How to Win Friends and Influence Paleo

From the archives, originally published in August 2009

Welcome to the new people who have recently jumped on board our Whole30 program. In fact, all of you newcomers inspired today’s re-post from the Whole9 archives.

Today, we’d like to talk about one of the first struggles you’ll most likely hit when you start practicing this new way of eating. No, we’re not talking about the cravings, or the energy fluctuations, or even the grocery bills. We’re talking about the negative reactions of your friends, family and co-workers. “All that fat can’t be good for you.” Or, “Like Atkins, right? That’s just a fad diet.” Or, “It so restrictive – you can’t eat anything!” I’m sure you’ve all heard these statements and then some since you began your 30 day period. And Oprah knows, it can be tough enough to stick out the 30 days on your own, never mind if you have to defend yourself against the negative reactions, doubts and criticisms of your spouses, friends and co-workers. So what’s a 30 day’er to do?

Here are some of our best tips for dealing with the nay-sayers (in a way that won’t get you divorced, de-friended or fired).

Lead by quiet example.

This one is first for a reason, people, and it’s your most powerful ally. Your Whole30 results will speak for themselves. After 30 days, when your energy is rockin’, your skin is clear, your aches and pains are gone and you’ve shed some fat or built some muscle, people will notice, and they will ask you what you’ve been doing. It’s kind of hard to doubt the method when the results are right there in front of them. So let your experience shine through, answer questions if asked but don’t waste your breath trying to convince, cajole or persuade others before they’re ready. Just be a living example of what this way of eating could potentially do for them.

Pick your battles.

We guarantee one thing – you can make people feel bad about themselves just by rolling up to the lunch table. The way you eat may very well remind people that they aren’t eating the way they should, or could, or might want to. As such, they’re on the defensive the minute you plop your salmon and vegetables next to their Lean Cuisines or Hot Pockets. But beware – now is not the time to point out the dangers of grains, or comment on the study you just read linking diet soda to obesity. Keep your lunch to yourself, and encourage others to do the same by not responding to blatant pokes, jabs or attacks on your “weird diet”. If someone is truly interested, have the conversation away from the crowd, when you can speak privately and not be interrupted by the haters.

Educate yourself.

You know you’ll have to deal with questions, comments and straight-up challenges from time to time, so you’d better be prepared. If we asked you right now, “Why aren’t you eating grains?”, how many of you would have an immediate answer for us? That answer could range from the documented inflammatory properties of lectins to the fact that as soon as you stopped your daily oatmeal, your stomach stopped looking pregnant – anything from reference to personal experience. The point is – you’d better have an answer – and it can’t just be, “Because Whole9 said so.” (Although we really like that answer.)

So, do your homework. Figure out the difference between Atkins and Paleo. Learn from your Whole30 Success Guide why certain foods are excluded on the program. Understand how a diet adequate in healthy fats helps promote long-term health. Prepare some remarks based on your own experience. Just don’t show up empty-handed, because if you do, you’ll lose any chance you may have had to get the other party to buy in. (And if that other party is your Mom who shops for all the food, your husband who cooks all the food or your roommate who pays for half the food, you really can’t afford to lose that chance.) On that note, however…

Refer to “scientific evidence” cautiously.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t research and cite information from the likes of Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf or Gary Taubes. What we are saying, however, is that for every science-y article you find that talks about, say, why dairy is bad… there are a hundred just as science-y articles that will say the exact opposite. Our recommendation? Unless you’re totally on the ball with scientific references (and able to smartly refute the opposing side on the fly), don’t let the scientific research be the ONLY leg you choose to stand on. Refer back to point #1 – lead by example, and cite REAL people who have had REAL results. Hell, point ’em here. We’re not a clinical study – but we’ve got thousands of comments (literally) from real people who can attest to the real benefits of eating this way. Kind of hard to argue with all that, you would think. Which brings us to our final point…

When outnumbered, fall back.

You may very well find yourself stuck in a battle that you just can’t win. It’s a family dinner, your parents, siblings and children are at the table and you’re being hammered with doubts, skepticism and outright criticism. Take a deep breath, smile and simply fall back. In the end, the only person whose health and wellness you are responsible for is YOU. And while it may pain you to see the unhealthy behaviors exhibited by your (grown-up) friends and family, ultimately, they are responsible for their own lives, and their own choices.

So rather than spark a bitter feud or ruin a birthday party, swallow your ego, your pride and your frustration and simply say, “Well, this is actually kind of working for me right now, but I hear what you’re saying and I really appreciate your thoughts. Now let’s get back to enjoying this delicious meal!” Sometimes, that’s all you can do… and that’s okay. Refer back to point #1… if people are open to change, eventually THEY will come to YOU, and you’ll get that opportunity to help them.

Spread Your Influence

We hope some of these ideas clear a wider path for your 30-day and beyond journey. We’re sure some of you have also arrived at your own strategies for dealing with negative reactions to all of the wonderful and healthy changes you are making in your life. Share them here with us, so that we can all learn and benefit from some of the difficult and painful conversations you may have had along the way. And, as always, thanks for reading, and thanks for contributing. Our community rocks, and we are super proud to be your host and hostess along this journey.

Subscribe to the Whole9 Newsletter

Fill out the form below to stay updated about Whole9 articles, discounts and events.


  1. Margaret says

    LOVE this post. Every situation you describe, I’ve been in. It’s comforting and yet disturbing to know that people’s reactions to healthy eating are the same everywhere. There was a period of time that I dreaded going to the kitchen to get my lunch at work. Now everyone just excepts me as the crazy (I interpret as “healthy”) person who doesn’t eat prepackaged meals out of the freezer and they’ve stopped asking questions.


  2. Meghan says

    I also like this post. It reminds me that there are many parallels between this and sharing my faith in Jesus Christ. Sharing is most effective when you’ve quietly demonstrated your unique point of view over a period of time–people notice. After two years of eating this “weird” paleo diet, I will note that I have had many more hostile comments regarding diet (as compared to religion.) Interesting to me–how divisive and sensitive our diet choices can become.

  3. says

    Since a lot of people want to blame outside influences for their problems when you defeat them they might get angry and even hurt.

    That is why it is important to be careful when flaunting your advances, it is better to be humble and when asked tell others about how you have overcome your problems instead of trying to force the solution on them.

  4. says

    When I first found out and experimented with Paleo, I wanted to tell EVERYONE and mistakenly did. It’s funny I did the exact opposite of everything outlined in the article and turned quite a few people off.

    Now, I know eat my lunch quietly and spark conversations based on my results. I’ve had a few people ask me about more information on Paleo (obviously this was one of the places I sent them) but I will definitely reference this article in particular so they don’t make the same mistakes I made.

    @Margaret I know exactly what you mean, everytime I bring out my lunch someone new asks me why I’m eating the way I am but after a few months of explaining it to everyone people now walk by my office and tell me that they’ve brought carrots rather than chips and that they feel bad eating lunch with me if they didn’t bring any veggies.

  5. Kelly says

    I have been eating paleo for a couple of years now and have had great results with it. Recently, though, my boyfriend (good eater in general, but definitely not paleo) said something about it that really grabbed my attention. He said, “You’re able to eat that way because you have access to those kinds of foods and the financial resources to do so. If you were living in a third world country and it was all about consuming enough calories–regardless of the source–eating paleo would go out the window. It’s a diet for the well-educated and affluent.” He’s a former Peace Corps volunteer and has first hand experience eating (or trying to eat) in third world countries. I had to acknowledge that what he said was true, and it also got me thinking about what your (Melissa and Dallas’) thoughts might be on the subject. You guys do a great job talking about paleo from a health perspective, but you also occasionally address the moral issues surrounding food choices. What do you think?

  6. says


    We won’t go too far down this rabbit hole here, but I’ll respond by saying this…

    It’s important not to confuse the idea of “eating to optimize health” with “eating to survive.” We don’t live in a third-world country, where rice and beans are a necessary staple to prevent starvation and death. Here in the United States, and Canada, and the other developed countries where the majority of our readers come from, we are not starving. (I’m not saying folks don’t go hungry, but we’re not third-world-country starving, not anywhere, by any means.) So yes, we are blessed and able to eat this way because we have the resources to do so – affluence, compared to many other, much poorer nations. And because we are blessed and have these resources, we owe it to ourselves to do everything we can to take advantage of these benefits and eat as healthfully as we can.

    Some (not your boyfriend, I know, but others) might argue, “Because everyone can’t eat this way, we should not”, but that’s foolishness. Those of us that are privileged enough to be able to eat fresh, healthy, naturally-raised and grown meat, fish, eggs and produce should do so, and make ourselves as healthy as we can, and do as much as we can to advance the health of others via participating and supporting educational programs, contributing financial donations, and/or giving of our time and energy to causes who attempt to outreach to less fortunate areas and people.

    I admire your boyfriend for the work he is doing, and applaud both of you for thinking about this difficult question. Talking about issues like these IS a big part of our nutritional and health philosophy, and open discussions like this can bring about productive, meaningful change.

    Thanks for writing.


  7. Kelly says

    Hey Melissa,

    Thanks so much for the well-reasoned response. After reading it, I realized that I view this issue in much the same way that I do child-rearing. I put all of the energy and resources I can into raising a healthy, happy and (eventually) productive child with the hope that she will someday help to make the world a better place and contribute well to society. I feel that this is my responsibility and obligation to the world, given my own good fortune in it.

    Regarding my eating choices, I also feel very privileged to be able to eat the way I do and will certainly continue to do so. It is my hope that by leading as health-ful a life as possible, my own contributions (in all aspects of my life) will be great. That is certainly the case for you, Dallas, and your Whole9 work.

    And thank you for going at least a little way into this rabbit hole. :)

    Best regards, Kelly

  8. says

    It’s also good to remember that we often cause our own spectacle; I eat lunch and dinner with people all the time and no one ever questions me on my food unless they see me order a bunless burger. When they ask, I tell them that the bread stands in the way of more meat. When I bring my lunch, it’s leftover meat and veggies or a cold casserole sorta thing. There’s no reason for anyone to wonder why there’s no bread there…

    To Kelly, if the whole world ate more like us, rice and beans wouldn’t be subsidized to the point where we could afford to throw it at starving countries while other foods (meat, veggies, fruit, etc.) would be less expensive than they are now (hopefully by economy of scale, rather than govt intervention) and those countries would still be hungry, but far better nourished.

    I understand what he’s saying, but we still have to eat the best we can while living according to our means.

    He sounds like a good guy. We need all the volunteers we can get to help out in things like that. Good for him.


  9. Taylor says

    I am currently dealing with my boss making comments to me like “you know lettuce barely has nutrients right?” and “you should be eating real food, like grains!” I was so floored I didn’t know what to say. First of all, I don’t even eat lettuce (except for a “bun” for my burgers or the “shell” for my tacos)! Secondly, the fact that she said I should be eating “real food” according to her, just killed me. I just had to shut my mouth and ignore her though, because she wasn’t going to let me win. Thanks for this post with all your helpful advice!

  10. says

    it does illustrate how insulting it sounds when someone says that “they eat real food,’ implying that the other party does not. Most people who are trying to be healthy believe they eat “real food,” whether they are paleo, primal, vegan, vegetarian, or just “clean eating.” Even someone who doesn’t eat so healthy may be insulted, although rightly, by being called our for not eating real food.

  11. says

    Taylor and Roland,

    You’re absolutely right, Roland – the definition of “real food” varies from person to person. (Whole grains are considered “real food” by a vast majority of the population.) It’s easy to make the comparison between an apple and a Pop Tart, but less clear when you’re comparing, say, an apple to edamame. That’s why you’ve got to go beyond “I eat real food” in many cases.

    Taylor, your realization that some battles just can’t be won is a smart one. Lead by quiet example, and if and when your boss is ready to talk to you about how you eat, you’ll be well prepared.