Does it ever seem to you that those of us who choose to take an active role in living a healthy low-carb, high-fat ketogenic lifestyle are made to feel like we are somehow from some kind of strange, parallel universe compared with our sugar, grain and other processed carbohydrate-eating, fat-fearing friends and family? This idea has really hit home with me in the past few weeks with several prominent examples from my own life that shines a bright light on the complete cognitive disconnect there is between those who continue to blindly consume foods (more like “food”-like products) that can potentially cause real harm to their bodies and the obvious solution that could possibly play a role in optimizing their health. Let me share with you a few examples of exactly what I’m talking about:
- EXAMPLE #1: My wife Christine and I did some traveling to visit my mom in Florida for Thanksgiving and we stopped for a bite to eat at a Hardee’s along the way to get their Low-Carb Breakfast bowl. When I ordered this low-carb meal, the cashier asked, “Do you want to make that a combo?” I inquired about what came in the Low-Carb Breakfast bowl combo and she didn’t miss a beat when she said, “You get a side of hashbrowns and an orange juice.” I kinda stared at her dumbfounded for a few seconds before uttering, “Those foods aren’t very low in carbs.” Interestingly, the bewildered fast food employee retorted, “Oh really?” Yes, really.
- EXAMPLE #2: A group of church choir friends stopped at a Zaxby’s restaurant (a local chicken-based fast food chain in South Carolina) to eat after a Christmas event we sang at and one of the people noticed me and Christine weren’t eating. “Why aren’t you eating?” she asked. I explained we weren’t hungry and she said, “But can’t you eat something?” It was almost as if we were somehow disrupting her enjoyment of eating by not eating anything. I explained that there probably wasn’t much we could have there since it’s chicken that is mostly breaded and fried in oils we don’t like to consume in our diet. She quickly fired back, “But you could have a salad.” Ummmm, ewwww! That iceberg lettuce concoction reminds me way too much of my low-fat days and is definitely not nearly enough fat for me in a meal nowadays. Like I said, though, I wasn’t hungry at the time. So why do I need to eat to hang out and enjoy the company of others?
- EXAMPLE #3: In preparation for our Christmas concert at the church this past weekend, the minister of music asked the choir to do a marathon rehearsal that lasted nearly four hours last Wednesday. Because of this, he decided to “treat” the singers and orchestra at the halfway point with a “make-your-own-Christmas-cookie” fellowship time. As you can see from that photo above, this included the joy of taking your own sugary, wheat-based cookies, adding decorative green food coloring icing, sticking various colored M&M’s to it, and so much more. They also had (GET THIS!) waffle ice cream cones to turn upside down, paint with the green icing and then decorate the Christmas “tree” with M&M’s like little ornaments. All I can say about that is WOW, WOW, WOW! Then at the end of the long rehearsal that night, each of us were personally given a “thank you” present of a Twix bar. While I certainly appreciate the gratitude shown, that cookie, caramel, chocolate bar will never touch these lips (despite the fact back in the day before I was on my healthy low-carb lifestyle, I was a HUGE Twix bar fan).
- EXAMPLE #4: Since we had two performances of the Christmas concert at church this weekend, the minister of music said he would feed us dinner between the two concerts. When I went over to the Family Life Center to see what kind of food was being served, I was not at all surprised to see that it was dominated by submarine sandwiches, potato chips and brownies. Hmmmm, I’ll have some carbs with a very tiny bit of protein, a big side of carbs, and finish it off with (you guessed it) more sugary carbs! Someone suggested to me that I could remove those thin slices of meat off the sub rolls, but that’s much too lean and processed factory meats for my liking anymore. And so I did without until I got home. Such is the life of a low-carb, high-fat dieter.
These are just four recent examples that highlight and underscore the genuine difficulty of trying to live out LCHF in the real world when it seems our culture is constantly pulling us in a high-carb, low-fat direction. And while I realize it’s a traditional thing to do this time of year, why does everything with the Christmas holiday season have to be centered around sugary, highly-processed foods at every turn? What’s it going to take to shift these societal norms to much better choices? Nothing will ever change if we just keep going through automatic mode accepting this as normal without question year and year. What can we do?
Lest you think I am expecting a low-carb utopia, that’s not what I am going for. I’m not so idealistic to think that everyone makes choices about what they put in their mouths based on the health implications of it. When I weighed 410 pounds ten years ago, I sure didn’t. My motto was if it tasted good to me, I ate it! There was no concern about the quality of the food, the impact on my blood sugar, the effect on my metabolism and blood work, or any of the things that have been on my radar screen for most of the last decade since I lost triple digit weight and got my life back. What can we as health-conscious and super-engaged people do to attempt to merge these two very divergent worldviews when it comes to nutrition? That is the million dollar question.
I believe there are 4 actionable things we can all do right now to help bring together these radically different worlds in a way where they can learn a little more about why we choose to forgo consuming sugar, grains, and processed carbage in favor of real foods that come from mostly fat and protein and very few health-damaging carbohydrates:
1. Be the example. There’s nothing more powerful than a life that’s been changed. I overheard a conversation last night between a woman who has lost over 100 pounds in the past couple of years and someone she just met. The weight loss success story (who is a friend of mine I’d LOVE to get on my podcast sometime in 2014) stated that she has to avoid virtually all sugar in her diet to continue to see the positive impact on her weight and health. The woman she was talking to was genuinely intrigued and will now look to my friend as an example of someone who has been there, done that. For all of us who have seen success, this is our mission in life. Remember, people are watching you and when the time is right they will look to you for guidance about their own situation.
2. Educate when possible. If someone asks me for my input on their weight and health struggles, I’m all too happy to share the ups, downs and in betweens that have been a part of my continuing journey. But I never force the issue. The last thing I think we need to do when we become super-passionate about this message is to think we should ram it down the throats of everyone we come into contact with. That’s a recipe for disaster just waiting to happen. It goes back to #1 of being that example and when the time comes, be ready to share the knowledge and experience that you have gained from living the low-carb life with whoever may want to ask you about it. Are you ready?
3. Refuse to compromise. This is kinda related to being an example, too, but never allow social situations to force you into a compromising position on your personal health goals. Especially around the holidays, it’s easy to allow yourself to partake in the various cookies, pies, cakes and other such foods that are seemingly everywhere this time of year. And when a relative like your mom or grandma makes up a homemade dessert to show you love, it’s easy to convince yourself to just eat the whole thing since it was made by a living, breathing person who chooses to express herself with food. I think it’s okay to smell it, maybe take a small bite, and then leave the rest. You’ll be glad you did and, again, people are watching you to see how you respond in these situations.
4. Stay encouraged that change is coming. Yes, it can be discouraging to hear relatives mock you for consuming something like real butter (I was informed by one of my relatives that another relative was shocked by how much butter I was consuming and that I should be ashamed of myself for putting my heart health at risk from eating it–interestingly, this same relative has a copy of my new book that debunked the myths about saturated fats, cholesterol and heart disease). Meanwhile, they don’t bat an eye at all the processed sugar, flour and vegetable oils they are consuming in virtually everything they eat. With this as the backdrop of our lives, it can be quite discouraging to think that real change will ever come. But remain hopeful and encouraged because I believe the winds of change are blowing and it’s only a matter of time before people start to “get it” like you and I have. We’ve all been on the other side and it’s our job to stay optimistic and principled in our stand for the diet we know is right for us.
What about YOU? Got any words of wisdom on this topic of being a part of a society where the food is dominated by processed carbs and devoid of healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats? Please share your tips for attempting to bring about change in friends and family members who think your low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet is crazy. This will encourage so many newbies who are likely struggling right about now and deciding whether it’s worth continuing on this journey. From someone who has been there, let me tell you–IT IS! Enjoy the holiday season and keep on livin’ la vida low-carb.