Labels – they are such a big part of our society today. For the most part humans have been labelling themselves, categorizing themselves and putting up walls between themselves probably since the beginning of time.
But it is at this time, as we trek through the new millennium that many people continue to turn away and distance themselves from labels more and more.
Why so? For one main reason – labels are limiting and the humanity of today is too diverse and dynamic to be confined to man-made labels. The humanity of today is turning more and more away from confinement and towards the freedom of being.
Take any lifestyle labels that you can think of, religious ones, ethnic ones, job related ones, family related ones, disease labels and the list goes on. We give ourselves labels and then suffer the confinement that often comes with those labels.
Hence today, I want to talk to you about dietary lifestyle labels, how they influence us, how they are portrayed in society and how to break free of them.
The Labelling Addiction
One of my most favorite authors Eckhart Tolle, in his book “A New Earth”, spends a good chunk talking about the roles we play in society and self-definition through various labels.
We live today believing that we are our labels, and if those labels are gone then who are we?
If I am a mother and lose my kids, then I am nothing, i.e. have no purpose – is a common plight of many mothers.
If I am a CEO and my company goes bankrupt, then what is left of me?
If I am of this or that religion, and its merits are challenged to not make sense, then my identity is compromised.
And the list goes on…
Many of us are still, not only constantly seeking labels, but also identifying ourselves through them, only to find great life challenges when those labels get challenged.
Thus as I said above, the first problem with labels is that they are confining. As soon as I identify myself as this or that, I am “expected” to act within that label’s scope. And if that no longer serves me, what then?
Well some people, who are courageous enough, walk away and either adapt a new label or free themselves completely. Others, the majority out there, who are uncomfortable with change, try to fit into the realm of the label, sacrificing being true to themselves while they are at it. Not to mention that moving away from a label or changing it, is usually a tedious process when it comes to those closest to us as we try to explain that we are no longer this, but that.
The second problem with labels is that they are limiting and lead to inaccurate representations of us.
Think about it, if you tell someone you are “vegetarian” – they automatically have a pre-conceived notion about you. But what if your definition of vegetarian differs from society’s general definition, then they are getting a wrong representation of you. The same can be said for any label, political party, a chronic disease, etc.
This can only be avoided if you actually have a chance to fully explain “how” you fit into that label, which often does not happen in our society, because we are always short on time. People just want the quick answer and then they run only with that, through various judgements.
Finally, what draws us to and makes us have this insatiable need for labels? One word answer: security. Most of us are not independent thinkers. Most of us love to know we “fit in” or “belong” and this is where labels are an easy way to achieve that. I don’t think there is a better place to see this in than religion, where people do not even believe half the stuff the religion teaches, but yet cling on to the label as some sort of security blanket.
But anyway, without getting any more philosophical here, since Evolving Wellness revolves around health, I thought that it is very important for us to discuss how limiting dietary lifestyle labels can be and what we can do about that.
There are numerous dietary labels out there, we will begin by looking at 5 common ones.
Label 1: Vegetarian
This is probably the most misunderstood label used by people today.
When I first heard of the term vegetarian, I immediately thought of “health”, “fruits”, “vegetables”, etc. However, for the average person out there vegetarian simply means abstaining from meat. That’s it.
So can you imagine what variations of vegetarians there can be? Hundreds if not more. There would be nothing wrong with this, but people then go one more step with labels and that is associate the label with a generalization.
Like for example: All vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters. Or all vegetarians are thinner than meat eaters. And the list goes on.
While there can be general guidelines that ring true, there are just too many various exceptions and thus make most of these generalizations completely false.
So what does it really mean to be a vegetarian? Today – many things and not always quickly definable things as well. Hence if you choose to define yourself as this, do not feel pressured to be anything that you are not comfortable with.
Some vegetarians eat animal products, some don’t. Some make weekly or holiday exceptions, some don’t. Some are healthy and some aren’t. Hence we must understand that we simply cannot generalize people when it comes to this label or be limited by it, as it just means too many things, to too many people.
Label 2: Vegan
This is another label that is growing in popularity today and quickly limiting people to be one way or another.
As I have decided to remove eggs from my diet since the beginning of this year, I thought “okay so I guess I am a vegan”. Well as I have had a chance to use this label just a few times so far, already I have people assuming various things, which limit me greatly. For example: assuming that I never wear or will wear leather products, eat honey, kill a bug and the list goes on.
This is exactly what I mean by labels limiting us. The truth is I don’t want to label myself as this or anything else, but it seems that sometimes even when we don’t label ourselves, society nicely does it for us.
What we must understand again, is that when talking about the label of “vegan”, there are almost as many variations to this one as to “vegetarian” and one label just does not fit all.
The easiest thing I would advise is if you have to use a label such as this or vegetarian, is to say to people something like “I am a vegan/vegetarian based my own rules and/or definitions.”
Label 3: Raw Foodist
Okay, so if you want to lose people quickly in society when they ask you about your lifestyle eating habits, tell them you eat raw. You will get funny looks and all sorts of interesting comments.
But I have to tell you, I think this is actually wonderful, as this label has not yet had a generalization attached to it. Hence most people who classify themselves as raw foodists, actually have to explain what this consists of and thus reduce any misconceptions and false ideas. At the same time they can explain their own way of applying this and hence not be limited by it.
Label 4: Fruititarian
Although not as popular as the other 3, some people today do classify themselves as this. Again this label has going for it the fact that most people need further clarification as their first comment is “so you eat fruits all day?”
Well there is so much more to this story and again, this is a good thing as it minimizes false notions and allows the person to express themselves, rather than be judged through someone else’s opinions.
Label 5: “I eat healthy”
This I have to say is in my opinion, the worst way to label oneself today, unless you clearly define what healthy means to you, but even then it stands to have little merit. In our society today, I don’t think there is a label with a greater possibility of meanings and incorrect assumptions.
Healthy today means so many different things, to so many different people. Some people eat salads at McDonald’s and claim they eat healthy, while others fill themselves up on veggie burgers and claim they eat healthy.
My advice on this one is the following:
If you hear somebody tell you that they eat healthy, assume you know nothing about them because you have no idea what their definition of “healthy” is.
And if you want to use this label and be understood properly, then explain clearly what healthy means to you.
This label in my opinion is the number one reason for the misconception out there and people who are against changing their habits as they tell you stuff like, “oh but I know so and so, and they ate healthy all their life and got disease x, y, or z.” Unless you were with them 24 hours a day or knew in depth what their definition of healthy was, then that is a completely meaningless statement.
Steps to Avoiding Being Misrepresented or Limited by Labels
1. If you think a label will misrepresent you, then don’t use it.
I have applied this now to many things in my life, not just to diet choices and I love it. Sure it may leave the other person a little confused or frustrated that they just can’t neatly fit you into a pre-defined description, but that is just it! As human beings we are dynamic, ever-changing and growth seeking. So what good is a label, when it applies to me one day and not the next?
2. Try to express yourself through short descriptions, rather than through one word labels.
This is hard when you first meet someone, and especially if it is a limited one time meeting in which case you have 2 options. If you know you will never see the person again and their opinion does not matter to you, then go ahead and use a label if you want. However, if you want to foster some kind of a relationship with the other party, then don’t be afraid to give them a short description of yourself, rather then giving them a label to know you by and leaving the rest to their imagination.
3. Clearly communicate how you want to be represented.
There is nothing worse than miscommunication, leaving the other to fill in their own blanks. Granted while there are some people who will still misunderstand you, no matter what you say due to their heavily ingrained preconceived notions, it still leaves you with a more empowering feeling when you clearly communicate your ideas.
Steps to Avoid Misrepresenting or Limiting Others
1. Never assume, you know exactly what the person is all about based on a label.
We are all guilty of this all too often and it isn’t serving us or the other person one bit. We have grown up with this idea as “normal”, but it is one of the biggest flaws that we must abandon, if we are ever going to evolve to a higher version of humanity.
2. Try and I stress again, “try” not to judge the person based on the label.
You just do not know enough unless you follow through with a variety of questions, and even then you just don’t have the right to judge them.
3. Avoid generalizing.
So you knew an aunt who was a vegan and she was really unhealthy. Well this is not grounds for applying that all vegans are unhealthy.
Finally, I cannot tell you enough about the amazing benefits of dropping labels or associating less with them. It is just one of those things you have to try for yourself in order to feel the amazing freedom that comes with it.
I am not naive to the fact that our society has, is and probably will still for some time be heavily dependant on labels. However, every one step in the direction of freedom makes a huge difference to you and to them.
Most of us are just too dynamic to be defined and limited by labels. If this describes you, then courageously continue on, being your own person. If this does not describe you, then may you simply be able to respect the other being for however they choose to express themselves.