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T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
8 Tips to Be Plant-Based When Your Spouse Is Not

So you switched to a plant-based diet. You did your research. You watched one of the documentaries like Forks Over Knives or What the Health. You read articles and studies showing that a whole food, plant-based diet can reverse chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. Something clicked. You got jazzed up about the health and environmental benefits. You gave eating this way a shot and quickly found a new level of energy, your blood pressure went down, and your clothes started to fit you differently. You feel great! You want to tell everyone you know to leave the Standard American Diet in the dust and fill their plate with whole food, plant-based meals instead. It’s the right thing to do—better for you, better for the planet. It makes total sense to make this change. Of course!

Take a few minutes with a pen and paper and make a list of all the plant-based foods that your family already eats as a part of your normal meal rotation.

But…your family is not on board with this plan. Your spouse says they are a meat eater, always have been, always will be. And cheese—well that’s just just a part of life. By the way, coffee isn’t coffee without half and half. And what about Thanksgiving?

So what’s a new plant eater to do? Force a whole food, plant-based diet on their unwilling spouse? Probably not. Instead, here are some tips for staying plant-based when your spouse is not:

1. Attraction Not Promotion
Remember meeting that vocal vegan at the dinner party who made you cringe? You don’t want to be that person. As you continue eating this way you will feel better, get healthier, and have more energy. Be the good example of why it matters to eat this way. Show, don’t tell.

2. See Clearly (They May Already Be Over 50% Plant-Based)
Our emotions can often overwhelm our rational thoughts. We can feel very emotional when our partner doesn’t fully support our new lifestyle. One tactic is to see the current situation as clearly as you can. Take a few minutes with a pen and paper and make a list of all the plant-based foods that your family already eats as a part of your normal meal rotation: oatmeal, whole grain toast, PB&J, bananas, grapes, apples, pasta, grilled veggies, baked potato, a big salad, tea. And then list the items that are easily shared with or without meat or dairy; meals like black bean burritos, tacos, stir fry, potato hash, soups, and spaghetti.

When you look at the list you’ll notice not everything your family eats contains meat or dairy. Now you have something to build upon. When you make a meal, serve more of these items, and it will feel familiar to your family.

3. Remember Your Own Journey
It wasn’t that long ago when you were also eating the Standard American Diet. Think about what made you make the shift. Have compassion for your younger self who didn’t have the information you now have about eating a whole food, plant-based diet. And have this same compassion for your spouse. Remember: having a vegan preach at you would not have helped your younger self. Food is a core part of who we are, how we celebrate, and how we connect to our families and our ethnic history. And there are mixed messages out there about what is healthy. Even doctors have differences of opinions. Your own journey to a whole food, plant-based diet was tangled up in all of these issues and it helps to remember we all are on our own path.

4. Love and Connection Matter Most
You know that love is what matters most. Keep the diet issues light-hearted. Stay joyous and laugh more. Getting into arguments about food is never a good idea and it never gets us to where we want to be. Don’t fight; connect instead. And listen. What are the concerns and fears and world views that go with the decision not to join you in a whole food, plant-based diet?

5. Have Resources Ready
Dr. Campbell’s and Dr. Greger’s, are great resources to get the answer to the old “where do you get your protein” question—and the other things folks often ask when you change your diet. Only provide the data when someone questions you. Don’t offer it (remember, no preaching!). Keep your answers light but know your facts. Also, try to avoid getting into these conversations in the middle of a meal. People tend to be a lot less receptive to hearing about what’s wrong with their food when they’re actively engaged in eating it. If they seem genuinely interested, you might say, “I don’t want to spoil your dinner. If you’re interested, remind me later and I’ll give you some information.” This is also a great way to avoid a pointless debate with your obstinate uncle who just wants to argue.

6. Change is a Collection of Small Steps
Change is hard. It often feels like two steps forward and one step back. It helps to remember that all big changes are actually a collection of small changes. Or as a boxer friend always says, “the way to win a match is bunches of punches.” What little thing can you do today?

7. Connect with Other Plant-Based Folks
You are not alone. There are tons of online resources for connecting with others who have also switched to a whole food, plant-based diet with or without their family members on board. Look for Facebook groups, local potlucks, and other plant-based gatherings. Or start a group of your own.

8. Share Delicious Plant-Based Food
Take it as a personal challenge to make plant-based meals that stand on their own—one that doesn’t prompt anyone to ask “where’s the meat?” Serving a lentil-based shepherd’s pie to a group of friends and having no one make a comment other than “that was delicious” is a win. Also, when cooking for a group of omnivores, stick to recipes you know and love. If you do make something that turns out to be a dud, have a sense of humor about it. Try recipes from your favorite plant-based sites or order from companies like MamaSezz and have the food delivered right to your door, ready to heat-and-eat.

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