I have a problem. Let me explain.
Changing over to a plant-based diet from a S.A.D. diet automatically brings challenges with it. These are obstacles that simply come prepackaged with the switch. I’ve found that most of the obstacles are mechanical, and the remaining ones are psychological. Mechanical challenges can be addressed with good habits. The psychological challenges are more like mental mud wrestling.
I'm not very good at mental mud-wrestling.
On the mechanical side of plant-based life, it’s usually straightforward: you have to buy new things to put in your fridge, you stop putting certain things in your mouth, you have to order different things from restaurant menus, and you get a little forensic when reading nutrition labels and ingredient lists. You morph into a nutritional detective. At least a little bit.
Being an effective detective rests on cultivating good habits, so they’re really not a problem if you’re in it for the long haul. By applying consistency, these things become effortless because you’ve made them automatic. Simple as that.
The psychological aspects are an entirely different beast. Generally, they are much harder overcome, because they deal with the personal parts of your life. They deal with something very important to you: your identity and sense of belonging.
The psychological challenges are also much more opaque. They are harder to spot. So that makes them difficult to label and then tackle. If you can’t see what problem is, then you can’t formulate a good plan to address it.
The sneakiest psychological hurdle I’ve had to deal with is, strangely, guilt. It’s a specific kind of guilt though - By changing my diet I felt like I was walking away from my family culture shouting “Nope! Not good enough.”. And that was not the intention, but that’s how it can feel at family gatherings. I stand out. I feel compelled to explain myself. My food decisions automatically cast judgements about what is offered at the family table. I'm not trying to be judgemental, but making any choice is a judgement call, so it's unavoidable.
I experience this "situational guilt" to this day - and it’s been two years since I switched my diet. So I had to ask myself, what exactly is going on here?
I know what it is, now. Guilt is the last thing I want to feel, especially in needless excess. But when I’m in the company of my closest family and friends (who for me, are mostly not plant-based), I’m reminded of the way things used to be. How I used to fit in. How I'm different, now. And since food is so enmeshed with family culture, to reject the food feels like a rejection of the family. That makes me feel weird. Guilty, even.
I think, though, it's really just faulty optics on my end - stemming from a primal, ancestral wiring for survival… because of course, we need our family’s support to survive. So breaking form with our family culture can feel dangerous. The food we put on our table is a cornerstone of family culture.
But, I’m probably overthinking this. I’m prone to that. Maybe you are, too.
In my case, I’m probably making a mountain out of a molehill. Yes, it’s possible that if you show up as the only vegan at the table, it’s going to cause some irritation or confusion. At least at first. But no sensible family is going to kick you out of “the club” just because you’re interested in eating more plants and less meat and cheese [I hope].
And in my experience, I’ve learned that if I feel this way, it’s more likely that I'm the problem. I'm the one making it awkward because I'm worried about causing unnecessary tension with the ones I love. And that makes sense. You want to love the ones you love.
What doesn’t make any sense, is feeling guilty about choosing to do something that you believe is going to make your situation better.
And eating more plants and whole foods will almost certainly make your situation better.