Your Alternative Diet And Your Social Life: How to Eat What You Want In Public Without Feeling Like a Freak

I sometimes feel self-conscious about popping probiotics at a restaurant dinner table, or worry about appearing high-maintenance when ordering a side of kale to go with my side of squash.
Publish date:
August 28, 2014
health, etiquette, diet

Last fall, I wrote about the incredible power of green smoothies -- how they cured my menstrual woes; created a minor-to-moderate obsession with poop; and overall, changed my life for the better. As a writer who finds it therapeutic to share intimate details of her life. I couldn’t have asked for a better response. So thank you for that.

But I’ll keep it 100 with you -- it’s easy to tip back a kale smoothie and sprinkle nutritional yeast on a salad (not to mention unleash the very potent stench of nutritional yeast) while in the comfort of your apartment, where your roommate is accustomed to watching you down shots of apple cider vinegar. Or, pretty much anywhere in southern California, lucky bastards.

It’s another to eat a meal ahead of a date because you’re not sure if the restaurant you’re going to will cater to your dietary needs; order Pellegrino in the company of people who remember the days when you swilled bourbon like a boss; or decline a piece of birthday/wedding/baby shower cake while the cake cutter urges you to take at least a bite -- just one bite! -- and stares at you suspiciously.

Peer pressure, my friends, is a slippery slope, and is exacerbated by lingering insecurities and self-consciousness that can make any health crusader feel like a freak.

Which is why I’ve put together a quick list of ways I’ve gotten through some tricky social situations -- first dates, parties, and even riding the subway next to a woman who declared my smoothie “Gross” and edged away from me -- while staying committed to what lots of people deem an alternative lifestyle.

First things first: Own your sh*t.

Or, as my favorite yoga teacher would say, find comfort in discomfort.

As an example, my produce spend has tripled in size since my PB, or pre-blender, days. My income, however, has not tripled in size. Which means I’ve had to institute tradeoffs in order to bankroll my healthier lifestyle.

Pedicures, part of my maintenance plan, are now stretched out to every six weeks, or done at home. I have a budget for yoga, but no longer have a budget for (or even really go to) brunch, which means I’ve got to go out of my way to see friends who usually bond over eggs Benedict. And I rarely drink, a cost- and mental-health-saving measure which has paved the way for plenty of interesting first (and last) dates.

When your priorities shift, it can feel like you’re losing part of your identity (I used to write really well hungover, oddly enough). Over time, though, it’s just part of who you are, no explanation necessary.

And about that: Stop explaining.

If you’ve passed on the champagne toast at a wedding, the stranger sitting next to you likely doesn’t care, much less wants to know, about your recent liver cleanse, or what a liver cleanse entails. Believe me: There are plenty of others who do want to know more (we’ll get to them in a minute) — but like people who can’t shut up about their kids, there are people who can’t shut up about their Breville juicers. And it’s annoying as hell. (Am I being a hypocrite right now? Perhaps. I’ll ignore that and continue on.)

The point is, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your choices, and offering reasons for why you’re opting out of a social norm can make you feel more ostracized. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t feel proud or happy about putting your needs first, or that you shouldn't stick up for yourself (as I have with doctors who’ve insisted I give conventional medicine another go, or with concerned family members who prod about whether I’m getting enough protein). Allowing your decisions to be what they are just feels a lot better than getting defensive about them, which means, sometimes, you’ve got to STFU, smile politely, and let it go.

Use the buddy system.

But frankly, it feels good to know you’ve got people in your corner — people who understand, embrace, and support your mission. Like work friends, friends who’ll go dancing with you, and friends who are good to travel with, there are health friends: people who’ll enthusiastically talk with you about infrared saunas, rejuvelac, and kombucha -- so much goddamn kombucha -- without rolling their eyes. These are the people you can brag to about skipping a champagne toast, if you’re so inclined.

You can find these people in the aisles at Whole Foods, camped out amidst in your inner circle (it might take a bit of prying to get them to "come out" too) or even online in the communities spurred by wellness pioneers like Kris Carr, Jess Ainscough and my idol Kimberly Snyder.

Mine comes in the form of a friend I’ve had since childhood who now lives in Chicago, and who, among her other lovely qualities, cheered me on across the miles when I attempted my first cleanse this spring.

It’s not that health stuff is the only thing we ever talk about; it’s just nice to know that we can if we want to. And, it’s not that you can’t still be friends with people who chain smoke Camel Lights or will happily take the tequila shot you said "no" to. Healthy lifestyle choices don't make you better than anyone else. Pick your battles accordingly, instead of trying to convert every person you know into a juice fanatic. (Believe me: Many people will come around on their own terms.)

Eat ahead of time

This is a somewhat tactical step, but it’s also practical: One of the best ways to ensure you’ll be satisfied when venturing into the dining unknown is to eat ahead of time. You could argue that it ruins the experience of sharing a meal, but when you break it down, it’s the time you spend with that person, whether it’s a romantic prospect, a pal, or family member, that helps you connect, not the food. The food is there for nourishment.

It can feel kind of awkward to say no when your date offers you a bite of his tiramisu, or having to flag down a waiter to request a specially-prepared salad (and yes, lots of restaurants will let you order off the menu; all you have to do is ask nicely), but when you consider the alternative -- spending lots of time in the bathroom, or feeling off-kilter --having a contingency plan, like a snack, is a no-brainer.

Heart your family.

You can choose your food, and you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family -- especially if they cook as a way to express their love.

I’m being somewhat specific here: My mother is known to send my sister and I home with shopping bags full of food, even when we raise our arms in protest, citing full refrigerators. I know I’m not alone. As I mentioned in my previous article, my mom describes my morning smoothie as “an expensive way to have breakfast,” and at 62, I doubt she’ll change her mind.

Instead of fighting with her, or trying to get her to see my side, I shrug it off, and accept her offering (not that I have a choice), even if I wind up passing up them on to someone in need. If anything, I feel thankful to have a family that values generosity, and thankful to be an adult, (mostly) in charge of my life.

Do I still, sometimes, feel self-conscious about popping probiotics at a restaurant dinner table, or worry about appearing high-maintenance when I wind up ordering a side of kale to go with my side of squash? Sure. Have I ever screwed up along the way, and given into decadent food, a panic attack about where my life is headed, or skirted by on a few hours of sleep because I stayed out too late the night before? You betcha. But then I get over it, and I get back on track. Because there’s one thing I wouldn’t do, and that’s trade my health in exchange for fitting in (which, if you think about it, is an illusion in itself).