For the past few months, I have experimented with an elimination diet. Alternating between the strict Whole 30 program and a more relaxed, mostly clean eating lifestyle, I have learned a lot about myself and my reactions to certain foods. (As an added bonus, I experienced weight loss, increased energy levels, improved mood and the best skin of my life!)
During that time, I have discovered that no two people are exactly alike when it comes to what works best for them and what kind of diet/routine they can most realistically stick with. However, the more ingrained I become in my healthy new lifestyle, the more I have been met with skepticism and some very strange faux-concern, and the more that I have learned just how judgmental our society is regarding food and dietary restrictions.
I suppose I had witnessed some of this before, but never firsthand. When a vegetarian or vegan discusses his or her choice to stop eating meat or animal byproducts, naysayers are always quick to say, “That isn’t healthy at all! What about all those nutrients you are missing out on?” (The best part is when someone says this while eating something undeniably processed or bad for you, like a bag of Cheetos.) When someone mentions a gluten intolerance, we dismiss what might be a very real sensitivity for them as simply a fad diet. If a person’s choice in cuisine is different from our own, we lunge at the opportunity to correct him or her, regardless of how informed we really are.
Back in February, I embarked on my first Whole 30. For the next 30 days, I eliminated gluten, added sugars, legumes, dairy and various processed foods. Since then, I have completed my second Whole 30 and am currently on Day 3 of my third. When I am not on the program, I occasionally add in some of the above foods in moderation, but find I have less of a craving for them and now am aware of which ones have had negative effects on me. While several people were skeptical (“What can you eat during this program?!?!?”) and it has certainly been a challenge (I love me some simple carbs), the program was actually quite similar to what my doctor had been suggesting to me for years.
And yet, we are quick to dismiss someone’s dietary restrictions or lifestyle because it doesn’t fit into our own nutritional ideals. Why? To me, the only other people whose opinions matter on this subject are my doctors and, to an extent, my parents. Aside from a few basic standards – fruits and vegetables are healthier than Dorito’s, for example – there are many points in nutrition and weight loss where people (especially non-professionals) are going to disagree. “Is paleo the way to go, or should I go on Weight Watchers?” “Should I weigh myself every day, or throw out my scale?” “Are grains really the enemy?” The trouble is, we each have different bodies, minds and relationships with food. Therefore, can we really all fit into one box? Should we?
When you meet someone whose dietary preferences or restrictions aren’t the same as yours, listen and be respectful. (Tweet this!) Ask questions if you wish to learn more, but don’t try to pressure another person into something just because you think it is the right way. (Of course, if a friend or family member is consuming dangerously too few calories or exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, you may want to step in. Again, be kind and check your judgment at the door – food and body image are very difficult and emotional issues for many people.)
I truly believe the Whole 30 has changed my life for the better, and will happily talk to friends who are curious about the program or about the less restrictive changes I’ve made. However, I don’t believe in pushing my views on somebody else. I know several vegans/vegetarians, people who keep Kosher, people who avoid gluten, people who count calories, people who want to lose weight and people who want to gain weight, and I believe that different bodies and minds will benefit from different routines. Aside from a few basic principles, there really is no one size fits all, so let’s not offer unsolicited advice that may not work as well for someone else as it does for us.
In short, be kind and don’t dismiss others. Isn’t that how we should be living our lives anyway? 🙂