When you first make the switch to a whole food plant-based lifestyle, you may be surprised when you’re met with resistance from people in your life, namely friends and family.
Maybe this resistance is coming in the form of passive aggressive behavior - friends who continually offer you unhealthy foods even when you’ve repeatedly told them about your new lifestyle. Maybe you’re being more overtly challenged by an unsupportive family member who’s misinformed about the health benefits of a whole food plant-based diet and constantly threatens you with protein deficiency. Or perhaps you’re just feeling disheartened that none of your friends or family members want to change their lifestyle with you or at the very least, cook whole food plant-based meals once in a while so you can eat together.
It can be really painful and confusing when your family doesn’t support you in your healthy living path. What the heck is going on here? Shouldn't they be happy that you're getting healthier?
Well, yes...but change is hard at first. And people are complacent little being, creatures of routine! So when you make a big change, like completely overhauling our Standard American Diet, it can feel disruptive to your friends and family -- even if it’s your life that’s changing, not theirs.
When someone makes healthy lifestyle changes it can make other people feel bad about their own less than healthy habits. If your spouse, parent, sibling, friend, or child is giving you guff about your whole food plant-based life, chances are they’re feeling a little insecure.
If food is a big part of your family/friend culture, they may also feel like their traditions are being threatened by your healthy choices. Keep this in mind before you get too upset with them and try to assess whether this could be the case. They may need a friend just as badly as you do.
Humans are suckers for storytelling. It helps people connect with each other and better understand the world around us. Did you change your diet to help with a specific health problem, for weight loss, to reverse lifelong unhealthy eating habits, for better quality of life? Get specific and share the “why” behind your transition to whole food plant-based living to help your loved one may better be able to see where you’re coming from.
You can also share the challenges you’ve encountered along the way -- giving up sugar, making time to meal prep, ordering at restaurants -- to show them that getting healthier isn’t all roses. There are real hurdles in your way and the more you let them see of those hurdles, the more they may be able to understand why you need their support.
While we’re on the topic, don’t tiptoe around your needs with your unsupportive family. Communicate clearly that change is hard and you really need them to support you. Identify what support looks like for you, whether it’s just agreeing to go to a restaurant with healthy options once in a while or providing positive reinforcement. They may not realizing that their unsupportive behavior is hurtful to you.
Just as you want them to respect your whole food plant-based journey, you’ve got to respect where they’re at in their in their life. If necessary, ease their minds by explaining they don’t have to follow a whole food plant-based lifestyle to support you. This part can be tough because there may be situations, with your spouse or aging parent for example, where you really wish your loved one would change how they live their life for their health. In these instances, try leading by example rather than doling out unsolicited advice or peer pressure.
While we’re on the subject, be careful not shame them for any of their dietary choices. As we mentioned in #1, their initial resistance to your whole food plant-based life may be tied to their own insecurities. When you first immerse yourself in a whole food plant-based lifestyle you may be really excited by all the positive changes you’re experiencing and the new nutrition information you’re learning. That said, try not to make it all you ever talk about.
If someone is pressing you for more information on a whole food plant-based lifestyle, absolutely share (and have resources ready)! But it’s all about time and place. It’s best not to talk about the negative health effects of animal protein while your friends are chowing down on cheeseburgers.
In the end, you may have friends and family members still struggle to support your healthier path. While frustrating, there are places you can go to get the support you need. There are so many online support groups, especially on Facebook, and they’re filled with people who understand exactly what you’re going through as you move to a whole food plant-based lifestyle.
By Ali Brown
Ali is a nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.