I used to be an executive at a large company. One of the benefits of being an executive was that your staff was large enough that you could get what they called a 365 review. This meant that your boss, your matrix bosses, your peers, the people who reported directly to you, and the people who reported to them all gave feedback about what you could be doing better to a system which generated reports that made it impossible to tell who said what. Since no one had to worry about ruining their relationship with me, I got actual honest feedback.

If you have never had a job like this it may be difficult to appreciate how helpful this is. Every year I would spend a lot of time trying to fix a certain flaw that someone had mentioned to me only to learn that it bothered no one else. Meanwhile, something that I had ignored was upsetting everyone.

Sure, the process was painful, but pain is often a gift.

Physical pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and it is often not what you think it is. In my case I was doing healthy things that weren’t. I remember doing wheatgrass shots in an attempt to get pregnant. Every time I did one it felt horrible. I remember thinking that I needed to do about five shots of tequila to feel as terrible as I did after one shot of wheatgrass. I get nauseated typing the word wheatgrass.

In retrospect its kind of hilarious, and no, I did not get pregnant while on the wheatgrass kick. Not even close.

People try to ignore pain, shove it down, medicate it, or play through it. We teach kids to “play hurt” and muscle through. And there are times for all of these things.

Like after you know WHY you have the pain.

Pain is a message that what you are doing is not working and you need to change. Diets fail because we are attempting to modify a behavior when what we really need to do is change a fundamental belief. The hardest part of living on this diet is not the food. I wrote an entire post on the best gluten-free chocolate sandwich cookies because there are five nationally available brands. The hardest part was valuing myself enough to be willing to be difficult every single day. To tell people that I cannot eat at that restaurant. To never join the gang at work in a snack or for pizza. To play twenty questions with a clearly exasperated waitress. To tell my best friend that I cannot eat the salad at all because the croutons already touched it. To quiz family about how they clean appliances.

I used to be a passive-aggressive pleaser. Now I say no all the time. Some people love the change. Others hate it.

If you are endlessly cross-contaminated you will never heal and if you do not set firm boundaries you will be endlessly cross-contaminated. And when you do set firm boundaries, you may be called selfish, ridiculous, overreacting, and probably a few other things I can’t print on a family blog.

Which is still far better than being a physically ill passive-aggressive pleaser.

This will work for any diet, whether it is gluten-free, heart healthy, or cancer fighting. The key is not what you do or don’t eat. That is important but it is merely a side effect of making the decision that this is not temporary and it is not a preference. This is a permanent need and your needs matter.

They don’t trump everyone else’s needs, but they matter.

One thing is certain. The change is likely to be very awkward and uncomfortable, but when you choose to solve the real problem before it is too late the pain will go away.

And then…it is on to the next challenge.