Recently I came face-to-face with the biggest Whole30 challenge. My fantasy football drafts. Yes, I'm a huge nerd and I participate in two fantasy football leagues. It's one of the ways that modern males bond. We all pretend to be owners of NFL teams and we ruthlessly make fun of one another in the process.
Usually this bonding takes place over a few "cold ones" and everyone has a great time. That is until you look at the team you put together and realize that it might be a long season.
In years past I've consumed my fair share of adult beverages during these events. Not this year. My Whole30 took priority and I didn't consume. Of course, there was no way for me to hide this fact from my friends. I got some weird looks and took some verbal jabs but it was all in good fun.
The evening went along fine. I had a water bottle and brought along some pistachios to snack on. Everyone else had pizza from one of the finest pizza establishments in the state and washed it down with cold beer. They were very happy to remind me of this fact.
Once the draft was over I even joined a few of my friends at one of the local watering holes. I enjoyed myself even though I was only drinking water. Yes, you can enjoy yourself at a bar without drinking alcohol.
This experience got me thinking about traditions and the role alcohol plays. As geeky as the fantasy football draft is, it's a tradition that my friends and I look forward to every year. It only comes once in late August.
It's tough for us to find time to hangout on a regular basis because of careers and family commitments. So any time I get to spend with my friends is valuable. This one time of year there are no excuses and we all make it happen. This year the draft was planned at least two months in advance.
Part of the tradition is that the last place team in the league has to purchase a keg of beer for the following year's draft. Part of drinking the beer is getting to bask in how horrible your friend's team was in the past season. It's a tradition within a tradition.
For better or worse alcohol plays a part in our fantasy football draft tradition. It's the same with things like weddings and BBQ's. Tradition would dictate that there will most likely be alcohol at these events. Whether you choose to consume alcohol is your decision. But I'm curious about what role alcohol really plays in all of this.
In most cases I find it to play the role of social lubricant. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can make for a more lively social environment. Who doesn't enjoy watching aunt Martha and uncle Ned bust a move on the dance floor?
However, there is something happening below the surface.
Intragroup Dynamics and Group Cohesion
Intragroup dynamics refers to the underlying processes that give rise to a set of norms, roles, relations, and common goals that characterize a particular social group. Examples of groups include religious, political, military, and environmental groups, sports teams, work groups, and therapy groups. Amongst the members of a group, there is a state of interdependence, through which the behaviors, attitudes, opinions, and experiences of each member are collectively influenced by the other group members. In many fields of research, there is an interest in understanding how group dynamics influence individual behavior, attitudes, and opinions.(source: wikipedia)
What people do around us matters. I consider myself an independent person but the thoughts and actions of my social groups still have an impact on me. It's that way in every social group. There is a "normal" way to behave and to go against this could possibly throw off the group as a whole.
Nobody wants to be an outsider. I'll also add that nobody wants to feel bad about their decisions. I think that's one of the reasons it's easy to give into peer pressure. It's easy to think everyone will like you and be your friend if you go with the flow. Or the opposite, everyone will dislike you and forget about you if you don't follow suit. There is some truth to this.
A collection of processes that keep a social group intact is referred to as group cohesion. Among other things, the behaviors of people in a social group creates a bond between members. To go against the behaviors could possibly lead to not being accepted into the social group. The bond doesn't get formed. This plays out in other areas besides just social groups. What about religion, politics, ways of eating (paleo, vegan, vegetarian, primal, raw), and even family?
My decision to avoid alcohol at the fantasy football draft party caused a slight shift in the intragroup dynamics. I was going against the norm. This can throw off other members of the group. It can be confusing for people. This will usually spark questions from members of the group.
These sort of group dynamics play out in other areas besides drinking alcohol at certain events. What about breaking bread? If you're going paleo then you don't eat bread. What if it's tradition at family dinners to pass around mom's famous homemade dinner rolls? Do you eat one of the rolls? Do you go against normal expected behavior and decline?
Will your choice to decline cause family members to question your behavior? Of course it will. But if you understand what is happening when people question you then you'll be less likely to take it personally and you'll be able to make adjustments that don't totally derail group cohesion.
Is tribal behavior written in stone?
By nature we are tribal. You and I are not meant to walk this planet alone. We are social creatures that need relationships to thrive. Intragroup dynamics, group cohesion, traditions and rituals are part of life. Tribes and groups rely heavily on traditions and rituals every day. Keeping a certain level of homeostasis intact is very important to the survival of the tribe. Knowing this can help you navigate the pushback that can occur when making a change that goes against the norm.
While talking about this article with Chad the idea came up that over time you can actually establish a new norm for yourself in a group. This has happened with us and our eating habits. Since adopting a paleo diet our friends and families have accepted this as our normal behavior.
The lesson is, if you truly decide to make a permanent change to your behavior you may experience initial backlash but over time your tribe will learn to accept your new behavior. It's true that the activities, traditions and rituals of your social groups create a bond. It's the stuff that group cohesion is made of. But you can cause an overall shift in behavior of your group for the better if you so choose. You can also choose to find new social groups that support your healthy behaviors and lifestyle.
So back to alcohol. Should it play a role in your paleo lifestyle? Really this is for you to decide.
One thing that isn't debatable is that alcohol is not health food. If you want to live a healthy, long life then you would be best served to limit your alcohol consumption. I would also urge you to not use alcohol as a way to deal with stress and anxiety. Healthier, more natural methods are available to help you deal with these things.
But what about the special occasions and traditional events that include alcohol? Should you consume it? Only you know what's best for you. If your personal goals dictate that you need to stop consuming alcohol then I believe you should honor that commitment to yourself.
Only you know what your goals are. Only you know what makes you feel great and what makes you feel bad. When it comes to dietary decisions these are my biggest drivers. Before ingesting anything, food or drink, I recommend the following two questions:
1) How will this make me feel? (Physically)
2) Does eating/drinking this get me closer to my health goals at this time?
Does it have to be more complex than this? You could probably add more questions to these two but I prefer to keep it simple. What do you think?
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