Peanut Butter on a Rye Cracker
Have you ever found yourself suddenly catapulted into contemplation about your childhood, your life or your very existence while doing something utterly mundane? That's exactly what happened to me recently as I ate a rye cracker smothered with peanut butter.
How could something so bland send me down this philosophical rabbit hole? At the time of writing this I am 33 years old, which means that for roughly 91% of my life I was disgusted by peanut butter. I would feel physically ill if my nose caught even a whisper of its scent. Just watching someone else eat the stuff was enough to turn my stomach. I didn't like nuts anyway, but there was something about peanut butter. Something sinister. And yet there I was, devouring enough of the stuff to push me over my recommended daily allowance of fat in a single sitting. I was really enjoying it too. So what changed?
Eight or so years ago I adopted a vegetarian diet, and more recently changed to a plant based whole foods diet.* The goal being to avoid processed food altogether, basically consuming only vegetables, fruit, nuts and beans/legumes**.
However, when I was younger my diet and lifestyle couldn't have been more different. I was a fussy eater and in stereotypical Irish fashion potatoes were the only thing that resembled a vegetable that I’d allow on my plate. My main meals all consisted of some combination of meat, bread, potatoes, eggs or cheese. There was a bunch of junk food thrown in there for good measure too, along with a zero exercise (except for my regular Playstation thumb workouts). Clearly my lifestyle was unhealthy, and my diet both bland and devoid of nutrients.
So my transition to a plant based died was a pretty significant change in lifestyle that might seem pre-planned and intentional, but eating that rye cracker was the first time I actually stopped to really think about it. When I did think about what I felt was an unexpected sense of hope and optimism. My dietary transition was a small but clear example of mankind's capacity for change and of how much can be achieved with small steps in the right direction. It didn't happen over night and I didn't even have an end goal in mind. I just learned a little more about nutrition every day, a little more about where my food was coming from and felt a bit better physically. Each day felt insignificant at the time but looking back on it, they were all important.
Think of it like a clean shaven man growing a beard. He doesn't have a plan or anything, he's just gonna go with it. There's a little more hair every day, but the change is barely perceptible. Months will pass until eventually standing before you will be a man with a beard that a viking would be proud of. The funny thing is that you would now struggle to imagine this man without the beard. His chin a distant memory. You might wonder if it's even still there. Every day of growth contributed to this beard, and each bit of growth was significant. In my opinion this is a nice analogy for real effective change. A slow and steady progression over a period of time that leaves you barely able to even imagine the beginning of the journey.
The point here is this:
Don't underestimate your capacity for change
This capacity for change is in all of us. What ever that change is. It simply needs a trigger. So if you are concerned about your health or want to change your diet, don't worry about your food phobias, start with small manageable changes to your meals. If you want to start exercising but are worried about how hard it will be, just take it one step at a time. And always remember that these changes don't happen overnight. Every step on the journey is important even if it feels painful or pointless.
My changes were modest. I started eating healthier and got a lot fitter. As a result I think I am better positioned to improve myself further. I view this as a starting point. A solid foundation. Now it's time to look around for real sources of inspiration. Like Rich Roll, who at age 40 overcame alcoholism and health issues only to turn it all around and become a best selling author and ultra endurance athlete, even competing in a 320-mile 3-day double iron man triathlon. Or Dotsie Bausch, an Olympic athlete and motivational speaker who overcame anorexia and a suicide attempt before she turned around her drug fueled partying lifestyle to reach the pinnacle of women's competitive cycling.
If there are changes you want to make, just start making them. Start small and don't look back.
*I prefer the term 'Whole Food Plant Based' over 'Vegan', since you could eat nohting but processed crap and Oreos and still be a Vegan
**I should clarify that I am in no way trying to convert anyone to vegetarianism or veganism. I'm not even suggesting that it is the healthiest way to live, as far as I'm concerned the jury is out one that. Though relative to my diet before it is definitely healthier. Either way, It's up to you to decide what you do or do not eat. However, I do believe that you should consider health, sustainability and the environment when making your decision. The point here is more about the drastic nature of the change.
Having said that all that, I would recommend everyone try a vegetarian diet for one month. Not for the animals, not for the environment or any reason other than forcing this restriction on yourself. Forcing yourself out of that comfort zone that you may be lounging around in when it comes to food. I had to explore different food options when I adopted this diet. It was uncomfortable and it took time but it happened. Every restaurant I went to would have one or maybe two options that I could have. I had to adapt.