Challenges of a Plant-Based lifestyle

We remember feeling frustrated as we navigated our way through dining out and family gatherings early in our transition. But we promise…it gets easier! In the beginning, we had a thing we called our "10% rule". While we tried our best to follow a plant-based diet (90%)…we left room for things we thought we couldn't control. A few examples: being a guest at a dinner party and seeing parmesan sprinkled on your salad….10%, eating traditional birthday cake at your sisters birthday…10%, and realizing that may be butter brushed on top of that breadstick while dining out…10%!

As time goes by, you will learn that you CAN control what you eat…100%. Until then…here are some tips to help ease the transition…

Tips for eating out

Do your research.

Finding Plant-based restaurants is much easier nowadays. You can do a simple google search or use an app/website called "Happy Cow" which lists restaurants by location - worldwide. Also consider restaurants with a specific ethnic theme. Cuisines from around the world are traditionally whole food, plant-based making it easier to find creative, delicious selections there.

Plan in advance.

Before heading out, research restaurant menus. If you did not choose the restaurant and you know your options will be limited, eat something before you go. You don't want to be starving and then eat a meal you wouldn't feel comfortable about. You can also try calling ahead to see if the restaurant will cater to your dietary preferences.

Play detective with the menu.

All menus include healthy plant foods. Scan the menu sections carefully. Even a steak house offers baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, steamed vegetables, rice, and salads. You can also ask to create your own plate from appetizers or side dish offerings.

Specify the prep method.

Since restaurants typically care mostly about taste, they add large amounts of salt, butter, and sugar. The best way to avoid these additives is to order carefully. Opt for baked, steamed, grilled (with no oil), and water sauteed, when choosing cooked foods. Try looking for fresh and raw as much as possible and ask for all sauces on the side. For salad dressings, ask for vinegar (balsamic, rice, red wine, apple cider, etc.), lemons or limes, salsa, and/or mustard.

Don't over-stress about every detail. 

Yes, it's ideal to eat whole grains and other minimally processed foods whenever possible. But if you go to a restaurant that only serves white pasta, or white rice, that's okay too. You should aim to select the best option available to you; ensure that it's plant-based, but don't worry yourself if you have to compromise a little bit when it comes to grains or dressings. However, if the food is cooked to order, we recommend that you always ask for it to be made without oil, as restaurants tend to be very heavy handed with added fats.

Tips for social gatherings/holidays

One of the most overwhelming tasks for anyone who has recently adopted a plant based diet is figuring out what to eat, and what to say, at family and social gatherings. Here are some tips to help you when dining socially with others.  

Offer to bring something along

When you are invited to a social occasion that centers around food, offer to bring a plant-based dish that everyone can enjoy. By bringing food to share, you are not only relieving the host of extra work, you're giving yourself options, as well as contributing to the meal as a whole.

Eat before you go

If you're heading to an event where plant-based options are very limited, fill up on healthy starches before you go (like whole grains and legumes). You can focus on your company and the event instead of worrying about what you can eat.  

How to approach the topic with others  

What should you do when people ask you questions, like "why won't you eat my food?" or "why are you on this diet?" or "where do you get your protein?" Whatever the question, it's always best to keep the explanation short and not get overly involved in defending your choices. Simply mention the effect that your way of eating has on your personal health, rather than making general statements or relating it to anyone else.

Expect to be asked about your food choices, and have some short-and-friendly responses ready so you can get on with enjoying your meal! Some suggestions include:

  • "It's been working really well for me, so I'm going to stick with it."

  • "I'm feeling so much better, have a lot more energy, and have noticed a lot of positive improvements to my health. I'd really like to keep doing it and see what happens."

  • "I actually really enjoy eating this way. The food is tasty, and I feel great after a meal. My stomach is thanking me too!"

  • "My doctor is happy with the effect the diet is having on my... (blood pressure, blood sugar level, weight, etc.) He/she thinks I should keep it up for the sake of my health, and I agree."  

In many instances, friends and family will have positive reactions to your decision. Some will be intrigued and want to ask you more about it. They might want to know if eating a plant-based diet would be good for their weight/mood/diabetes/heart problems. In these cases, it's fun to share resources that will give them an insightful introduction to the plant-based lifestyle. Check out our "Resources" page for meal plans, recipes, film, book and website suggestions.

Above all else, social gatherings and family meals are about enjoying the company of others. Focus on the comradery, the conversation, and the chance to be together and share a meal - even if your plates look nothing alike.