Peer pressure is insidious.
It’s a truth of life we learn from a very early age. The subtle pressures exerted on us every day can be confusing, punishing, and hurtful. Pressures on how to dress, pressures on how to act, and yes, pressures on how to eat. We live in a society dominated by a pack mentality where the ones who break from it are quickly identified. It’s so easy to go along with the herd that sometimes we feel like we are being pulled through life by a current; unwilling or unable to go our own way. The pressure can be subtle or it can be overt but the good news is this: you’re probably doing something right if you’re encountering it.
It can be hard to resist the pressure to not eat like everyone else. Mainstream food production and consumption has been commodified to the point that most believe some essential truths that perpetuate its continued existence. Most accept these truths without question or disbelief, especially when they’re backed up by experts who are ultimately on a corporate payroll. This build up of beliefs over time has created what most people believe to be the norms of food consumption in 2011. When you try to break from those conventions the pressure may start to build against you. It may be the snicker or blank look when you take your hamburger out of the bun at the next neighbourhood barbecue. It may be the somewhat sarcastic confirmation by the waitress at the restaurant when you explain you want two servings of vegetables instead of the mass serving of potatoes. It may be your friends taking digs at you when they see you eating something and say “I don’t think THAT’S very Paleo is it?”. It can be outright attacks when you’ve changed so much that someone feels like they don’t understand you any more.
Can you feel the love yet?
In the end, there are really only two things you can do to cope with it. Each works in varying degrees, depending on the seriousness of the torment. The subtle stuff that’s usually accompanied by a chuckle can usually be met with humour and love. I think a lot of this subtle, passive-aggressive stuff is usually born out of misunderstanding. The person jabbing at you really loves you, they just don’t quite get why you’ve stopped getting the extra large french fries at McDonald’s after doing so for 20 years. You’ll encounter a lot of this type of thing when you begin, especially if you’ve tried and failed at other lifestyle changes in the past. Here goes Mikey on one of his fad diets again! Just smile, laugh along with the joke, and continue on. You could sit there and stew about it or try to explain to them about Paleo in the two minutes you have, but they’re probably not going to give a second thought to your anger or explanation five minutes after the conversation. In this situation, the only person invested in it is you. Why not just let it go?
The more serious pressures may warrant some more serious action. The first step is to have a talk with the person in question. Try to bring them through your decision to go Paleo and the benefits you’re seeing in your life. People react to results, not explanations. If you can tie a visible lifestyle change (like weight loss) to what you’re doing people are apt to listen. You may not win them over but you may get their grudging respect and an end to the peer pressure. Those that continue after that may have to be dealt with a bit more permanently. If the attacks are personal, ongoing, and won’t stop after a decent, adult conversation; it may be time to move on. Losing friends or connections to others can be hard but you have to understand you’re better off with people around you who respect your decisions, validate your life, and encourage you along the way. They may not agree with you but at least they can respect what you’re doing. I don’t expect to change anyone’s minds from a pulpit but I have surrounded myself with people who love me, respect my decisions, and try to support what I’m doing. They might not necessarily agree with all of my decisions but life would be terribly boring if they did.
Peer pressure is an obstacle any worthwhile endeavour has to overcome. Try to meet it with love and understanding but don’t be afraid to wield more drastic actions if necessary. If people want to tear you down instead of build you up, it may be time to evaluate your relationships with them. I know this is a message for me as well. I have not completely respected the decisions of those around me and tried to foist my own ideas on them. That has to change. It’s when we all respect one another and are willing to meet each other’s ideas with an open mind that peer pressure disappears. Until that day comes, remember to smile. Only you know the positive changes in your life. Sometimes that knowledge is the best thing of all.