If you’re like me, nobody spoke to you about nutrition growing up. It wasn’t taught in school, your cafeteria served things like pizza, nachos and tater tots and there were soda machines everywhere peddling you sugar sweetened and toxic treats. So what happens when like me, you reach a point where you are suddenly 40 or more pounds overweight and your doctor is now talking to you about things like high cholesterol, diabetic medication or high blood pressure? Are you doomed to be unhealthy for life? Is this really a “normal” part of aging?
The answer is absolutely not.
The first time I was told that my blood sugar levels were the numbers that are typically seen in a 60 or 70 year old I was 22. I cried. My doctor wanted to talk to me about pre-diabetes medication. I thought I was doomed for life at the young age of 22, cursed to feel tired and weak and crappy forever. That experience triggered an extremely huge change in my life that I will never forget.
Fortunately for me, a coworker recommended I go see a nutritionist. At the time, I had absolutely no clue that what we ate had anything to do with our health. But having a family history of diabetes, I knew I did not want to live a life of sticking myself with needles and worrying about losing a foot due to poor circulation and possibly becoming wheelchair bound.
After my visit with the holistic nutritionist my life completely transformed. I learned that my health was ENTIRELY under my control through making conscious healthy changes to my lifestyle. After going completely grain free, not eating any carbs or sugar that weren’t from fruits, nuts or greens, the first few days I didn’t think I was going to make it. I experienced massive sugar/carb withdrawals and had headaches, extreme fatigue and just an overall feeling of crappiness. But I was determined. My friends at the time told me “you look fine”, “you look great”, “you should be content with the way you look”, and ” life was too short to give up such delicious food and alcohol” and “what are you thinking, everybody eats this way, it’s normal”……except it wasn’t. In fact, I had to make a conscious decision to NOT socialize with my friends for a solid 30 days because I KNEW that if I was around them and the type of food I used to eat with them, that I wouldn’t have the willpower to not eat it. My addiction was that strong. And yes, it took a while for me to realize that my poor eating habits were indeed an addiction, no different than a drug or alcohol addiction. Processed “food” and carbs and sugar were my drug of choice. My “comfort”, my security blanket. I realized that I didn’t really LIKE this “food”, I was ADDICTED to it.
After that initial 30 days though, I was a transformed person. I felt like a new person with a new body, with endless energy, constant joy and happiness, a clear mind, no need for naps or coffee and no desire to go back to my old eating habits. Up until that point, I had no idea how crappy I had felt until I started feeling GOOD. I realized that THIS was the way we were designed to feel. And I just had to share with everyone I knew. It felt like a miracle and I wanted to spread it around. How surprised I was when I met with the complete OPPOSITE reaction from what I expected bearing such exciting information.
You name it, I heard it. From some people telling me I was too skinny, to some telling me that I should’ve been happy with the way I was. Others told me that what I was doing was absolutely crazy and NOT healthy or normal, and still others showed outright aggression and hostility and suddenly stopped inviting me to social events. I was completely shunned by my female coworkers at the time, most of whom were also overweight and out of nowhere they would suddenly feel the need to tell me how my way was “wrong” and their current Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers was the most normal and healthy way to lose weight, even though they could never lose more than 30 pounds on it or would just put the weight back on. Didn’t matter the physical proof, nobody wanted to hear it.
Going to family functions, dinners, and holidays it was worse. I would be minding my own business, snacking on whatever healthy proteins and vegetable dishes were there, kindly passing on the offers of sugar laden desserts, treats and breads, and you would’ve thought I had just slapped someone across the face for the amount of hostility and peer pressure I was hit with. It was ridiculous.
Eventually as the years went on, I stopped taking it personally and yes I did lose a lot of so-called “friends.” But as it turned out, it was all a blessing in disguise anyway, as are most things. Because I knew that this was not about the weight. It wasn’t. It was about being HEALTHY and it had to be a lifestyle to work long term. “Diets” don’t work, they never do, because the idea behind them is that they are temporary and you will just go back to eating “normal” again once you lose your weight. Weight loss is a great bonus of course, and it will come off fairly effortlessly when you make healthy food choices, but it can’t be your primary motivation. And that is the key. At least for those who want to KEEP the weight off once they’ve lost it.
Realize that the so-called “normal” way of eating here in the U.S is really anything but normal. Processed, fast, chemically altered, synthetically produced, genetically modified “food like” items coming from a warehouse and lab are NOT real foods. If it grows or is found in nature, THAT is real food.
So whenever you are ready, REALLY ready to be healthy, and NOT just lose weight, be prepared. Be prepared for saboteurs. They will be family, “friends” and co-workers alike. They will accuse you of being too skinny, they will even accuse you of thinking you’re better than them, they will put cake and chips and bread in your face, and try to shame you, and guilt you into participating in the same unhealthy eating habits that they are. They will tell you “it’s my/your birthday”, or “it’s rude not to eat what someone gives you” and on and on. Your closest family members will be some of the worst offenders.
You will lose friends. But you will make new ones who are truly friends and supportive of you being healthy. With family, eventually they will get used to your new lifestyle and they will stop making comments about it constantly. Especially the longer they see that you are keeping weight off and feeling great. In the beginning if you can’t just say “I’m not eating that, and stop pressuring me”, then just tell them your doctor wants you to stay away from sugar and carbs. Usually that will shut them up. For those that are extra aggressive and won’t let it go, just look at them calmly, smile and make a joke “Geez, stop worrying so much about what I’m doing, enjoy your meal” and change the subject. In some cases you may actually have to have a private conversation with someone and bring to their attention that it really bothers you/hurts you when they judge your lifestyle and eating habits. The majority of the time these people don’t even realize what they are doing and they don’t mean to be rude or insulting. It is natural for humans to project their own self image issues onto someone who is doing something different than they are. So don’t take it personally. But be prepared. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY knows your body like you do. You will know that you are making healthy choices because of the way you FEEL. If you feel GOOD, have energy, aren’t having any body pains, feel clear minded and happy overall then you are doing just fine. Getting a yearly physical from your doctor is still prudent though, just as a double check system to make sure everything is good. Ultimately you have to remember that it is your life, your responsibility, and you deserve to feel great and live a vital life. When you are having doubts, just remember why you made your changes. Because you want to FEEL better. You want to walk around without joint pain. You don’t want to have a heart attack at 45, you don’t want to stick yourself with needles, you don’t want to have a stroke, you don’t want to be wheelchair bound, you don’t want to have dementia, you want to be active and play with your kids and grandkids, WHATEVER the reason is for YOU. Show yourself love by putting yourself and your health first. Don’t tell yourself ” I’m too busy” or “it’s too expensive” blah, blah blah. Those are just excuses, and you know it. Medical bills and treatments down the road for your unhealthy habits now will far outweigh any financial costs you invest in for your health now. Identify your favorite treats and then go find the healthy replacements for them. Paleo breads and sweets instead of processed sugar and grain laden foods. Fresh and organic REAL foods. Cook more, eat out less. It’s really so so simple to make and buy once you get the hang of it. Need help getting started? Reach out to a holistic nutritionist or friend who you know has healthy habits. Whatever you do, don’t make excuses, make CHANGES.
Be well and I wish you all healthy and happy holidays!