Today’s diet trends can seem near religious, or better yet, overzealous. Wherever you go, there are throngs of proselytizers ready to convert you to their exclusive food covenant. It can feel overwhelming to navigate your own path amidst fervent friends, family members, neighbors and even total strangers, who all seem so eager to save your food-sinning soul.
Worse yet, many of the prescribed dietary plans often conflict with one another. My organic, simple-ingredient-loving friends believe all-natural foods, like heritage wheat or whole grain breads, are nutritious, while my gluten-free friends insist wheat is toxic to bodies. My paleo friends are convinced that legumes are indigestible, but my vegan friends swear by legumes as an amazing source of natural protein. High-fat, low-fat, no-carb, low-carb, all-natural vs. modified, sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around the numerous philosophies.
In a recent article, author Michael Pollan, of Cooked and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, talks about the differences between our modern food sources and what was formerly available to our Paleolithic ancestors, as well as our biological need for a variety of foods. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with many Paleo-eaters who eschew legumes, dairy and wheat for what they consider to be a more authentic human diet of nuts, vegetables, meat and some fruits.
In the same article, University of California-Davis food chemist Bruce German says, “You could not survive on wheat flour. But you can survive on bread.” This advice comes in direct conflict with what gluten-free proponents claim about the havoc wheat-based foods reek on our digestive tracts.
Now, this isn’t to pick on Paleo dieters or those who opt for gluten-free eating. The thing is, many specialized diets genuinely work for people who prescribe to their philosophies. Unfortunately, with so many different attitudes on what’s healthy, you can’t help but wonder: who’s right?
Winnie Abramson, who penned An Open Letter to Everyone Who Eats, decided that no one besides herself, and in turn, ourselves, really has the answer. In response to the slew of angry Internet comments she received after posting why the Paleo diet didn’t work for her, she writes: “Let’s be clear about something: it’s nothing personal.”
I have to say, I disagree. In fact, I think that there is nothing more personal than what you choose to eat. So personal, in fact, that it can be a major intrusion when others try to impose their own dietary restrictions upon you.
So, how do you handle the well-meaning stream of advice by the health-food philosophers in your circle of friends and acquaintances?
You’re going to have to speak up.
While this might seem intimidating, you owe it to yourself and those in your circle to be honest, and build relationships based on what’s real. If you don’t like skipping bread, or prefer to cut out meat completely, it’s perfectly okay. You might believe it’s just easier to listen (and agree) with someone than to potentially hurt their feelings. All that does is deny people the chance to know your dietary boundaries, and more importantly, who you are.
Honesty is the key to ensuring a relationship isn’t built on false expectations or facades, and that it is mutually beneficial. Think about it, aren’t you entitled to have your own opinions about food too? Of course you are. That’s part of our individuality, and that’s a good thing.
Now, being honest and telling people you don’t agree with them doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk, either.
It helps if you explain to your food gurus that you truly appreciate their enthusiasm and honest desire to show you what works for them. Let them know you understand their diet plan is important to them, and that you respect their choices.
Then, with the utmost sincerity, let them know that you prefer to explore your own path, and come to your own conclusions about what’s healthy to eat and what isn’t. Finish the talk by expressing the hope that even though you might not be members of the same dietary-regimen, you can still be friends.
From my experience, I’ve never met someone who wasn’t receptive to the message that I want to make up my own mind.
Telling someone you don’t want to follow their food rules can be difficult, but taking the steps to choose your own dietary values allows your relationships to be honest.