What Makes People Change?


I used to work with a guy who refused to go to the doctor. When I asked him why he told me that he had high blood pressure and he didn’t want any doctor telling him that he had to eat oatmeal.

I couldn’t believe my coworker’s attitude, and he’s not alone. I’ve known many people who, despite serious health conditions, were not willing to modify their diet. Of course, I’ve also known others who have changed.

Why are some people willing to change while others are not? I don’t know the answer to this, but I wanted to share a thoughtful comment one of my readers left on My Hubby’s Tale that addresses this issue.

Here’s what cowgirl has to say:

This post was such a pleasant and unexpected surprise! What a lucky lady you are, Celeste.  🙂

I think it’s so fantastic that you both saw the writing on the wall and took steps to alter your path.  I wish more people (including my immediate family) would do the same. It pains me to see them eating the SAD diet with their health issues, but I know from experience that we all have to come to a plant-based diet and/or veganism in our own way and time or it will never “stick”.

It’s just shocking and heartbreaking to me that a literal near death experience (we’re talking flatlined with multiple shocks of the paddles, a 2 week medically induced coma, followed by nearly 3 months in the hospital and much fear and anguish) were not enough to spark lasting change in two of the smartest people I know (3 if I were to throw my brother into the mix). Habits, taste, socialization and culture run deep.

My brother saw me looking at the half-eaten remains of a lamb after dinner when I visited with my family. (My idea of cooking vegan for them was clearly out the window when I opened the fridge to a bunch of newly purchased animals products. Hint taken. — My brother did go out of his way during his very busy life to get me vegan burgers, though, which was so sweet and kind of him.) Looking at me looking at the lamb, he asked me if it made me mad. I contemplated for a second and said, “I think it makes me feel sad more than anything.” He probably thought I was talking about the life of the lamb, but I was thinking just as much about the lives of my family and the thought that I may lose everyone too early and be left alone; how I came into the world an orphan and would likely leave as one, too.  It’s like watching a sinking ship and nobody wants a lifeboat.

Anyway, my point is that I have great admiration not only for the fact that you both made the change, but that you are sharing the benefits in such a public way that you have and will continue to inspire others on their own journeys. The fact that you have transitioned from plant-based to veganism is just icing on the vegan cupcake!

Photo courtesy of T Nation.


About celestedimilla

Hey there. I’m Celeste, California girl, writer, psychotherapist and burgeoning plant-based foodie.
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26 Responses to What Makes People Change?

  1. Celeste, thank you so much for your blog. It is always insightful, entertaining and inspiring and I just enjoy it so much. I love to see a new post in my email. It’s a gift. And I agree with cowgirl 100%: it is absolutely wonderful you and your husband did this together.

    cowgirl, your response is just SO touching and I (and many others, I’m sure) feel your pain of watching family members and loved ones (not that they’re not the same sometimes!) dig their graves with their teeth, and cause so much pain all the way around when they do. Just keep doing what you feel is right and you’ll never be left alone.

    • Thank you so much, Deborah. 🙂 You’re right, it is very difficult. One meal, however, we went out for Thai food. My brother surprised his wife by ordering tofu. He said, “I figure the least I can do is have one vegan meal with my sister since she’s living by example.” I had to stop myself from tearing up. It gave me hope. As does the fact that they recently had a beautiful baby boy. I hope the baby will make everyone want to live a long healthy life so they can be part of his for as long as possible.

    • Always a pleasure to hear from you Deborah! Thank you so much for your kind words girlfriend! I had to share cowgirl’s comment – it was so powerful. I’m glad that it touched you. I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend! Celeste 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing my comment, Celeste. On the plus side, the fact that my dad’s doctor said he did not have to make any dietary changes (and in fact was okay with a daily ice cream shake so he could put on the weight he lost during his ordeal) was appalling to me and lead me to do my own research…which lead to a disturbing USDA pdf about what the government allows in our meat while still allowing it to be called 100% beef, Forks Over Knives, The Engine 2 Diet, Vegucated, Earthlings (which I never made it through), Vegetarian Food For Thought, etc. My 30 day cleanse to support my dad and reboot my own system alleviated some of my own ailments (things that weren’t terrible, but just enough that I thought what I was feeling was natural aging) and I never looked back. I looked around at my parents and their friends and all of the sickness and medications and, like you and Paul, thought, no…that’s not how I want to “live”. That’s not to say that I still couldn’t stand to eat a little cleaner, but considering I loved bacon, burgers, cheese of all kinds, and rack of lamb (not sure how I didn’t see it as A lamb), it’s been a pretty big turnaround and I feel fantastic in ways that absolutely transcend the physical. Thanks again for your terrific blog. 🙂

    • It’s a blessing that your dad’s illness led to your own transformation cowgirl. And now you are a role model for your family members. And who knows, you may be having more impact than you realize. It may just take time. When Paul and I first went vegan, his family thought we were crazy and worried that we were not eating healthfully. And my family thought this was just a phase we were going through. No one respected our new lifestyle. Over time, however; several of our family members have decided to go plant-based too. Paul’s sister is now vegan and his mom is eating vegan more often. My sister and her partner went vegan for awhile, but they eventually reverted back to meat and dairy. I believe, however; that they will go vegan again in time. When people see how healthy you look and feel, they notice. I’m so glad that you transformed your life cowgirl and I hope your family members choose to follow your example. Your thoughts are always appreciated! Celeste 🙂

  3. natarunmore says:

    Your story rings true for me as well. I stare at flesh all the time with sadness for the same reasons, especially when It comes to family. Thank u for posting this!!

    • Hey Natalie! Thanks so much for stopping by. It really is hard to watch the people we love killing themselves with their knives and forks. So sad. But I’ve learned that you can’t force anyone to change. They’ll only resist and resent you for it. Still, I believe that living by example makes a difference. Celeste 🙂

  4. The Vegan Green says:

    Great post, thanks for sharing the comment above from cowgirl 🙂

  5. junefit says:

    Reading the last comment about the woman who’s brother had several life threatening conditions but still did not change, I can say a few things after working with people for over 20 years to promote health behavior changes. Se is right about one thing, the change must always come from within, and for whatever reason a person decides to make a change, they first must resolve ambivalence.All anyone can do is to serve as a role model for how wonderful they feel and all the benefits after they made changes such as eating more plant foods.But one must do this in a soft non preachy manner.

    In the case of someone who has so many medical issues, one common theme is that they may feel overwhelmed and hopeless by the enormous amount of things they need to change. So, briefly I suggest it may help to suggest one small change at a time that a person knows they can make. Sort of a positive challenge. For me, I always told myself that I might as well start small, so at least I’m doing something because time will pass no matter what I do. Then at least I’ve done something. I did this with many things I felt overwhelmed about. But it worked, because the small things took on a life of their own to bigger things!

    This week I’m posting a health tip on my website “Go Vegetarian One Day a Week” for people to just get started. Check it out Monday at http://www.junefit.com my health page.

    • What a thoughtful comment! It makes sense to me that someone who has many medical issues may feel overwhelmed and hopeless by the amount of things they need to change. I can understand how this would make it hard to change. What’s the point – it’s too much! I like your small change approach. Do something that’s simple, doable and then build on that. I’ll check out your health page tomorrow – that sounds great! Celeste 🙂

  6. Anna says:

    Thank you Celeste and Paul to share your experience!!

  7. veedine10 says:

    Thank you very much for this great post Celeste! I am also baffled on a daily basis by the excuses I hear about why people are not ready to make healthier choices (myself once included). We tend to enjoy the comfortable, the familiar, because it makes us feel safe and like we ‘fit in’ somewhere, even if those choices are unhealthy and we know it. We choose social acceptance (anything except being seen as the ‘weirdo’ or ‘hippy health freak’) and temporary enjoyment (junk food makes me happy) instead of long term health and better quality of life…and sadly I just don’t see the sense in it. My wish is that the way human beings are socialised and what they build their lives and cultures around would change drastically, because if your cultural and societal environments approve healthy choices it just makes it that much easier to adopt them yourself.

    • I’m so glad you liked this post! Cowgirl’s comment really struck me and I knew that many of my readers would relate to what she shared. And I don’t see the sense in it either, at least when I’m thinking logically. I think my logic goes out the window when sweet goodies are in front of my face. Just this week, for example, I totally pigged out on cookies I made for a potluck I went to. I ate so much sugar that I had a sugar hangover the next day. I know that sugar will do this to me, and yet every time I make cookies I always overeat. Why?

      Anyway, thanks so much for your comment – I really appreciate it! Celeste 🙂

  8. The universal vegan dilemma/frustration. Friends and family members who just don’t get it, don’t want to get it. I vacillate between being angry and being understanding. I’m feeling it especially right now as I’m spending time with my parents, both of whom suffer a long list of SAD diseases – all which could be remedied or alleviated by switching to a plant-based diet. Sometimes seeing what they put onto their plates makes me absolutely nuts (not to mention nauseated) and it almost feels as if they are deliberately trying to make me crazy, but the truth is they don’t understand the connection between what goes into their bodies and how their bodies feel and function. My dad actually thinks vitamins are better for him than whole foods – no, really! (Better living through science…)

    • I hear you Annie! Sometimes I just want to physically shake my family members and say, “Don’t you know that you’re killing yourself!” I don’t, of course. And I think I’ve become more understanding and less judgmental over time. At least I hope I have. I don’t want to be judgmental because I know it only results in increased resistance. I remember a guy I worked with in my early 20’s who was always trying to convert me to his religion. It got to the point that I dreaded being on the same shift as him because I felt so uncomfortable around him. There is no way his preaching would have ever inspired me to adopt his faith. Anyway, thanks for your comment! Celeste 🙂

  9. lilivee says:

    As a (possible) future philosophy student, I really love the way you (and your husband?) pick out the most interesting of questions and make your readers think. I often thought about this problem as well, and oftentimes I find myself speechless about the ignorance many people display towards their own well-being.
    To myself, I always thought there were 4 main reasons to go vegan: Religious, Ethical, to protect the environment and to promote your own health. Although I do not think preaching or forcing your diet on to others, if people ask I will give them answers, and not only a few discussions ended with arguments like “…but… MEAT! MEAT!” or “Aren’t humans the kings of the world?” from my omnivore (or should I say carnivore?) discussion partners.
    At this point, I can’t help but think that there is no point in talking about this topic anymore to this person. Sometimes, meat-eaters feel insulted by the bare fact that I am a vegan. I try to choose my words carefully when explaining my decisions to others. I do not offend anyone, but I still believe that small “shocks” are necessary sometimes so some can open their eyes and realize (eg. “The Earthlings”).
    However, I know that insights take time to ripen. Almost no one will take the leap from SAD to veganism/plant-based over night (which is absolutely acceptable and understandable) and so I’ll happily start another conversation about veganism as soon as raised tempers have cooled down again.

    On another note, I admire you and your husband for becoming vegan after so many years of a standard (?) diet and “lifestyle”, if I can say so. I know that becoming vegan was not the most difficult decision FOR ME because my mum is vegan, too and I was raised almost vegetarian and vegan at times. It has to be so much harder if culture, socialization and of course education taught you a specific way of eating that interferes with the vegan lifestyle. Kudos to you! 🙂
    Love, Lara

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment Lara! How very fortunate you are to have been raised by a vegan mum. Although, this could have backfired for you as well. I was surprised to learn that my hairstylist was raised vegan and then rebelled and didn’t want anything to do with veganism when she got older.

      I’ve also experienced times when individuals felt insulted and even became angry when I said I was vegan. I suppose some people find vegans disconcerting because we’re a challenge to their worldview. I can understand how this might be upsetting to some people, but I still don’t like to experience their wrath.

      I also think it’s great that you’re considering studying philosophy – very cool!

      Celeste 🙂

      • lilivee says:

        Oh yes, my brothers are examples for when education backfires in the opposite direction. My older brother, who was an extremely sensitive child was a vegetarian for a long time, then went back to eating meat until he decided about a year ago to become vegetarian for the sake of saving food for people, not for cows. My younger brother does eat meat, but everytime he asks my mum and me something about veganism he understands every argument we tell him and actually agrees with us. I suppose he may become vegan or vegetarian later on, but it’s iportant to give him time to put things into practice I guess.
        There was a time when I was a young child (like 8-10 or so) when I ate meat, too. Looking back, I think it’s especially hard in those years when the opinion and looks from your friends and classmates mean the world to you – today, I don’t really care anymore. 🙂
        Best wishes, Lara

  10. Amber Neal says:

    I have been trying to figure this very thing out myself. What does make people change? The last visit I had with my parents ( who both suffer horribly from the SAD diet) when I asked them to change at least some of their eating habits brought me to tears, so I am not sure what the right answer is. I struggle with it and I too find myself going back and forth between anger and sadness. I think people would rather live in a little world of denial then really open their eyes to what their food choices are really doing to their health and the world. To open your eyes means you might have to actually change, and sometimes people are scared of change and they are scared of things that are different than the norm society has set.My dad actually said he would rather be toes up (as in the grave) than give up meat. I of course pointed this statement out to him during my heart felt talk. Sometimes it gets overwhelming to me but I just try to live my life as a testament to what eating plant based can do. I have found more people have asked me about my lifestyle changes when they have had time to watch me and my kids over a period of time. Other things that have seemed to help encourage people to change are things like movies (Forks Over Knives is a great one), putting up yummy recipes and just trying to be open to the questions that people have without throwing major guilt trips or anything on them ( I find those in little doses do a better job). On a bright note though- after my parents went home and my dad got a reality check at the drs office ( she informed him if all her patients ate the way that his daughter ate she wouldn’t be in business, she is a dr that specializes in Type 2 diabetes), he told me that my talk had sunk in and he wanted me to know he was trying to eat better. They even asked for some recipes. I have also had 2 friends ask me for recipes and ask me to come over and show them how to cook some of the meals I make. So I am not sure what the answer to what makes some people change. I wish I could just invent a shot of- “oh now I care about the world,animals,and my health” and give it to everyone. But until then I guess Ill just keep doing what I am doing! Great thread to read!

    • Hey Amber! I can only imagine how hard it is for you to watch your parents make such poor choices when their health is so bad. And with the comment your dad made about how he’d rather die than give up meat makes him sound like a tough nut to crack. I’m so glad to hear that your dad is starting to come around, however. I hope that he continues follow through with eating healthfully – that’s wonderful! I like the things you do to inspire others to change. I agree that being open to questions, making yummy meals and suggesting movies works a lot better than laying on a guilt trip. And people do come around! I just saw on Facebook, for example, that my brother took his family to a vegan restaurant last week. In the comments someone asked if he was going vegan like me and he said that he wasn’t ready to do that yet, but that he was interested in learning more about it. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment – I appreciate it! Celeste 🙂

  11. Shannon says:

    I quit trying to understand why people do the things they do. I like to think that we’re all in this thing together and that my efforts are best spent in the little bubble called my house. I work not to preach so much (about the benefits of veganism) but rather to BE such with joy and exuberance. Walk the walk, so-to-speak. It’s what keeps me approachable by fence-sitters with whom I’m always ready to engage, pass books, or offer help in their gardens! I don’t bother wasting my CO2 on faces too lazy, scared, or defiant to see the truths about the SAD; I just smile and wish them well. Same as everyone else.

    However, if someone brought me fridge full of meat to serve to them, they’d be eating it raw!! 🙂

    I was already very healthy when I made the last step to becoming vegan last year. Had my spouse not been on board, I don’t know what I’d done. Turns out he is more grounded in our new way of life — eating and thinking this way IS a way of life — even than I am!!

    Glad to have found you. I look forward to plunking around a bit in my spare reading time.

    • It’s probably wise not to try to figure out why people do what they do – how can you ever really know anyway. I bet you’ve made an impact on a lot of people with your friendly open personality. From what little I know about you, I can’t imagine anyone feeling anything but positive in your presence. This transforms people so much more than judgment.

      It’s so cool that you and your hubby went vegan together. Like you, I don’t know how I would have handled this if my husband wasn’t onboard too. Oh, and by the way, our hubbies are just about the same age. My Paul turns 50 in August.

      I’m glad you found me too! I look forward to getting to know you better. Celeste 🙂

  12. Lorrie Wenzler says:

    I just visited my doctor today and she was upset that so many of her patients don’t follow through on habits that would help them to have better health and quality of life. She feels that medicine is now following the business model where “the customer is always right” and poor health happens because patients don’t take responsibility for their health. They want easy fixes, like pills and quick easy solutions, not change your lifestyle. That’s too hard.

    • You said it mom! Chris once told me that he’d rather take a pill for high blood pressure than change his diet. The thing is that pills can only do so much and they have side effects, often horrible and dangerous ones. In my opinion, pills are a last resort. If there is a natural way to cure yourself, it’s always better than taking a pill. This is not to say that I think pills are always bad. In many situations they are helpful and necessary. I just think that as a society we’re overdoing it on pills and underdoing it on living a healthful lifestyle. Celeste 🙂

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