How to Maintain a Special Diet Without Being a Jerk

Committing to a healthy diet isn’t easy. It requires constant meal planning, careful shopping and the willingness to try new things. And that’s just at home. Eating in public comes with an entirely new list of challenges and pressure to cheat.

How does one balance dedication to a healthy eating style with the nauseating prospect of explaining your dietary restrictions to everyone at the table?

When I decided to try the paleo diet, I didn’t necessarily shout it from the rooftops. After all, I didn’t know if I could do it, if it would help me achieve my goals, and if I would stick with it afterward. So when friends wanted to go to dinner or stopped by with snacks for some weekend porch-sitting, I found myself in an awkward predicament: Explain my weird order, or why I’m eating carrot sticks while everyone else crushes potato chips, or just keep my mouth shut and be “normal”?

It might seem stupid to the less introverted reader, but for me, this awkwardness was the first step toward diverting from the plan. And I really wanted to stick with the plan. If you’ve recently adopted a new style of eating, you know what I mean. So here are some of my best tips for explaining (and maintaining) a special diet in public, without being that person who’s constantly preaching your edible truth at the dinner table.

How to Maintain Your Special Diet Without Being a Jerk

1. Be Prepared…

Come up with an elevator pitch-sized explanation. I’m serious. Be able to explain your dietary choices in two or three sentences. If you start spluttering about gluten or dairy or whatever, people aren’t going to take you seriously. They may then laugh and dismiss your well-researched decision as a joke. Which will likely make you mad. No bueno.

2. …But Only Share When Asked

Having an elevator pitch in the hopper doesn’t mean you should bring it up in small talk. “Hi, how are ya?” “Funny you asked, I recently went paleo and here’s why you should too.” No, no no. If people aren’t asking a direct question about your diet, consider yourself lucky and continue on your merry way.

3. Dont Be Defensive

The best part about having a prepared response is that it eliminates emotion. Many of us are very passionate about the food we eat, and why we eat it. If someone approaches you with a plate loaded with crap and makes fun of your salad, you may be tempted to unleash the full wrath of Michael Pollan on them. But making people feel small or stupid about their own choices isn’t going to convert them. Just smile, and share your short, sweet explanation.

4. Make it About You, Not a Philosophy

OK, let’s talk about exactly what that explanation should look like. The best way to start is by explaining the reason you chose to make a change in the first place. Maybe you’re really trying to lose weight. Maybe you’re tired of feeling sick every time you eat dairy. Maybe you’re striving for healthier skin and hair. Very few of us choose a diet for purely altruistic reasons.

Example: ”Ive realized that dairy products dont agree with me, so Im learning to replace them with other foods. Or “Im trying to eat mostly plant-foods right now and cut back on my meat intake. Ive noticed an improvement in my energy, my skin and my overall well-being. I feel good so Im sticking with it!

5. Have a Backup Plan

Traveling? Bring a backpack full of acceptable snacks so you won’t be tempted by convenience foods. Going to a restaurant with a big group? Scope out the menu online beforehand. That way, you’ll already know how many choices you’re working with, and can order in a timely fashion without much searching. If you’re concerned about a lack of choices, call them up, share your restrictions, and ask what alternatives or substitutions the can make. If you’re headed to a friend or family-hosted function, contact the host privately to ask about options. If they’re not planning any that fit with your diet, eat a big meal beforehand or be prepared to bring your own snack/side dish/dessert.

6. Sometimes a Bite Wont Kill You

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, having a bite of sausage isn’t an option, but there are sometimes when a tiny concession will go a long way toward keeping the peace. “If you say, ‘I’m stuffed, but this looks so delicious I can’t pass up a bite,’ you’ll avoid peer pressure by turning the situation around—you’re indulging, not depriving yourself. And you won’t make your friends feel bad by rebuffing their generosity. Besides, one bite of dessert won’t make a dent in your diet, says Lacie Peterson, a registered dietitian with the University of Utah.”

Do you adhere to an unfamiliar or restrictive diet? How do you survive in the real world? Share tips in the comments below.

Image via Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven12 months ago

thanks for the article.

Helly F.
Past Member 1 years ago

Nice post, it’s really a great idea; I appreciate your efforts friends.
Jennifer M.

Dale O.

True, Julia H, there are some with tunnel vision when they try an impose their food choices on the rest of the entire world.

Vasu M, will you ever stop copying and pasting and comment using your own ideas?
You copy and paste the same thing in thread after thread after thread. Do you have any original thoughts of your very own or have you turned into a copy and paste clone?

Julia H.
Past Member 3 years ago

Dale O.

"Oh and also coupled with the 'my dear' finger wag as well. Are you not so pleased, Julia H?"

Thanks Dale. I knew Tim L. was trying to push my buttons by his disrespect but his opinion means little to me so it was ineffective. He is unable to have an open, logical conversation on the subject due to his closed mind and judgmental attitude. I will not lose any sleep over it.

I appreciate your calling him on the carpet for it but I am sure it will be lost on him. The poor dear has tunnel vision.

Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron3 years ago

A special diet isn't just about a diet one chooses to take, it is also a diet that one has no choice in the matter, such as food allergies. I knew a girl in high school who was allergic to all animal meat as well as anything that was derived from animal such as milk, eggs and gelatin. We managed to have a friendship up to the point where I switched school and she had to move.

In my case, I make or bring my own food and explain that it is for health reasons due to deadly food allergies. It works most the time, but I will occasionally run across someone who doesn't believe in food allergies and try and get me to eat something I know I should so I do have to be a jerk in such a case. Such as in middle school where a bully decided to try and for feed me lentils by pinning me down, luckily I grew up with brothers who taught me how to wrestle. I am the one who got into trouble, but at least I didn't have to go to the hospital.

Vasu M.
.3 years ago

Alex P. writes: " wife and I considered vegetarianism, and we discussed it with her vegan sister and fiancé. Instead of being supportive, they attacked us, saying it wasn't good enough unless we went vegan."

In 1985, my friend Greg said he was thinking of giving up red meat. I said, "Well, it's a step in the right direction." Greg appreciated my not coming across as a "self-righteous vegetarian."

I gave Greg a copy of vegan author John Robbins' Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America for his 26th birthday in 1989. Greg says before he finished reading it, he was a vegetarian (though he's reluctant to go vegan). The late pro-life feminist Mary Krane Derr (1963 - 2012) also credited me with having caused her to become a vegetarian.

In October 2007, I spent a romantic weekend with a beautiful woman I met online through, I didn’t force animal issues on her, but I did treat her to meals only at vegan restaurants here in the SF Bay Area, and took her to a book-signing event, where she voluntarily purchased (yes, she seemed genuinely interested in the subject!) a copy of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s first cookbook, The Joy of Vegan Baking.

Upon return home, she emailed me:

”I miss you already.

"I forgot to steal one of your shirts!

”I will talk to you soon.

"And I won’t eat meat.”

I merely replied, ”You’re a girl after my own heart!”

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.'"

Dale O.

Interesting, Robert V, I was unaware that people are pressured into drinking either Coke or Pepsi if they don't wish to (or other soft drinks) and then get told that it is the American thing to do. I wonder if they have the same attitude if one doesn't want to have wine or a beer or if someone prefers tea over coffee?

Dale O.

Karen F, I honestly cannot understand how your mother refuses to accept your choices and simply serve you the foods that you enjoy instead of somethings that you obviously will not eat. She can always prepare meat for herself along with veggies, etc., and the other members of the family that are omnivores. Obviously, she is well aware of your choice and certainly another protein option is not all that difficult to prepare. Some parents seem to feel that they can still impose on their adult 'children' long after they have become adults and are able to make their own choices. When that is combined by sarcasm and belittling of your choices, it is quite unfair.

There was one vegan on Care2 who had mentioned on another comment board quite a while ago that she was told that she was 'un-American' if she did not eat the traditional turkey at Thanksgiving and that (the mother, I believe) was not willing to prepare a vegan alternative, which does not really take a lot of extra effort). People adopt new traditions all the time and parents should hardly expect all their family to do everything the same.

Dale O.

Sometimes, there is the raw food vs. cooked food debate and there are some who insist that anyone eating food other than it is pure raw state is eating incorrectly. A few raw food enthusiasts have told me that if I have not eaten that peach within 20 minutes of it being sliced, then I am 'wasting' valuable nutrients by taking far too much time eating the peach. Fine, but some of us do linger over a peach and if reading or typing or whatever, it just might take an hour before it is all consumed.

Some people will say that drinking smoothies for the most part is the only way to go. Or some will say that cooking any veggie or fruit is just 'unnatural'. However, there are certain veggies that are digested more easily than if eaten raw or some foods will interfere with the thyroid if a lot of it is eaten raw.