You live for your superfood smoothies, but bae would rather skip breakfast than ever sip it through a straw. You lose sleep dreaming of dinner at that new vegan haunt, but your besties are all about a night of burgers and beer. You want to spend your Sunday scoping out a new fave hike, but your dog baby just wants to sleep on the floor all day. Welcome to the dark side of life as ‘the healthy friend’.
What are we supposed do when our wellness habits don’t exactly line up with the rest of life? As we don’t plan on replacing friends anytime soon, we asked integrative nutritionist, Jennie Miremadi, to offer her best tips for when we’re orbiting outside of our wellness bubble.
No matter how much you love your friends, when you’re the only one in the group who eats healthy, social situations that involve food can be challenging. It isn’t always easy making sure there’s food you can eat or knowing how to communicate about food when you have a completely different diet from your friends. But, if you value your friends and want them in your life, it’s important to find ways to navigate around your food differences. And, with a little bit of effort, it is possible to find common ground:
How you communicate is key
When you’re talking about food with your friends, if you say something that comes across as self-righteous or critical, you could end up with hurt and angry friends. It’s not about walking on eggshells with your friends, it’s about reframing the way you approach the conversation. If your friends are eating chili cheese fries and they ask why you aren’t joining them, respond by focusing on how the food makes you feel when you eat it, without judging the food or your friends. If, for example, you get a stomach ache every time you eat fries, explain this fact to your friends — without asking them how they could ever eat a food like chili cheese fries. By taking judgment out of the conversation, you can defuse potential conflict with your friends and avoid hurt feelings.
Stick to your guns
Balance is important. And, if you want the occasional treat, you should go for it; eat it without guilt or shame, and enjoy every delicious bite. But, you should only eat food because you want it, not because you feel compelled to eat it. If your friends are pressuring you to eat something that you don’t want to eat, ask yourself whether you would eat the food if they weren’t pressuring you. If your answer is no, let that be the gauge for your decision to eat it. Remember, it’s up to you to honor your own needs, even if that means telling your friends no.
Don’t try to change your friends
You add adaptogens to your green smoothie, ferment your own veggies and avoid processed foods. And, because eating this way makes you feel amazing from the inside out, you want to tell all your friends what they’re missing out on! But, even if you have the best intentions, it isn’t your place to convert your friends from their pizza-centric diets to your way of eating. Encouraging your friends to change their food habits when they haven’t asked for your help may make them feel judged and defensive and could cause a rift in your friendship. Know this: If your friends are curious about how you eat, they’ll ask. Every day, I see people overhaul their unhealthy diets and adopt healthy ones, but the decision to change has to come from them when they’re ready. It never works when someone else is trying to force it on them. So, stop trying to change how your friends eat and let them come to you if they want your support.
Pick a restaurant with food for everyone
When you’re eating out with friends, find a spot that works for everyone in the group. Avoid suggesting uber-healthy places that your friends may not like, and don’t agree to dine at the greasy spoon where you’ll have nothing to eat. Instead, find a middle ground with delicious food that will make everyone happy. Restaurants that create dishes from real, whole foods and allow modifications for dietary restrictions are generally going to be a good bet (think: farm-to-table restaurants and small-plates places).
Here are some other ideas that can also work well:
Thai | Thai restaurants generally have plenty of dairy- and gluten-free options, plus choices for vegans, omnivores and noodle-lovers alike. Opt for the chicken and veggie green curry with brown rice, while your friends go for the pad Thai.
Seafood | Seafood spots are a great choice when everyone eats fish. You can enjoy the grilled wild salmon with asparagus, while your friends dig into the battered tempura fish and chips.
Burger Bars | Burger bars can work for the whole group if you pick a place that uses good quality beef, chicken and turkey; makes homemade veggie patties; and gives you the option to wrap your burger in lettuce or put it on a bed of greens.
Italian | Italian food can be a surprisingly good option for healthy eaters. While most restaurants have pasta and pizza, many also have delicious salads, roasted veggies, grilled fish and beef dishes.
Navigate ingredient details
When you eat at a restaurant, you probably ask about ingredient details before you order your meal, particularly if you have food sensitivities. If you find that your friends are annoyed by the back and forth Q&A session between you, your waiter and the kitchen, explain to your friends why you’re asking all the questions. If they understand where you’re coming from, they might be more supportive. You can also call the restaurant in advance to inquire about ingredients and substitutions. If you have this information ahead of time, you can avoid issues with your friends when it’s time to order.
Be a polite guest
When a friend in your group invites you over for dinner:
+ Let your friend know in advance if there’s a food you can’t eat.
+ If your friend is unsure how to modify a dish to accommodate you, offer to bring something.
+ If it’s a potluck situation, make something delicious and healthy to share.
+ If your friend doesn’t eat the same way you do but goes out of her way to make sure you have food to eat, make sure you tell her how grateful you are.
Shift activities away from food
There are so many fun ways to spend time with friends that don’t revolve around food. Whether you go for a hike, check out a new art exhibit or see a concert, connect with friends in an environment where the main activity has nothing to do with food.
Thank you for this fantastic post – so true. The energy flows when people ask or are curious about nutrition but totally stale and negative – if one tries to convert. THANKS for reminding me!
The older you get the harder it gets. Years of hearing “Is there anything at this restaurant that you can eat?” gets old but answering yes is the way to go. There is ALWAYS something that you eat anywhere that you go. It’s not about being able to it’s about choosing to eat what you want. I think creative ordering is helpful. Many places are used to less oil, no MSG, that sort of thing. At the end of the day, your food is important to you. It makes you happy, healthy, and satisfied. Choices rule.
Any suggestions for dealing with family? This comes up often for me when I’m on staying with my parents or my brother for a weekend, or even a week+ holiday. If they are hosting me, cooking for me, planning meals, etc. I find it much harder to turn down a cheese plate when there aren’t other options in the house. I’ve tried to raise it with my family a few times, but have often been met with “That’s your decision to eat how you want to eat/avoid dairy/gluten/whatever,” but they haven’t really taken any steps to help me with making sure I have adequate replacements. I usually end up giving up and eating whatever they’re eating with few other alternatives, but that’s really hard for a week or longer visit. Any suggestions?
AJ you should take it upon yourself to bring healthy replacements if your family is not going to do it for you! It can be hard to accommodate just one person eating differently and they are obviously not used to it.
This is such a good question and something that a lot of people struggle with particularly around the holidays.
If you haven’t already done so, I would make sure you explain to your parents and your brother why you eat the way you do. In other words, if you aren’t eating dairy or gluten because you get headaches or a stomach ache (or whatever the case may be), let your family know. If they understand where you’re coming from, they might be more supportive.
I also recommend that you be proactive in making sure you have food that you can eat. Most people who now eat a dairy- or gluten-free diet, didn’t know how to make delicious dairy- or gluten-free meals or snacks when they first started eating this way without some work to figure it out. I wouldn’t be surprised if your family has no idea what to even get for you.
Here’s how you can be proactive:
As a first step, bring a snack kit with you. Here are a couple places on The Chalkboard where I’ve talked about building a snack kit and I’ve given some specific ideas of what to put in it:
Make it before you go and bring it with you so you already have some healthy go-to snacks when you need them.
I would also reach out to your parents or your brother before you visit them and let them know that you understand that it’s your choice to eat the way you do and you hope they’ll be supportive if you go to the grocery store when you get there to buy a few things for yourself so that you’re comfortable during your stay. Then, when you go, do just that.
Also, if there are dairy- or gluten-free meals that your family already makes that you can eat, like roast chicken with vegetables, for example, I would ask them in advance if they would be willing to make that for you when you visit them. Or, if there are meals that they make that could be easily modified to accommodate you, ask them ahead of time if they would be willing to modify the meal and then get in the kitchen with them and make the modified dish together.
You may also want to offer to make a delicious meal for your family when you’re home. Or, if it’s the holidays, you could make a couple of dishes for the holiday meal. If your family understands what you can eat and tastes how good it is, they may be more inclined to help you eat this way in the future.