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 Isn‘t 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 You‘re 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. Don‘t 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. Don‘t 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. Don‘t 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.
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