On Changes and Fear
In last week's post and episode we covered the topic of changes and the importance of practicing patience. Something we've lost touch with in this "want it now, get it now" society we live in. Today I thought we'd talk about fear, and the attachments we have to certain ways of living our lives, to eating in a certain way, to cooking in a certain way, and how changes can be scary and how we can move past that.
We'll discuss why lots of people got angry at a hot dog recently, why going against the mainstream can be so tough, and why we ourselves sometimes carry judgements that make changes a bit scarier than they should be. We'll also talk about some simple questions you can ask yourself when the road gets tough, to go from "I'm fearful of this change", to, "this little part actually seems doable!", and we'll talk about how sometimes it's the fear of change in our loved ones and the world around us that keeps us from giving things a try. All of this can apply to so many of the things we discuss in this podcast, including eating in a different way and going vegan, saying goodbye to the dieting and weight centric paradigm, practicing body acceptance and so much more. In the podcast version of this post I'll also answer a great listener question from Sam, on being a new vegan in a non-vegan barbecue, and much more.
So many of the topics we discuss in this blog and in our podcast have to do with being a bit of a trailblazer right? Although veganism has been around for years, and now it's becoming more and more mainstream in many places, we're still "out there", kind of at the cutting edge, eating and cooking in a way that to some people is still completely alien and foreign. When we discuss the topics of body image, body acceptance and saying goodbye to the strict rules of diet culture and how some of us have chosen to match this with our desire to avoid animal products because of our love of animals, things are even more "out there". My friend Lili always tells me that the reason I'm a happy vegan, and the reason why I'm not afraid to take these topics to new places is because I'm fearless. I can tell you right now that that is SO not the case.
I've always been a bit out there with the things I'm reading, doing and researching, always a bit further out in the future of these topics, but I've always made changes in spite of my fear, not in the absence of it.
This very blog, our podcast, and programs sometimes don't fit into one particular niche. Meaning, sometimes I'm more flexible than other bloggers when it comes to making changes to more vegan alternatives. I'm also pushing the boundaries of people who write about intuitive eating because I include the fact that I'm an ethical vegan in the mix. I'm always concerned about my health and getting proper nutrition, but I also write about allowing all foods and focusing not on lists of naughty or nice foods, but on our relationship with food. That makes me a bit of an odd ball when you compare me to the many vegan bloggers that are out there. I love animals but I do believe that for some people it's easier to be vegan than for others and that we need to start helping people where they're at with what each person can do, and work from there. This is also a slightly less common perspective. The process of sticking to my somewhat different views hasn't been scary. It has been terrifying! It took me so much soul searching to risk our entire business on sticking to what I believe, but I just found no other way than to share my journey with honesty. If I had stayed with the fear though, you would have a very different podcast to listen to and a very different blog to read. When I moved towards what I knew was true for me, and the message that I wanted to share which I thought would save a lot of people from the traps of perfection that I fell into in my journey, I did this in spite of my fear, and here's what I found:
I found my voice.
When I decided to go vegan, an example I'm using because it was such a big change in my life, I was so afraid of what people would say and think, I was afraid my social life would be over, I was afraid I would never enjoy a meal again, I was afraid the jokes that were starting to come my way as I told my barbecue buddies I was vegan would never end. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to stick with it. In fact, I postponed making this change for the simple reason that I was afraid of what Carlos, my husband, would think when I told him.
When I started eating intuitively and left all my dieting rules and clean eating rules behind, I was afraid I would become The Cookie Monster's twin sister. I was afraid of what would happen to me if I didn't control my food and exercise. I was afraid of leaving the rules and the control behind. As you know from my history with dieting and body image, I was afraid of everything from a doughnut, to a potato chip (something that brings me so much joy in this life!), to something as simple as fruit. When I decided to give this a try anyway, I was afraid our readers and listeners wouldn't come with me on this journey to finding peace with food in this very revolutionary way. I was also afraid I would never be able to find acceptance and love for my body if I wasn't working hard to change it every day. I was afraid that if I accepted my body I would feel that I was giving up. I was afraid.
For years, I've been afraid of EVERYTHING. It's part of having an anxious mind and going over things endlessly and seeking out all the possible problems that may occur, as we discussed in our mindfulness episode.
Just as I mentioned in last week's episode on changes and patience, I had to face all of those fears, understand where I was coming from, in order to move past them and hold on to the inspiration and motivation I had. It was about moving forward with fear by my side, not through rejecting it and letting it run the show, because most of the things fear told me might happen, never actually happened.
When it comes to food and our eating habits in particular, fear can come from our own attachments to food, we'll get to that in a bit, but we're certainly bombarded with fear from the world around us too. I'm seeing this more and more as veganism becomes more mainstream. In Italy, the land of parmigiano reggiano, there are now anti vegan facebook groups and clubs, in spite of the fact that so much of their natural authentic cuisine is one of the most vegan friendly cuisines in the world. In the US, chef extraordinaire Joe Yonan received online hatred of the worst kind the other day when he posted a recipe for carrot hotdogs, and people called him anti-American. Although I have strong opinions about carrot dogs (mainly: don't try to convert a grilling bbq meat eater with a carrot dog, try a Field Roast one first, wink!), all of this resistance shows us two things: we have attachments to the way things are done and have been done (including the way we ourselves do them), and there's fear of how things will change if we embrace a new change in paradigm.
You can apply these two little factors to anything involving change and you'll quickly see how we are creatures of habit, and how a culture that fears change can influence us to fearing change too. Add to that the fact that most humans love habit and routine (our brains are in a way wired for it), how we love our comfort zone and fear change and new experiences, and there's no wonder changes as big as the way we eat, the way we cook and the way we feel about our bodies are difficult. There's simply so much fear attached. Fear of losing what we know and fear of the unknown.
As you probably imagine, I have a different perspective on almost everything we talk about here in this space, the way we make changes being one of them.
When in fear...
So many of us fear that making a change like going vegan, practicing mindful or intuitive eating, or shifting the focus from weight control to self care and self acceptance means we will be out of control. We fear change means we won't be able to find ourselves in it. That we'll be lost and uncomfortable. That we'll lose that comfy anchor that keeps us safe in our space and close to the people we love. We fear things will be too hard too fast. We fear the idea that we might become the different one. We also fear that we won't be able to do it perfectly and that we'll fail.
So let's address the two big pink elephants in the room:
Fear of not belonging.
Fear of failure.
You've heard me talk about how we are all worried about being different and not belonging. I know how hard this is because it's been one of the big life lessons I've had to learn. I've been on that quest for belonging for most of my life given that my life circumstances were always so different from everyone else's. What I didn't know back then, is that belonging has nothing to do with the specifics of your life, it has nothing to do with being the same as everyone else. In fact, as you know if you've read or listened to the story of how I went vegan, you know that it was precisely letting my freak flag fly, and going vegan, which helped me find belonging most of all, simply because I found myself when I let go of what I thought people wanted me to be. When I was able to be true to myself, and honest with who I truly was, I realized I belonged deeply and perfectly with the people I loved, even if we were different. When I stopped apologizing and hiding the fact that I was different, I felt accepted by others simply because I had accepted myself (if this is not the perfect metaphor for body image issues as well, I don't know what is!).
You've also heard me talk about perfectionism so many times, and it's because, just as I'm an expert in worrying about very unlikely trouble scenarios, I also have a black belt in the trap of perfectionism. Losing the grip it had on me was huge when it came to finding a peaceful place with the changes I was making, especially when it came to the way I eat and relate to my body.
When I started to feel I belonged by just being who I was, I stopped feeling the need to be so perfect all the time. When I let go of perfection, I lowered the volume on the fear of failure. I went from having a desperate need to finish first in the race, to stopping to enjoy the view along the way.
So rule number one: to let go of perfection, let's first let go of the fear we won't belong, and the fear of what other's might think.
Once we've done that, rule number two is: to let go of the fear of change, let's first let go of the fear we won't be perfect.
Two magic questions
Now that we've dismantled the fear of not belonging, and the fear of failure a little bit, let's talk about the fear that we won't be perfect in whatever change we're feeling motivated to make.
We all know and would teach a child that sometimes trying to be perfect can be the enemy of actually trying. We fear that we'll be judged for not mastering something right off the bat. We postpone something that's important because we feel it's not the right time to do it "just right". We fear we will lose control if we can't do it perfectly. We fear we will feel disappointed or let down if we can't do it perfectly. We disregard the journey, and that the journey is the most fun part! Instead we focus on the end goal, not realizing that everything in the journey is allowed. You can have good days, bad days, detours, pot holes in the middle of the road, great triumphs, great boulders you need to go around or climb, days in which you're second guessing everything and days in which you feel you could teach a master class on the subject. Perfectionism is such a trap though, that we go from possibility and trying, to the extremes of all or nothing. I lived in the extremes all my life, and all I can tell you is this: it's so nice and sunny in the middle!
If this is what is preventing you from making changes you've been feeling motivated to try, and if the extremes haven't been working, I have two little questions that might help:
1) What would feel doable right now?
We're so hooked on productivity and hustle these days, that we forget there are many places in between, and that often, changes are even more fun and practical when we take things at our own pace. We have this idea that we're all the same, that what worked for someone else will work for us, but so many factors go into our habits and personalities, which is why I always tell you about the importance of finding YOUR way. It doesn't matter if you're trying to improve your body image, or trying to practice mindfulness or mindful eating, or trying to make more vegan choices, or trying to include more movement in your life or more peace when it comes to your eating. By asking yourself "what feels doable right now?", you are reminding yourself that you can choose and you can start. You're in the driver's seat, and starting with something is 500 times better than not starting at all because you fear you can't go all the way.
2) What would feel like a first step I can handle right now?
Finding a little first step and just focusing on that, while acknowledging that it still might be scary, is a great place to begin.
When I first got started with being more mindful and present when I ate (after years of overeating and using food as my only coping tool), I started noticing that it was nearly impossible to practice mindful eating at every meal. Half of the time I would remember when I was washing the dishes afterwards. It seemed hard and scary to put my body back in the driver's seat instead of the rules of a diet book. So what did I do? I took a first little baby step, and that baby step was to pause and take a few breaths before I ate. That's it. That's where I got started. Soon I was able to add noticing the tastes and textures of the food to that. Then I started adding checking in with my hunger and fulness signals. Then I started removing the food fears, and putting all foods back in neutral category. Without that first little breath and that pause, the thought of skipping the rules that made me feel so in control seemed so distant, so full of fear it actually felt impossible.
By going a step at a time, things didn't feel so scary.
Remembering that slow is good, that fast is good, that however you need to get there is good, we're releasing some of the pressure, and we're incorporating the fear and acknowledging that it's there, instead of ignoring it or letting it run the show.
When Others Fear the Changes We're Going Through
Hopefully you won't be in Joe Yonan's shoes with people making fun of you on National television, or threatening to put you on the grill next time you bring your veggie hotdogs, but still, you've probably encountered many reactions whenever you've made a choice that goes against the norm.
This is such a part of the process of gong vegan that we've dedicated countless episodes and videos to it. Even when comments from others feel like worry, or anger, or disappointment, so many times these stem from fear. Our loved ones fear we will change, they fear we are rejecting the past shared together and our traditions, they fear changing themselves or feeling like you'll be judging them if they don't.
This morning, as I went out for my #nomiles #notime #noapps #justtunes run, a little dog was barking at every single runner that tried to go into the park. He was in the entrance of the park barking and running after each and every one of us. After the angry little dog had entered the park, I noticed everything shifted. He suddenly greeted every single runner inside with a smile and a sniff, no barks in sight. Outside of the park everyone was a stranger. Inside the park, everyone was enjoying a run, including him.
I thought it was such a perfect metaphor for the reactions we sometimes get from people when they first hear us declare that we've made a big change in our lives (going vegan in particular). So many of our loved ones will react to this news out of fear, so instead of declaring our change to the world in a way that says "I'm here and you're not", I think we need to see that we're all really in the same park running together. We're all pretty much the same, just in different stages of the process. We can try new changes and go on new adventures and still fall off. We can share with our loved ones that we're trying to implement changes, and include them in both the triumphs and share how some days it's a bit harder. By doing this we go from "us and them" to "all of us". As in all of us are trying our best, and all of us are having triumphs and struggles.
The important thing is that we don't let fear run the show by taking us to the all or the nothing, but by realizing that we can acknowledge the fear and take the scary parts one step at a time, without the need to be perfect.
We can let go of the fear that we won't belong and then start releasing the need to be perfect. We can include the hard with the good and feel that we're all in the park together.