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HomeViewpointsPeter BarclayFacing up to dietary change & how to cope with it

Facing up to dietary change & how to cope with it

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There are a number of expressions used within the programme of Alcoholics Anonymous that may ease the journey for those struggling to change their diet. As with the AA programme itself of course, they don’t come with a written guarantee but, taken together and used with an open mind, they have been found to work when you work at it.

It all depends on how we look at things and not
how they are themselves.

Carl Jung

Before I get into the nuts and bolts, it’s probably best I declare that I am a member of AA and have been a regular attendee of its meetings in person and more recently online, since August 28, 1986. Since that day, I haven’t taken a drink of alcohol, or a mind-changing drug. As we say in AA, that was my first day sober.

With an article like this, it’s hard to pick the ideal starting point because, well, I’m talking about food mostly and maybe a little about alcohol, but there is one expression that provides an opener.

First things First

In AA this means dealing with what matters most. Not drinking, for an AA, is the obvious one but in the broader sense, it is also a reminder that you need to put the thing you want to change most at the top of your priority list.

If it’s food, you could say to yourself: ‘I have changed. I will change what I eat today.’

A step like this can help you overcome that voice in your head that keeps repeating; you must be joking, the food sucks, why did I make this stupid decision anyway? AA’s call that, ‘the committee meeting in your head’.

In AA, it is believed you have to stop what you are doing before you can change the way you think. This gives rise to the expression It’s Only the Action that Counts. You can think anything you like but it only counts when you take the action.

Usually, in the beginning, at least, this saying often revolves around negative thoughts but as time moves on it’s easy to see how it relates to positive thoughts and actions as well. In the food sense, for instance, it might relate to a desire to find out more about this way of eating or different recipes you can make but – just thinking about it doesn’t make it happen.

One Day at a Time

It’s an absolute fact that no matter what we want to do, we can only ever do something about it one day at a time. We can make plans for tomorrow and beyond, but when it comes down to it, we can only ever do something about it today.

This is a headspace saying. For AAs, it helps members to avoid becoming trapped in what we call, the two eternities, yesterday and tomorrow. With alcohol and even with food, especially if we’re being ‘forced’ to do something about our eating because of a serious medical event or a recent blood test result, we can fall into negative thinking. AAs call it, stinking thinking. It’s unproductive and leads to inaction.

When I was in hospital after my stroke, I began pondering, why me? Why should this happen to me? Such thoughts can lead you to thoughts like ‘I wish I’d kept my drinking (or eating) under control, but if you can truly get your mindset into the One Day at a Time philosophy, it makes yesterday history and tomorrow a mystery. That leaves you with only one day in which you can do anything about whatever it is that bothers you.

A key factor that needs to be stressed here is that if you stop drinking, you won’t die, but if you stop eating, you will. The AA programme was developed by two people who were desperate to stop drinking and stay stopped. But how do you handle it when you need to keep eating?

Think, Think, Think

It’s important to think about what you have been doing and ask yourself, why?

In the alcohol sense, this could involve a real world event like, ‘I went out to see Mary but I came home with John. Why?’ Well, the details are much less sordid than what you might think.

The fact is, Bob went out to see Mary, and thought he’d stop in for a quick one on the way but ran into his old mate John. They had a lot of catching up to do. John loved fishing and Bob had just sorted the boat out for the season. John said: ‘the weather looks corker tomorrow.’ So, after a few more at the bar they pick up some takeaways (more alcohol that is) and head home to pack up the boat. The drinking continues through the night and ‘with the sun poking its nose over the yard arm’ they head down to the jetty and out to sea.

Later, Mary calls up with some awkward questions like, why and where were you? He says; ‘John made me do it.’

Now, without delving into this scenario too deeply and before we start apportioning blame, (heaven forbid we’re all too PC for that these days), perhaps we can accept that there’s something wrong with someone’s thinking here.

In AA we say, it’s your thinking that’s wrong and, if a newcomer asks; ‘well how much of my thinking is wrong?’ We usually respond with, ‘all of it.’ When it comes to a drastic dietary change, something we face something similar.

What you are embarking on here is not just a matter of decorating your plate with plants, it’s a paradigm shift and you need to think about it – but maybe not too much or for too long, especially if your doctor has strongly advised that change would be a good idea. You will also need to learn as much as you can about it because that will help you understand why.

Hand it Over

With food, as in AA, we may never understand everything there is to know. AA’s earnest recommendation in such circumstances is to Hand it Over. Sometimes the answer comes with time, sometimes not.

Without going into it in depth, this area refers to spiritual matters. AA mantra holds that all our problems fall into three categories: physical, mental and spiritual. I think the simplest explanation I’ve heard for the spiritual part, at least one that worked for me at the time, is to think about why you may feel better when you talk a problem over with someone who cares.

For some reason, you feel better, but why? The physical circumstances may not have changed, you may mentally feel better but it’s not because something physical was implanted in your head. For some inexplicable reason, you just feel better. Something similar happens when you walk out on a beach, trek through a forest, dive deep into the ocean or stand amidst mountains.

All this relates to what we now refer to as our overall wellbeing. It’s the now undisputed fact that good health involves much more than a bike ride or what we put on our plates, although they are essential elements to the whole.

We refer to whole food plant-based eating as a lifestyle change because it forces us to confront some of our most basic beliefs. Just like giving up alcohol, it’s a paradigm shift because we are ultimately faced with changing much of our thinking as well. And there’s a certain level of sacrifice and personal criticism attached to it as well.

As time moves on though, just like with any surviving AA, there are new friends to be made and amazing new taste sensations to discover and enjoy.
Sadly however, I’d like to say that my fellow AAs are all called to embark on a similar journey but that’s not the case. Many of them don’t view their AA discovery as part of a broader health journey and, in my experience, still die of lifestyle illnesses at an appalling rate.

Half Measures Avail us Nothing

This, for me, is one of the great AA sayings and the one that turned me on to discovering what whole food plant-based eating was all about. Previously I was just playing with it thinking that if I ate a bit of chicken or a piece of fish here and there, what difference would it make? For me, the reality was, not a lot, and my blood tests showed it.

There was also a mindset shift because I had to ask myself why was it that all the doctors tied up with this thing were so adamant that it should be a diet with no sugar, salt or oil. The answer is, because that’s what all the research proves and it’s the only way they can honestly recommend it.

One thing many AAs struggle with (me included) is when we go to a group event where alcohol is being served and a well meaning host says something like, ‘oh, look I know you can’t drink alcohol so I’ve made sure there are some pop drinks for you over there.’ usually where the children’s cakes and the plastic glasses are.

A key factor in the AA programme lies in understanding its element of choice. Even though I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t want you to go to great lengths to hide it away because that takes away my right to choose. To set myself free of the alcohol mindset though I had to stop drinking it – you have to learn to live without it before you can live with it. Something similar applies to the WFPB way of eating and that’s why I’m such a firm advocate for going ‘the whole hog’ so to speak, right from the outset.

But you know, you can still eat it any way you like. If you take that path though, don’t expect to easily achieve all the good things WFPB eating has to give, or even any of them for that matter.

Personally, I can’t say I’ve stopped drinking if I move from beer to whiskey or don’t drink during the week but lash out on Saturday night. The choices are perhaps a little more open with WFPB eating but that depends on your why. If you’re doing it for the animals there is no choice, if you’re doing it for your health, why would you not change now and if we were all serious about doing it for the planet, we should have changed years ago.

Progress, not Perfection

Maybe this is where the comparison between food and alcohol splits completely but it’s also the point where another AA expression applies. In the AA sense, Progress not Perfection, relates more to personal/spiritual change but with food, we don’t have to be perfect, in fact, it’s virtually impossible to do so.

On any given day, in AA terms, the only ‘perfect’ thing I can do is not drink but where my WFPB lifestyle is concerned, I can only ever be a work in progress.

Peter Barclay
Peter Barclayhttp://www.wholefoodliving.life
Has a professional background in journalism, photography and design. He is a passionate Kiwi traveler and an ardent evangelist for protecting all the good things New Zealand is best known for. With his wife Catherine is also the co-owner of Wholefoodliving.

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