Monday, August 1, 2011

Guest Blogger: Anonymous on Peer and Family Pressure

Good Morning! The following is a letter that I received from an HGK reader who brought up some pretty important concerns about following a Plant-strong diet. I thought that we could all put our heads together and figure this out, so I asked her to be a guest blogger. Please welcome Anonymous to HGK.

I have been eating a plant-strong diet since the spring and I've had huge success in weight loss and more importantly with an overall attitude shift on eating and nutrition as a whole. I've just ordered the reading materials in order to complete Dr. Fuhrman's Nutritional Education Program. I've also been gobbling up tons and tons of online material in an effort to solidify my knowledge so that in a year or so I can begin to offer coaching services for people in my city who want to embark on a change towards a plant based diet.

There is, however one area in particular that I have struggled with quite a bit.

My journey towards a plant based diet started a little like yours. I had been a long time member of Peertrainer and kept receiving periodic e-mails that I mostly trashed without so much as a glance. That all changed when a looming trip south (i.e. bikini weather) had me paying closer attention. I had started the usual calorie restriction diet and eventually enrolled in the "point of no return" program. My starting weight was 150lbs and my goal then was to be and again I even had the crazy dream of 135, but I knew I could never maintain that; "it would be too difficult", I had said to myself. Peertrainer introduced me to Dr. Fuhrman. I started with the Eat to Live "Vook" on my iPod and I haven't looked back since. I was just under 140 lbs when I left for my trip and I even came back a pound or two lighter thanks to Whole Foods and a cooler! I am now at 130 lbs (WHAT? Crazy stuff, I know!) and I know for sure that I won't be 150 again.

During my past attempts at getting a handle on my weight and health (I was often tired and zapped of energy), I have always found those around me willing to engage in conversations about the subject. I gather now that this was because my choices in food were not too different from their own or that these choices were what people considered to be "normal"...hmm, could it be that is why each of those attempt eventually failed? Probably.

Shortly after having read and implemented Eat to Live, I felt the familiar urge to shout it on the roof tops (like when I called everything "poison" after reading one of Jilian Micheals' books). I decided to hold it in, to not "preach" as I had done in the past. At this point, it was still too new and I was uncertain of how well it would all work out.

As time went on, people noticed the changes in me and started ask questions and so I began to talk more about what I had changed. It was not long before the teasing about "poison" and comments such as "you aren't becoming a vegetarian ARE YOU?" and the like were rampant, mostly coming from two of my closest friends. They even resorted to comments which tried to make me feel like I was actually doing harm to myself or that I was an outsider ("oh she won't eat this, she is being 'good' ") or as though I mean because I was depriving my kids of junk food. I even think that one of my friends would purposely put bad food in front of me while pressuring me to eat it. Should I have the misfortune of allowing my kids or myself to eat off plan, I most certainly will hear a comment about it. It seems that I can't win either way.

Do I give my opinion and voice my knowledge when the topic of food, health and nutrition come up? Absolutely! But I seem to be paying a price for this. I carefully avoid raising the subject myself so that I am not perceived as preaching. Lately, I have simply disengaged from the conversation all together....not a good start for someone who wants to get into nutritional coaching.

These comments were all said in jest, of course and I know that these people care about me and would not want to intentionally hurt my feelings. Knowing my friends and family, I even expected a certain amount of teasing, but I didn't expect the meanness that came with it. I also didn't anticipate how much it would bother me or how much anxiety it would cause in all sort of situations.

I have found a few sources of support. My husband has done a great job keeping up with the changes and is fully on board (he's great in the kitchen so that helps a lot). I also have great discussions about nutrition with a few of my co-workers (who I consider friends). They have never once judged or joked and have given me a great outlet for sharing our collective knowledge on the subject of health in general. There is also, of course, all of the online presence, not the least of which is your blog. It is incredibly comforting to know that so many people who have turned to a plant based diet are succeeding at a permanent change for the better.

Despite all of the positive forces pushing me in the right direction, I continue to be hurt and frustrated by the reaction of those who I consider closest to me. I'm at a loss on how to react (or not react) and depending on my mood and the day I've had, I worry it will cause rifts, which is the last thing I want.

Thank you, Anonymous, for bringing up this very important topic. I consider myself a pretty darned strong person and I know that my resolve has been rocked by the comments of people close to me. I'm still trying to pick up the pieces, but ultimately, I take responsibility for my own reactions to the comments. We can't control people or situations, we can only control how we react to them.

What has your experience been in this arena? What have those around you said to you and how have you reacted?

How do you talk about your food choices with other people? Do you try not to engage in conversation about it or do you want to share information about what you have discovered?

Do you feel pressure from your family and/or friends to eat food that is not on your plan? How do you deal with that? Do you generally give in or have you found a way to say "no thank you" and not let it mess with your head?


Anonymous said...

Your 'friends' are being incredibly rude and insensitive...and what you're experiencing has played out many, many times across the globe!

Perhaps it would be useful to tell them that you will be quite willing to discuss the nutritional information they keep denigrating by their comments, IF/AFTER they read Eat to Live or China Study or whatever book you choose. Tell them, in essence, to put up or shut up!

If they want to continue in this sniping format, they are being disrespectful of you, whether they acknowledge that truth or not. By challenging them to read the material before they make any more wise cracks, you are not 'just' making it clear that their inappropriate behavior bothers you; you are also opening the possibility that your friend(s) will actually learn some of the same information that has changed your life. At the very least, if they agree to read, they will better understand your motivation to avoid further poisoning yourself or your family.

And, sadly, sometimes friendships end over major conversions in any part of a person's life: religious conversions drive some people apart, so why would a radical nutritional conversion be expected to somehow not affect relationships?

Ultimately, how you handle this issue is your decision; I hope you are able to find peace with whatever avenue to pursue. But keep in mind, you deserve better than to be constantly picked at because of your choices. What kind of friend is that?

Ellani said...

I have been a vegan a la Fuhrman now for a year and a half and can very much relate to your experiences! I cannot even begin to count the number of conversations I have had about my food choices and have experienced the whole spectrum of criticisms from 'where DO you get your protein' to 'My friend turned anemic when she went vegan aren't you worried that you will too?' I have learned over time to differentiate between people who are sincerely interested in the foods I eat and those who are, frankly, freaked out and intimidated by my lifestyle. Face it, this latter group isn't really ready to hear anything I have to say to them, so I just answer their questions calmly and with a smile and I don't let them bother me. It is no use trying to preach to them, their ears are close (and preaching doesn't work anyway).
What I have learned, though, is the best results come from just being who I am with no apologies and with an openness and a readiness to share with those who are interested. It is easy for me to say no to those people who try to force foods on me that I no longer eat. Meat and dairy products do not agree with me anymore, much like gluten irritates a person with celiac or dairy effects someone who is lactose intolerant. Thus, I do not feel tempted when someone tries to force me to eat something that no longer agrees with my digestion. It is easy for me to just say, I can't eat meat and dairy because my body cannot digest it. Usually people are willing to accept this argument. Yes there are snide comments; and yes sometimes people are pretty insensitive to my dietary choices, but that is their problem and not mine.
On a positive note, I cannot tell you how many people have asked me for recipes for the foods I have made. I am always bringing something with me to dinners, kindergarten events and the like and every time I am asked at least once for the recipe. At least two of my friends have started their own recipe collection based on numerous recipes I have given them. Though no one has converted to a vegan lifestyle, they are cooking healthier much more often and I take no little pride in knowing that this has a lot to do with my example. So I guess the secret for me is letting my lifestyle be my calling card. A delicious dish brought to a function (or inviting friends over for dinner) goes a lot further to show people how amazingly delicious, filling, and healthy a vegan/Nutritarian lifestyle has to offer than hours of arguments, statistics, or debating food choices ever could.
I went vegan/Nutritarian after my two children were born and I made the conscious choice not to force them to change their diet. I hoped to teach by example, and I am realistic in my expectations. Having said that, I am often pleased with their choices. Faced with a table full of cookies and fruit, both will nibble on a cookie but dive into the fruit. They do consume some meat and dairy, but I find that they choose to do so a lot less now than they did a year ago. They are probably about 80-85% vegan and I am okay with this, even if I wish they would completely forgo meat and dairy. But I want the choice to be theirs to make. My repertoire of kid-approved-vegan/nutritarian recipes is growing daily, and that is deeply satisfying. I know this probably doesn't go far enough for some people, but I see how much my kids are curious and interested in the choices I make and how they increasingly opt for the foods that I would eat. This is deeply rewarding for me, and I think will have the most positive effect on them in the long run.

Anonymous said...

I've been a vegetarian since college and am now 51. No one ever was mean about my choices. Was macrobiotic (vegan) for a few years trying to heal an illness. I succeeded, had kids, and started giving in to dairy and eggs as they did not like my vegan meals, especially when they ate at friends houses and learned what they could be eating. My health and numbers are excellent, and I will eat cheese or eggs in meals when I am out or cooking for my kids. When people ask me how I stay slim, I tell them I'm a vegetarian, exercise, and try to eat healthy foods. If they ask more, I talk more. Maybe it's time to tell people about your hurt feelings from their mean comments. If they continue, maybe it's time to spend as little time with them as possible. How great your husband is supportive. Mine too! As with everything, keep looking at the "glass 1/2 full," feel good, and you'll keep attracting more things/people to feel good about. Take everything lightly and expect the best!

JL goes Vegan said...

Congrats on your gained health!

This is a really compelling post, as I am struggled with how best to share my love of a plant-based diet. Coincidentally, on my blog today, Lisa of the vegan culinary crusade wrote a guest post on being compassionate with our passions. She gives great advice on how to live by example, without proselytizing.

QZB said...

Lots of insight here. Personally, I haven't been pressured or challenged by anyone who matters to me, but there will always be people who feel judged simply b/c they don't share my eating style. My response is that results speak for themselves, period. ;)

Since Anonymous has children, I would ask how she would counsel her kids if they were faced with mean teasing and peer pressure? I'm pretty sure her response would be that no one who is a true friend would behave that way, and that if the nasty comments and "jokes" continued after a calm statement/request to stop (for example, "When you speak to me that way, I feel hurt and confused. I'm trying hard to be healthy, and I hope that you can support me with that.") you have received confirmation that your friend is not as respectful of you as s/he should be. If you are respectful of that person's choices, but they are not respectful of yours, you clearly need to reassess the value of that relationship.

It seems silly to end a friendship over food, I know, but the fact is that it isn't really about food at that point, is it?

Ruchi Koval said...

Wendy, this is an extremely important post. I also gained a lot from the comments so far. Two thoughts:
1. I would call myself a "dabbler" in the ETL way. I love it, believe in it, and feel great when I follow it; however both for my hubby and kids and for me occasionally, eat other things as well. But my mindset is ETL - and I think always will be. Here's what I've noticed: I'VE gotten judgmental. Spent some time at a fam member's house who's in the health field and couldn't find a particle of food that was whole grain. I did feel kinda snooty. Working on that.
2. Coming from a completely different angle: being in the religion world, I notice the exact same thing happens when people start following what they feel is a more spiritual path. The advice I give -
*Don't preach. Live by example. Resist the urge. Trust me.
*When your loved ones see that your new lifestyle makes you happier, kinder, softer, sweeter - since you are more joyous and comfy with who you are - they will by default be intrigued.
*Play hard to get. Make them ask questions to get info on your mysterious new habits that are so awesome.
*The worst person to influence your family members is... you. Let them hear from a fall guy, a straw man, a third party... They will shut you out, cuz you're you.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous answers "children" question: My kids were never teased because they loved eating real meat, cheese, ice cream at friends' houses/parties,etc! They were vegans for a long time. And I never told them that they couldn't eat meat when we were out - good advice from my vegetarian sister. As with all things, I still continue to learn that it's best to "go with the flow and accept what is. Resistance causes suffering." My kids have grown up healthy and know very well what are healthy foods from growing up with me and their dad. Now their decisions are theirs. My youngest is off to college and wonders what healthy choices she'll have on campus. (I called the cafeteria chef, and they have a "vegetarian and vegan" kiosk and a "healthy low fat" kiosk, so change is happening!) My other college kid works pt at the food coop and buys organic meat and veggies. Regarding friends, don't we all teach our kids that mean friends are not your friends - a tough life lesson. And as another commenter said, your happiness, kindness, and good health says more than words can!

Jen said...

The friends' reactions seems like pretty typical diet sabotauge, except in this case snarky comments are directed at food choices instead of smaller portions or avoiding desserts, carbs, etc.

If the comments are bothering you, just be direct, "I love having you as my friend, but don't enjoy negative comments about turning vegetarian. Let's make a pact from here on out, I won't comment about what you feed your family and you won't comment about what I feed mine."

I've adopted the nutritarian lifestyle, but am not 100% vegan. I take a lot of teasing from my teens, but try to appease them by serving them free range or grass fed meat occasionally. When the teasing gets overwhelming, I'll joke back to them that "all these comments are causing a strange reaction...I'm having an overwhelming desire to cook tofu every day for the next week."

Looking at it with a sense of humor helps. My daughter, who loves to write, laughingly threatens to title this chapter of her memoir as "the year my mother went vegan" and describes how her friend's jaw dropped, and he exclaimed,"oh, I'm so sorry for you!" when she mentioned at the lunch table that Mom turned vegetarian.

I keep my son and his friends stocked with healthier substitutes... organic corn tortilla chips and salsa, frozen pina-colada smoothies, popcorn (we do use butter), home-baked muffins, cookies, pancakes, watermelon, trail mix with dried fruit, nuts, choc chips & Kashi sunshine puffs cereal (looks like capt crunch-add just before serving to prevent sog), fresh fruit drizzled with dark chocolate, Zevia or Izzy sodas, homemade lemonade.

I try not to preach, but it can be hard. My sister and brother are my food log buddies (we're all trying to lose 50 lbs). We're each doing it our own way, and the days/weeks that they fall way off the wagon are when they eat mostly animal fats and processed starch. It's especially hard to partner with my brother who had a heart attack at 50 and is in denial about his consumption.

Elizabeth said...

Unless you are sitting at a family dinner and your mother IS present, tell them, "My mother isn't here so I don't have to eat it."

Anonymous said...

Dear HGK,

As someone moving into alot of new areas in her life, I am compelled to write about the post about sabotaging friends. When we strart to make healthier choices in our lives and get outside of our comfort zones we inevitably influence what is going on around us and some people will find that hard to deal with. Underneath their rude outward appearance they are also being challenged to face something in themselves and they are probably afraid. So whilst we are facing our vulnerabilities, we are also challenging other's too. At these times it is really important to look after ourselves and take care our vulnerabilities and keep our loving attitude, our heartfulness going towards ourselves and then also to our friends. How this plays out in the world is the question but we are in a much better position to answer that well if we can be with our hearts instead of our anger or fear. If I ask myself "If I really love myself, do I really want to be around this?" the answer can be hard to face but it helps me get clarity. Here's to a loving and healthy life, Lisa

katshealthcorner said...

Those are some serious questions! I have found if my friend truly are interested in improving their health and ask me questions, then I'll answer them to the best of my abilities. Sometimes just by my example people have asked and I have been able to share my knowledge.

I know that some people try to pressure me into eating things not on my plant-strong plan, but a little no thank you clears the air.

Anonymous said...

Marcia wrote: One of my best friends surprised me by swiping at me twice, when I passed on foods at gatherings. Then she got sick. Now she's eating plant based, losing weight, glowing, and asking for recipes. She writes me emails about what she cooked. I think you're right; stay calm and centered and live by example.

Anonymous said...

I was moved by the anonymous post. I agree with the conflict of wanting to shout to the rooftops but holding it in. live by example is truly the best way. we just concluded a visit to my husband's family. his brother went out of his way to try new things and eat what we made. His sister, dad and mother made constant jibes. and his sister kept making desserts that normally we would have gorged on - pre ETL. ghiradelli brownies from scratch. blond brownies. molasses cookies. i won't go on because it is torture. we left a day early and I wondered why - when I asked my husband, he said 'I just didn't think I could resist another day's worth of treats thrown at me'. :-)
He weighed himself when we got home and was two pounds less than when we left. and was quite happy about it. made the 'sacrifice' worthwhile. Of course, I just wish that sister hadn't been making all of those treats b/c then it wouldn't have felt like a 'sacrifice' at all. ah well. we cannot control others' behavior. It was just a good reminder of how to surround yourself with like-minded individuals -- even if it means distancing yourself for a little while from the 'best' friend. In time, perhaps they'll start asking for recipes and dropping the jibes.

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