There’s no doubt that making a major dietary change has an effect on others, especially if they’re cooking, planning meals or eating out with you. These changes can cause some strain on your close relationships… but they don’t have to!
Five years ago when I decided to significantly change the way I was eating, I had no idea how this change would affect the people around me. Eating is a social activity, and meal times are usually spent with family, friends and spouses. I realized that making any dietary change can have a positive and negative impact on relationships.
Since changing to a predominantly plant-based diet over the last five years, I’ve encountered many responses to my eating choices from people, including those closest to me. I’ve experienced people reject my meatless cooking, had others tell me I’m ‘crazy’ or ‘wrong’ for eating the way I do, dragged friends from restaurant to restaurant trying to find somewhere I could eat, and even had a partner completely change to cooking plant-based meals because he was intrigued by the changes I made.
Here are my top tips, based on experience, to help you make the change while maintaining relationships… and your sanity.
Talk to the people close to you about your new food journey, why you have decided to make the change and what they can expect. Explain that this is a personal choice and may take some time to adjust, and ask for their patience, understanding and support. Communication ensures everyone is aware of what you’re doing and respects the changes you’ve made.
2. Practice, don’t preach
Resist the urge to preach about the latest statistic you heard, study you read or why you think your way of eating is better. Maintain focus and practise the changes you’ve made and without forcing your point of view on everyone. People will notice the difference in your health and demeanour and may even join you, like my partner has done!
3. Ease into it
Ease into your new dietary changes, e.g. if you’ve decided to go plant-based, start with one meal a day. Once you get used to it, continue to add more meals until you’re comfortable with going fully plant-based. Easing into major changes promotes long-term success, rather than forcing yourself and giving up; and eating is meant to be enjoyable!
Not everyone will understand your choices and there will be times when they’ll refuse to acknowledge it, tell you that they could never do it or that you have to cook a separate meal for yourself. This can hurt and put you off but remember that this is your choice, so be patient and eventually the people close to you will understand.
5. Remove labels
Over the years, I’ve discovered that by choosing what I say, people are more accepting. Instead of stating, “I am a vegetarian / vegan,”, I say, “I choose to eat vegetarian food” or “I love to eat vegan food whenever I can”. By changing my words, my dietary choices immediately become more approachable.
6. Respect everyone’s choices
Resist the urge to get on a pedestal about your dietary choices, especially when you notice the changes you’re making are improving your health. This can create separation and a power struggle in close relationships. My family and friends don’t always make the same dietary choices as I do, but they respect my choice and I respect theirs.
7. Balance not perfection
Don’t expect to be perfect, and no one else will either. Allow yourself some leeway with your dietary choices. We’re most happy when we aren’t striving for eating perfection. Listen to your body and don’t get stuck in the notion that you must adhere to a completely plant-based diet. My partner and I occasionally crave salmon. We talk about it and decide whether we should have some and if we do decide to, we get the best quality available and savour every bite.
One of the greatest benefits of change is the opportunity to experiment and try something new. My partner and I have expanded our palates and knowledge of ingredients, and become very creative in the kitchen. There have been some cooking failures, but it’s all part of the fun and finding what works for you!