How to Be Considerate of Friends on a Special Diet

I recently posted an article about how to maintain your special diet (be it vegan, vegetarian, paleo or something else) without being a jerk. The idea was to identify some strategies for resisting temptation in an unhealthy world and sharing your choices with others in a non-pushy way.

As usual the Care2 community had lots of great feedback on the suggested tactics. More than a few of you asked for a post that addressed the other side of the coin, i.e. tips for those whose friends or family have adopted a new eating style that may seem strange or extreme.

There’s nothing more disheartening or divisive than someone who can’t muster even the slightest respect for the dietary choices of others. As I noted in the last piece, many of us feel very passionately about the how and why of what we eat. You (I hope) would never maliciously belittle someone’s religious or political beliefs, and diet should be no different. There’s a way to disagree that’s still respectful and compassionate. If this has been hard (or confusing) for you in the past, I hope this list helps.

How to Be Considerate of People on a Special Diet

1. Realize There Isnt One Right Way to Eat

Some people eat as a way to prevent starvation. Most of us are (thankfully) not in that boat. So diet or no diet, what we eat is a choice. I firmly believe that dietary needs vary from person to person. What’s right for me could be completely wrong for you, and vice versa. Yes, there are some rules of thumb that separate healthy and unhealthy, but other than that, most of us are just trying to find that combination that keeps us energized, fit and glowing. If it’s your mission in life to make everyone eat the way you do, you’re doing it wrong.

2. Only Ask if Youre Truly Curious (or Planning a Meal)

Don’t bait people into a debate. It’s obvious and it sucks. If you’re really curious about why someone changed their diet, why they chose a certain style of eating, or results they’ve achieved, by all means, ask. I love sharing my experience of going paleo (and don’t worry, I make sure to follow my own rule about keeping it short and sweet). The other reason to ask is if you’re trying to feed a group and want to be considerate of special needs. In a time when food allergies are on the rise, it’s really nice to ask if there’s anything you should be aware of while planning the menu. It’s also fine to note that you might not be able to accommodate everything. Many people are intimidated by the prospect of asking for special consideration. They’ll be relieved if you bring it up first.

3. Dont Bring Beliefs Into it

If you’re not satisfied with their elevator pitch response, and want to dig deeper, proceed with extreme caution. Whatever you do, don’t make it about personal convictions. Remember diet is a choice, hopefully one made with optimal health in mind. Shouting statistics or telling people they should feel guilty about how they eat is unnecessary. It’s also the least effective way to make them see your point of view. If you need to share your dietary convictions, be ready to do so from the mindset of education and not judgement. Point to resources, and be ready to admit you don’t know everything.

4. Dont Say, Oh My God I Could Never Give Up ___!

I get this all the time, and it’s more pointless than offensive. How am I supposed to respond? I DID give it up, and not only lived to tell the tale, but am thriving. So…there. More effective questions (if you’re genuinely curious) are: “How did you give up ___?” or “How did you manage the cravings for ___ when you first started?”

5. Dont Tempt or Trick Them into Trying Off-Diet Food

Adopting a healthy style of eating is hard. Sticking with it, unless it’s fueled by ethical or religious convictions, is even harder. Whatever you do, don’t be that guy waving a plate or spoonful of unacceptable food in front of someone you know doesn’t want to eat it. Even if they cave easily, it’s likely to trigger a lot of regret, and why would you do that to a friend? Conversely, it’s unnecessary to shout, “Don’t put that cheese near Sally, she’s VEGAN!!!” or “Well, we could go for pizza but Ben can’t eat it.” Sally is quite capable of policing her own consumption, and Ben might be perfectly willing to order a salad or something else at the pizza place.

What do you wish other people would understand about your diet? What advice would you add to this list? Share it in a comment.

Image via Thinkstock

118 comments

Jim V
Jim Ven4 days ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim Ven4 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S4 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Jerome S
Jerome S4 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

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Vee Jackson
Past Member 3 years ago

thanks

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Vasu M.
.3 years ago

Dale O.,

Pro-lifers just don't understand. Vegetarianism is about the animals' right to life. If vegetarianism were merely about "fit" or a peculiar set of "dietary laws" why would pro-lifers be offended by pro-choice vegetarians and vegans?

They're offended because THEY KNOW veg*ism involves the animals' right to life, and thus these pro-choicers appear to value animal life over human life under some circumstances.

And issues like animal experimentation, circuses, fur, etc. have nothing to do with diet, eating, nor food, but do involve the animals' right to life.

Sometimes being lighthearted gets the point across to Christians that vegetarianism is about the animals' right to life rather than "dietary laws": like Steve Martin in the '70s asking, "How many polyesters did you have to kill to make that suit?"

Leonardo Da Vinci, Count Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, Susan B. Anthony, Percy Shelley, etc. were all vegetarian, and none of them were Jewish or Muslim. There are more Christian vegetarians than Jewish vegetarians.

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Dale O.

Yes, Vasu M, I realize that you oppose abortion, but that topic has little to do with eating habits or special diets. Of course, you have said at times that the cause of both abortions and war is 'karma' for eating meat. However, since there are vegans advocating for the woman's right to choose on the issue of abortion, they would be most interested in knowing about your bizarre version of karma.

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Warren Biggs
Warren Biggs3 years ago

Considerate vegans? Isn't that an oxymoron?

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