3 Surprising Ways Your Mother Still Controls How You Eat, Part 3: The Expert
With this post I am going to conclude my 3-part series on how moms can influence our eating habits for better or worse.
Last week I wrote about the Traditionalist archetype: the mom that does things the way they’ve always been done, and how to bring about change in that situation. Before that, I explored the Emotional Eater archetype and gave some tips on how to change that way of coping.
Case Study 3: The Expert
This final post is about Margaret (my mom) and me. Mom exemplifies the archetype of the Expert – she’s been a medical doctor for forty odd years, and she specialized as a diabetologist, so she knows a lot about health. As it turns out, nutrition poses a different story.
Mom was livid when I turned vegetarian at age 16. Her medical training said I would become deficient in protein and not grow or develop properly. Typically, I would have deferred to her expertise, but after just one week of eating only vegetables and grains, I felt so clear and alive that I resolved to stick with it. We fought. I was stubborn. I persisted.
I remained vegetarian for many years, until I discovered the impact of dairy on the lives of male calves, and on forests in India and the world. I was lactose-intolerant and eating dairy only occasionally, and eggs once in a while, so I went vegan on the spot in 2011. Two years ago, I went gluten-free after discovering the negative impacts of gluten on the human brain and body.
As a vegan, I began discovering the many associations between meat and dairy and lifestyle diseases through The China Study. I gave that book to Mom, who read parts of it but didn’t change her diet. I remembered that her personality is quite rebellious – if I told her what to do, she would do the opposite. So, I let it go. As it turns out, it was the best thing I ever did.
In general, Mom was pretty quiet about the changes I was making in my life. During my visits to Fiji to stay with my parents and on our family vacations, I maintained my dietary preferences. In the last few years, I spent more and more time with her, cooking my vegan meals with delight, enjoying optimal health, and eventually writing an inspired vegan cookbook, Food of Love.
A couple of years ago, in the spring, Mom informed me that she had been vegan for 2 weeks. I was stunned. Apparently her doctor had recommended giving up dairy and going on a raw vegan diet to reverse her medical conditions. She attempted and succeeded at a vegan diet that was partially raw. There was no looking back for Mom, and she is still vegan and very happy. Her energy levels are high, and she is thriving. Importantly, she has reversed all her illnesses and risk factors. She now has a clean bill of health.
Upon reflection, I realized that my presence had inadvertently helped her overcome many barriers: she loved yogurt, cheese, and seafood, among many other foods that were harming her body and mind. She was afraid of what people might think of her and say about her if she changed her diet. Also, Dad loved sharing meals with Mom, which meant it would be difficult for her to go vegan, as she would be breaking their norm as a couple.
However, despite these hurdles, my tendency to not care what people think of me, relentlessly cook in new ways, and follow my own norm had given Mom the confidence to cook in a plant-based way too. I had been modeling the behavior for her in stealth mode, while focused on myself – the best of strategies are sometimes unintentional. Instead of trying to change her, I had focused on myself, and inspired her! I had shown her conditions in which she felt safe to change.
When Mom came to visit me in California this year, and learned that I was gluten-free, she joined me on the spot. Her confidence was now very high after her successful transition to veganism. I was again floored by this amazing woman who had once opposed a healthful decision due to lack of information but was now actively learning more and writing about the need for nutrition education and her personal journey as a doctor.
Why was my Mom successful in overcoming her expertise to embrace new knowledge while other moms remain in their traditionalist, emotional eating and other paradigms? Here are some reasons:
- Mom saw the harms she was causing to her body, and was able to connect them to her diet through her doctor. She accepted there was a problem.
- She overcame her “expert” mindset and became a beginner. She was able to let go of ego and pride and be open to learning.
- She saw the benefits of a healthier diet through the example of my lifestyle.
- She learned to apply her cooking skills to change old recipes, learn new recipes, and create her own concoctions by observing me and cooking with me.
- She knew that she would be accepted by me at the very least.
- She felt confident enough to try.
- She started, received my support, persisted, and succeeded.
In the end, Mom made the changes she wanted to make and this has led to good outcomes for Dad too, who has also given up dairy, and eats meat only at dinner. As a result, he is a thriving and fit 70-year-old, and we celebrated this milestone birthday in Sydney, Australia, yesterday.
Based on our story and in light of the two case studies that I discussed before this one, let’s distill some strategies that anyone in any family can use to change their eating habits and gently influence their loved ones to embrace a healthier diet:
- Start with yourself: refrain from judging yourself or family members. Start with your own habits and notice what feels good for your body. Then, notice (but don’t expect) how others feel encouraged to join you. Positive energy is contagious, and the right diet helps us feel good more of the time.
- Go step by step: make one specific change at a time e.g. replace meat with beans or tofu or seitan or tempeh or mushrooms. Then add one more specific behavior at a time, waiting until each behavior becomes a habit before you add the next. For free recipes from our cookbooks to get you started with some delicious and healthy holiday meals and desserts, check out our website.
- CLARIFY VALUES
- Prioritize: realize that without good health, you can’t do anything of value for yourself or anyone else, including parenting, working, or playing. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t have time to change your eating habits – it’s the most important thing you’ll ever do.
- Choose health, not harm: Ask yourself at each meal if your choice will benefit you or harm you, and whether you want that for you, your parents, your children, and other loved ones. Identify yourself as a healthy, thriving person.
- Be a pioneer: tell yourself that you’re going to do what’s right for your body even if others don’t understand and support you at first. Sometimes you need to be the pioneer. Start a new norm for you.
- Track and support: Monitor your progress using a journal and/or a wearable device like Fitbit, celebrate milestones with loved ones, ask for their support, and support their process too.
- Focus on abundance and substitution: eating healthy is not a sacrifice. In fact, there is a huge variety of local healthy foods and meat and dairy substitutes to choose from if you start looking, as well as flavors to experience, so focus on experimenting beyond the traditions you know. Your taste buds will adjust in two or three weeks, and you’ll encounter amazing new types of food.
- Embrace mindfulness: become very aware of what you put into your body, and don’t multitask while eating. Eventually, expand your awareness beyond food into the kinds of chemicals that are in your detergents and soaps, and so on. Choose biodegradable and organic whenever you can.
- Ask for help: with regard to stress – start a gratitude journal, ask friends to support you, join a support group, or see a therapist, a life coach or a wellness coach. This will help you avoid emotional eating and other unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress.
- Get skills and tools: learn the skills you need to develop a relationship with healthy food, whether that means cooking classes or new kitchen appliances or other options that suit your budget.
- Love: love yourself, and love your family members through the ups and downs you face as you command a healthier diet. Love is the most powerful principle in this world, and it works in amazing ways!
As a pre-step, you might want to write down your reasons for adopting a healthier diet. It could be cognitive and overall health, to reverse or reduce risk of lifestyle diseases, to help reduce climate change, to support animal rights, to create a good example for your children or grandchildren, and several other reasons.
Reach out to me if you’d like to chat about how you can get started on a successful path of wellness and thriving, or how you might help others on their path. Remember, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and many of us will tend to revert to unhealthy eating habits that we learned from our parents or other family members. Don’t let it happen to you again! Ask me about coaching options and check out our books on healthy eating. And, share with me in the comments how you plan to navigate the holiday season in good health.