Compassion > Esteem
Food and movement are highly divisive topics and it is common place for proponents of one eating, moving style to admonish others, labeling them as foolish, ignorant, or down right negligent.
A current example may be the paleo v. plant-based battle that is being waged in white collar communities around the country. You may have taken a position in the conflict and have, at one point in time or another, thrown bacon or TVP fueled rhetoric at the opposing faction. However, if you’ve been living on the outskirts of the skirmish without the slightest intimation of the nutritional theory undercurrent ripping apart cul-de-sac filled neighborhood across the country, free up a few hours, Google “paleo versus plant-based”, and be prepared to receive some of the most highly charged, partisan garble this side of the iPhone-Galaxy debate.
Honestly, I’ve spent a good amount of time on both sides of the paleo-plant based debate and despite “minor” differences in what I’m going to call the dietary details – basically, meat or no meat – there is a common thread running through both ideals – EAT REAL FOOD.
Maintaining a highly charged belief in the virtues of any given eating, moving philosophy may have a few unintended consequences that offset, if not completely reverse, the benefit that eating and living well may provide.
Undoubtedly, finding confidence and esteem in a community of like-minded individuals can greatly improve self-efficacy, but according to Dr. Kristin Neff, Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture and author of a really cool study on the virtues of self-compassion, the mandate for us to develop high self-esteem in ourselves and others – like that which develops when identifying ourselves based upon our eating habits (my own words) – is strongly correlated with an increasing prevalence of narcissism and the better-than-average effect, creating a comparative dynamic that “creates interpersonal distance and separation that undermines connectedness”.
Connection being one of the Center for Nonviolent Communication’s elemental needs of human existence.
Self-compassion means you and accept your humanness.
Going back to Neff’s work, the 3 tenants of self-compassion are:
- Self-kindness – the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself.
- Common humanity – all human beings are imperfect and make mistakes.
- Mindfulness – awareness of the present
As human being with a tendency to get jacked up on self-esteem, we often live in self-judgment, being critical or judgmental of oneself; isolation, a state characterized by the lack of perspective on personal shortcomings; and over-identification, a condition in which we ignore or ruminate upon disagreeable aspects of oneself.
Paleo and plant based peoples, in addition to those who adhere to any of the major exclusionary diets, may be guilty of all three. We may be self-judgmental if we fail to perfectly adhere to the dietary and/or lifestyle laws laid down by the food Gods. We may isolate if we are unable to find foods that don’t fit into our dietary box. And, we may over-identify with our diet-of-choice or the lifestyle attached to it that we fail to see the physical or psychological harm it may be causing.
More simply, labeling yourself as exclusively this or that within the context of your dietary preference (paleo, vegan, macrobiotic, Atkins, etc.) may undermine mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
From the perspective of a nutritionist, I’m not suggesting that we all go out and intentionally eat the things with which we know our bodies don’t agree. Rather, I’m suggesting that we should eat in a manner that best supports our physical, psychological, and spiritual health; be patient as we identify exactly what that means to us; and be forgiving if we are not able to maintain 100% compliance all the time.
Food is to be enjoyed and the way we eat should enrich the experience of living healthfully – strong bodies, brains, and communities.