Explaining Paleo at Work


Alicia Jaybird

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I started exploring a Paleo diet and lifestyle in October, and really started to follow it closely in January. I've had amazing results--better sleep, change in body composition, sinuses completely cleared up, and so on--and have also experienced the negativities that can come with indulging in way too many cheats or treats. I love talking about the awesome, healthy benefits of Paleo and Dallas and Melissa's Paleo Elevator Pitch (http://whole9life.co...he-paleo-pitch/) has been really helpful for explaining nutrition to friends and family.

I know the elevator pitch is already brief, but I'm curious about the ways in which you explain Paleo nutrition in a professional setting. My job entails regular all-day events or staff meetings that cover 1-2 meals, and food is usually served. I'm happy to bring my own, but we have a couple end-of-year events and a dinner coming up where it would be rude to whip out a Tupperware. Often our field trips and events emphasize exposing students to a new cuisine or culture, and it's expected that we set a good example by trying the food. I can avoid some but not all, and sometimes the choices at not so great.

While eating Paleo is a choice that I make for my health, I do not have serious food allergies. For this reason, I'm hesitant to ask for "no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no sugar." Should I just get over this and ask for everything? I'd love any suggestions for a professional, concise explanation for these circumstances. Different staff members (from those I barely know to those I work with every day, who understand more about Paleo) plan events throughout the year, so I need an explanation I can recycle. Do you ever prioritize certain things, e.g. avoiding gluten, and let the rest go for the sake of ease?

Thanks for any suggestions you have!

Mods: if this would be better in the "Travel and Dining Out" section, please feel free to relocate! I wasn't sure where it fit best.

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I can really relate to these questions. I struggled for a long time with really committing to the whole30, partly because of work situations. What I eventually had to decide, as I was going through all the questions you asked, was who is the priority in my life? I'd tried many whole30s and failed, not because I didn't want to succeed, but because I'd put others needs above my own and made concessions because I thought that was more considerate or more polite. But guess where that got me? No where except eventually in a doctors office with a diagnosis of fatty liver disease. Only you can decide for yourself how hard a stance you need to take but if this is important to you, you need to make it work.

I've recently resorted to telling people I'm allergic to things like sugar and grains. A lot of people question this and I make my reply simple "yes...they make me very sick." or "I was pre-diabetic so I can't have sugar" or "when I eat wheat I get severe indigestion and heartburn" What's funny is that these are not lies. You asked, "Do you ever prioritize certain things, e.g. avoiding gluten, and let the rest go for the sake of ease?" What's easy about heart disease? or diabetes? Be polite but don't sacrifice your own needs just to make everyone around you happy.

Just last week I registered for an event where I was asked to indicate special dietary needs. While the world has adjusted to accommodate things like kosher, dairy free, vegetarian, why should we feel embarrassed or like we're putting someone out to ask for our own diets to be accommodated? Not to make this a bigger topic than it is but we truly need exposure and acceptance and your whole post exists only because we're not there yet. I wrote into my form "severely allergic to sugar, wheat, gluten, dairy, and legumes". I don't expect to actually be handed a perfect paleo meal at my event but I actually think it's important that we start making a big deal out of our needs so we're not continually in these positions.

So in closing...If staying on track is important to you, I think you should stand firm and make a big stink. How others perceive what you are doing to stay healthy and live happier is not your problem.

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I have the same issue coming up next week and I decided to make do. I start a new job on Monday and my boss (the CEO) is having the whole team over to his house for dinner on Tuesday as part of a kick-off introduction. I believe his wife will be handling the catering at least and she loves to cook so she might be going that far. I just thought it presumptious to start with a whole list of here is what I can't eat on my second day on the job. I will pick and choose some things and refrain from alcohol, grains, and obviously dessert. The hard part will be the "invisible" ingredients like butter instead of Ghee, vegetable oil instead of olive oil, etc.

My other plan is to back an extra lunch box and really chow down right before the end of the day so that I am not terribly hungry at dinner. That should help with off roading

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This has to be handled on a case-by-case basis. In some circumstances, we just let it go, as refusing would be obviously rude, and the food in question isn't going to seriously mess us up. (If it's dairy-based, like a cheesecake or cheese-y dish, I refuse no matter what, because that will make me feel really sick. I do it simply and don't make a fuss.) In other circumstances, like if I'm asked up front about dietary habits or allergies, I'll simply say, "No dairy, and please just stick to meat and veggies on my plate - skip the other sides." If the meat is cooked in soybean oil or the veggies are dusted ith parmesan, I do the best I can and move the heck on.

If you have the polite opportunity to have a say in the menu, then do so with all of your requests, and understand that you'll probably have to compromise. If your meal is traditional, you can eat the parts you want and skip (or eat very little of) the parts you don't. If it's one big hot mess of a dish (like a stir-fry with noodles, peanut sauce, etc.) then you'll have to decide whether it's more troublesome to skip the meal entirely, or eat it and deal with the consequences.

I know that's not concrete advice, but these are delicate matters that need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Hope these thoughts help.

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Hi all--thanks for your thoughts! I found them all very helpful, and sometimes it's good to hear about people going through similar situations and how they navigate. Johnny, I think you're right about prioritizing myself and my health. That's definitely something I need to work on, especially when accepting or rejecting food feels like it has a social implication. I have a close friend who keeps kosher, and it took awhile before I could prepare a meal for her without accidentally mixing something up (she doesn't mind using non-kosher plates and such, but is strict about the food itself). It was a learning process for me, but I was more than happy to do it so that we could eat together and both feel good about what was on our plates. I think that lens may be useful for me in terms of Paleo--it's the healthiest way of eating for me, and it shouldn't be more or less of a priority because it isn't tied to religion or a severe allergy.

Dan--I totally feel you! My boss loves to bake special treats for meetings, and strongly encourages everyone to dig in. When I started, I wasn't Paleo and was known as the Martha Stewart of the office for doing the same and indulging with everyone. It felt awkward to later to talk to her and explain that I don't eat those things anymore, but I emphasized that I appreciated the effort she went to and I would love to share some more of my own cooking in the future.

I think sometimes I worry about this more than I need to--it is only as big a deal as I (and whoever I'm talking to) make of it. Sounds like the key to the exposure and acceptance Johnny mentioned is keeping it low key but firm, and anticipating situations where compromises may be necessary. Melissa's suggestion of asking the chef/organizer to stick to meat and veggies is simple, but so helpful for keeping the focus on the question of "well, what can you eat?!" I'll definitely take that tack for our end-of-year dinner. Thanks for your suggestions!

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I've had my students (high school) offer me cookies, etc before, and when I say "no thanks" they always ask why. I tell them that these foods make me feel sick. Honestly, when I would tell them I chose not to eat a specific food or groups of foods, they would act offended. Now, I just tell people that gluten or dairy, for example, makes me feel sick (which it really does even though I'm not celiac or lactose intolerant I am sensitive to them). I know it's a bit of a white lie, and I don't say I'm "allergic", but I find that causes people to be more accepting of my food requests or limitations.

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This is a great thread. Alicia, are you a teacher? I'm just guessing that because you talked about students. While I'm all for trying new foods, one good thing about the W30 has been that our kids have really been learning "you are in control of what you eat." They've seen us modify menus at restaurants and (politely) say no, thank you, to offered foods.

For the youngest (6), I didn't even eat one of her birthday cupcakes--she wanted to know why, and I told her that her birthday was very special and I was excited to celebrate it with her, but that I didn't want to eat a cupcake (they were from Safeway, long story) and I was choosing not to eat one. She was fine with that.

I think kids seeing adults taking charge of what they eat will help ease the social requirements of eating in the long run (perhaps over generations).

I loved the point about putting your health first. It's ben my experience that as I feel like my food choices are less of a big deal (I say no to a lot of things) other people seem to think they are less of a big deal ("that's just Emily.")

Good luck! I'm sure that over time you will work out what works for you.

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Hi Emily! I'm a full-time tutor in a high school, so I'm with many students over the course of the day. I like your point here:

I think kids seeing adults taking charge of what they eat will help ease the social requirements of eating in the long run (perhaps over generations).

I sometimes worry because female students make comments about feeling fat, or needing to lose X number of pounds, especially now that prom is coming up (wrestling season was bad for the boys too.) For this reason, I'm particularly sensitive when asked to explain my food choices and try to avoid the word "diet" if possible.

They're funny though--the other day, some of the seniors sought me out to ask me what I thought the healthiest thing on the McDonalds menu was. They thought I was the perfect person to ask for this advice "because you eat so healthy!" :rolleyes:

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They're funny though--the other day, some of the seniors sought me out to ask me what I thought the healthiest thing on the McDonalds menu was. They thought I was the perfect person to ask for this advice "because you eat so healthy!" :rolleyes:

Hah! I wouldn't even know where to begin with that one.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It is so great to come into work [insert loads of sarcasm here] and have your boss say, "There is a reason why people from paleolithic times died early ya know?" Nothing people say or do will influence me to change from real/whole foods I am putting in my body, but man does this annoy me to no end!!!

Even though you didn't have a choice, thanks for letting me vent. :) GRRRRRR!

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Summer, that sucks. Really. :(

Early last month my department had its annual fall semester prep meeting, which usually lasts several hours. Box lunches are always ordered...but this was the first year where I declined the box lunch and just brought my own. Fortunately I'm not the only person in the office with dietary concerns so it's not a huge deal.

Prior to the Whole 30 I used to bring in homemade baked goods once a month or so. I like to bake, so I still do that...but I no longer taste them beforehand. I rely on my co-workers to taste them for me! (After having failed at making a couple of paleo baked-good recipes -- dark chocolate avocado cookies being an especially large fail -- it's just not worth it to me to look for recipes or tailor existing ones. My co-workers are happy that I have the willpower to be able to make what they like and to not attempt to convert them in any way, lol.)

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  • 1 month later...

I realize this is an older thread but I thought I'd pop in with my 2 cents. I excluded gluten & dairy from my diet a few years ago because it helped me manage some pretty serious pain, but I really struggled with lunch meetings at work. Luckily, I made a few general comments about my health and healthy eating and my boss now knows to ask me where our team should go for lunch. Or, if he makes a restaurant decision, he knows to ask me if I can eat anything there. On occasion I'll make a small cheat, but nothing big - I'm more apt to accept some hidden sugar than bread or cheese. I feel like if I make a fuss about eating clean, I better avoid the obvious when I eat around them!

One of my biggest tricks, though, is getting in with the people that actually order the food if we're eating in. The receptionist often asks me what I want now, rather than me having to seek her out and put in a separate request. I don't feel like such an idiot if I go straight to her rather than the person that organized the meeting. There was one time she ordered me a sandwich with a lettuce wrap instead of bread but the restaurant screwed it up. Despite sitting directly next to the client and feeling like a turd for doing it, I picked out the guts and ate it minus the bread with the flimsiest plastic fork I could scrounge up. Mostly I end up with salads but I'm getting sick of them and sometimes just eat before/after the meeting... I swear, if I have to eat one more fuji apple salad from Panera with no cheese, I'll scream...

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  • 1 month later...

It is hard to be Paleo in a "real world" says in their book and I totally agree. I am on Day 6 and have been Paleo for 3 years but still have a sweet tooth. At work there is free food sometimes and it's easy to just not to eat them. The tricky part is when people offer you food, especially home made food. Like stephmccormack, over time I have learned that people might feel rejected/appreciated when I say no /yes to their food. I do appreciate the gesture so what I do is while I am saying no, I make sure that I say thank you and too bad that I can't have any wheat. People might ask me why, I would explain to them that I am not allergic but am sensitive to it. If they ask more questions like what would happen to me when I eat wheat, I will tell them minor problems such as feeling sluggish, stomach problems, acne and brain fogs. People would feel somewhat surprised and then stop there.

It also depends on what you expect. I understand that not everyone agrees with Paleo lifestyle or how wheat can affect you and it's ok. After all, we are all adults and we choose what we want to put in our body. In the end, it's you enjoying life with good health or taking the consequences of years of poor food choices.

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  • 3 weeks later...

My boss (who is a bit of a bully) caught on to my eating habits this week. He's a big fast food eater and seems personally offended by disciplined eating (vegetarians bother him). He's been teasing me about my lunch, though I just ignore him. On Friday, he declared he was ordering Domino's pizza for the office (he always gets the Meat Lovers, double meat, double cheese), but only if all four employees participated. If I didn't eat pizza, with everyone, no one gets pizza. I offered to come hang out and eat my food along with everyone, but no dice. He did order the pizza, but made the other three employees chip in "since everyone didn't want some, so the company won't pay for it." The other employees really didn't care, but the boss teased me a few times that afternoon about how I'd "ruined" the office pizza lunch.

I'm pleased I stood up for myself - it would have been easy to just eat the pizza and shut him up. (I have been searching for a new job, since this really isn't unusual behavior.)

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Christina - That is unbelievable. So sorry and best of luck finding a better job. Are your co-workers pretty cool? Sound like they might be. If your boss tries to pull that again, it would be so funny if the other three employees all told him they didn't want pizza either because they decided to give up grains too. :)

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ChristinaD -

Thanks for sharing your work story. That really makes me crazy your boss did that! I have had some challenges at work as well with the same type of situations. For me there are two positive things I can stand on, and that is that I will not cave because of what someone thinks or says, and, for my situation at work it has become easier in that nobody really says too much anymore. I think they are all getting use to my eating now and don't give me a hard time. I am thankful for that. Although, my boss still tries to tell me, "You have to let lose every once in a while..." I just laugh, but what I really want to say is, "Uh, NO I DON'T DUMMY!"

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Thanks! These posts were helpful. Day 13 for me and the biggest challenge is getting people to understand what I am doing and supporting me. They call it the cleanse or "the diet". Last night as everyone was drinking and having fun around the fire, for the first time I didn't feel like I was being deprived. I actually had fun and even planned my run as I was watching everyone and wondering who was going to have a pounding headache tomorrow. It's funny how it makes people so nervous, really nervous. I was really put through the ringer this week for vacation and social events with family and friends on the lake. We went out to dinner at least 5 times and I conquered each challenge. I had to tell one waitress after asking if the vegetable of the day contained butter? She said, " yep it's already in there, sorry". I think she was taking me for difficult. I was so hungry and knew my steak alone was just not going to cut it so I pulled out the "I have a dairy allergy". She came back with steamed green beans...LOL.

Anyway, I learned a lot this weekend about standing my ground which I tend to have trouble with in general. I think many lessons can be learned from this journey of 30 days aside from great nutrition.

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Yep, Derval, that pretty much captures it. He also does things like taking vegetarians out to eat at a steakhouse to make them uncomfortable.

Sephina, you are exactly right about this being a learning experience beyond just nutrition. I've always been a bit of a doormat. I developed psoriasis when I was 12 that became quite severe by the time I was in high school, so I always tried to stay invisible. Eating paleo has done wonders for me and it's not something I'm going to compromise on.

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Reading all these posts is a great inspiration. When I first posted this, I was very tentative about expressing my dietary needs or restrictions. This year at our annual work retreat, I put in my requests, and politely spoke up when adequate food was not provided--the vegans and I struggled in solidarity at meals where we could only eat from the fruit platter, and I asked the catering service to provide something more substantial since they were aware of these needs in advance. It sounds like a lot of us begin as serious people-pleasers, not wanting to make things difficult for others and preferring to downplay our own needs for others' convenience. It's good to hear that being assertive is a skill many of us acquire that helps with food and, I'm sure, in other areas too!

I got a lot of friendly questions and noticed that a lot of people just want to share that they also have a friend who is gluten-free (or something-free, or allergic), which is well-intentioned and shows they are more accepting than some of the bosses mentioned above- eek! I tried to keep my explanation to "I know these foods aggrivate certain health issues for me, so while I'm not allergic, I stick to eating this way." It's honest but doesn't require me to go into detail about food, which can be as divisive as politics in the workplace. The only concern I have received at work was when I was doing the Whole30 and turned down some dark chocolate from my boss...she has two daughters and has noticed that I slowly but steadily lost a good bit of weight over the course of the year, and later wanted to "check in" to make sure I was being healthy. I think the fact that I bring in huge lunches of delicious paleo foods every day has helped assuage her concern. :)

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