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


Jim Ven
Jim V10 months ago

thanks for the article.

Vee Jackson
Past Member 3 years ago


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.

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.

Warren Biggs
Warren Biggs3 years ago

Considerate vegans? Isn't that an oxymoron?

Deb E.
Deb E3 years ago

I wish people would understand that I did not choose to be gluten free. I had to or I would have died. I chose to not eat certain foods because they make me sick. That, alone, should be reason enough for anyone to respect the diet someone has chosen for themselves. I would like people to understand that it bothers them more than me when I am at dinner with them and there is nothing on the menu I can eat safely. I am used to how I eat, and I am fine with it. I would like for people to understand that my choices are just that. They have nothing to do with anyone but me, and just because I cannot "do dinner" with everyone it doesn't mean I am unsociable. I would like for people who don't know very much about my reasons for having to eat the way I do to quit pretending they understand exactly what I go through trying to make sure I do not get ingredients that could destroy my intestines and make me very ill. I would like for the people at the grocery store to not get angry with me because I don't move my cart along quickly because I have to read labels. I would like for people to know that some people have to eat certain ways, and they aren't doing it because it is the new FAD diet. I would love for people to just respect the choices others have made about what they put into their bodies without ridicule or judgment. It is very nice for me to be able to know that the person who has invited me to dinner fully understands what I can and cannot eat, and that they care enough about

Vasu M.
.3 years ago

In her 1987 article, "Animal By-Products: A Game of Hide and Seek," which originally appeared in the July 1987 issue of Vegetarian Times, Andis Roebznieks wrote:

"...In ways too numerous to count, animal by-products permeate our everyday lives... The list of manufactured goods made with animal by-products is virtually endless. Medicines, soaps, detergents, photographic film, phonograph records, rubber, ceramics, plastics, paints, perfumes, glue, explosives, cosmetics textiles and shaving creams all can contain material obtained from the slaughterhouse.

"Besides its use in clothing (leather), cattle hide is also used in insulation, as a base for many ointments, and as a binder for plaster and asphalt. Cattle hair is used in toothbrush bristles, mattresses, air filters and upholstery covers...

"Although this news may disturb many vegetarians, Jay Dinshah, president of the American Vegan Society, says not to despair.

"'There are no vegan tire factories,' Dinshah said. 'We avoid as many animal products as we can, but we live in a world that is not, by a long shot, under our countrol. We never said you could avoid all animal products.

"According to Dinshah, eliminating animal products from the diet is the best way to help animals.

"'Everything falls into insignificance after the food,' he said. 'Food is about 75 percent of it. Clothing is next, about 10 to 20 percent, and then things like soap and cosmetics.'"

Vasu M.
.3 years ago

Dale O. writes: "I also remember reading about one vegan who had been told by her parents that she was 'un-American' for not wanting to eat turkey at Thanksgiving and the family had refused to make her a meatless alternative..."

Catholic columnist Colman McCarthy teaches filled-to-capacity classes on nonviolence in high schools and colleges in the Washington, DC area. He speaks eloquently about the rights of “our fellow Earthians, whom we call animals.

“How many of you had a corpse for lunch today?” he asks his students. “What part of an animal did you eat? A leg? A rib?... I never call it meat—that’s just a euphemism. You know why I avoid dairy products and eggs? Because they’re sexist; it’s the females in the barns and henhouses. What do you think of that?”

McCarthy has even drawn fire for advocating vegetarianism. Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) once accused McCarthy of having communist ties, after he had urged Americans to skip turkey and eat bulgur at Thanksgiving.

In one of his columns, he wrote that American society “chews on the cadavers” of nine million animals a day, and quoted Nobel Prize winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer on vegetarianism.

McCarthy writes about public education, the violence of our meat-producing and chemical-agriculture industries, and the wasted millions of dollars spent on the military buildup and high school ROTC programs. He has also expressed opposition to abortion

Manuela C.
Manuela C3 years ago

I don't see why people should care about what others eat unless they are cooking for them.