The Daily Beet

25 Jul Is it Judgment?

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I’m one of three coaches on our support site, Engine 2 Extra. Everyday we guide and help people through the ups and down of changing to and sticking to a plant-strong diet. We make a point to meet everyone where they are, and never to judge.

I got this e-mail a few days ago, and I wanted to share it with all of you:

“Hi, I really want to start Engine 2. But I hear that it’s very judgmental and that you tell people how to eat and what to eat, and put down everyone who doesn’t eat the way you recommend. I don’t think I can be perfect, so I’m trying to figure out if it would work for me. I just don’t know if I can do the vegan thing, or feel judged if I slip.”

Let’s start with a few things.

This is a therapeutic approach to health. This means that our goal is to help people overcome and prevent diseases like T2 diabetes, heart disease, many cancers, Alzheimer’s, dementia and more.  We don’t have any other agenda. There are some nice benefits aside from health of course, but those are kind of bonuses. Our number one focus is health.

We have guidelines. These are guidelines that we have come up with, with the help of people who are well versed in nutrition and clinical results of what impact nutrition can have on the body. These guidelines are in place to help you make the best decisions, not to judge your decisions.

We all live in a toxic world. There are temptations everywhere. And we know that things like pleasure traps can cause a lot of issues when it comes to making the right decision as to what is the healthiest choice for your body. All of us, coaches, speakers, educators are tempted by the same things. None of us are 100% perfect 100% of the time, though we try our best to make 100% of the right choices.

It’s been a journey for all of us. And what I can tell you is that with continued education and support it gets better. I used to slip into the trap of eating nut butter and whole grain bread, A LOT. I knew it wasn’t good for me, I knew it was not getting me to the point I wanted to be. It was Dr. Esselstyn’s words that kept ringing in my head, over and over and over again. Was he judging me? No. Was he educating me? Yes. Did he care about me? ABSOLUTELY.

The thing is, we make these suggestions and guidelines not to make you feel less than, or judged, but instead to educated you because we care tremendously about your health. That is one thing I can say, without a doubt abou the entire Engine 2 team – they all care, a lot. Otherwise we wouldn’t make guidelines, we wouldn’t be truth seekers, we wouldn’t give you the best possible advice we could, and we wouldn’t enable you to make decisions that would hurt you.

That is why we don’t encourage moderation or having a little here and there. To me that is encouraging a decision that could hurt you, and that is the last thing we want to do.

Personally, as you know, I almost lost my life to a lot of poor decisions regarding my health and what I ate. For years I had well-meaning people tell me to “not be so strict”, “a little won’t kill you”, “you have to live a little”, “what’s the harm of having one?”, “just have it every so often”, “you need a cheat day”. And for me that was always enough to justify choices that were hurting me.

Often people that are saying those sorts of things are struggling with this very thing themselves, and want to know that others are going to be making poor health decisions as well.

What we teach is to make being plant-strong how you live your life. Just like we’d encourage someone to never smoke again, even on special occasions or for a treat. We do this because we know that for most of us, making one bad decision often has a domino effect and causes a bunch of them, which ends up hurting us.

We want to encourage you to make as many good decisions as you can.

If you happen to slip up, there is never any judgment. We will be there to help you back on track, and continue to make sure that you have all the knowledge you could possibly need to become the healthiest person you can be.

I look at it like this: Let’s say we’re on a hike together and I have hiked the trail 200 times, and this is your very first time. Chances are you are going to want me out ahead of you, and you are going to want some guidance. I’m going to tell you “absolutely do not step in that hole” or “you want to step over this branch” or “you want to steer clear of this edge right here”. I’ve hiked the path enough to know that if you step in the hole, it looks a lot deeper than it seems, I once broke my ankle doing that! If you don’t step over the branch, and step on top of it, it will cause you to trip and fall, and there happens to be some poison ivy right there! If you don’t steer clear of the edge, even though it looks like a short cut, there is very slippery dirt, and a huge cliff that I almost fell off of once!

I am not giving you those directions in the hike to judge you. And if you don’t follow my advice, I’ll be there to help you up, but it would  be a disservice to you, if I just told you to go and do whatever feels right, no worries, not going to give you any instruction.

So when/if you ever feel judged, remember that our jobs are to be trail guides, and to give you the best possible direction we can, and help you up, and get you back on the trail if you should happen to slip.

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Natala Constantine
  • VeggieQueen
    Posted at 11:06h, 25 July

    I love this post. Another person I follow and used to like was saying that all of these programs judge people, and they do not. I don’t think they understood the difference between judging and caring. I have 2 kids, when I tell them not to do something it’s not because I’m judging them, it’s because I know that they could get hurt if they jump off the back deck. It’s because I love them and care about them. Every time I ask someone at E2 a question they respond with the truth, but I don’t feel judged. Thanks for being a sane voice!

  • Heather
    Posted at 11:10h, 25 July

    I loved this post. I have been vegan for 16 years, and I was a little shocked when I got my lab results, I didn’t get any labs for about 15 years, I figured because I was vegan I was healthy. Well, my cholesterol is way high and I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I was needless to say, shocked. That’s when I e-mailed Natala and went over my diet. I felt like it was a huge wake up call. I always thought I ate a healthy vegan diet, and my passion is saving the lives of animals, so I just figured that was the only thing I had to worry about. She walked through what a plant-strong diet is all about, and I’m happy to say my blood sugar is coming down. Even though she was honest, I didn’t feel judged, just more educated than I was before. I think there is room to be vegan and to be plant-strong as well, I just didn’t realize the very big different in eating until recently.

    • Miri
      Posted at 23:31h, 25 July

      what were you eating before that you are no longer eating?

      • Heather
        Posted at 11:36h, 27 July

        For one, oil! Also I ate nuts, nut butter. When there were more vegan speciality foods I started eating things like dayia (vegan cheese), some vegan fake meats. I didn’t eat a lot of sugary sweets. It was the high fat junk that killed my health.

  • Marcy
    Posted at 11:25h, 25 July

    Me too Heather! I also became a diabetic after being vegan for 6 years. I am proud to be a plant-strong vegan now. It wasn’t that hard because I had given up a lot of the hardest stuff like cheese. I love Engine 2 and Rip!

  • Rick
    Posted at 13:12h, 25 July

    I’ve been eating a plant based diet for 1 1/2 years and its made a huge difference in my health. My question is, what’s wrong with nut butter and whole grain bread? I don’t have heart disease and I put a thin spread of no salt peanut butter on my homemade whole wheat bread every day. My total cholesterol is now 127 (from 220) and my LDL is 59 (from 130). My blood pressure is now normal after 10 years on Lisinopril. Thanks for your response and that was a very good post by the way.

  • Ddpdx
    Posted at 13:15h, 25 July

    What’s wrong with nut butter or whole grain bread? I agree that you should try to eat healthily as much of the time as possible, but restricting too much can lead to binging and other problems about food. That’s why they say to allow yourself a treat once in a while. This treat might be an organic vegan whole food based Nicobella truffle but it tastes like a treat and might prevent you from feeling too restricted.

    • Engine2Team
      Posted at 11:34h, 27 July

      It depends on your situation. If you are someone with heart disease/high cholesterol/high BP/T2 diabetes or weight to lose you want to eliminate (or drastically reduce) any nuts/nut butters and in some cases bread.

      If you read my bio, you’ll see that I was very sick 🙂 There was no room for treats, at all – kind of like an alcoholic treating themselves to a glass of wine every so often.

  • Dawn Martin
    Posted at 13:23h, 25 July

    People usually only feel “judged” when they know they are making poor decisions already & they don’t want to “hear the truth”.

  • Marion Poliquin
    Posted at 13:25h, 25 July


    In the sentence : “Otherwise we wouldn’t make guidelines, we wouldn’t be truth seekers, we wouldn’t give you the best possible advice we could, and we wouldn’t enable you to make decisions that would hurt you.” you probably meant “enable you to make decisions that will help you” or “enable you to avoid making decisions that would hurt you”.

    • Kathy Joachim Lonergan
      Posted at 13:42h, 25 July

      Her statement makes sense as is, they do not want to enable someone to make harmful choices. Saying “go ahead and have a cheat day, or have some oil in moderation,” would enable someone to make decisions that would hurt them.

      • Marion Poliquin
        Posted at 10:50h, 29 July

        If you remove what’s in between, the sentence reads “they all care, a lot. Otherwise we wouldn’t enable you to make decisions that would hurt you.” which means that they are enabling us to make decisions that would hurt us. Which I’m sure is not what was meant.

  • Kathy Joachim Lonergan
    Posted at 13:42h, 25 July

    I see I’m not the only one curious about nut butter and whole grain bread. What’s the reasoning behind that? Just curious.

    • sadie
      Posted at 15:24h, 25 July

      I’m willing to bet the problem with nut butter and whole grain bread for her is that she “slipped into the trap” of eating it “A LOT.” I don’t think she’s saying these are bad foods in and of themselves.

      • Kathy Joachim Lonergan
        Posted at 15:26h, 25 July

        I hope so, ’cause I love peanut butter on sprouted, whole wheat bread especially toasted and I’m always careful with portion and frequency.

        • Engine2Team
          Posted at 11:33h, 27 July

          It depends on your situation. If you are someone with heart disease/high cholesterol/high BP/T2 diabetes or weight to lose you want to eliminate (or drastically reduce) any nuts/nut butters and in some cases bread.

          • Kathy Joachim Lonergan
            Posted at 14:03h, 27 July

            That makes sense, thanks!

  • Jerry Albert
    Posted at 14:04h, 25 July

    I have been plant strong for a little over a year now. I didn’t have any major health issues, but was influenced by watching “Forks Over Knives” and “Food Inc.”. as well as reading Dr. Neal Barnard’s ” 21-Day Vegan Jump Star”. I lost 24 pounds which I have maintained within 2 pounds.I eat a mostly vegan diet, avoiding meat and dairy. I eat PB & J (fruit spread) on whole grain bread several days a week.. I try to avoid extra oils, using a water saute process or steaming.We use some of the “transition foods”, but try to avoid those which are high in fats.Our two-family house is about 70% vegan. The mild to severe arthritis and tendinitis that I had in my knees and elbows is largely a thing of the past.
    When I first became a plant-strong advocate, my zeal was often misinterpreted as condemnation of the the omnivore. Now, I have learned to wait for the compliments on my new body and ten explain how it was achieved.

    • moderatelycrazy
      Posted at 16:01h, 25 July

      I’ll have to remember that last sentence. Perfect!

  • Kathy G
    Posted at 14:15h, 25 July

    Thanks, Natala, for blazing the trail for us! I’m following the best I can and value your (and Ami and Char’s) input. Thanks for being there for us.

  • Ami Mackey
    Posted at 16:08h, 25 July

    For some people nut butters and bread can be a problem, from a ‘myth of moderation’ standpoint to calorie density. Eating way too much of either isn’t good from that point of view. Natala was caught in the Pleasure Trap with both of these items, as many of us can be, myself included. ~E2 Team Ami

    • Rick
      Posted at 18:18h, 25 July

      Hi Ami, this is Rick from the earlier post. I guessed correctly at what your answer would be and wanted to share one more point. When I first started a plant based diet, I thought unsalted peanuts would be OK and snacked on handfuls every night. Although I was obese, I didn’t lose a pound. I then read Dr. Esselstyn’s book and followed his “rules” (page 5 of “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”). I lost 80 lbs. in 4 months. I have since added nuts back into my diet in moderation without a problem. Thanks for the response.

  • Inghram
    Posted at 21:14h, 25 July

    Great post. I am fairly new to this way of eating, have been working on it for about a year. I do feel there is a lot of judgment out there – both ways! Sometimes I feel judged for being plant strong by people still eating the S.A.D.,, but I also know if I talked to someone who really had it down, that they would give me pointers showing how far I had to go (and I might feel less for not being strong enough to “go all the way” right away. Its very hard, when you are just starting or trying a new way of eating to be judged and tested by everyone around you. I usually say,”I’m just trying this for awhile and I am going to see how it goes, ” eventhough I know that I really am hoping to eat like this for the rest of my life.

  • Leo
    Posted at 07:41h, 26 July

    To me this article is very spiritual and it takes a conversion to be successful with it. It takes a born again experience and a teachable attitude of a little child. Its a learning process of falling down and getting back up again. You get back up because your born again

    • Leo
      Posted at 08:05h, 26 July

      I think food addicts and alcoholics have a lot in common. A recovering alcoholic cannot use mouth wash that has alcohol in it. One could say to him “oh but you can use it, its only a mouth full and your going to spit it back out again” But that alcoholic knows better, one mouth full could knock him off the wagon. So it is with food addiction eating the food that you believe to be bad for you even if its just a little bit can keep you from achieving your goals . its all or nothing. Some may judge you and think your a fanatic, but you got to do what you gotta do to stay healthy.

  • Lynnette
    Posted at 08:03h, 26 July

    I find that Engine 2 is VERY supportive and non-judgemental. They do NOT put anyone down but reach out to you WHERE YOU ARE whether you are brand new to plant strong and have serious health issues or if you are a healthy plant strong veteran.

    The coaches are human too and can relate to our struggles.

    They are very supportive of personal challenges and successes and encouraging to help people meet their own personal goals.
    Great post Natala!

    E2 is not militant nor intolerant, but a supportive, encouraging group.

    p.s. My hubby does PBJ frequently. I personally minimize my nut butters and breads because I’d rather eat MORE of something else than just a little bit of them. That was a personal anecdote from Natala, not a condemnation of nut butters or breads. It depends on your situation!

  • Sandy C
    Posted at 00:01h, 31 July

    Great message, I could really relate to the trail guide analogy since my husband and I are hikers; he the experienced one. Thanks for being there to warn us about those slippery slopes!

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