Part 2: The Ostracizing Diet
So we’ve already accepted eating differently makes us feel ostracized sometimes. People just don’t get us. They don’t understand how to cook for us. They think our eating habits are a ridiculous choice to make their lives more miserable every time we come for a visit. Some people even believe it’s just a way to be a little snooty or stuck up. Like, “My food is better than yours” sort of mindset.
I’ve often felt like the “elephant in the room,” or because of how ostracized my diet makes me feel sometimes, the “ostrich” in the room. A lot of times, regardless of if they think you’re weird or your diet is truly helping you stay healthy and feel good, they just don’t understand how to cook for you, or don’t want to go through the years of experimenting like you had to.
Seriously. How long did it take you to get to your “perfect-feel-good-healthy-happy” diet? For me, I would say I’m still working on it. I learn more and more every day and that makes it very difficult for even those closest in my life to keep up with the constant changes.
So for those of us who DO eat differently, what do we do in these situations?
1. BYOF. Or Bring your own food.
My mother is the perfect example of this to me. I was born with a milk allergy, and my brother was a very hyperactive child who would get rashes on his face after eating. My mother being an ER nurse, tried tirelessly for several years with different diets until finally it was discovered my brother was actually allergic to artificial colors, preservatives and flavorings. Once that was discovered, every family gathering and neighborhood party became a battle. I remember my mom would bring ENTIRE MEALS to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner with her family so we could have something to eat and not feel left out.
I never realized how difficult and exhausting that must have been for my mother until I started needing to provide those services for myself. BYOF often means planning out entire meals, how you’re going to store them at someone else’s house, and making sure they’ll be OK with you preparing them in their kitchen. Often times I find the less I can impose on them and the more I can impress the need to have good food for myself, the better and more helpful they are with making accommodations. I find people are generally more relaxed and accepting of your diet if they don’t feel pressured to have to try to learn how to cook for you. Bringing your own food relieves that stress for them.
Naturally you don’t want to show up to your sister’s wedding with your own mobile food truck, but for those family gatherings that last more than a day or two, BYOF works well. This is where prepared meals that cane be reheated or crock-potted are best. Something that doesn’t keep you awkwardly working in their kitchen, but still produces a decent meal for you to eat with everyone else.
2. Snacks are KEY!
Usually I try to limit the amount of snacks I have during the day, but if you’re going to a birthday party of your best friend and everyone’s downing the pizza, cake, soda, chips and other bountiful amounts of junk food, you’re going to have a much harder time withstanding the temptations of that aroma and creamy textured looking double chocolate fudge cake.
I brings snacks with me to any and all events I go to. Bring a healthy snack you truly enjoy eating, that are considered your healthy treats, and make sure you eat them when you feel those cravings getting a little to strong. It helps you feel less like the Ostrich, and more like a normal part of the party.
It’s also helpful to have a few snacks stashed in your purse for that sister’s wedding I referred to earlier. Sure they may serve dinner, but what if the food served doesn’t fit your dietary restrictions? Healthy snacks will help you survive till you can get yourself back to the food you can eat.
3. Offer to prepare a meal.
If someone feels intimidated by your highly restrictive diet, it’s probably because they don’t know any other way to prepare food. Offer to fix a meal and invite them over for dinner. This can be a great opportunity to show them that meals without ________ can still be tasty and fun! This will also help them feel more relaxed, and give them ideas for what to fix for you the next time you’re over.
4. Explain your food choices.
Sometimes when people first find out I’m a gluten-free vegan, they get this wrinkled-nose look on their face. This usually indicates to me that they’ve had negative past experiences with these types of dieters or they think I’m one of those people who likes jumping into fad diets. I have found that the more you can explain your situation to people, and your reason for eating the way you do, the more accepting and understanding they seem to be.
This doesn’t have to be a long drawn-out conversation either. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “I have several health issues and after years of trial and error, I have found I feel so much better staying away from gluten, foods with added sugar, and meats.” This helps them understand your pro-health standpoint and allows them to feel less judged about their own health decisions. Which brings us to #5.
5. Don’t JUDGE other people who choose to eat “normally.”
Most of the people I know who think diets are wacky, tend to be drawing from previous experience with that one crazy relative who went off the deep end after they started doing weird things to their diet. Seriously. I hear that a lot. You may be the ONE SANE VEGAN they’ve ever met. Therefore, you have a responsibility to leave a good impression. Don’t constantly remind people of your diet restrictions, or try to sell them on why eating the way you do is such a good way to live. I have found the best advice comes when the person receiving the advice is actually seeking it.
When someone DOES finally come to you asking about dietary advice, (yay!) be patient. This does not mean they’ll be changing everything at once. Help them with baby steps and encourage them with your stories of trial an error. Everyone needs a foodie friend. ;)