How to Handle Criticism about the Way you Eat as a Vegan or Anything Else

Mini Q and A: How to Handle Criticism about the Way you Eat, or Otherwise

diet & exercise on being vegan podcast q&a Mar 04, 2021

 

In the five plus years we’ve had Brownble, a version of this question has popped into my inbox again and again, for some people it’s the question of dealing with other people’s opinions when it comes to going vegan, for others it’s how to deal with criticism about the way their bodies look, the amount of food they eat, the amount of exercise they do. For others it’s the way they parent, or the life choices they’ve made. For many it’s been all about surviving in the age of social media, when perhaps while being the only vegan in your online space, you are bombarded with opinions. Recently some of you have written to tell me how your non-vegan friends and family are criticizing the way you do activism, the information you share on veganism, how you use the word “cheese” even when it’s vegan cheese (and how you should find your own word for it). Then there are some who have simply asked this question because you’ve been on this journey of improving different aspects of your life, and especially if you’re a highly sensitive person, you just want to learn how to handle criticism better. How can you be yourself in the midst of criticism and stand your ground or change when change is needed but without it hurting so much?

Many of our Sams have sent a version of this question in these past few weeks, so today, I’m sharing a few thoughts on the matter because boy can I relate!


 



In some ways I think Brownble came into my life to teach me this lesson. I had grown up trying to be perfect, striving to be the best, being very careful not to make mistakes, that usually, what ended up happening, was that the scales got tipped in the opposite direction and when I couldn’t keep that tight hold on perfectionism, I would make so many mistakes, and then came criticism I had never been equipped to face.

How to Handle Criticism and Negative Comments and Opinions about the Way you Eat as a Vegan, or Dealing with Criticism in General | Brownble


I always tell people, “want to learn how to deal with and accept criticism? Start a Youtube channel!”. Oh the things I read in the comments section, I can’t even begin to tell you! Although most of the comments are wonderful and encouraging and so supportive, the negative ones range from someone who schools me on a particular topic, writing 3 full paragraphs on how THEY would have cooked the recipe (to whom I say, start your Youtube channel and put your voice and creativity out into the world!), to people (mostly men), who tell me how stupid I am, who time stamp my videos criticizing minute 3:57, or 6:18, to people telling me to shut up, to go eat some “real” bacon, to the truly awful comments (I once had someone say he wanted to bash my skull in with a cow bone… true story). From people giving helpful constructive criticism, and ideas, to people respectfully disagreeing with me, I can tell you that it’s been quite an emotional ride, and what I hadn’t learned about dealing with criticism in the past, I’ve had to learn here, ditto with veganism.

You’ve heard me say many times how veganism pushed me into the deep end of the confidence pool, forcing me to be at the center of uncomfortable conversations with non-vegans, with people who criticized my choices, with people who were constantly trying to find the flaw in my way of seeing things or doing things.

Through all of it I’ve learned a few things, mainly that criticism always hurts. It’s the little kid inside of us, the one that runs out into the playground hoping the outside world is as friendly and fun as they’d always imagined, and bam! They are the little ones within us, that get the first gut punch.

I’ve also learned that sometimes criticism isn’t about me per se, that’s the thing about communication, even when the other is talking about you, they’re in a way, talking about their own fears, their own resistance, their own projections, their own intuition that tells them they might need to change in some way, but don’t want to.


 



I’ve also learned that there is often some grain of wisdom or truth (sometimes a whole bushel), when you remove the hurtful dust from the surface. We will always react to the initial blow, but after that settles, we can often find something inside that has some, or a lot of truth to it. This is how we learned we needed to pick up the pace when editing our videos, it’s how we started editing the podcast episode in a different way, it’s how I learned that I had to stop moving my hands so much when I talked, and now I hold my hands tightly clasped on my lap, resisting the Hulk-strength urge to move them around like an air traffic controller. It’s how I learned that sometimes I explain something and then explain it again and that people don’t like that. It’s how I’m learning to try (and by try I mean I haven’t succeeded yet but I’m working on it), to not say “you know”, and “beautiful”, and “so” as often as I do. With most critical comments we receive, we’ve been able to extract the golden nugget, and it’s made our content and us, better.

How to Handle Criticism and Negative Comments and Opinions about the Way you Eat as a Vegan, or Dealing with Criticism in General | Brownble


Criticism as vegans

There is though, another type of criticism, and it’s often the kind we are recipients of as vegans, in which someone has a strong opinion on how we’re simply wrong to make the choice we’ve made. How we’re using the wrong words to describe food items, how certain foods or preparations are now off limits to us, how we’re being unreasonable and critical of the culture or ways we were brought up in. When criticism comes in stark contrast to our values, to things that are important to us, to our way of thinking, it can feel especially hurtful, and we try and we try to find counter arguments to defend our position. Sometimes there are many and they help to open people’s minds, and help them understand our why’s better, but sometimes, especially as vegans, especially when we’re practicing veganism from a non-restrictive approach, especially if we’re going against the grain or the norm, we have to remember that we will encounter opinions and criticism that isn’t there to truly share or debate, but is just there as resistance. With this type of criticism there is little we can do, we can arm ourselves with counter arguments and learn how to defend our point of view, but so many times the work that needs to happen for us to be okay with this, is internal, not external.


 




A very helpful question to ask yourself is…How did I handle it?

I am kicking myself for not being able to remember where I first heard the small mental trick I want to teach you today. All I can say is that it’s not my own, but it has helped me so much through the years that I need to share it. When faced with criticism, rather than getting in reactive mode, or in what I call “under the covers in the well of self pity mode”, I play a little game with myself, I let myself feel the criticism, accept the light punch in the gut that always comes (because it always hurts no matter how evolved you are), and I ask myself, not “what will I do?” or “are they right? Should I just forget this and not even try?”, instead, I ask myself, from 1 to 10, how did I handle and take that criticism? One being, “I reacted aggressively and maybe even criticized back without thinking”, and ten being an open receiving of a comment, with maximum self compassion, with tons of self soothing and also the ability to see that there might be something I need to do to change x or y. Sometimes ten will be a simple, “well, that’s their opinion and they’re entitled to have it - my work, my opinions, my way of seeing things are not for everyone and that’s okay- “.

Usually we are somewhere in the middle, and slowly, with time, by looking not at the criticism itself but at the way we handled it, we can start taking away some of that painful power these comments have, and we stay with the facts and what could work and simply toss the rest. It is a wonderful tool I learned once upon a time and I wish I knew who to credit because they deserve every single bit of it.


 


How to Handle Criticism and Negative Comments and Opinions about the Way you Eat as a Vegan, or Dealing with Criticism in General | Brownble 


What we take and what we leave, wise advise from writer Neil Gaiman

The last tip I’m going to give you, especially when receiving concrete criticism (whether it feels constructive or not), I can give credit to. One of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman (author of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, American Gods, Coraline, Stardust, Neverwhere, just to name a few), has said that when he would give a chapter or a draft of a book for someone to read, there was always a piece that he would take and a piece he would simply ignore and set aside.Through the years, he has said that people will begin to say something like “I felt the story lagged in this part or didn’t feel alive, so what I would do is…. dot..dot..dot”. Gaiman says that out of that criticism, you should always take the piece that tells you what’s wrong (the story lagging and not feeling alive), but forget about the instructions on how to fix it. The first is the diamond in the rough, the little piece of information that when changed, can transform a piece of work and make it shine, the second, i.e. the opinion on how you “should” do it, “should” fix it, can be thanked but put aside, let out the front door, so we can get back to doing the work.

What a fantastic way of seeing it, because it’s in the way we do what we do, in the values behind our actions, that we are clearly ourselves. In the writing of a book this is incredibly important, so that the writer stays true to their writing voice, but it can apply to so many aspects of our lives. It can peel off the layer that is usually the hurtful one, the one that says “you just don’t know how to do this”, and instead it leaves you with “this is a concrete thing that might be missing”, and then you can be yourself in the fixing.


 



This has been very helpful to me, because I have this blog, this podcast, this platform. I’ve been “schooled” so many times as to how someone else would do it, but then that way wouldn’t be me! I can take the grains of wisdom and observation, and rather than take them as personally as I did when I started, I can be an outside observer too, and be able to analyze whether I’m indeed missing something. Through it all though, through the tries and tests and projects, and videos and posts, and the daring that accompanies any pursuit where you are “different” from the get go, you are still yourself, and holding that as the most important thing. This helps immensely, especially when as vegans, we encounter the voices of uncle Larry, or the guy from work, or our old high school friend, or that stranger on the internet. We can observe the comment and see if there’s anything we can pull out of it with tweezers, leaving the rest and not feeling like we’ve been attacked.

Criticism will always be a part of both your own growing pains, and of being different, whether that difference comes in the way you look, the way you eat, the way you speak, the way you dress. It will help you improve and grow, finding your voice more and more as you practice hearing it more and more.

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