How many times have you heard someone exclaim, “What is that?” or “That looks healthy!” All said with a degree of cautious curiosity or even some slight skeptisism as he or she surveys your plate. Aahh, navigating the twists and turns of the social aspects of following a whole plant-based lifestyle. This kind of attention is often not for the faint- at- heart, especially if you are just trying on this lifestyle to see if it is a fit for you!
Food and food choices in particular can be as personal as your religious or political beliefs. It can be more provocative than talking about sex or gender identity. Sharing your “food identity” can put a full stop to even the most animated of conversations. A diet of “nots” can send a chill of silence through a room.
Just mention in passing that you ‘don’t eat meat’ or that you are ‘staying off dairy’ runs the risk of being on the receiving end of head turns, audible gasps and often an endless string of questions that would impress a seasoned police interrogator.
It is likely that your food identity is one you inherited from your upbringing. You are most likely a product of your parents’ dietary habits. For example, if your parents ate the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) – you began and continue to eat the same way. As your parents aged and their health status changed – this likely also impacted you.
It could be that if you witnessed physical deterioration in the form of heart disease or type 2 diabetes or even cancer in your parents – this affected you, too. This affect might be a resignation that this is ‘destiny’ and that your turn to fall sick will just be a matter of time. Or instead, you may have become committed to finding ways to prevent or even reverse these disease processes so your future looks more healthy and hopeful.
With the former – you throw caution to the wind and go the pleasure route. The Standard American Diet with its sugar-salt-fat combo never tasted so good! And it is so simple and available that it could be referred to as the modern day ‘window diet’ of our fast-food driven society.
On the other hand, you are no longer your parents’ child. As a mature adult, you are thinking about both now and the future. You value living a long, healthy and active life, free of the burdens of lifestyle food-related illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and even some forms of cancer. There is evidence-based nutritional science that demonstrates both the validity and reliability of using food as the first line of defence in preventing disease and promoting wellness.
After some thoughtful research, you decide to try on the diet supported by the research of nutrition-focussed doctors. This includes Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr , MD of the Cleveland Clinic; Dr. Neal Barnard, MD, founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; Dr. John McDougall, MD of the McDougall Health and Medical Center; Dr. T. Colin Campbell, PhD of Cornell University and co-author of The China Study; and the prolific research findings translated into understandable terms by Dr. Michael Greger, MD of nutrtionfacts.org. This pro-wellness lifestyle is even endorsed by Kaiser-Permanente, the largest non-profit health insurance company in the United States and so many, many more.
Your dietary choices may have changed as your commitment toward your health becomes a top priority even if your social circle of friends and family remains the same. How you decide to handle their reaction to the changes on your plate – replacing the usual standard american fare for a rainbow of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes or better known as a whole plant-based diet (WPBD) – will have an impact on your health.
This may sound rather dramatic and yet the desire to connect and belong is as basic a need as breathing and eating. We are after all, despite the most introverted among us, social creatures who identify and have a basic need to belong to a tribe! This is hard-wired in us as part of instinct to survive. Therefore navigating social waters is tricky and down right stressful at times.
The first step is recognizing that is can be difficult. The next is establishing the philosophy that you have a right to make your own decisions. The third is to realize is not your responsibility to convince or convert anyone to your way of living.
Nor do you have to take on the task of defending your choices. Not sure if those questions that are coming at you are coming from a place of skepticism or genuine interest? An easy indicator is suggest the enquirer search the net for any of those plant-based doctors mentioned earlier. If the enquirer then gets back to you, after doing the search, with more questions for you – you know there is genuine curiosity there and you may decide to answer his or her questions.
Bottom-line is knowing it is your right to put your health first – that is your number one responsibility. Your “food identity” is only one aspect of a much more dynamic, complex you – remember your friends and family are there for the wonderfulness of your ‘whole’ you!!