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How to Stick to Your Plant-Based Diet While Away From Home

Two of the biggest challenges for whole food, plant-based eaters are sticking to your plant-based lifestyle when you travel and go out to eat.

In both situations, you are eating outside of the comfort and safety of your home.

First, I want to reassure you that staying true to your plant-based lifestyle ‘outside’ the home is absolutely doable.

This summer I spent two months away from my home, visiting 4 countries and over 30 cities (including several in the Mediterranean). Despite the fact that I never even planned ahead, I still managed to eat plant-based the entire time.

In a past article, we shared some practical tips about how to handle these ‘out of the home’ eating situations. However, the challenge of eating outside the home often originates from our own deep-seated beliefs and fears rather than logistical issues.

In today’s article, I would like to discuss three specific mental blocks that may hold us back when it comes to successfully managing our plant-based lifestyle outside the privacy of our homes.

Mental Block 1: Fear of Being Inconvenient

The fear of ‘being inconvenient’ is a great concern, particularly for those who are just beginning their transition to the plant-based lifestyle.

It is an understandable fear.

You have started to eat differently, and yet you still share your table with loved ones who do not follow a plant-based diet. It is hardly surprising that this disconnect may make you feel awkward at times.

When you are invited to eat at someone’s house, you might feel a bit hesitant to call in advance to inform the host of your dietary preferences.

And then there is the problem of going to a restaurant with family or friends.

Either you select a place that offers mostly plant-based choices and you spend the entire time worried your friends and family might not like the food or be unhappy paying a lot of money to ‘just eat vegetables.’

Or you visit a ‘regular’ restaurant but everyone worries that you might not be ‘all right’ or ‘getting enough to eat.’

In both cases, you are put in a very uncomfortable position.

The awkwardness gets that much worse when you are around people you barely know, like coworkers or casual acquaintances.

I know people who travel for work and hate having to tell their hosts their dietary preferences in advance. They feel that opening with ‘special requests’ starts them off on the wrong foot with clients they are trying to impress or negotiate with.

To avoid the discomfort, they simply do not mention their preferences, in the hope they will be lucky and find something appropriate to eat. Worst case, they just go ‘vegetarian’ which means eating eggs and cheese on the road.

Mental Block 2: Fear of Being Judged

A second mental block is the fear of being judged.

This concern is particularly poignant when you are with not-so-close friends or acquaintances.

Once again, it is easy to understand why.

When you make a decision to change your lifestyle, your family and friends almost always come around to eventually support your decision, even if they might not have agreed initially.

Your close friends love you and they want what is best for you.

That same unconditional love does not apply to people you know less well.

The fear of being judged by them is much higher.

And let’s face it—we all want to feel loved and accepted by others, and we want to avoid doing anything to jeopardize that love and acceptance.

It is ironic when you think about it.

We try so hard to be individual in our lives but when it comes to our eating choices, we are often afraid to embrace our uniqueness because of this one fear.

But the inescapable truth is that no matter what we do, we WILL be judged in life.

And we need to learn to be okay with it.

Mental Block 3: Fear of Missing Out

The third mental block is the fear of missing out (lovingly called FOMO).

Unlike the first two fears which relate to how others perceive us and our choices, this last fear is related to how we view ourselves and the world around us.

When you transition to a 100 percent plant-based lifestyle, it is so easy to give into FOMO.

Just imagine: you go to a restaurant and you are surrounded by people eating a dish that used to be one of your favorites. It has a whole set of positive associations and special emotions attached to it.

You become convinced that you will ‘miss out’ on the experience if you do not eat the food.

Birthdays are a classic example of a FOMO situation. It is the day when we are especially tempted to eat ‘like we used to’ so we do not ‘miss out’ on our traditional birthday emotions.

The same fear often comes up when we travel. It is really easy to justify eating non plant-based foods by saying that it is a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience and you have no idea when or if you will ever come back.

The Key Is Our Beliefs

When it comes to tackling the ‘eating when out’ issue, the most important factor is our BELIEFS.

Let’s take travel as an example.

I love traveling in order to see other beautiful places, learn about their history and culture, listen to their language, and experience their lifestyle.

I never feel like I ‘miss out’ because I might not eat a certain food. That is because my focus is on the bigger cultural picture and experiencing daily life in a different city or country.

My memory making is independent of food (even though I completely enjoy trying local plant-based dishes everywhere I go!).

I believe that a vacation should be about recharging your energy and getting healthier at all levels—body, mind and soul. It does not make sense to me to go on vacation and also take a vacation from my health.

Simply put, I have shifted my beliefs and my mindset.

It is easy to procrastinate transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle because you are worried that an upcoming event will get in the way, whether it is a wedding, a family get-together or a cruise trip.

But I would like to suggest that you might feel that way because of your beliefs. You are convinced you will be ‘missing out’ on the experience simply because of your food choices.

These wonderful experiences do not HAVE to be focused around food—it is your belief system that is making that link.

A belief system that YOU have the power to change any time you want.

One final point that I would like to stress is that you do not have to be perfect either.

I know a lot of people who reason that “There was dairy/oil in my lunch so I might as well eat anything now since I will never be able to eat ‘right’ until I come home.”

Be gentle with yourself. And be interested in ‘progress’ rather than perfection. Do the best you can given the circumstances.

One bad meal is not enough reason to completely abandon your plant-based diet!

Feeling Comfortable Is Crucial

To change your mindset, you must first become comfortable with your choices.

Comfortable with being different and changing your beliefs about food and life experiences, one small step at a time.

To be comfortable requires practice. The more we do it, the easier it gets.

I was fine for two months on the road with zero preparation. But that is also because I have had a lot of practice.

It is okay to experience the three fears listed above.

You are on a journey, one that includes changing your diet as well as reevaluating your belief system.

The more you are aware of the fears we have discussed, the more you become free.

This is worth repeating…

With awareness comes FREEDOM.

Freedom to leave the house and be 100 percent confident that you can continue your whole food, plant-based lifestyle.

Freedom to live the best, healthiest life imaginable.

And most important of all, freedom from these fears.

Remember this advice the next time you take your plant-based journey outside your home.

Be gentle to yourself and others around you.

You will see that living healthfully is truly possible in every situation.

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.