For most of us, we like feeling like we fit in. Most of us don’t like to feel like we are the lone wolf, although some of us do enjoy that. People like to feel they are a part of a group in some way, whether that is a small group, like a reading club or band, or a large group, like whole cultures. Not all of us like to be a part of the “mainstream” crowd, but I believe that we all do have a longing to fit in somewhere and in some way.
It is rough being different from others, especially when it comes to eating. Have you noticed how a lot of our culture is centered around food? In the summer we have BBQ’s and cookouts, we roast marshmallows over campfires, and we go to state fairs where you can get pretty much any type of food fried and served on a stick. Come fall time, we gear up for Thanksgiving where food is a central focus. Then come the winter holidays and the parties and gatherings with cookies and candy canes, oh my! Right when you don’t think you can put one more bite in your mouth, Easter rolls around and we’re all chowing down on chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs. Even if you don’t take into account all the holidays where we eat, most of us meet up with friends and family at restaurants or some one’s house where they have cooked an elaborate feast. Our culture is CENTERED around food, and that is alright. Eating is one way we connect and share with others, and each culture has their own unique way of eating.
The problem is that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is not ideal and it isn’t making any of us healthier. The bigger problem I want to address today is how for those of us who have chosen to eat in a way contrary to the SAD, it can be difficult for us to fit in. I have experienced this many times and while it isn’t fun, I have learned how to deal with it and adapt, and want to share some of my tips and advice. Hopefully it will help those of you trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, as well as friendships and a social life.
Research and Prepare- Whenever you find that you are going to be in a situation that includes food, find out what type of food will be offered. If you are going to a restaurant, many times they will have their menu’s posted online that you can view, or call them up and ask about their menu. Check out what food they have and if they offer anything you can eat. If not, call the restaurant and ask if there is any way that a menu item can be modified to fit your eating style. Many times managers will be happy to work with you, especially if you take care of it in advance. If you are going to a party at someone’s house, talk with the host and find out what will be served. If there is nothing you can eat, offer to bring a dish to share that you can eat. NEVER demand that they change their menu just for you.
Always be kind and gracious- Ever heard the phrase you attract more bees with honey than vinegar? People will be much more willing to work with you and accommodate your needs if you approach them in a kind and gracious manner. I know that I hate to be a burden on anyone. I chose to eat a certain way, and it was not forced upon me. Therefore, I don’t expect everyone to just bend to my will and provide me with everything I need. People don’t like to be treated like short order cooks and they don’t want to be bossed around by you.
Be patient- Don’t expect everyone to understand your eating style immediately. It has taken you a long time to find the right way to eat for your body, so don’t expect others to get it the first time either. If you’re a vegetarian, don’t get frustrated if people are always asking you if you can eat this or that. If you have Celiac’s, try to stay calm when someone asks for the umpteenth time if something has gluten in it. Many times, people really are trying to be kind and learn what you can or can not have, and they are not trying to get you riled up. This was the thing that I struggled with the most, and I still do. When I first changed the way I ate, everyone was constantly asking me, “Can you eat this? Can you eat this? How about this?” I just wanted them to leave me alone and stop putting their focus on how I ate. Now I just take a deep breath, and realize they are just trying to make sure I am taken care of.
Don’t lecture- This is not the time to start lecturing people about how their diet is awful. This is not the time to become egotistical and think that your way of eating is far superior to others. Instead, think of this as a chance to enjoy other’s company and possibly educate them about how you eat. If someone approaches you and asks about how you eat, by all means tell them. Tell them how you have been trying to find the best way to eat for your body and your health and answer any questions that they might have and then move on. Don’t shove your beliefs in their face unasked and don’t judge them. Remember, you have no idea what their story is.
Enjoy yourself- This is another area that I struggled with, but I am getting better at. At family functions I would get so exhausted and frustrated with everyone asking what I would be eating, that I would never enjoy myself. I felt like everyone was watching me and judging the way I ate. I missed out on a lot of fun times by constantly getting flustered at events where there was food. Now I try to move the focus away from me and food and onto the people around me and the memories being made. I don’t worry about what others think, because I know that I feel healthier than I ever have. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and really keep yourself in the moment. You will remember the good times you had far longer than you will remember the food served at an event.
It is hard to eat different from the majority of the population. You can feel like a pretentious weirdo or burden. You can feel like it isn’t worth it to be different from everyone else, and that it would just be easier to blend in when it comes to food. When you start feeling that way, remember why you started on this journey in the first place. You wanted to get healthier, you wanted to feel better, you wanted to live in the best possible way that you could. For me, I always remember that not only do I want to be healthier, I want to help others be healthier too. You won’t always see eye to eye with others about food (or any topic for that matter) and sometimes it will be difficult. I promise you, it is all worth it!