So you’ve committed to a restrictive diet that will improve the health of you or your child. Congratulations! Among the many adjustments you’ll make, one of them doesn’t have much to do with food at all. I’m talking about manners.
You had manners before, but now they’re going to come in real handy – that is if you want buy-in on your diet from the people around you. And believe me, you are going to want buy-in.
I’d like to say that it doesn’t matter what other people think, and that you can do this diet while bravely bucking the social norm and opinions of people around you. You could, but you would be more likely to burn out and quit.
I don’t know about all y’all, but when I set out to do something my goal is to succeed. Building a community of supporters is a good way to make that happen. And getting buy-in is all about making the right PR moves:
1. Recognize that your diet is your problem and NO ONE ELSE’S
In this age of entitlement, sometimes we forget that we need to own our issues. Let me break down the relationship between you and everyone else in regards to your diet.
You: Manage and implement the diet
Everyone else: Respect your decisions and choices
Notice how I didn’t mention it was everyone else’s job to help you stick to your diet.
The summer before my son’s diagnosis we entered the prestigious world of youth soccer. When the coaches brought up weekly snack responsibilities, a previously scarce mother came flying out of nowhere to tell everyone that her son had food allergies, so we had to bring a certain type of snack or else he couldn’t have it.
While I was shopping for snacks, I couldn’t help but wonder why this was my problem. I obliged because I didn’t want the poor little guy to suffer the painful, long-lasting emotional damage of not getting a snack after soccer (I also hoped to God that none of the other teammates had a conflicting allergy). The next time I saw the child I had to fight back some feelings of negativity toward him. The feelings were irrational – it wasn’t his fault that he had allergies or that his mother made her son’s well-being everyone else’s problem. But the experience did unfortunately shape my view of the child. Are you setting your child up for success by imposing their problems on other people? Probably not.
Now that my own son is on a restricted diet, do you know what I do? I bring a snack from home, because I take care of my own problems.
2. Come prepared
This is similar to the idea of not making other people deal with your issues. When you visit people at their house, communicate that you or your child have complicated dietary concerns and that you’ve brought food so you won’t burden them. Make sure they understand that you’re not trying to avoid their cooking! 🙂
I was a bridesmaid at a non-traditional wedding reception/backyard barbecue. A guest approached the bride and (loudly) told her she was vegan, couldn’t have the burgers on the menu, and asked if the bride had anything else. As my bridesmaidly duty, I swooped in and offered to leave the party to pick up some Boca Burgers that were off-site in someone’s freezer. Later on I wondered, did this chicky forget she was vegan before she came to the wedding? When it comes to special diets, you are in the minority. Don’t expect people to carry diet alternatives for you, they have their own things to take care of.
This means you’ll have to do a bunch of preparing and food schlepping. Welcome to restrictive diets. It’s your deal, and you gotta own it.
3. Appreciate other people’s efforts when they try
Every once in a while you get that jewel of a relative or close friend who wants to understand your dietary concerns and help out. Luckily for me, a lot of my relatives have been supportive. I try to thank them every time they make a decision that benefits my child. Here’s why: 1) because I truly appreciate it! and 2). They are more likely to continue to show support if their efforts are recognized.
Example: my sister could have brought some sausage for a family luncheon, but she remembered my son needed to avoid nitrites so she didn’t. Her reasoning was that she didn’t want him to feel left out while everyone else was eating it. How considerate!
Also, if someone is trying to help and they make a mistake, don’t beat them up over it. You don’t have to deviate from your diet to make them happy, but make sure they understand you appreciate their efforts even when they forget something. They’re trying, and that’s awesome!!
4. Don’t be wishy-washy
If you want people to respect your decision to go on a restrictive diet, you need to stick to it. If they perceive it to be an arbitrary effort, they won’t see a serious need to be supportive. Sure, there are times that you behave long enough to deviate a bit on a treat, but friends and relatives should understand that (especially if you explain the concept to them). What I’m talking about is the half-hearted effort of a person who is off their diet about as often as they are on it.
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Once you’ve ensured that you aren’t the one suffering from an entitlement complex, what do you do about people who don’t respect your decisions and choices? This is when the tables have turned, and others feel entitled to have an opinion or say in your personal business. Chances are that if they can’t respect your dietary choices, they won’t respect much else. Do you really need to maintain that kind of relationship? It’s harsh, but hey, this is essentially a blog about mental health :-).