Adhering to dietary restrictions—gluten-free, Paleo, vegan, etc.—can put a strain on relationships. Food is such a central part of life. From weeknight dinners at home to festive holiday parties and birthday celebrations, almost every social gathering includes food.
But if you have decided to stick to a certain type of diet, whether your decisions were made for health reasons, personal convictions or allergies, it can open you up to unwanted criticism from your friends or family.
Food should be a fun, joyful part of life and there is no need for that to change just because you have changed your eating habits. I’ve been there, I know. I’ve been following a Paleo diet for a few years now and it has greatly improved my health and wellbeing since I have type 1 diabetes. I don’t expect my loved ones to eat the way I do but I do want them to respect my choice. Food and nutrition can be a contentious area. Here, my tips to help you politely navigate unwanted challenges.
It is totally okay to say no to something you’ve been offered, but it’s important to decline it in a way that is appropriate and sensitive to the cook’s feelings. Politely explain that you have an allergy or can’t eat the food for health reasons and leave it at that.
Parties or other social gatherings are usually not the time or place to elaborate about your reasons for the way you need to eat. But, keep in mind you may have opened the door to a future conversation about your diet.
For many hosts, preparing and serving food is an expression of love. Refusing a beloved dish passed down from grandma can be hurtful. When you need to say no, be polite and offer a compliment on how lovely the dish looks or smells. Or, feel free to ask about family memories connected to the family recipe. That personal connection is what gathering together is really all about anyway.
What’s rude is criticizing a menu someone has put thought and care into creating. Or, noticing, for example, that the meat is not organic or the veggies are overcooked.
Don’t apologize or make excuses about your diet. Be excited. Excitement is contagious. When people sense your enthusiasm—about your improved health and/or your discoveries of new foods and recipes that work for you—they will likely be more accepting.
Rather than complain about your dietary restrictions or make it seem like the food you eat is boring and limited, spread the excitement. Chances are if you are eating real food, these foods are colorful, fresh, and flavorful!
Consistency is key—no one will take you seriously if one day you are eating Paleo, the next day vegan and the next day you indulge on a giant slice of gluten and sugar-filled chocolate cake! However you decide to eat, do your research, know the reasons why and stick to what you know is best for you.
If someone is rude enough to challenge you, kill with kindness and do what you can to change the subject. You might say something like, “Thank you for your concern. I did not choose to have a broken down pancreas but the way I eat works best for my health.”
You are your biggest advocate. No one will fight for you as hard as you fight for yourself. And sometimes, you may be your only advocate—no one else but you knows the way certain foods makes you feel!
At the end of the day, keep this in mind—some people just won’t understand or even try to understand your way of eating, and that is okay! Your true friends and family, the ones who want you to feel great and thrive, will support you, and those who don’t may just not be worth the energy.
Remember that when you feel your best possible self, you are able to be a better friend, parent, spouse or partner so never let anyone make you feel guilty for your choices!