Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nobody Likes A Zealot: How To Help... and Keep Your Friends

Usually, when I attempt to explain why my family eats the way we do, I am met with blank stares, confusion or even disbelief. A rare few grasp that what I am talking about is a diet filled with fresh, delicious food, heavy on the fats and ferments, and groan with pleasure. Only when I am talking to those already in the know do they understand why. Why would I craft a diet that flies in the face of all we have been taught by doctors, nutritionists, media and government agencies? Why would I celebrate broth, sauerkraut and butter? Why is there no cereal in my home?

Today I read a fairly straightforward article that explains why. You could give it to your mom and she might begin to see what you have been getting at during all of those heated conversations. The author, Ari LeVaux, doesn't go into any depth, rather he gives a tour of various theories of how the microbes we live with affect our bodies, lives and minds. He gives a rough sketch of ways we have changed our relationship to those microbes since the industrialization of the food supply, and points to some research on ways to address our dwindling beneficial gut population.

The article even mentions GAPS! Which is fabulous for our efforts to help more people, no? Alternet is not totally mainstream, but, according to their "About us" page, they get 3 million monthly visitors. That's a lot of eyeballs potentially reading this article. So get ready, because the questions are going to fly...

Beyond articles that take a complex subject and break it down into simple nuggets that we can feed to the skeptics around us, what else can we do to help our friends and family find the health we are pushing toward? I wrestle with this a lot. I can't make anybody see "reason" the way I see it. I have come to this point through many health challenges, through much reading, conversation, and experimentation. It has been a years-long process. Why should I expect anyone else to care with the same passion about the odd information I am trying to pass along?

The Captain says it's a bit like proselytizing about religion. People either have none (and don't want any, thank you very much!) or they have one that suits them just fine. Why would they want the one that comes from some stranger? Or even from a friend? I mean, it's just too personal. You'd think I was telling people how to have sex sometimes, from the horror on people's faces when I suggest that the food they are about to put in their mouths is not really food at all. OK, I don't really do that (I don't want people to hate me--then they wouldn't listen at all). But talking about people's food is a lot like talking about how they relate to G-d or their partner.

Which means: tread very carefully. Be kind. Show a lot more than you tell.

The best way to help others, therefore, is to get healthy yourself. Take care of what you need, do the experimentation on your own self (and your family--they are fair game...) When you are radiant, or at least much healthier and happier than last year (or last week!) the skeptics may admit that it works. At least for you. Keep after it though, because there's nothing like a real live example to convince people that something has merit.

If you are far enough into your journey that you have energy, in addition to your enthusiasm, consider being part of a support group, online or in the flesh. Use your knowledge to help others who are looking for assistance. That's important! It's a really successful form of activism, because we can channel our zeal into a forum where it will be useful and productive. These people want to hear what you have to say, they are hungry for it. Many successful groups depend on mentors, anything from La Leche League to AA. If you feel strong--and grateful enough about the solution you have found-go be a mentor to someone in need.

You've got a friend or family member who is truly sick? How do you approach that? First, with respect (and a healthy dose of trepidation). Find out if they really want to change, if it's bad enough that they are willing to do some (temporarily) unpleasant things. It's no use forcing broth down Susie's throat if she won't do an enema if necessary.

I know that sounds harsh. How about we substitute a different scenario? In this one, we are helping an alcoholic friend whose life is devolving into a shambles. We help them arrange for time off, bring healthy meals and sit for long hours watching movies together. When we go home for the night, another friend brings a bottle to share. And this goes on... Even if we sleep over, somehow the alcohol shows up, is hidden or they drink the mouthwash.

Can you see what I mean? If it's my bright idea, there will be no follow through. It's like the old joke: "How many psychoanalysts does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but he really has to want to change..."  It's the same with diet. No one will change unless they want to. Really. Unless they are miserable, as when an alcoholic "hits bottom", they will not do what we suggest. And even then, they may do it half-heartedly, relapse, founder a bit, try again, and so on.

When I was in midwifery school, one of the things I learned was not to want an outcome more than the client wanted it. They might have said emphatically that they wanted a home-birth, but in the end, some women feel safer in the hospital. I might have been hired to help a woman breastfeed successfully, but if I pushed the issue, I might find to whole effort backfiring. I learned that the best midwives "sit on their hands". They watch, they wait, they support. They do not insinuate themselves into someone else's motives--yes, even though we are hired to help, we still must let the woman choose what she wants at each moment.

And so it is with diet. "Watchful waiting" is a great guideline. Observe, and support if the time is ripe. This is not to say that you can't share your personal successes. On the contrary, that may be the only thing that will help someone else--as I said above, personal example is the most compelling tool we have. Rather than trying to convince, just be you. Share your food: invite people over or bring your yummies to a potluck or the office.

I do want to add that if you are dealing with a sick small child, or possibly a family member who is so sick that drastic measures are about to be taken, well, then none of these guidelines apply. We must do what is necessary in extreme situations.

To summarize, help others taste the approach to food that has changed my/your life:

1. Do your own work: Take care of yourself, get healthy.

2. Share your success. (Tastefully) show it off a bit... Make a fabulous meal for friends.

3. Support the people who are clamoring for the help--become a mentor.

If, after following the above steps, you still want to tell the whole world, you could do what I am doing: start a blog, get a degree in nutrition, teach workshops.

But don't say I didn't warn you....


By the way (as she shares some success on Day 20),  I am starting stage 4 of Intro, though I skipped the nut butter part of the pancakes, owing to a bit of intuition that told me to wait a bit on nuts. So far, so good--no major reactions, and the vertigo seems to have cleared up. I never got the family cold beyond some congestion and a sore throat. Funny enough, as my sore throat cleared I noticed that my tonsils--always enormous, fleshy and nodular in appearance--have shrunken to almost normal! This is huge for me, something I have always seen as odd, and now I can see that my immune system was really always on high alert. I will be thrilled if I end up with normal tonsils--and a normal immune system, that can rest when it's not facing an acute illness. Amazing!


Erica Gott, aka Erratica said...

"Which means: tread very carefully. Be kind. Show a lot more than you tell."

Very timely post, Justine. I'm living with a couple of people who believe that low fat, NO saturated fat, and no salt means health. They shudder when I put butter on things. Both have serious health issues (he as atrial fibrillation, she has very high blood pressure). She takes 3 meds for blood pressure, all the highest dose, and is glad to have it finally under control. He is on narcotic pain killers for undiagnosed pain in his chest. She makes homemade bread every day (she does add SOME wholemeal flour), and it's cereal for breakfast. Because they eat fresh vegetables and fruit, no junk food, and little meat, they think this is what healthy eating looks like. They think that if they didn't eat this way, they'd already be dead.

When I tried to tell them the news that saturated fats are our friends, it was like I was trying to convert them to a completely different religion.

It's taken me 2 weeks to figure out I need to just keep my mouth shut. Your post just said what I have discovered. I'm leaving here in 2 days and going back to Ireland where I can feed myself. I can hardly wait.

Thanks again for a great post.

Doug Kresl said...

As with anything, you can lead a horse to water but... And trust me, some people can be more horse headed than others. However, the general point about any change, dietary, physical, social, psychological, etc. requires some recognition by the person that there is a problem and they want to change. We have all talked "at" people one time in our lives, but unless there is an interest and dialog going both ways, it is not true communication. Accordingly, often times the best way to spread a good idea is by example. "Good" tends to get noticed, which then leads to a conversation. Once that recognition and invitation is initiated, that allows you your chance to express how you feel (without being pushy). Basic human psychology can be a tricky thing. However, if you just want to offend and mess with someone, you can start talking about geriatric sexuality. Throws people right off!

Annie said...

I love this post! I find it has been a real challenge to 1) explain to friends and family what on earth we are doing and why we are doing it and 2) keep my mouth shut when I am convinced that they should probably be doing it too. I honestly think just about everybody in my life could benefit from GAPS. I love your point about putting a lot of effort into helping the people who are already desperately seeking help (in my case LLL would make sense since I am nursing my GAPSter). Thanks!

Jennifer said...

Amen! You can always take what I'm thinking or working through and wrap it up in a pretty little package of words.

Justine Raphael said...

Erica--I shudder at that situation, and I agree you are doing really the only thing that can be done. Take care of you!

And I am glad that the post was the right thing at the right time...


Justine Raphael said...


Yeah, I can tell you work with some interesting folks! A bit of basic psychology does help in those situations.

We can really gross the kids out by alluding to grandparents'sex lives! They can't even conceive of the notion that adults still want to be intimate (crazy kids!)


Justine Raphael said...


Oh yes! I totally agree that almost everyone should be doing GAPS, would be so much better off. But it just won't fly to say that to them. We really have to SHOW how it works and hope they get it--someday!

And maybe someday we'll have local support groups a la LLL for GAPS!


Justine Raphael said...


You are too sweet! Thanks so much reading those words! And congratulations on your side of beef--you will be so happy with it!


Starlene said...

I agree with your husband's comparison to proselytizing about religion. Very much similar to try and share the "GAPS" message of health. And you are right that it is important to have an outlet for this enthusiasm. I am glad to be part of the GAPShelp Yahoo group where I help others with their journey and get help with my own. I also can proselytize all the live long day at my blog, and I hope to help folks with my Blog Talk Radio show as well. I try to plant a seed, and then leave it at that. It's so frustrating though since I have lost a significant amount of weight, of course everyone assumes I went on GAPS to lose weight, even though I reiterate I did not start out to lose weight but to overcome fatigue and depression. I *do* understand people's reluctance. I spent 15 years vowing I would never, EVER diet again, and indeed did not embark on GAPS originally for myself, but my husband. Thank you for a great post.

Justine Raphael said...

Thanks for joining in Starlene!

Yes, there are those of us driven to write, to teach--but no everyone feels moved to do that, though all of us have learned enough to help others. The Yahoo group is a great place to do that. And I other groups are sprouting up.

I do hope that people don't judge *why* you are doing GAPS--it's really none of their business!

I appreciate your comments!

Starlene said...

Well, it's not really that they are judging, and I'm mostly speaking about my coworkers. Take for example the other day... my feet used to hurt me so badly that for several years I had to wear ugly men's casual wear shoes, a particular brand and style that I found that has a thick cushioned sole. I even had to wear these to church, and I like to only wear dresses to church and I can tell you I felt like a fat, frumpy old broad. After doing GAPS for thirteen days, yes, just thirteen days, my feet stopped hurting altogether. It was like a miracle. No more hobbling around like an 80 year old grandpa. I had these really cute sandals that my MIL gave me a few years and I couldn't wear them because my feet hurt too bad, but now I can. And another of my coworkers used to sell toe rings and fitted my toes with these cute toe rings and I got some non-toxic nail polish and my toes and feet are so happy and pretty. And I was showing off my toes and coworker asks about my sandals ('cause my hubby likes to buy me clothing and shoes and he's one of those "real men" types who you would never guess has such lovely taste, lol, sometimes some of the items he brings me home to try I would not have considered and they look way cute on me) so I said MIL gave them to me and I held onto them even though I couldn't wear them 'cause my feet used to hurt so bad before I started on GAPS. And coworker says, "I really need to lose some weight too, so my feet stop hurting." Well, gosh. It wasn't weight loss. :-) But, I bit my tongue and didn't say anything. I didn't say anything because she was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia and I did mention to her that GAPS can address autoimmune diseases but she doesn't think she has enough willpower. And like I said, I get that. It is so hard to see people hurting and in pain and miserable and know the answer, but they aren't able to hear. Thank goodness for the Internet, or I would feel soooo alone! Yikes!

kfey said...

Justine, I can't help but draw the parallel: I have learned so much more than I have taught by spending so much time this year with preschoolers. Not just for food/enlightenment but for all of life: we can only lead by example. So much of what we do for children in the classroom is to just be present. Sit quietly next to them while they cut with scissors. Not doing it for them but just being there for them. And you are a great example of what you are writing about. Kristin

Justine Raphael said...

Hi Kristin--

Yes, it is the same with kids, isn't it? Not just toddlers, but all the way through. Let them stumble and work at it, that's what teaches in a deep way.

And thank you for your kind words--you are so sweet! I fight my inner Jewish Mother, the one who tries to "administer the third helping" (as an old book once described it). Some days I do better than others!


Katharine said...

That's interesting about your tonsils. Two of my daughters have large tonsils, the oldest also has frequent migraines and gets sick easily and the 12 yr old always sounds stuffed up when she talks like she has strep or something. So now I am wondering if it is because their immune systems are on high alert and that is why they have large tonsils.

OTOH, I have always had allergies which are a sign of immune system dysfunction but my tonsils have always been normal size except when dealing with Strep - which I haven't had in years.

Anyway, just wanted to thank you for that thought and hopefully I can experiment and see what can be done about it. I am DEFINITELY looking into GAPS, sounds VERY interesting.

Katie (HOPE), haven't seen you in a while, I miss the home school group.

Justine Raphael said...

Hi Katie--
It's taken years to figure all of this out, and I am still working at it. Maybe you can benefit from all of that investigation. We have stated a local GAPS group, meeting every two weeks, and doing a workshop monthly to teach some of the skills needed for cooking real food. Come to one of the group meetings and ask your questions! You can join our FaceBook group for regular updates on our doings (Olympic Peninsula GAPS Diet Support Group)

I would be great to see you, even if it's a different setting...

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