Have you ever noticed how much people actually care about what you do or don’t eat? Despite this interest, though, most people are only interested in talking about diet if you share their point of view. The second you profess another dietary perspective two things tend to happen: 1) either their eyes glaze over and they lose interest, or 2) people get extremely defensive. It’s as if, by having a different point of view, you automatically insulted theirs. It’s as if someone asked you what religion you practiced and your answer was “your religion sucks!” I run into this all the time both professionally and in my personal life.
People will hear about the Paleo diet and ask about it, when I explain what it entails their first reaction, assuming their eyes have not glazed over, is disbelief; I must be one of those crazy health nuts, can they write me off based on that? Assuming they still want to stay in the conversation their next move is an attempt to convince me I have missed the memo about the importance of whole grains, and the evils of fat and cholesterol; maybe they can knock some logic and sense into me, surely I must see the light. Finally, frustration and shock set in; not only do I stand my ground, but now I even encourage consuming red meats and tend to disregard common concerns about fats! It is all sacrilegious in a society where we are taught from the time we can watch a TV commercial that grains are good, meat is bad, fat is bad, and big food companies are better able to meet our nutritional needs than Mother Nature herself.
If you are going to be engaged in a debate about your eating practices should you not have an opportunity to discuss them openly? This is an exchange is it not? The reality too often is that the answer is “not,” this is an intervention! This is not an exchange, it is an exorcism, an attempt to save a soul and help you see the light and accept the Truth. Can you not see your ways are wrong? And why won’t you just rejoin rest of the world in their dietary practices? Like with religion or politics; no matter what kind of factual evidence you bring to the table, the majority of people are unwilling to acknowledge that there might be some truth to your point of view, and therefore potentially some fallacy to theirs. This is in part due to what is called a confirmation bias. A confirmation bias is the tendency we have of seeking out and mentally highlighting information that supports our beliefs, while negating or minimizing information that challenges them. When presented with conflicting evidence there might be a moment of slight confusion, but it is most often followed by a reinforcement of one’s stance and a renewed faith in their beliefs.
I understand, truly I do. Food is a personal thing, deeply entrenched in our personal history, our culture and our sense of identify. So by asking someone to reconsider their food choices, in a way you are asking them to reconsider their whole way of life – their past, their culture, their selves. I would take offense too if you told me that a large part of my way of life and who I am was in some way wrong and needed a readjustment. Actually, for the longest time I did exactly what others did: “thanks for the info pal, but I like the way I eat and even though I might be able to feel better doing your thing, I’ll stick with this regardless.”
Together, our deep connection to the foods we eat and our confirmation bias represent significant road blocks. They make it very difficult for most people to modify their diet, regardless of their desire to feel better or get healthier. This is something to be aware of when seeking help with food and nutrition or when dispensing advice on these topics. My recommendation to most people is to take a close look at their diet and lifestyle, and compare their progress/results to their methods. Assuming there is a discrepancy between the two, and that they can recognize that what they are doing is not working for them, then the second step is to educate them. This takes time and a lot of repeating, going back and revisiting topics time and time again until the information is accepted and integrated. During that whole process, concrete steps are taken to make changes, and the results from these actions hopefully support the information that is being given. At the end of the day, results speak.
For those out there who provide nutritional advice I would also recommend working with people and trying to understand where they are in the process of change. You might favor a 30-day clean eating challenge as a way to get someone on board. You may even know from experience that if they can stick with it, the results will be much greater and therefore more likely to convince someone to make a life-long shift. But if you force your beliefs and practices on your clients, friends or family members all the while dismissing their own beliefs and disregarding where they are in their process of change you are not only setting them up for failure, but potentially alienating them entirely from this process and robbing them of the opportunity to feel and function better.
When I am faced with someone who is seeking me out for advice and coaching, but who displays strong resistance to the methods and practices I endorse I try to bear in mind that regardless of whether they accepts my dietary value/approach, these people are most likely trying their best to adopt healthier food choices, and that they are likely making some kind of improvement over the mindless “eat whatever you crave with no regard to nutrition or physiological needs” approach. If they are in your office, they want help, if they want help they recognize the need for change, and it is just a matter of time before they are ready to take the necessary steps. There will always be a percentage of people who will drop out early or give up, they are neither weak nor ignorant, they are just not ready, and may never be ready to consider and implement the changes you have in mind for them, and it is not your job to force them into it. Likewise you cannot force anyone to share your religious or political beliefs and practices, nor would you even consider it.
If you are interested in learning more about the Paleo and Primal diets and lifestyle, but not yet sure that you want to integrate them in your life, why not come to the Primal Symposium 2013 Saturday July 13th 9-4:30.