Q&A: I don’t have the willpower to eat Paleo…

Here’s a common concern for people: They hear about the Paleo diet from people who it’s worked near miracles for, but they don’t think they could possibly do it themselves. Sound familiar? One reader wrote in with this the other day:


My problem with diving into this lifestyle is just the excuses I am sure you hear often.  My only real obstacle is my obsession with orally fixating myself with food.  I love good, healthy food and know how good I feel when eating just as described the Paleo way… it’s just my willpower.  Any suggestions? 



Alright, there are many levels to this answer. I could be mean and just say, “Have a little self control!” Or I could be really nice and say, “I know what you mean and you just have to take it one day at a time and do your best. Just remember that your health and happiness are worth more than those cookies and cakes.” And all of that is true to some extent. But that kind of advice is aimed at people on American fad diets that fail all the time. As long as people continue to eat the crappy, addictive foods (sweets, sodas, refined grains, etc.) that made them fat in the first place, they will continue to want to “orally fixate” themselves with food.

When you eat a pretty strict Paleo diet, those addictive behaviors start to go away. By the way, I’m using the term “addictive” loosely right now, as there’s quite a bit of debate about the actual addictiveness of foods, so just go with it for now. What I’m talking about is the way many of you feel when you have a box of cookies, a tray of doughnuts, an entire pie, or a delicious deep dish pizza in front of you. In a word, ravenous. You don’t really get that way with sautéed asparagus and steak, bananas, or even eggs and homemade sausage…

So in the beginning of going Paleo, yes, you will probably feel ravenous and crave those foods you’ve been orally fixated with for oh so many years. But your tastes will change and those cravings will fade. It’s like this: I have had many clients over the years who are addicted to diet sodas. They “don’t like just plain water”. But when they finally quit their nasty Coke 1 habit, it only takes a few days for water to taste good to them again. After all, it’s water and we’re genetically inclined to like it. It’s just that the poisonous, addictive crap in Coke 1 has temporarily muddled their brains. Same with refined grains and sugar other processed, Neolithic foods. They taste really good, but they only leave you wanting more.

So my advice is this.

Just TRY IT. Have some self control and try Paleo for a good, solid two weeks where you don’t let yourself cave to your cravings. You can do it. See what happens when you have satisfying foods that keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day. See what happens when you have enough respect for yourself and your health to NOT eat shit instead of healthy foods. Get over that first two- to three-week hump and then decide if you have the willpower to do this. And remember, I’m a fan of “cheating” sometimes. If you have days down the road when all you want are Cheez-its and doughnuts just for old time’s sake, by all means go ahead and eat them. Then get back to your normal Paleo diet so you can feel good again after your binge, and be thankful you don’t feel compelled to eat like that all the time anymore.


  1. You’re 100% right that the cravings tend to go away. “Going paleo” can be super hard, but “being paleo” is not nearly as hard. Once you’re into it, you’re into it and you feel so good you WANT to keep going.

    I’m also a fan of cheat days because let’s be real, who’s going to NEVER eat pizza again?

  2. It is definitely different to go Paleo, but it is absolutely worth it.

    Having a powerful “Why” is a huge help to successfully navigating those cravings. Do you want to get rid of a certain health condition, want to grow old with wellness so you can deeply enjoy life with your spouse, so you can keep up with your grandkids?

    Understanding our brain psychology, especially in regards to cravings, is such a powerful tool as well. It’s like knowing all the scary things that pop out at you at a Halloween haunted house are fake, and will disappear shortly. It’s the same as when your brain tries to get you to cave to a craving. Just ride it out—generally it’s just a few minutes—and you will be out of that “scary” territory soon!

  3. Oh my gosh, please just give yourself a chance! I was so miserable … overweight, wanting to take a nap at 3:00 in the afternoon, exhausted by 8pm, depressed and edgy, always craving sugar and once I started eating the cookies, cakes, ICE CREAM, I could not stop! Then I would wake up the next day feeling as if I had a hangover – and I did – a sugar hangover! I was so disgusted with myself and was feeling as if this was just how it was supposed to be for me. Then I saw an article about the Paleo plan and did some online reading about the 30 day challenge. 32 days later I have lost 14 pounds, I have been able to pass up all the sweets that I previously felt I had no control over … that in itself is a miracle, that I haven’t been obsessing or thinking about sweets!!!! I feel as if I have the freedom to eat anything I want as long as its meat, veggie, berries which is easy to do eating in our out (it helps my family loves meat). I NEVER feel deprived and no longer feel obsessed about food, in fact, I’m beginning to get a glimpse into the theory that food is nothing more than yummy fuel for the body!!!! I never feel that cranky hunger like I use to, its a different hunger IF i do get hungry and then it doesn’t ever drive me to the crazy eating like before. I feel as if a calm and order has entered my life as well as a very strong sense of well being! Just get started, you really won’t need any willpower – that’s a word that all those on the old diets (high carb/low fat) use. You will have something better – a strong sense of self control! You have everything to gain – just give it a try for 30 days!

  4. Cravings for sweet are absolutely in addiction territory for me. Some people’s systems are wired such that sugar become addictive. People whose systems are not wired in that way don’t understand why simple willpower doesn’t work to combat the cravings, either short or long term. The End of Overeating by David Kessler explores this issue, and has the following brutal but effective prescription: just don’t consume the addictive food AT ALL and eventually the craving will go away. It’s not merely an issue of will power–your body has to re-set its chemistry.

    For example, I can’t have even a bite of a pastry, because I will not be able to stop from eating the whole thing, and then another one. I think of sweets as an addiction to be ruthlessly managed, the same way an alcoholic might manage exposure to/consumption of liquor. I avoid situations where I’ll be tempted and mentally rehearse turning down sugary items before entering unavoidable situations. If I follow this approach, the addiction doesn’t re-assert itself. It is a constant battle to keep from recontaminating myself and having to start over, but it’s worth it.

  5. What I found is that eating paleo eliminates the cravings for sweets. Some of the research I have done states that most times, cravings are the body’s way of telling you it lacks certain nutrients. Also, fat = satiety, so don’t skimp on good healthy fats! All the other times I have tried to lose weight on a low fat diet, I was constantly hungry and had the sweet tooth cravings badly. ALmost immediately after I started paleo-those cravings just stopped. And, since I was eating the fats, I was satisfied w/ WAY less food. Check out marksdailyapple.com and learn about the 80/20 rule. Remember, this isn’t a religion, it’s a way of life that will turn your body into a fat burning machine! So, ease into it…but give it a go for 30 days and see what happens!

  6. I just started the Paleo eating plan today–Instead of “Omelete Muffins” I just made the same ingredients but in a scramble type breakfast. I cleaned out my entire fridge and pantry, I shopped at Costco and Winco grocery store and I spent soooooo much money, I spent $278 at Costco and $197 at Winco-OMG!!!! I don’t know if I can afford all this healthy food. I am a single mom with three teens and they literally eat me out of house and home but they will eat what I eat. How can I go by the posted meal plans and not spend so much money?

    1. lisatovar – Never fear! The first week is always the most expensive because you’re picking up staples like flour, oils, etc. that you probably didn’t have in your house before. But the diet in general is not super cheap if you’re not buying in bulk, so seek out ways to buy meat in bulk from ranchers. Go to http://www.eatwild.com for sources. And maybe start raising some chickens for their eggs since eggs are so expensive for a large family. Next trip to the grocery store will probably be cheaper!

  7. The emotional side of overeating can be quite a rat’s nest, and everybody is different.

    In general, I would really like to see more compassion and respect given to people with this problem, rather than the usual punishing statements our culture is rife with, like, “Food will not solve your problems,” (overeaters KNOW this and do not need to be talked down to about it). Just a little empathy and kindness goes a long, long way. And compassion and respect are in very short supply. We love to pick on fat people.

    A friend of mine was the only person who had ever been truly KIND to me about my weight. I came off a very restricted program and put all my weight back on, plus 5 more pounds. I was desperate and depressed. She sat me down and said, “Not your fault, honey. These programs have failure BUILT IN,” and then she very GENTLY invited me to try going three days with no taste of anything sweet…no sugars or grains or beans, no dairy. Just nice clean proteins and veggies and water. Because she had been so kind and caring, I felt invited to try, rather than pushed into it as yet another punishment.

    It was so much easier than I ever thought it could be.

    Although the weight is coming off quite slowly, I am much happier without the mood swings, my allergies have backed off so much that my sense of smell is almost back, my blood pressure went from 126/92 to 96/60, and I feel clear and calm and more alert and sharp. I also feel more confident – my energy doesn’t get sapped by what I eat, so I’m in command of how good I feel. And since my palate cleared, junk tastes LIKE junk.

    I can eat off-paleo about once a week, for one snack, with no ramifications, because when I do eat grains or junk the rebound is unpleasant. I don’t feel so good. I remember the feeling of being a slave to the next thing I was going to eat, but on paleo, I just plan well, stock the fridge and then just eat when I’m hungry. I’ve never felt this kind of control and freedom before. I don’t even sweeten my tea anymore, and now I can really TASTE it.

    One thing: the local food movement is booming, and more and more clean, ethical protein is available than possibly ever before. We live in Colorado, so local bison is available. We have a chicken coop for our own eggs. And there are little grocery stores popping up all over that carry local food, locally grown veggies, grass-fed meat, etc. I budget more toward food, but less toward things like decongestants and other medications I don’t need anymore…and I’m no longer a slave to “treats”…I figure I save a TON of money that way!

  8. Thank you for calling it like it is! It is much easier to stick to a Paleo-type lifestyle when you have a compelling enough reason to do so. When people ask me this same question, my response is to encourage them to dig deep and figure out what’s motivating them to make the switch. If it’s just about losing a few vanity pounds, it won’t happen long term. There has to be something bigger there. Thanks for a great post!

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