THE BLOG
12/23/2013 05:49 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2014

The Most Difficult Thing About Giving Up Junk Food

2013-12-23-dessertphotofortheHP.jpgI can still see myself in elementary school, doing my best not to cry. The class had erupted in laughter over something I'd said. But what? Oh, that's right. I'd called my dad "Daddy." I'd forgotten that wasn't cool. We were too old to use such a little-kid term of endearment.

It still stings to think about this, not because I'd done something wrong -- but because I spent the next twenty or thirty years trying to avoid embarrassment. My goal, above all else, was not to make a fool of myself.

Only to learn, as Gloria Steinem once said, "making a fool of yourself is absolutely essential" if you're trying to accomplish something.

Being your own person is an acquired treasure. Emphasis on the word treasure.

That's what I realized after I told a friend I was giving up donuts. There had to be more to life than figuring out how to resist Krispy Kremes. I'm powerless over love like that. It's like trying to be friends with a guy who broke your heart. Meeting for coffee is pouring alcohol over an open wound. Better to avoid each other altogether.

My friend said giving up donuts would be crazy.

Rather than be embarrassed, I knew I was on to something.

I've written about my junk-food free life here, here and here. But I've left out something important in those essays.

The biggest obstacle you'll probably face as you embark on life without sweetened cereal and potato chips and chocolate cake won't come from within. It'll come from someone you know, who watches you gobble a spinach salad while everyone else is having turkey with all the trimmings. She won't say anything. She'll just look. But over the next several months you'll have this feeling she's told everyone in three states you eat only salads -- which isn't true, but whatever -- as if you're some kind of freak.

You'll do your best at cocktail parties, filling your plate with salmon and veggies -- they put veggies out for a reason, didn't they? -- and sipping what looks like a drink, club soda with a wedge of lime. The hostess will sigh and make sure everyone else can hear her tell you, "Maureen, we have some greens in the fridge." As if to say, "If you're going to be that way about it." You know, all in.

"Well, yes, as a matter of fact I am," you'll want to answer. "That's why it works." But if you're like me, you'll say nothing.

People who shun you because you eat well have done you a favor, I think. If making it onto their naughty list is as easy as eating your vegetables, is that really very nice? Don't you deserve better friends?

In more than four years of eating what most of us know is good for us but few of us -- in my experience -- indulge exclusively in, I've noticed something important. The people who are at a healthy weight -- who eat what makes them feel good and exercise enough to keep their motors running efficiently -- won't criticize you. They might wonder why you can't have a piece of cake once in a while like they do -- but when you explain it's easier for you this way, they don't press it. They'll shrug and say something like, "To each his own." Then you'll talk about something else.

The people who have had hostile reactions to my diet -- despite my best attempts to stay under their radar -- are either overeaters or heavy drinkers, or both. The only conversations I've had with them are imaginary. Once they fire a shot, I back away. In my head I'm brave. In my head I'm telling them things like, "If you don't like how I live, don't live this way." I mean, duh.

It's more pragmatic, I've learned, to let them try to humiliate me. To tell me I'm crazy.

Call me crazy. And while you're at it, color me healthy. And very happy.