By: Jane Birch
For most people, the social aspects of a healthy diet are the most challenging. Taste buds change, cooking skills improve, but it may take more time to learn how to deal with the variety of social challenges that can make a healthy diet difficult to maintain.
Fortunately, for a variety of reasons, people in our society are on all kinds of special diets, so we are not alone. In fact, you will find that many people will be sympathetic and will help you, even if they themselves are not on a special diet. Be sure to tell friends and family what you are doing and why and ask them to help support you. Make it clear that you do not expect anyone else to change their diet. Doing these two things will make a huge difference.
Presenting Your New Self
There are many ways to present your “new self ” to the world. Below are just a few. Try one or more to see what best suits you.
Be loud. Announce to everyone what you are doing and ask for support. If you have any health concerns, you can use them as an excuse and a reason to ask others to help you make this transition. Make it clear that you are now eating a different way, and tell all of your family and friends so they will know in advance to not be surprised when you don’t want a slice of the apple pie they just baked (in fact, they’ll know not to offer it to you).
Be quiet. (Except to close family/friends) don’t say anything and try to blend into the crowd. Eat before you go out, and when you are eating with a group, eat only what is acceptable to you, but eat very slowly and engage actively in the conversation (even if you are just listening well to what others are saying). You’ll be surprised how few people notice you aren’t eating much. If someone says something, have a ready comment to make that is both simple and honest:
- “I’ve had plenty. Thanks so much!”
- “I’m not very hungry today.”
- “I’ve overeaten all this week, so I’m cutting back.”
- “I am trying to lose weight.”
- “I have a health condition, so I’m trying to be careful.”
If someone makes an issue of your diet, you can downplay it and make it a non-issue: “Yes, it is a pretty interesting diet. Who knows how long it will last!” If they are critical and tell you your diet is bad, say something non-confrontational like, “You may be right! But it seems to be working for now, so I’ll just see how it goes.” If you find social situations difficult, you may want to listen to this interview with Dr. Doug Lisle. He takes a very relaxed and laid back view of interacting with others so that you never offend them. He gives lots of concrete practical tips: Dr. Doug Lisle: Live Q&A Session, Webinar 07/14/2016
Be a missionary. This is my favorite strategy. If anyone notices what I’m eating, I use it as an opportunity to express my joy in my new diet. If they have a moment and look interested, I tell them my story. If they ask questions, I answer them. If they express an interest, I send them more information later. My goal is to find those who have “ears to hear,” those who are looking for a more excellent way to eat and live. Even if they do not embrace this truth fully, I can plant a good seed that may flourish and grow in due season.
Be passionate. This is similar to being a missionary, but rather than trying to convert others, you are simply sharing your joy of eating this way. If anyone asks, let them know you love the food, love the way you feel, and love the things you are learning. You don’t want to make others feel guilty about the way they eat (we were all there!), just express that you are having a great adventure.
Be a pioneer. If you joined the LDS Church as an adult, you already know all about this. Family and friends are not always happy when we make big changes in our lives that don’t include them. But if we are kind and patient, stick to our commitments, and continue to love them, they will soon respect our decision. They may begin to defend us in front of others, and someday they may even join us! If it is not easy to be a pioneer, take comfort in the fact that what you are doing is important work that is actually needed by those who are currently not supporting you. Some day they may thank you. (Here is an excellent message from President Monson that can help us see the importance and blessings of being a pioneer, “True to the Faith of Our Forefathers.”)
Be an individual. In this approach, you are careful to let others know that you know there are many paths to eating healthily, but you feel good about the path you are on; you feel this is the right path for you at this time in your life. If someone challenges you, you can just say, “It seems to be working for me right now.” Recognize that others feel good about moving in different directions, and that is fine with you.
Be yourself. Relax. You don’t need to impress or persuade anyone. Be real, sincere, and genuine, and you’ll find people readily accepting the changes you have made.
Dealing with Specific Situations
Young children and pre-teens
If you are the cook at home, and you are eating a whole food, plant-based diet, this is a great time to help the kids also make a transition to much healthier eating. You can change quickly, if that is your style, or make the challenge gradual and slow, so the family does not become alarmed. Some people make it so gradual the kids hardly notice. Others involve them in the process and make it fun! For example, invite them to help you decide which WFPB dishes to prepare and involve them in the cooking.
Once you’ve made the transition, don’t give children the choice to eat poorly at home, but do give them choices. Kids do much better with choices; just make sure all the options are healthy! In one study, when kids were required to take carrots, only 69% of them ate them. But when they were given the choice between carrots and celery, 91% of them ate their vegetables!
Children can adapt surprisingly well. You have less control when your children are outside of your home. However, being too strict often backfires. Teach correct principles, and they can learn by making some of their own decisions. Suggestions for feeding picky kids.
You’ll want to encourage your teenage and young adult children to eat a better diet, but most kids in this age group probably need more choice in their diet than do younger kids. Compelling older children to eat a certain way may not be wise. On the other hand, life will be simpler at home if you are cooking just one meal. If they want to eat differently, you may decide to allow them to add meat, cheese, or butter to the meals you prepare even if they need to do some of their own cooking.
Spouses and other adults
Of course you’ll want to involve your spouse and any other adults in your home in your journey. If you are fortunate, they’ll be as excited as you are. At the very least, you can ask them for their support and help. Don’t get discouraged if they react negatively. It is common for people to feel threatened by the idea of changing one’s diet! Don’t take it personally. Take it easy.
Reassure the important people in your life that they can keep their diet, and you will support them in that decision. Never nag or complain! If they don’t want to change, don’t waste time or emotional energy trying to persuade them. Each person must come to these decisions on their own. Your kindness and patience will pay off eventually! Validate their concerns and frustrations and allow them to decide for themselves. Lead by example. Stop worrying about others and focus on doing better on the diet yourself.
If you have traditionally cooked for your spouse or other adults in your home, and they are not willing to eat the foods you prepare, you may feel it is worth it to make variations of a recipe, one for those who are eating WFPB and one for others. You can easily add meat or cheese to half of the recipe near the end of the cooking time (e.g. add meat to the salad or spaghetti sauce; add cheese to pasta).
People who eat a WFPB diet with a spouse who does not usually discover that the spouse will gradually improve his/her diet over time (sometimes years), so be patient. And be understanding! It doesn’t help to be lecturing or condescending about the choices others make. At the same time, it is good to ask for the person’s support of your choices. If they make unkind comments or jokes about your food, create a safe time and place to discuss these actions with them and let them know if these comments/jokes are unhelpful. You can eat differently and still love and support each other! Always remember: your relationship is more important than the food.
Non-WFPB food in your home
It can be tough to be the only person in your home who is eating a whole food, plant-based diet. Here are some suggestions.
- Fill your fridge and cupboards full of healthy WFPB options that you love to eat so you always have good choices at hand.
- Don’t cook SAD for your kids. If they are young enough, don’t allow it in the house.
- Talk with your family about how you can support each other.
- Involve the family in the meal planning, cooking, and eating together.
- If possible ask people to keep non-WFPB foods in a separate place that is inconvenient for you to access. Try to never even look inside those storage areas: out of sight, out of mind. At the very least, tell yourself, “Those foods are NOT mine.”
Eating outside the home
Eating outside of the home will be MUCH easier once you have consistently mastered WFPB inside the home. The biggest reason we find it hard to eat healthfully away from home is because we haven’t yet mastered eating healthfully at home.
- It really is MUCH EASIER if all your friends and family know what you are trying to do and you directly ask them for their support.
- When eating with others, remember: it is more about the socializing than the food. If you are happy and social, people usually don’t care what you are eating.
- Eat before you go. This is the BEST strategy of all. You don’t have to overeat. Save some room to eat more or just nibble (depending on where you are going and what will be there). You’ll be much happier if you don’t go too hungry and have to depend on the host.
- Take your own food. Some of the things to carry with you are: cooked potatoes, fruit, water, cut veggies, rice.
- Carry emergency food in the trunk of your car (like pretzels, dried fruit, nuts). These foods may not be ideal, but they may be much better than other options in an emergency.
Eating at someone else’s home
- Let the host know about any dietary restrictions well in advance. This is MUCH better than either compromising your diet or refusing to eat something the host went to a lot of work to create especially for you. Depending on the situation:
- Offer to take something to contribute to the meal.
- Suggest something simple they can make: baked potato, rice, steamed veggies, pasta, or salad (you might supply your own sauce/dressing)
- Eat before you go so you are not hungry.
- Offer to host events at your home.
- Find new traditions to create with friends. It doesn’t all have to be about eating.
Having guests at your home.
Once you learn how to cook WFPB food well, you’ll be able to find foods that are also appealing to people eating a Standard American Diet. You may choose to add a few options you wouldn’t normally have, like butter and a higher fat salad dressing.
- Eat before you go!
- If you can, find out what is being served so you know what you can and can’t eat.
- Bring something for your family to eat. If you quietly put it on the food table, labeled “vegan,” the only people who notice are those who appreciate having it there.
- If you are responsible for the food for a ward activity, GREAT! You can often separate the junk food from the nutritious food so that ward members can choose how much of the junk they want to consume. Salad and potato bars work well for mixed groups.
- Better yet, introduce the diet to others in the ward. If you are as fortunate as I have been, there will be enough people who want to eat WFPB that there will be plenty of WFPB options at the next ward or Relief Society pot luck. We even had a “vegan cookie table” at our Relief Society cookie night!
- Research a few local restaurants that have some good options, so if you get a chance to vote on where the group is going or people ask where you’d like to go, you have an opinion. At other times, you’ll just want to assure the group that you are fine with whatever they pick. Tell them, “Don’t worry about me! I can always find something.”
- If possible, research the menu online before you go, and find something you can eat. There usually are at least a few things you can eat, though sometimes you may want to ask the chef to adjust the recipe (e.g. “Please don’t add any oil when you cook this”).
- The best resource for locating vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurants and is the Happy Cow website.
- If others are going to drag you to a fast food place, check out the menu items on Urban Tastebuds. Most of these menu items are not health foods, but they are at least plant-based.
- Most restaurants are very good at making accommodations. If you find nothing on the menu, you may be able to find basic ingredients you like in other menu items and then ask the chef to put them together. Asking doesn’t hurt, especially if you do it in a very nice way.
- For a nicer restaurant, you may want to call a few hours ahead of time to give them a heads up.
- Ask for salads, baked potato with steamed veggies, use your own sauce or use their salsa.
- Bring your own salad dressing/sauce.
- Be brave!
Eating an unavoidable less-than-ideal meal
- Try to eat as cleanly as possible on the other two meals so a little extra salt/sugar/fat won’t be as big a hit for the entire day.
- Don’t beat yourself up! If you can think of a way you could have avoided it, learn the lesson. Either way, just move on!!
Junk food gifts from other people
- Try to prevent this by letting everyone know what your new diet is. Be sure to tell the home teachers and visiting teachers!
- If you are brave enough and it is appropriate, say something like, “Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness. I’m on a special diet, but I’ll find a good home for this!”
- Or simply thank the person for their gift and then give it away or toss it in the trash. BETTER IN THE TRASH THAN IN YOUR BODY TEMPLE!
Being confronted by someone
I personally have not had the experience of someone accusing me of NOT keeping the Word of Wisdom by not eating meat or unhealthy foods, but I understand others have. You might study the related scriptures in case they honestly desire to explore the issue with you, but otherwise, I suggest using humor and self-effacement. I sometimes refer to my diet as something “crazy” and “way out there” in order to not make an issue of it in social situations.
If anyone is critical of you, remember, this is their problem NOT your problem. If you can, embrace the opportunity to have a teaching moment. If you are simply understanding and kind, you’ll have planted a good seed!
Here are some great ideas and suggestion for handling social situations from other bloggers:
“Can You Have Your Health AND a Social Life?” (Lots of great ideas on how to have a social life on this diet. Don’t miss the PDF with lots of great ideas for example conversations!)
“Helping Friends Understand the McDougall Diet” (Excellent suggestions for how to influence others in a positive way.)
“5 Tips to Overcome Social Challenges” (A few great ideas for handling difficult social situations. In my opinion, attitude is everything. If you feel comfortable with your own choices and with others making different choices, people can sense that and feel comfortable too.)
“Dealing With Negativity from Family & Friends” (Advice from Lindsay Nixon, the Happy Herbivore, about dealing with negativity. She also links to two previous blog posts on the same topic.)
“Converting Hubbies to Veganism” (Some very good advice, from a male perspective)
Dealing with Other Challenges
Last updated: November 21, 2016