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We Love Our Traditions

"The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it."

​- Mark Twain, American Author + Humorist (died 1910)

When people ask about my weight-loss and WPF adventures, I sometimes notice eye-rolling, uncomfortable body language, and tight-fisted human resistance. I’m like the non-smoker who walks into a room of chain smokers, and without saying one word or giving off a better-than vibe, I’m a target somehow (perhaps they've been reprimanded or judged by well-intentioned vegan activists?!). Yes, truth and self-awareness can be rather tough pills to ponder.

 

Traditions, childhood memories, and human comfort zones can be like brick and mortar walls, keeping us from taking a cold hard look at our foods and beverages. Why do some of us change our lives and shift to a WPF lifestyle? From my observations, it’s a primal response against fear of death (and in my case, hospitals). Although prevention is the real goal, we stubborn humans tend to wake up after we hear the dreaded diagnoses from doctors: you have type-2 diabetes, you’re a heart attack waiting to happen, you have breast-lung-prostate cancer. 


I already knew decades of Food + Fitness as Medicine factoids way before I changed my life, yet sometimes I lived with my head in the clouds and my feet in cement.


Every winter, I visit an almost authentic German holiday market in downtown Chicago. Memories of living in Bavaria and all the joy I derived from eating sausages and sauerkraut, candied almonds and caraway cheeses come rushing back. Spiced mulled hot wine from Nürnberg, salty pretzels with coarse mustard, and hearty beer are also on the menu. Usually, I let myself visit the market once or twice and generally chose what I'm going to eat and drink before I arrive. I bring just enough money to pay for these goodies and slowly savor every sip and morsel.

 

For me, this method works. However, just because we've all agreed to eat layer cake, roasted turkey, or sausages during celebrations, it doesn't mean they're harmless. The once-in-a-while traditions probably won't do too much damage; it's the every-Sunday-afternoon-in-front-of-the-TV traditions we need to be wary of. Unhealthy habits = comfort zones = some traditions = illness. Also, keep in mind the marriage of possible food/beverage addictions with traditions. Cravings are tricky, because what we're actually seeking are fat and sugar and salt. So, any fatty, sugary, or salty food can wake up our voracious, junkie-brains. Also, it's desperately difficult to go against the pack and say a polite no, thank you. 

A co-worker of mine shared that he can't resist bountiful baked goodies after church and feels in a kind of "traditional bind" because his fellow parishioners offer food as a sign of love and community. Going against the (unhealthy) grain is just too challenging. My family used orange juice as a way to say 'I’m sorry', and it took me years to kick this harmful high-fructose habit. Many grew up in a family with "food pushers" and "food presenters" so saying no, thank you is hard.

How do we navigate friends and family who only want to show us how much they care by bringing home pizza with all of our favorite toppings? What do we say to partners who refuse to stash away their salty-sugary-fatty foods (+ bev), so that we don't raid the kitchen at three in the morning? 

This is such a slippery slope of human relationships. Sadly, I've read about people who simply give up because support is not offered. It's probably unrealistic to assume that our friends and family would also be curious about a WPF diet and lifestyle. Some might and some might not, so consider getting support elsewhere (see Resources).

There are three main approaches to this dilemma. 

 

  1. One is being truthful, sincerely gracious, and courageously vulnerable. Talk to the people in your inner and outer circles about your journey. Be brave and share your struggles and successes. Lead by example and perhaps the people will slowly begin to ask more questions about whole plant foods and the transformation they’re witnessing. 

  2. Two is even more challenging. If you’ve been honest, kind, and open with your inner and outer circles, and you’re still being ostracized, judged, dismissed, bullied, or rejected, then it’s probably time to reset the relationships, disengage... or leave. This can be a sad and bewildering process.

  3. Three applies logic and can be used with people who have critical-thinking skills. Otherwise, I'd skip this option. Ask your friends, co-workers, family, etc if they have a (conscious or unconscious) assumption and/or expectation that you accept THEIR diet and lifestyle... Also, this approach only works if you aren't judgemental about their choices.

 

The 95% WPF approach works for me, because my food addiction is not as strong as my resolve to live a hospital-free life. When I visit a friend’s house for brunch, join a happy birthday celebration, or go to a White Sox game, I make a choice about what I’m going to eat and drink before I arrive, and I don’t fume over what I’d rather be eating and drinking, either. Everyone has a unique mental make-up, so take the time and figure out what works for you. You're not alone, and your WPF lifestyle might save a life, including yours or someone you love. 

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