Changing my diet has taken great discipline. Not only have I fought my own internal voices of dissent, I’ve heard it from my tribe, too. Sometimes in protest, sometimes in curiosity, other times in what comes across as annoyance. But I made all this cake and you’re not going to have any?!
Yes, my refusal to eat a piece of cake has ruined many a party.
Of course, I’m (partly) kidding. When I was first making changes to the way I ate, it was easy to let those comments discourage me. I didn’t want to upset anyone or be a problem for the hostess. I thought that I wouldn’t get invited out to parties or dinners if my friends only saw me as the one that’s on a diet. Even though I could always find something to eat, perhaps they’d just think that I was no fun: I didn’t want to drink alcohol or eat dessert or share the gooey deep-fried appetizer. And what if they all wanted to get pizzas and beer and split the bill? Nothing like food politics and money to cause a rift in friendships!
As much as I wanted to lose weight and get healthy, regularly hearing jokes about how I was brainwashed or that I was now a “picky eater” really hurt my feelings. Other times it was sneers or a rolling of the eyes that would defeat me. Or passive-aggressive comments — “Aren’t you the healthy one?” — in a condescending tone when we’d order food. In going against my tribe, I felt very alone. And weird. And often angry. Even though I was changing, I couldn’t — and didn’t — expect others to modify their eating habits around me. But sitting in front of a dish of, say, lasagna while I ate my grilled fish and steamed veggies became less of an issue. The comments, however, were more difficult to ignore. It was hard enough to resolve to change my behavior. I didn’t need to hear how it affected others.
Unless it was positive feedback, which is what eventually started to happened. My closest girlfriends have been terrific cheerleaders, whether it’s asking questions or asking me to go for a walk. When we get together to eat, they’ve started bringing salads to share with the dressing and ingredients on the side. One of my friends gave up coffee after we talked about how my energy improved when I cut back on caffeine. Another tried acupuncture to help ease the pain of her tennis elbow. Yet another emailed me recently about how she’s been “eating clean” and wanting to swap notes.
It’s exciting to hear how my friends and family are making their lives better, and has been so encouraging for me as I continue toward my goals. (If any of this rings true to you, check out our September 2010 article, “A Healthy Kind of Contagious,” on why our friends’ behaviors — both healthy and unhealthy — have great influence on our own habits. Plus, tips on how to stay strong when faced with adversity. For more on the research, pick up Connected by James Fowler, PhD, and Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH.)
Last month, for example, I was touched by a sweet gesture from my friend. I was on a road trip to Madison, Wis., with my friend Jenny for a bridal shower. As a friend, and as a human being, Jenny is simply a delight. Witty, thoughtful, kind and playful, she’s been a great ear as I’ve been making changes to my lifestyle. During the warmer months, she calls me to go on walks. We’ve exchanged salad recipes and our equal love of La Croix sparkling water.
We had planned to arrive in Madison early so we could take in the sights, and were in need of dinner reservations. Knowing my intolerance to both wheat and dairy, Jenny discovered a vegetarian restaurant online that provided multiple healthy entrée options, including dairy-free and gluten-free dishes. Neither of us are vegetarians, but we are adventurous eaters so I shouldn’t have been surprised by her willingness to try an all-vegetarian restaurant. But the fact that she found it on her own, without a prompt from me to find a place with “healthy options,” felt very generous. Maybe she really wanted a burger, but she was happy to try quinoa, mushrooms and tofu for dinner instead.
Words have power, yes, but I’ll give to that old idiom that actions speak louder than words.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the terrific restaurant: The Green Owl on Atwood Avenue. If you’re in the neighborhood, check it out. I enjoyed this baked red pepper stuffed with quinoa and topped with Moroccan tomato sauce, and splurged on a gluten-free beer made by Redbridge.