I received a twitter message last week that went something like this:
“Robb, how do I convince my spouse to eat paleo? She has numerous diseases, is always miserable, but is resistant to change. Help”
I doubt that person converted to a twitter follower!
Now, I was not simply trying to be a jerk. I was trying to be a little funny…AND I really was stumped what to tell this person. I’m really not that good of a “Cheerleader of the Soul.” I come more from the Yoda camp of “Do or do not, there is no try.” I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just sharing how I’m wired and I’m going to share how I’ve come to be who I am. Some of you will like it, other will hate it. Fine either way. I’m going to share some deeply personal stuff as part of explaining how I’ve approached coaching people for the past 10 years but if you get what I’m trying to convey I think you will understand my motivations and why I’m disinclined to devote significant time and energy trying to “convince” people to do much of anything.
Resistance is Futile
I love my parents the same way pretty much everyone loves their parents. To the core of my being. I lost my dad in July of 2005 and his loss is a void in my life every day. My mom is still hanging on, but both parents smoked, were diabetic and my pops had some booze issues. That I was not able to convince my dad (and still cannot convince my mom) to change their eating in a way that would save their lives has been a tough pill to swallow and has taken a lot of time to come to terms with. I have a decent relationship with my mom and that is due in large part to me accepting who she is and that she is unwilling to make some basic dietary changes that would reverse her diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Everyday I meet or receive emails from folks in my mom’s situation who DID change. That fact can bedevil you if you let it because you know an effective solution IS at hand…my mom just won’t take the simple steps to save herself. Even writing this requires a DEEP in hale and a long slow exhale. If you feel frustrated please consider this: I’ve been beating this drum for almost 15 years. I’ve felt Peak Oil levels of frustration.
When my dad was alive his diabetes was terribly managed at first. He was on sulfonylurea drugs which RELEASE insulin. Yep, let’s take and INSULIN RESISTANT individual and hammer them with a drug that releases MORE insulin. The common problem with this line of treatment (aside from death) is peripheral neuropathy from the nerves dying due to insulin resistance (very painful) and gangrenous sores that start at the extremities and work their way in (very nasty). I watched this process play out as my dad battled with a foot ulcer for several years. What started off as a sore that would not heal ended up a gangrenous wound necessitating the docs to take his big toe. Then the one next to it. Cutting off the rotting piece of tissue bought a little time, but when you cut a body-part off, you end up with….an open wound! Which does not heal well because you have poorly managed diabetes, you smoke (vasoconstrictor…makes circulation even worse) and you drink. You don’t need to “Leave Las Vegas” for ethanol to help kill you. Due to my background I helped a fair amount with my dad’s wound care which left long periods of time for us to talk. I’d try to convince him to cut back on the booze, eat low carb and maybe get a handle on his smoking. Nothing doing. It’d frustrate the hell out of me and we’d argue. If you know me I can be pretty zesty once I’m angry, so you can imagine how that played out.
I remember when my dad’s whole foot was really infected, antibiotics were worthless due to his poor circulation. His doctors were trying to figure out what to do with him and the options were grim. While I was trying to patch up dad’s foot for the umpteenth time, he took in a big breath, let it out in a sigh and said (cigarette in one hand, beer in the other) “Well. I guess I’ll let them take the foot. Then we’ll finally be done.”
I looked at him for a moment and then said:
“Done? Like, they take the foot, you quit smoking, drinking and eating poorly? Because this is not some nebulous deal with the universe. If you don’t change, it’s the foot today, up to your knee in 3-6 months…”
About a week later they “took” my dad’s right foot just above the ankle. Four months after that they “took “ his leg up to his knee. Once they hit his knee his circulation was sufficient to keep him ulcer free on the right leg. Then he started having problems with his left foot…
Dad died about a year after that, in his sleep, from a heart attack. And it takes a conscious effort to not wonder what I could have done differently such that I might have helped my own father.
So, neither of my parents ever did, nor ever will take responsibility for their health. Both had rough childhoods, did the best they could, but were (In my opinion) wracked by fear and largely incapable of change. My home environment was very co-dependant and dysfunctional. This has provided me with a kind of “Spidey Sense” in which I sniff out bull-shit better than a blood hound tracks Jack-Rabbits. If you are dodging responsibility I will know it within milliseconds of talking with you. And you generally get one (1, Uno, Eine) chance to get your shit together or I am done. But I’m not done because I don’t care. No, it’s because I know we do not have much time.
Loss is the Only Constant
My brother was killed when I was 13. My girlfriend died of a brain tumor when I was 16. These events shaped me in pretty powerful ways. I have an almost daily confrontation with the spectre of my own death and the loss of the people whom I love. I’m not particularly religious so I do not have that to fall back on as a means of solace. I am genuinely envious of you folks who do have religion in your life in many ways, but I think this actually provides me an interesting advantage:
I am NOT afraid to love people. People I know, people I have only just met. I’m not afraid to look like a jack-ass or to speak my mind because I know tomorrow, I or they, might be gone. I’m moved to tears by shit that other people find mundane, and I think that’s because I have this countdown timer in the back of my head and I know all too clearly that it will either be me getting left again…or I’ll be doing the leaving. Folks with a belief in the afterlife have a built in “do over” setting in their psyche. I however think you get one chance to get it right or wrong, but either way this is the one shot you’ve got.
Khmer Can Do
I think I mentioned this story in a podcast, but it’s worth repeating. I spent a lot of time with a Cambodian family when I lived in Long Beach, CA back in the early 90’s. I was close friends with a kid named Sayla and got to know his family pretty well. Initially, I could not figure out HOW Sayla’s mom had so many kids as she was only in her early 30’s. Including Sayla there were 6 kids in the house and several were really close in age. What I discovered was that Sayla’s family escaped the Khmer Rouge near the end of Pol Pot’s despotic rule. Sayla’s family was pretty wealthy in Cambodia, but they lived in the constant terror typical of communist regimes. Overnight a neighboring family would simply “disappear”, never to be seen or heard from again. So Sayla’s parents decided to make a run for Thailand with the hopes of making it to the US. During the border crossing Thai border police machine-gunned most of the group they were with, leaving Sayla’s parents, his older sister, and a group of 4 orphans. His parents effectively adopted the children on the spot, made their way to Thailand, lived in a concentration camp for about a year before a family member in Texas could sponsor them over to the US.
It may seem risky to make such an undertaking, and it certainly was, but if you are unfamiliar with the history of Camboida, it’s worth a read. The Khemer Rouge tried to take the society back to the stone age by killing virtually anyone with an education. Once the parents were dead, the children had to be dealt with and the Khemer Rouge had a particularly brutal method of ensuring the children would not rise up against them later. And we wring our hands about “No child Left Behind” and video games…
So, Sayla’s family made their way to the US, and in the mater of about 8 years managed to work and save such that they owned a donut shop, Chinese fast food shop, and a cleaners, all in a strip mall. The parents slept on cots in the back of these businesses and were up at 3am every day to get the donut shop rolling. Then they bounced between the cleaners and Chinese food place after the donut shop closed about noon. I have never seen anyone work harder than those people, and they never complained. All they could talk about was how amazing it was to live somewhere they could be free and safe. The last I talked to them they were putting all six kids through college.
Be Here Now
So, who I am (from a coaching perspective) is this weird combination of
1-Sniffing out codependency and fear. I have a radar for this that is remarkably attuned. Oddly, it works great for ferreting out Narcissistic Personality Disorders.
2-A wicked sense of pending mortality. I’m hihgly motivated to do things right and do them NOW because there may not be a tomorrow.
3-The clear knowledge that anyone can do damn near anything they so desire.
These experiences, for good or ill, are what forged the asshole behind the keyboard.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m up to, what I’m trying to accomplish. And I think it boils down to this: I want people to know they have another option. You don’t need sulfonyurea drugs to “treat” your diabetes. You don’t need to HAVE diabetes! Not many people are aware of this. I am, and I feel morally obligated to get that message out to as many people as I possibly can. Nicki’s mom died from complications surrounding her Rheumatoid arthritis. THREE MONTHS before Nicki met me. How many testimonials do we have on the blog from people putting RA into remission? A dozen? I know in the blogoshpere there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of examples…and it’s just not happening fast enough because wonderful, good people will die needlessly because I’ve failed to get this idea “out there” faster.
And this is the interesting, seemingly contradictory dynamic that forms my psyche…I love helping people, I want desperately to get this information out to folks and see them thrive and live a long, productive life. But I will not waste my time on someone unwilling to change. That one person, that one roadblock…the know-it-all who prefers sickness to change is wasting my time and that means the person who WOULD change may not get the message in time.
And let’s be crystal-fucking-clear about the onerous task I am asking of folks to save their own skins:
For 30 days.
That’s it. 30 days, and we will know if it “Did or did Not.”
THAT is my greasy, Used Car Salesman pitch. And if THAT is too much to ask of a person, if that individual is so full of ego or fear such that they refuse to just TRY, then they are beyond help. I can mourn for that person’s difficulties, but I cannot in good conscience be consumed by their situation, because that means not only will they not make a change, neither will anyone else. It’s my opinion, that now that you are informed of the options before you, you have the same decisions to make.
7 Steps to Success
The program that I laid out in my book is pretty solid and it was born of observing people both succeed and fail in the attempt to change their lives. Here are the broad brush-strokes of what you need to do to change:
1-Clean out the entire house. All the crap get’s bagged up and donated to charity. The crap you are trying to justify saving for the kids will undermine your efforts, follow the program.
2-Go shopping. Use my shopping and food guide and go get some chow. A lot. Learn to cook, use the food matrix.
3-Go to bed early. In a dark room. Repeat daily.
4-Get some exercise. I do not care what kind. Make sure it is appropriate for your fitness level. I personally like lifting weights, but I’m just kind of a meat head. Do what you like.
5-Do this for 30 days. Change takes time. Patterns establish with repetition. Most psychology gurus say we need to do something for 21 days to affect change. Fine, we’ll go 30.
6-Track progress. I describe how to do it in the book, I provided a reminder here. If you ask me about your weight, we are going to have a hell of a problem!
That’s it. Henceforth when someone asks “How do I convince someone to eat Paleo” they will get a “Let me Google that for you” link to this post. There are some folks who like to specialize in “hard cases.” Good for them, but I’m not sure that is very productive. I’ve noticed that about 50% of folks are willing to try something like paleo, just to give it a go and see what happens. About 50% of the remainder will, with some arm bending and cajoling, give things a shot and generally stick to the program. Unfortunately, 20-25% of people simply WILL NOT CHANGE. They are the person smoking a cigarette through the tracheotomy hole, or my dad trying to wheel and deal with the Universe: “Just take my foot and then make everything ok.” Focusing on those people seems an epic waste of time. If your situation is like that of the twitter message I received, that your spouse is sick, but unwilling to change you have three options as I see it:
1-Make the best pitch you can. Perhaps just “live as an example” and hope for the best.
2-Accept the situation, much as I did with my parents.
3-Change the situation. As in YOU change your interaction with the situation.
This may seem a bit of a buzz-kill but it’s all in your perspective. Most people WILL at least give things a shot. And if we can get folks to just try, usually they are bought in. All of us however will face folks who will not, under any circumstance, change. You need to understand that and take accountability for how You respond.
As I was writing this post I received word that a large US city has signed a contract for a risk assessment program (of which I am a part) to monitor their police and fire department, screen for metabolic problems and implement paleo/low carb as the intervention for individuals with lab work indicating they are at high risk of cardiovascular disease/metabolic syndrome. This is a BIG event and it happened because I’ve focused on getting the 75% to buy-in instead of arguing with the 25% who will not.