What do you do when you genuinely care about your health? Maybe this very real concern came about because your doctor just told you that you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes or that you really need to loose that ‘muffin top’ or ‘beer gut’. Perhaps you are not the one in a medical crisis and instead it is someone you love who is experiencing these lifestyle-related medical challenges.
While your doctor reaches for his prescription pad to write out a list of medications, what comes with these medications? Well many of these medications come with unpleasant side effects and unwanted effects on your wallet too! If you were living in the United States, you might be served by a physician with Kaiser-Permanente. Kaiser-Permanente is the largest non-profit health insurance organization in the U.S.A. and promotes a whole plant-based diet for its patients to prevent and reverse lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart disease and even some forms of cancer.
While here in Canada, we have no such current health insurance services actively promoting whole plant-based dietary guidelines, we do have promising changes in our 2018 Canada Food Guide. Now there are whole plant-based options as viable “alternatives” to meat and dairy. We also have more family physicians aware of the problems associated with eating ‘processed’ products. Let’s not get confused and refer to these processed products as ‘food’ when these products are all much better at promoting shelf life rather than our lives. Consequently, more and more doctors are instructing their patients to stop or limit processed products and favouring the consumption of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. That is significant considering doctors get only a few hours of nutritional education in their extensive medical training.
There are many excellent sources for nutritional education available at the click of a mouse or available by a variety of apps on our i-phone. A few of these leading and evidence-based nutrition resources include: nutritionfacts.org (Dr. Michael Greger); pcrm.org (Dr. Neal Barnard); drmcdougall.com (Dr. John McDougall); dresselstyn.com (Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn); nutritonstudies.org (Dr. T. Colin Campbell) as well as many more. There are also many oil-free whole plant-based sites dedicated to meal plans – a major go-to site is Forks over Knives (same folks who made the documentary/ forksoverknives.com).
What is missing from these main stream sources? A strong and realistic focus on “the divided table” or what might be thought of as the social aspects of the whole plant-based lifestyle. If you have chosen to adopt a whole plant-based plate, you may have noticed that you are the only person at the table eating this way. You are often surrounded by those eating a traditional animal-centred diet, sometimes to the total exclusion of any fruit or vegetables and sometimes limited or no ‘carbs’. Ketchup might be the only ‘vegetable’ on that plate.
Ironically, the culture of eating is to draw us together and yet when you are eating even a bit differently from others it can feel alienating when others express their discomfort with your fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes plate. For some, this subtle and sometimes confrontational challenge can result in feeling so isolated that the whole plant-based lifestyle, despite improving health, is abandoned for a return to the animal-based diet (Standard American Diet).
It just, in the short term, seems easier to give in or give up and return to old behaviours and unfortunately creating a deteriorating health status. So what can be done to uphold your health commitment – living a whole plant-based lifestyle and still uphold your social connections with family, friends and co-workers?
Here are some steps that can be taken to keep your health commitment and your social connections:
- Real World Reality Check – not everyone will agree or approve of what you are doing and may express this to you with teasing humour, put-downs; or even disengaging – realize this is a common occurrence
- Offer acceptance and give acceptance – this involves understanding that each of us is on our own journey and being respectful of our own and others’ choices, supporting the right to self-determination (this is much different from approval or agreement)
- Communicating your needs – letting others know your needs (ie. for support) in an open and respectful straight -forward manner. This is an act of assertiveness and is a right afforded to each of us
- Holding a belief that seeking support is reasonable and possible for people who don’t agree with your choices and may never agree – your role is not to convince or convert and instead honour their positions and still ask for their support (willingness to actively uphold your way of eating – accommodating your dietary needs)
- Look for opportunities to find commonalities – focussing on what you have in common rather than on the differences. For example, most people know the value of eating fruits and vegetables – common ingredients on both WPBD and SAD plates
- Make efforts to grow your ‘tribe’ – people who share your health commitments of choosing an oil-free whole plant-based plate- check out and connect with groups, meet-ups, and events in your own local community
- Recognize actions speak louder than words – let your own positive changes in your health be the quiet ‘advertising’ for your dietary choices – role-modelling is a real conversation starter
Let’s face it, the social aspects of whole plant-based living is an ongoing dialogue that needs to continue happening. We, humans are social animals with a basic need to belong. Our very survival is intertwined with others. We understand this dependence at our very core – you just be behind the wheel at a traffic light or 4-way stop intersection to quickly realize how much you are depended on others for your own safety. Therefore efforts to navigate the social aspects of whole plant-based living is crucial to uphold your commitment to safeguarding and even improving your health. So let’s keep the dialogue going. . . Fork Smart is here to do this!!