Navigating Social Situations: Plant-Based EditionPublished on Monday, January 22, 2024 by
Introduction to the Social Challenges of a Plant-Based Lifestyle
When following a plant-based diet, there are significantly more decisions when choosing your food. This can be challenging during social situations when your options are more limited, and it can even be awkward if you’re following this diet for reasons related to gut health. Here are some tips for navigating the food scene while honoring your dietary preferences.
#1: Communication is Key
Imagine this: you’re a plant-based eater who was just invited to a BBQ offering burgers, green beans cooked with bacon, and creamy macaroni and cheese. Anytime you’ve been invited to someone’s home for a meal, such as in this instance, communication is key. So, what are some strategies for discussing your diet with your host?
A good rule of thumb is communicating your needs when an invite is extended. Your hosts will almost certainly appreciate a heads-up so that they have plenty of time to adjust their menu accordingly. Just don’t expect them to overhaul their original plan completely. Making small changes, like leaving bacon out of the green beans, is more realistic than expecting an entirely plant-based meal. Sometimes, changing the menu may not be an option for the host. This requires some flexibility on your part. You can offer to bring your food or eat ahead of time. Either way, make sure your host knows how grateful you are for the invitation and any concessions they may make on your behalf.
I was born and raised in the South, and Southern etiquette is to never show up to a host’s home empty-handed. Whether the event is a potluck or you choose to bring your meal, aim to bring enough to share. Not only is it polite, but this may make your food choices stand out less and help you ward off unwanted questions.
With that being said, don’t feel like you need to explain the “why” behind your choices. If eating dairy means you spend the next day hanging out near a bathroom, you may not want to disclose that over the dinner table. If it does come up, have some short and sweet phrases prepared. Try out, “I feel a lot better when I eat a gut-friendly diet, so there are certain things I limit.” Or try, “This meal looks beautiful, but right now, I’m trying to stick to only the foods that I know make me feel my best.” There’s always a chance that someone will take offense or won’t drop the matter. Know that it’s okay to set boundaries! Kindly let them know that you prefer not to disclose your health history and have a change of topic ready to go.
#2: Eating Out: Navigating Restaurant Choices
Now that we’ve conquered eating in someone’s home let’s talk about eating out. The good news is that technology is working in your favor. Various apps on the market can help you sort through the menu. You can also search restaurants’ menus on the Internet before you visit. As a bonus, some restaurants even list nutritional facts, so you can check for ingredients or fiber content that may trigger you.
Restaurants that provide customization are great options, as you can handpick what goes into your food. A perfect example is building your own burrito bowl. However, buffets are best to steer clear of if you have an allergy or sensitivity. This is because there’s a higher risk of cross-contamination.
Lastly, keep a list of diet-friendly restaurants near your work and home. This way, when you’re in a pinch, you have a quick reference ready to guide you out the door!
#3: Travel Smartly on a Plant-Based Journey
I’ll be honest: traveling can be challenging. You may not be as familiar with the restaurants in the area or have access to a kitchen. But as with most things in life, preparation is key. Try to look up available restaurants near you before you head off on your adventure. Hotels and cruise lines often have options for people with special dietary needs, especially if you let them know ahead of time.
It’s also a good idea to pack some food with you. If you think you’ll have access to a fridge, you can pack a cooler of pre-made items to have on hand. Similarly, it’s a good idea to bring some non-perishable snack options in case you get stuck in a situation where you can’t eat the foods available to you.
If you have flexibility on where you are staying, try to pick somewhere near a grocery store. That way, you can dash out to grab a premade meal or snack to keep you satisfied.
Navigating Social Spaces with Confidence and Ease
If I had a dime for every time a patient told me, “I do so well sticking to my diet at home, but outside the home, it gets too complicated,” I’d be a wealthy woman indeed. Effective communication, smart restaurant choices, and strategic travel planning enable you to prioritize your gut health and plant-based preferences, allowing you to enjoy social situations without compromising your dietary choices. I hope these strategies will empower you to honor your gut health or plant-based preferences by nourishing your body with food that makes you feel good without compromising your social life.
Savannah DuffyMS, RDN, LD