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Heavy Meddle: How Do I Talk My Friend Out Of Going Paleo?

I'm not sure the cave man diet is the best way for her to lose weight. What should I do? (AmySelleck/flickr)
I'm not sure the cave man diet is the best way for her to lose weight. What should I do? (AmySelleck/flickr)
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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to advice@wbur.org. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

A friend of mine got really heavy in the past year and plans to go on the Paleo Diet. As a former heavy person myself who has since lost the weight, I'm not sure this is the best idea. What's the best way to approach discussing this with her?

PHOTO

Signed,
Weighing My Options

Dear Weighing,

This is a tough question for a number of reasons. First, because losing weight is incredibly difficult. Second, because it sounds your friend has gained a considerable amount of weight in the past year. And third, because you have lost a lot weight in the past year, which is terrific for you, but no doubt complicates the relationship with your friend. So that’s the first thing to keep in mind. Your friend probably has a lot of admiration for you, and some envy as well. Your approval, and disapproval, will have a big impact on her. You’re wise to measure your words.

For those who are not familiar with the Paleo Diet, by the way, the basic idea is that human beings have been hunting and gathering for a lot longer than we’ve been farming. So, the theory goes, we’re best to eat fish and grass-fed animals and fruits and veggies and nuts, and to avoid grains, dairy products, potatoes, salt, sugar and processed oils. In short: no McDonald’s French Fries!

Critics dismiss the Paleo Diet as a fad, one that’s based on bogus science and ignores inconvenient facts. For instance, most people who lived in the Paleolithic era were dead by age 40, and were not, technically, dieting but more like slowly starving.

I’m not especially interested in this debate. The Paleo probably works for some people, and doesn’t work for others.

What matters here is that you find a way to express your concerns in as sensitive and positive a way as possible. If your friend is deeply invested in the Paleo, if she thinks it’s going to be her redemption, it’s probably not the best approach to criticize it directly. Instead, you might simply share with her what worked for you.

success has far more to do with the dieter than the diet.

I mean some of the more general practices that helped you lose weight — ones that work no matter what particular diet plan you pursue. I expect these included setting realistic goals, eating smaller portions, exercising regularly, avoiding emotional eating and seeking out a support group she can turn to when she’s struggling. If you think she’d be amenable, you might offer to be one of her supports.

My own sense, as someone who knows virtually nothing about weight loss, is that people make healthier decisions — whether about food or money or drugs or romance — mostly because they are able to work out basic issues having to do with self-esteem. We eat too much (and drink too much and spend too much) when we feel deprived. It’s a cycle of short-term gratification that leads to self-destruction, and thus more self-loathing, in the long term.

I don’t mean to suggest that the actual diet one adopts is irrelevant. But I do think people seeking to lose weight can put too much emphasis on a particular plan, in the hopes it will be the “magic formula.” And of course at this point there’s a huge industry that makes money off selling these formulas.

In fact, success has far more to do with the dieter than the diet.

I suspect you know this already, Weighing. So your job, ultimately, is to transmit this wisdom to your friend as simply and gently as you can. You know better than anyone that she’s got a big struggle ahead of her. And you know that what she needs more than anything is your wisdom, your common sense and your compassion.

In my book, she’s lucky to have a friend as concerned as you.

Good luck to both of you.

Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

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