resistant.
Adopt an “innocent until proven guilty” attitude. You might be surprised how many of your friends and family are rooting for you—even if they don’t understand the nuances of your new lifestyle just yet.
6. Make Social Pressure Work for You Instead of Against You
You can’t eliminate social pressure completely.
Even Tom Hanks had to worry about what Wilson thought in Castaway.
But you can use social pressure to your advantage. Instead of just trying to avoid negative social pressure, you can proactively seek positive social pressure.
Positive social pressure actually makes you more likely to stick to your Paleo lifestyle, even when you’re feeling unmotivated.
Choose a close friend or two and clue them in on your decision to pursue a healthier life. Ideally, find people who are already healthy themselves. They can support you and keep you accountable in a sea of less than supportive voices. Vet these people carefully!
You can also find communities of health-conscious people like marathoners, CrossFit athletes, and martial artists. Spending time with these people will surround you with plenty of positive examples and encouragement to stick with your new lifestyle.
7. Take Your Healthy Lifestyle Seriously
Even your most die-hard supporters will lose enthusiasm after they see you eating pizza for the third time this week.
You can’t expect social support if you don’t support yourself first.
Take your healthy lifestyle seriously. You don’t have to be strict 100% of the time, but you have to be clear about your guidelines and when you are (and aren’t) going to compromise.
If you take your lifestyle seriously, others are more likely to take you seriously. Conversely, they’re much more likely to undermine you if you keep undermining yourself.
8. Give It Time
The way people eat is one of the most deeply ingrained habits in their lives.
Think about it. The people you associate with probably knew you before your lifestyle changed. They’ve seen how you ate for years, decades, or even your entire life.
So it’s understandable these people would have reservations (or at least questions) when you make such a radical departure from the typical modern diet.
Be patient—especially at first. The hardest part about handling social pressure is getting yourself (and everyone else) over the “hump” where your food choices seem strange and new.
Eventually, most people will accept your new lifestyle as just the new you. They’ll stop offering you that cake and beer once they notice your new lifestyle is there to stay.
You Can’t Win Them All (and That’s OK)
Even if you do everything just right—if you navigate social situations with the grace of a lifelong politician—there will always be that coworker, family member, or friend who just won’t let your new lifestyle go.
Some people you know will never be “Team Paleo.”
That’s okay. You can’t control how other people view your lifestyle. All you can do is focus on what you can control: doing what’s best for your health.
There’s a big difference between ignorant, unconscious social pressure and passive-aggressive (or openly hostile) pressure.
The first type of pressure will always be around. It isn’t a big deal. But if you have a lot of the second kind of pressure in your life…
You might need to consider limiting your interactions with hostile people. Your health is worth it. Always.
You can’t win every little battle. But you can stay Paleo and still enjoy a great social life.
You Can Get Healthy and Stay Social
Just like with any major lifestyle change, going Paleo will bring out social pressure from people you know and love.
With a bit of patience and smart strategy, you can handle this pressure without compromising on your health.
(Related: Support – Why The People In Our Lives Matter)
What’s the worst social pressure you’ve ever gotten following the Paleo lifestyle? How did you overcome it? Leave a comment below and let us know!