Whether you are a plant-based newbie or an old pro, we can all agree that this time of year (October 31st through Super Bowl Sunday) can be tricky to navigate for plant eaters. There’s buttery, meaty, cheesy land mines at every turn, not to mention a healthy dose of adamant food pushers and heated food debates.
From “what will I eat?” to “what do I say when…?”, we get a lot of question about how we handle the holidays. Today we share our best advice for how to survive the holidays on a plant-based diet. (Disclaimer: we are using the word “survive” in a playful way. We assure you that you can enjoy the the holidays no matter what is or isn’t on your plate!)
How To Survive The Holidays On A Plant-Based Diet
Lead by example
(a.k.a. thanksgiving dinner is not the time to bring up slaughter houses or artery plaque!)
No one likes to be preached at- especially not about the food they are literally shoveling into their mouths at the very moment of your preaching, so resist the urge. We understand it can be difficult to watch your loved ones eat food that you know is hurting their bodies, the environment, and harmless animals, but shaming them will only make the situation worse. Understand that food choices are fraught with emotions, and remember how you felt before you changed your diet.
Instead of making your friends and family feel bad about their own choices, be a walking example of the positive effects of a plant-based diet. Share your reasoning, if asked, and share how you’ve benefited from changing what you eat- be it weight loss, increased energy, or changes in other health biomarkers. Exercise compassion by remembering how challenging it is to go against the “norm”, educate yourself, and change your eating habits. Avoid judging (even if people are judging you!). When they feel ready to make changes in their own lives, your non-judgment and positivity will make it easier for them to ask for your advice.
bring a one-pot dish to share
One of the biggest fears of the holiday season is “what will I eat?!” Inform the host about your food choices in advance to avoid unnecessary awkwardness or stress the day of the festivities. Explain that you don’t expect him/her to cater to you and offer to bring a plant-based dish to share. This tip is a “must” for two reasons: 1) it ensures you will have something to eat!, and 2) there is no better way to lead by example than by sharing a delicious plant-based dish. Choose a dish that can serve as a complete meal so that you feel satisfied and so that you don’t feel pressure to round out your plate with animal products. We will share some of our favorites next Wednesday, so stay tuned!
plan ahead for discussion (and be honest!)
Discussing your food choices is almost inevitable. We humans are fascinated by the “new” and “different”! Hopefully the discussion is good-natured and positive, but it might also take on a defensive or negative tone. Either way, thinking through what you might say can help ease your anxiety. People will likely ask the common nutritional questions (where do you get your protein? What about calcium?), for which you can find succinct answers on our new Plant-Based FAQ page. They will also likely ask you why. This is your opportunity to share your reasoning and resources that might have convinced you or helped you. Along with the benefits, be sure to share your struggles. It’s okay to be honest! Show your friends and family that you are truly committed to this change, and committed to working through the struggles too.
It is all too common for these discussions to turn heated (remember, food is emotional!). As tempting as it may be to put your paleo cousin in his place and pull up the Earthlings trailer on your iPhone, try to stay positive. Explain that you’d prefer to enjoy everyone’s company instead of talking about your eating habits. Suggest that holiday gatherings might not be the best time to talk about health, and offer to meet for coffee at another time if they are interested in learning more. If all else fails, it’s okay to say “I eat this way because it is the diet my doctor or dietitian and I decided is healthiest for me.” People don’t often argue with personal medical advice.
stick to your guns
While it’s best to keep it positive, that doesn’t mean compromising your eating choices to keep others happy. Just as they are entitled to eat what they want without your judgement, you are entitled to eat (or not eat) what you want without their judgement. When the food pushers in the group try to coax you into veering from your goals, stick to your guns. “No, thank you” should be the only response required, but if they persist, explain that eating a lot of animal products doesn’t make you feel well or it instantly causes your blood pressure or cholesterol to increase.
If you absolutely cannot imagine saying “No, thank you” (Aunt Ethel might just be that good at hawking her cheesy, bacony green bean casserole), then take a very small portion and take a few “gratitude bites”. We strongly believe in sticking to your guns and refusing to compromise your health for someone else’s momentary (and selfish) happiness, but we understand that gratitude bites help keep the peace.
Return to your “why”
You have a very clear reason for eating a plant-based diet, and that reason is so much bigger, deeper, and more important than any turkey dinner or Christmas cookie. In fact, that reason is probably directly or indirectly related to the people you will be celebrating the holidays with! As you navigate this food-focused time of year, continually return to your powerful “why”. Each eating decision you make is essentially one step toward or one step away from your “why”. Looking at food through this lens will help you stick to your guns and avoid faltering in the name of peer pressure or a fleeting hit of pleasure. Communicating your “why” to your loved ones is also a powerful way to convert a judgmental conversation into a supportive one.
Remember what the holidays are all about
Contrary to what pop culture wants us to believe, the core of holiday celebrations is not food (or materialism), it is love, connection, communion, and gratitude. Put these things back at the center. It’s not the turkey and stuffing we show up for, it’s the laughter, memories, and company shared with friends and family. In this context, it seems ridiculous that we would focus so intensely on what’s on our plates.
That being said, recognize that many of your own emotions and memories are wrapped up in food, friends, and family. If you make a regretful food choice during this emotionally heightened time of year, be gentle with yourself. Don’t strive for perfect, strive for better than yesterday. If you slip back into old eating habits at one meal, be grateful for a fresh opportunity to choose health at the next meal.