Being Plant-Based in Mixed-Diet Social Situations

What we choose to eat is a highly personal choice. Sometimes, the folks around you (family, pals, co-workers, the waiter taking your modified order) won’t understand your journey, but that’s alright because it’s your adventure, not theirs. But it’s important to think of everyone at the table, not just yourself.

Too often, nothing can challenge our resolve like the opinions, comments, or influence of others. It’s our lizard brain in effect—we want to be accepted because it helps ensure our survival. So, as you consciously choose to go against mainstream thinking when it comes to what you’re eating, be considerate, be kind, lead by example, and simply share good food.

Nothing will slam the door shut on an opportunity like feeling that what you are doing is wrong, or being judged by someone else. So be cool about your choices and respect them enough to present them to others in the best light. Create an invitation for others to explore without drawing a“you’re over there, and I’m over here” line in the sand from the dietary get-go.

These are my favorite tips for the times we venture out of the acceptance and comfort of our own kitchen and home.

Be a Considerate Guest
When you’re invited to a dinner party, it’s considerate to let the host know about no-compromise dietary needs in advance so he/she can prepare, and the meal doesn’t become about what you’re not eating. If your host isn’t familiar with plant-inspired or gluten-free dishes, suggest some ideas, save them some work and send them links to a few recipes that fit with their evening’s menu or theme, and offer to bring a dish if that makes it all easier for them.

Be a Considerate Host
When having friends or colleagues over for an event or meal, use the opportunity to introduce how flavorful and beautiful plant-inspired foods can be, without trying to convert or preach. Make it fun, delicious, and label-free. Serve foods without introducing them as what they’re “-free” from.

For example: if you’re serving Black Bean Burgers, or Mint-Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches, call them just that instead of starting or wrapping up the intro with they’re “gluten-free” and “vegan!” The truth is that the majority of people have inaccurate beliefs about what these foods taste like (cardboard, “hippie,” flavorless), so allow their tastebuds to decide before their preconceived notions close the door on that chance. After everyone is asking for seconds, you can then tell them they happen to be gluten-free, dairy-free, and plant-based. Make the focus of the event about catching up, sharing stories, ideas, and connecting. If the food is tasty, it will speak for itself, and those who are curious will reach out to us for more explanation later on.

Whether certain recipes are labeled “plant-based” and “gluten-free” doesn’t really matter when it comes to taste — good food is good food.

Speak Up
When a group of pals or colleagues is getting together at a restaurant, speak up. Suggest a venue that will make everyone happy. Most Thai, Indian, Mexican, and Ethiopian restaurants have plant-based options on the menu or sides sections of the menu with enough tasty options that you can order up a tapas-style meal for yourself. Even sushi restaurants offer veggie rolls, salads, and soups.

If these folks are up for a new experience altogether, suggest a terrific plant-based or vegan restaurant. In these situations, have an opinion and voice your preference without saying that it’s because of the gluten-free or plant-based factor—say it’s because you heard it’s great. The final destination doesn’t have to revolve around our dietary choices, but if we don’t speak up, instead of looking at a menu from a Mexican restaurant where a black bean burrito looks good, you may end up at a steak house with a sad iceberg salad as your only choice. If it matters a lot to you, take the time to do the research and speak up.

Don’t Preach or Perpetuate Unfortunate Stereotypes
At a restaurant or food-based event at someone else’s home (or your own), try your best to avoid having conversations about your dietary choices during meal times. It can put others on the defensive. And often enough, if you aren’t fitting into the “like everyone else” box, they’ll go there without us having to say a word anyway — just glancing at our plate can trip inquisitiveness.

Tell them you’d be happy to explain your journey so far, but you’d prefer to do it after dinner. Then crack a joke or ask a question of someone else to change the subject. Briefly explain your stance when necessary, and let friends and family draw their own conclusions.

Enjoy Yourself
Time spent with others is time spent living a well-rounded, healthy life. Connecting, sharing stories, laughing, and loving is what it means to be human —it’s some of the best wellness mojo around, so find the fun in it, and think ahead to avoid any negativity or stress. You know not to get into a discussion about food with your know-it-all, bacon-loving uncle Dan. If you do succumb to the office pizza party or auntie’s chocolate bourbon cream Thanksgiving pie, don’t ruin a good time by beating yourself up about it. It’s just proof you’re human, and you’ll get back on track at your next meal.

Start a Recurring Plant-Inspired Get-Together
Pull together a lovely group of veg-curious and veg-committed people to share recipes, discoveries, and ideas once a week, once a month, or every few months. Throw a tea party, a brunch, a five-course supper club. Maybe establish a theme to encourage everyone to try new things. Create a supportive tribe of like-minded people so everyone can geek out over plant-powerful recipes — it’s comforting and inspiring and really can help you stay motivated, on track, and charged up for the times you’re at a mixed-diet event.

Stay True to You
I have a friend who worked super hard for months, discovering, playing, and really getting a handle on a plant-powerful diet. She lost over 20 pounds, started exercising again, and was really beginning to master the day-to-day. Then she went home for Thanksgiving.

I’m sure you can imagine the rest. Nothing can derail a healthy effort like an aggressive or passive-aggressive partner or family pressure, teasing, and emotional bonds to tradition. Business meetings can also set up a difficult dynamic. We want to make a client or boss happy, but we don’t want to compromise our goals by going to a burger joint every night of the business trip. It can be challenging enough to quiet our own negative inner voices, much less those of others.

If you have to, make a Top Ten list of reasons why you are making the health changes you are. Keep this list in your wallet or purse and when pressure is on, sneak away for a moment, take a deep breath, and read your list.

Don’t let the opinions of others be louder than your own when it comes to what you eat to feel your best. Stay resilient, open-minded, humble, and lead by example.

I want to hear from YU. What are your favorite tips for sticking to your goals during holidays and family events? Tell us with a comment below.

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