Saturday, May 31, 2014

How To Handle People Who Don't "Get" Food Sensitivities

I remember reading an interview once in a literary magazine of a war veteran turned peace activist.  He had great success at actually being able to engage people on the street in meaningful conversations about war and peace, and in many cases was also able to change some minds.  He shared his secret to getting people to open up and talk about such a heated subject, one that many people approached on the street would not care to discuss with a stranger.

He would ask them what they believed and then listen to what they said.  He would ask them why they thought what they did, then listen to their answer without saying anything in opposition.  He would reflect back what they said, saying empathic things like, "yes, that must have been hard/uncomfortable/great", showing that person that he was listening to them, that he heard what they said.  Just taking the effort to really listen to what others had to say, without interrupting, making the conscious effort to understand another's point of view.  Only then could he state his case, tailored to the other person's beliefs, so that in turn that person could understand his point of view.

Imagine how powerful that is!  Imagine using this technique with your spouse, your teenager, your opinionated neighbor.  Perhaps some amazing conversations would take place, changing your relationships for the better.  But my goal today isn't to improve your marriage, though you can certainly try it out if you want.

If you or someone in your family suffers from food sensitivities, you have very likely already encountered a non-believer or three.  A person who scoffs at your predicament, constantly offers allergenic foods to you or your kid, and who says things like, "Oh, just one piece can't hurt!".  If you suffer from a life threatening allergy, one piece can certainly hurt or even end in tragedy.  It is therefore imperative that the severity of your allergy is understood and respected.  Those of us with non-life threatening food sensitivities would also appreciate the respect and understanding because we don't really care to have GI upset or migraines, we don't enjoy when our kids are bouncing off the walls or are clingy, whiny brats.  It isn't fun.

So let's try this technique next time we encounter someone who just doesn't "get" it.  Instead of citing several studies of why you don't eat certain foods, first ask this person what they believe about food sensitivities.  Maybe they will say it is just another fad diet, or that people have been eating wheat for hundreds of years with no problems, or just about anything else.  Then listen to what they say, because here is the important part: if you are listening, you can understand where they are coming from, and in turn understand them a bit better.  Maybe Grandma is just sad and upset that she can no longer give her beloved grand-kids her home made cookies with a tall glass of milk.  Perhaps your uncle is just a skeptic and has a low tolerance for anything new and different, especially when it comes to diets and food.  There are endless reasons that people will have for opposing pretty much any subject imaginable.

When it is your turn to speak, it is much more effective to cite personal experience, rather than scientific studies or similar evidence.  Most people don't care about that stuff; what really means something is another person's personal experience.  Personal anecdotes!  This is how I explain it to inquiring minds about Big Sis.  I describe some of her worst symptoms, then follow that with how those symptoms vanished after removing foods XYZ.  Most of the time they are amazed and curious; other times they don't believe me, say that it is just a coincidence.  To those people I say nothing more.  They are not in a place to hear any more on the topic.  Some people will never believe in food sensitivities, others will simply take a bit longer to believe it.

I encourage you to try this technique next time you are in conversation about your diet, or your kids' diet.  It has worked out well countless times for me, and I'm sure it will for you, too.