A chuckle may have slid out of my mouth as I heard my friend say, “Patricia, it’s easy for you to say, you like that green stuff you eat.”
I glanced behind me to see if there was another Patricia in the room. Nope, she was talking to me. My eyebrows spiked as I tilted my head and crumpled my forehead.
When she saw my reaction, she continued, “you are different, you like to eat vegetables and wake up early to work-out.”
She clearly didn’t know me 30 years ago!
As she finished her statement, the vision of my parents blending the vegetables into soup came to mind. It was the only way I would eat them without fussing. I don’t recall ever voluntarily saying “uhm, I’d love to eat a fresh green salad with some broccoli!” No, I’m sure that never happened. I do remember fighting with my siblings over the larger piece of steak. When I was a child, “Sizzlers” and “My Vaquita” (“My Little Cow”) were my favorite restaurants. Even later as a young adult, if I had a choice between a comfy couch and a vinyasa flow class, the sedentary option would usually win. I was not a fan of the yoga torture. One minute into the postures I’d be looking at the clock wondering how much time until shavasana or corpse pose. My mind would drift everywhere but focus on the present – as I was being taught to do.
If you had told me when I was 16 that in my 40’s I would prefer to eat veggies, I’d laugh out loud and mock you. No, it hasn’t been easy for me – at all.
My start was no different than most. In fact, back then, my vegetarian options were somewhere between green or brown mushes that all tasted like flax seed or bird meal. I gagged myself through dinner trying to convince myself that plant-based diets were less toxic. The American Cancer Society now has healthy cancer-preventive guidelines. Among the many suggestions are to eat mostly plants and limit the amount of red and processed meats. The National Cancer Institute (within the NIH) also has publications that point at diet as instrumental to restore and maintain health. No matter how much we disagree on certain topics (e.g. organic, gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etc.), everyone seems to agree that plants are better for our wellness. What would happen if we built on our agreements?
In my case, I felt red meats harder to digest. Sometimes I’d even get severe cramps after a meat-based meal. When my sister suggested that I should consider plants, I tried to find everything wrong with red meats so that I’d stop liking them. But the minute I’d find cooked animal flesh awful to chew, I’d walk by a food truck grilling beef and salivate like a starving dog. After surviving cancer, changing my eating and exercise habits has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Later that day, my friend invited me to a cook-out. I went prepared with a marinated portobello mushroom. Sure enough, as I arrived, I couldn’t help but feel I was among werewolf wanna-be humans scarfing down burger after burger. A few minutes in, another friend greeted me holding a succulent piece of meat dripping in between a soft bun in his right hand.
“Plenty of cheese burgers on the grill. The buns are on the side,” he said wiping the ketchup off the side of his mouth.
Meat, cheese and gluten – just the three foods I was avoiding. I politely declined, and pointing at my mushroom, I explained that I was waiting for my meal.
“What the (beep) is that?” in his surprise he must have forgotten the etiquette of covering his full mouth. “You don’t eat meat?” He swallowed. “Man, it sucks to be you!”
Watching him walk away, I stayed silent. Although he meant that comment as a friendly taunt, inadvertently he dug deep into an important reason this transition was so hard: my social circles.
I could go on about interactions in which people comment about my food choices. My point is that it’s not easy to stand out like the oddball and connect with others at the same time. It’s not easy to find the friends who will support you no matter how different we are from one another. But no matter how frustrated I’ve been on some occasions, my real reward has been finding those people who do get it.
A few days later, as I was reading a book about happiness, it finally dawned on me. I have it all wrong! I realized that day that I was trying to find everything wrong about the things I wanted to change in my life. I was, in a way, running away from the foods and behaviors that I had learned didn’t serve my health. I was wanting to fit in circles that didn’t fully understand nor value my experience. It was I the one that needed to align my life, my well-being, with the all this information I was learning.
With that insight, everything changed. I started to look for healthy, vibrant, colorful foods. The energy I felt after eating a bowl of veggies became a sensation I wanted after every meal. I even joined the Natural Gourmet Institute to learn how to make chef-like healthy meals. Food should not only be nutritious, it has to be a delicious experience!
Other lifestyle choices also became easier. For example, waking up early in the morning became an opportunity to hear the birds chirp and admire the sky as it slowly changes colors. So I started to go to bed earlier to be able to enjoy my sunrise experiences. My yoga class became a chance to honor and love the body our Creator gave me. Progressively, I’ve signed up in more classes, and have been more interested in learning about the philosophical and physiological aspect of this ancient practice. I’ll write more about yoga in another blog post.
This transformation has also manifested in my social life as I started to surround myself with uplifting beautiful humans who support my choices. It was if the world opened up and I’ve been meeting more people who also see health as a life purpose.
Gramma Matilde used to say, “A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando.” The real meaning of this saying is “Pray to God, and simultaneously act on your plan.” Not the Google translation that attempts to place limits on God by saying that He only helps those who help themselves. Regardless, the Spanish version of that phrase summarizes and perfectly describes my journey after remission: pray, do, repeat. I understand how anyone can judge my actions today and only notice how easy it is for me to choose. The real story is that it’s taken a heck of a lot of work.
Going towards Love, walking towards emotions and sensations I want to experience, has been my secret for keeping the wellness commitment I made to myself. Sustainable change for me, far from re-setting new years’ resolutions over again, has been a choice to be happy today and every day of my life. Colorful ever after is certainly not perfect, but adding the extra shimmer to my yoga practice and spicing up my kitchen is all up to me. I trust our Creator is working it on his end as well!
We are all different in so many ways. I’d love to hear what has worked for you. Please share, as someone walking with similar shoes, might find inspiration in your story.
Written with gratitude by,
“Be the change you want to see in the world” Gandhi
Some resources to check out this month: