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One of the biggest questions I get is the following:

What do I do when my friends and family don’t understand my plant-based lifestyle?

How do I react when they question my nutrition?

Or tell me that maybe I should just return to the way ‘everyone else’ eats?

When it comes to eating a plant-based diet, peer pressure is a very real problem.

In fact, you should probably expect it and anticipate questions like this:

  • But where will you get your protein?
  • Are you sure you are getting enough calcium?
  • Have you checked with your doctor—are you absolutely sure this is okay?

And the inevitable…

Isn’t the human body designed to eat animal foods?

To be honest, these questions and doubts can become extremely awkward—even unbearable– in social situations. Those times at the family dinner where well-intentioned relatives gaze at your plate and simply shake their heads in dismay. Or the parties where people wonder if you are ‘getting enough to eat’. The awkward moments in the restaurants where everyone waits patiently while your meal is ‘specially’ prepared. Or the ongoing daily lifestyle dilemmas like the times you ‘feel bad’ when two separate dinners need to be prepared every night– one for you and one for ‘everyone else’.

I have personally experienced all of these issues (as have most of my plant-based peers).

But you don’t have to give in, feel guilty or bad. There is a way to stay strong with your plant-based commitment and keep your friends and family happy, too.

Here are 10 success strategies for dealing with plant-based peer pressure:

  1. Listen: Listening (instead of talking or ‘justifying’) is your best first line of defense. If you really take the time to hear the objections, it opens up communications and reduces the tension. And if someone asks a difficult question, it’s okay if you don’t have an answer. Simply say, “I think you’ve have a good point” and leave it. Later you can try to find the answer so you’re ready for the next time.
  2. Don’t preach: You might be totally excited about your new commitment to your health and the environment so it’s natural to want to share your enthusiasm with the world. That’s fine, but just be sure it’s done in a way that doesn’t criticize other people’s choices.
  3. Live the example: Just live your plant-based choice. People will see that you’re committed, that you feel (and look!) better and that you’re not wasting away from lack of protein. If you are quietly confident, don’t be surprised if they casually take you aside and start asking questions about how they can get started on a plant-based diet!
  4. Read. A lot: The more you know about plant-based nutrition, the better you’ll be able to talk about it and answer questions – if you choose to.
  5. Cook something yummy: Make a plant-based dish for family and friends so they can taste for themselves how really good it is. And how great they feel after eating it. The proof as they say really is in the (plant-based) pudding.
  6. Change your perspective: Peer pressure doesn’t have to crush you if you view it in the right way. You can view it as an intolerable burden. Or you can look at it as a positive challenge and a wonderful chance to renew your commitment to plant-based eating.
  7. Don’t try to convert: You’re not going to convert an avid hunter to your views on animal rights, so don’t try. Focus on the positive health benefits or the amazing flavor of plants but don’t swim upstream trying to change someone’s deep-seated beliefs.
  8. Don’t push: If your friends and family just can’t accept it, leave it be. Don’t try to push them into supporting you if they can’t or don’t want to.
  9. Be prepared: If you’re going out to eat with friends, try to get a look at the menu beforehand. And if you’re going to a social gathering, bring a hearty plant-based dish so you’ll have something to eat. (Just make sure you bring plenty for sharing!)
  10. Make new friends: Of course you shouldn’t just ditch your entire social circle because you made a change in your diet, but it can be helpful to make friends in the plant-based and vegan communities, too. You’ll be able to share stories, support each other and go out to eat without having to worry about it becoming a big, stressful drama.

Facing peer pressure about your plant-based choices is never easy. But the best way around that is to face it positively without trying to ‘prove’ anything.

At the end of the day your plant-based choice is a personal one. Remember the reasons why you made the plant-based choice in the first place—reasons that really should be important to you only.

Listen politely to the naysayers. If you are confident about your choice, they will soon accept it. And when they start to witness the positive changes in your life, they might even change their minds and start a plant-based journey of their own.

Rosane Oliveira, DVM, PhD

President & CEO, Plant-Based Life Foundation | Dr. Rosane Oliveira combines a lifelong passion for nutrition with 25 years of genetics research to create programs that help people develop healthy habits on their journey towards a more plant-based lifestyle. She is a Visiting Clinical Professor in Public Health Sciences and was the founding director of the first Integrative Medicine program at the UC Davis School of Medicine. She completed her postgraduate studies in Brazil and did her postdoctoral training in immunogenetics and functional genomics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.