If you are thinking about switching to a plant-based diet, you are likely to encounter some initial reactions of disbelief. You might also face a friendly inquisition. It’s important to not get defensive in these situations. The curiosity and subsequent questioning is only natural.
When I started telling friends and family that I had shifted to eating a plant-based diet, I was often met with the response of: “Wow…” followed by, “What made you decide to make such a big change?”
In response to this question, I often found myself quickly dishing out statistics about the health benefits of the plant-based diet, letting my excitement and passion get the best of me. With this approach, I generally grew defensive which resulted in the the conversation coming to an awkward halt.
However, these days, I take a slightly different approach. I usually explain that I started doing some reading on the topic and that the more I learned, the more it made sense to me to shift to an entirely plant-based diet. I casually explain that eating a plant-based diet seems to be working well for me right now. As much as I might want to get into the specifics of the preventive health benefits of a plant-based diet, I try my best to avoid going there unless asked directly.
So what prompted this new approach? Last year, I attended the talk, “Getting Along Without Going Along,” where psychiatrist and author of The Pleasure Trap, Doug Lisle, discussed how to manage conversations about dietary differences with family and friends. One of my key takeaways was that when you start talking about a new way of eating, people might feel subconsciously threatened because you are indirectly raising doubts about their personal food decisions. Basically, everything they have heard and come to believe about nutrition is now being called into question. This dissonance may cause a feeling of discomfort, and in some cases, it can understandably prompt a reaction of defensiveness. Sometimes this defensiveness results in outright questioning of the plant-based approach.
Others might be well aware of the plant-based approach, but they fear that it’s too restrictive and lacking in nutrition since so many of the food groups that are featured in the “Standard American Diet” are eliminated in a plant-based diet. It’s an understandable response given that they have probably been told throughout their lives that milk is essential for strong bones and that the body thrives on animal protein. Other people might have misguided assumptions due to the array of conflicting information that has been presented in recent years regarding food and preventive health.
Perhaps people fear what they will be missing out on instead of considering what there is to gain? Perhaps they see a plant-based diet as an insurmountable obstacle? After all, eating a plant-based diet requires a paradigm shift in the way one understands food and its ability to nourish and protect the body.
Let’s go back to Doug Lisle’s presentation. He reminded us that being humble, downplaying the conversation and not vehemently defending the plant-based approach will usually allow for the conversation to flow constructively, thus leaving the door open for deeper discussions over time. In some instances, you might even find yourself engaging in a healthy dialogue about nutrition-based preventive health and some of the amazingly delicious food (shown below) that you can enjoy in the plant-based world. After all, the plant-based diet extends far beyond the basic garden salad.
This plant-based lasagna has layers of kale, squash, eggplant and zucchini and is served alongside oven roasted tomatoes.
This quinoa, spinach and lemon salad is topped with a chickpea patty, avocado and carrot relish.