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 two 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 socializing, rather than the food itself, is your priority, your snack or 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 doesn’t need to be a sit-down feast that feeds you soul and all your senses. Sometimes you just gotta eat.
If you’re going to a restaurant, investigate the menu and plan your strategy in advance. Unless your friends are total a-holes, you can probably convince them not to choose, say, a pizza joint for dinner. (If they refuse to bend, you have bigger problems than “eating weird.”) At most restaurants, you can find SOMETHING. Again, it might not be the greatest 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.
Last fall, 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.
Here’s another trick I learned at the wedding: at a restaurant or social occasion where 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. Now.
Walk up to the bartender and request a large club soda with two slices of lime and a few olives. 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; (c) can enjoy a refreshing drink that’s not just a boring glass of water. I discovered the lime-olive combo last year, and it’s a lifeline in social situations. At that wedding last fall, I think I drank eight glasses during the course of the night. The bartender and I became besties (FOUR olives in every glass!). I also danced my ass off, posed for silly pictures, and remained in control of my vocabulary while the people around me devolved into drunken idiots.
3. Enlist helpers and enjoy yourself.
At that wedding, I told all my close friends that I was sticking to my Whole 30 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 prepard 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 kinda 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 chilly voice.
Mostly, no one notices what you’re doing, and if they do, they don’t care. If someone is annoying – the waiter, a co-worker, a “friend” – I look them in the eye and say with as much flint as possible, “I have a thyroid condition.” My thyroid doesn’t cause major problems for me anymore, but I’m not above milking it if it’s helpful. I give you permission right now to borrow my thyroid condition and add that phrase to your “leave me alone” arsenal. Also, “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 for me when I get home: carmelized coconut chips, an egg or two scrambled with some chives, or hard-boiled eggs topped with dollops of homemade mayo. Then I put on my pjs, snuggle with Dave and Smudge, and sleep the sleep of the righteous, knowing I’m going to wake up feeling healthy and strong. (And yeah, sometimes, I think of those poor suckers with hangovers, and I allow myself to feel smug, just for a little while.)