Going Paleo can totally kill your social life.
Think about it—eating “like a caveman” means beers are off limits, cheesy pizza is a no-no, and nights of binge-watching “The Bachelor” while splitting a carton of ice cream with a buddy are long gone. Even if you’re not eating flat-out junk food, going to a dinner party only to find that every dish has grains, dairy, sugar, or wheat in the recipe can put you in a pretty awkward situation.
Don’t worry. It’s possible to stay true to your caveman ways and still hang out with your non-Paleo friends—you just have to game the system a little bit.
Admittedly, booze isn’t strictly Paleo. But when experts like Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple and Russ Crandall of the popular Paleo blog The Domestic Man say it’s OK to bend the rules a little when it comes to alcohol, we listen. Both think that taking a more flexible approach to the Paleo lifestyle—when it comes to both eating and drinking—is not only important for your social life, but also for overall wellbeing. Trying to eat like our ancestors all the time can be stressful, and for some, it’s easy to get obsessive about it. Not exactly healthy, right?
Here’s what you need to know about drinking:
1. Eat something before
Doesn’t matter if you’re planning on grabbing a quick nightcap or staying out till the sun comes up, make sure you grab something to snack on before you drink up. Opt for a meal that’s high in protein, rich in healthy fats, and low in carbs (you’ll be getting enough of those from your drinks later). This solid combo will keep you sated and actually slow down the body’s absorption of alcohol, saving you from getting too intoxicated too quickly. No time for dinner? Grab a Paleo snack bar to leave in your bag in case you get hungry while you’re out.
2. Make every other drink a glass of water
Yes, this rule from freshmen year still applies. Not only does sipping a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage moderate the speed of your consumption, it also helps prevent a nasty hangover. Get extra credit by mixing some vitamin C into your H2O—studies show that it can help ward off side effects of drinking by optimizing liver function.
3. Choose your booze wisely
When selecting a drink, think about the overarching rules of the Paleo diet: no gluten, no grains, no added sugars. According to Dave Asprey, creator of the popular Paleo offshoot “The Bulletproof Diet,” the best alcohol options for someone trying to limit exposure to toxins are potato vodka (it’s distilled multiple times, gluten-free, and sugar-free), gin (made from juniper berries and low in carbs), and tequila (comes from the agave plant, low in sugar, and gluten-free). Mix with herbs, club soda, fresh citrus juice, coffee, or coconut water for a guilt-free Paleo cocktail.
Other than the occasional crudite plate, party food is usually considered pretty unhealthy. If you follow a special diet you might have to get creative at a party or out with friends—but you don’t have to say no to everything except baked chicken and steamed broccoli, either.
1. At a dinner party
First off, refresh yourself on which foods are Paleo-approved—it’s easy to get stuck in a habit of eating the same things when you’re cooking all the time, and you forget how much variety there really is on the diet.
Of course, skip the bread basket and politely demur when passed the cheese plate. But feel free to go to town on the charcuterie (meat, olives, and raw veggies—all good!), pile your plate high with salad sans dressing (or opt for a simple avocado oil dressing), and go for seconds on the protein. Even if it’s not the grass-fed beef or organic salmon you’re used to, it’s certainly a better option than starchy pasta or a anything covered in a mysterious cream sauce.
Don’t feel strange for passing on the bechamel—food allergies and intolerances are so commonplace that most people won’t bat an eye if you’re a little more selective with what makes it to your plate. And remember, the first rule of “Fight Club” is you don’t talk about Fight Club. Same thing goes for Paleo—although your friends might love you, nobody really cares that much about your dietary preferences. Plus, you’ve got way more interesting things to talk about than why you don’t eat wheat!
2. At a restaurant or bar
No doubt, it’s way easier to make substitutions when you’re eating out than it is at a house party. You can make things even less complicated by taking the lead and choosing the restaurant—that way you can scope out the menu and make sure it works for you. Mediterranean, Greek, and BBQ joints are usually pretty safe bets because you can order kebabs, burgers, and high-quality cuts of meat that are prepared with butter or olive oil. Even some popular chains like TGI Friday’s and Cheesecake Factory have a “lighter” section of their menus that should have a few good options.
Don’t be afraid to ask your server questions about what you’re ordering if you’re particularly sensitive to things like gluten, dairy, or legumes. If they aren’t sure of the answer you can always ask to speak to the chef to clarify.
Most importantly, don’t stress out too much about being “perfect.” The reason so many people adopt special diets is because it improves their lives—in many cases they feel better, look better, and even feel like they think more clearly—but strict eating habits shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying life. Fortunately, with a little knowledge and few tricks, you can have your Paleo-approved cake and eat it, too!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho