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Ever Have Uncomfortable Conversations About Food? Read This.

by Elise Museles

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We’re sitting in a cozy corner booth at a neighborhood restaurant, catching up on our lives, forgetting to even pick up the menu.

The server comes to take our order, and we quickly glance at our options. My friend looks at me and says that she could really go for a flatbread pizza and a beer, while I’m feeling the quinoa salad and a hot cup of jasmine tea.

“Oh,” my friend winced. “So, you would never order this, would you? Is this bad?”

She felt judged (even though I wasn’t even thinking about her food). And I felt uncomfortable…for both of us.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar position?

Since eating together is a cornerstone of our culture, it’s safe to guess we’ll be sharing thousands of meals over the course of our lives. And when you eat with other people—especially if you’re ordering or preparing your own food—your meals might attract attention or commentary.

Let me save you from having this happen to you (again) with some clever, kind responses…

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Here are four situations and four scripts to help you navigate almost any awkward food conversation.

Situation:
You’re at work, and the minute you pull out your smoothie, everybody has questions and comments. “What are those little brown things?” “Why is it green?” “You don’t actually believe chia seeds have any nutritional value, do you?”

You say:
“I started adding toppings like chia seeds, bee pollen, and cacao nibs to my smoothies lately. Do you want a bite? It’s good! I was originally pretty skeptical about chia seeds, too. I thought they were just for growing chia pets! But I’ve actually found them to be really helpful. Now I eat them all the time.”

Just pleasantly, calmly (and simply!) explain what you’re eating, why you’re eating it, and offer them a taste. You don’t need to be defensive, since you’re just eating in a way that works for you and your body.

Situation:
Your child is absolutely not going to eat turkey sliders/sweet potato fries/roasted asparagus that you’ve just made for dinner. There are crossed arms. There are negative proclamations. There are even threats of starvation.

You say:
“This is how we eat at our house. I’d like it if you tried it, but I’m not going to force you.”

And then drop the subject. Sometimes the best thing you can do is refuse to engage and quietly, consistently, deliciously continue to serve vegetables and healthy food.

Even when we think they’re not listening or watching (and even when they’re rolling their eyes), our children are absorbing everything we do. They see us happily eating fruits and veggies. They see us brimming with health and energy. And when they think about their mom’s home cooking, they’ll likely think of those turkey sliders.

Situation:
You’re at a big family event and there are hardly any plant-based options. You’re trying to discretely eat around the meat when your cousin asks why you’re picking at your food.

You say:
“Oh, I’m just trying to do what’s best for my body right now. We’ve all got different dietary needs, right? I never thought I’d give up eating so much meat, but my body just feels a lot better without it. Of course, there are lots of people who need more animal protein to function, but I’m just not one of those people.”

Sometimes, it’s easier to have these conversations when you separate your body’s needs from your needs. People won’t feel as defensive (or feel like it’s a personal assault) if you explain your decision in biological terms.

Situation:
You’ve been craving a good dose of chocolate for the last few hours and this cafe around the corner makes a great mousse. But when you order, your friend side eyes you and starts talking about refined sugars and dairy.

You say:
“As weird as it sounds, chocolate mousse is actually part of my plan. I’ve found it’s a lot easier for me to eat healthily in a long-term, sustainable way when I make space for a few bites of delicious decadence. Otherwise, I’m so much more likely to really fall off the wagon and eat a whole pizza or a pint of dulce de leche ice cream. Do you want a taste?”

When you can calmly, confidently explain why you’re ordering dessert, your friends are a lot more likely to get on board—and realize that planned splurges can be part of any balanced diet.

Use these scripts (or versions of your own) whenever potentially awkward food conversations arise. You’ll stay true to yourself and offer up healthy alternatives to those who just may be curious enough to try them!

What are some situations where you wish you had a script to respond to food commentary? Tell me about your uncomfortable conversations in the comments, and I’ll do my best to help!

21 Responses to Ever Have Uncomfortable Conversations About Food? Read This.

  1. Elizabeth February 26, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    Great advice. I can definitely relate to this!

    • Elise Museles February 26, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

      Thanks, Elizabeth. Glad you can relate. xxx

  2. Jenny February 26, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    Love your suggestions! Here in california it seems everyone has a different diet so people don’t make such a big deal out of big differences. As more people have these conversations the easier it is for everyone! The key – as you point out – is everyone gets to nurture their own body differently!

    • Elise Museles February 26, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

      Hi Jenny! You’re so lucky to live in a place where people honor our individual dietary needs. Love the way you summarized it. Thank you for sharing here…always insightful. xxx

  3. Tara February 26, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

    Amazing piece. Thank you for sharing. Tucking away in my back pocket for next time a little awkward moment arises!

    • Elise Museles February 26, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

      Thanks, Tara! I’m happy that you are armed & ready for the next time:-).

  4. Samantha February 27, 2015 at 12:39 am #

    This is such a good post! I so often feel awkward when people ask me about my food or why I’ve taken the bun off my burger. Especially when they find out I’m training to be a health coach, they make comments that quite clearly show they worry I’m judging their choices. I just try to be supportive and express the ‘every body has different needs’ approach 🙂

  5. Michelle February 28, 2015 at 6:04 am #

    This is really helpful. I’m wondering what you might say in response to the initial situation you brought up, in which your friend ordered the flatbread. Oftentimes I think I accidentally make my friends feel guilty about their food choices when I choose something healthy, even though I make no comments about what either of us are choosing to eat. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Elise Museles February 28, 2015 at 4:39 pm #

      Hi Michelle! This situation is probably pretty common when friends (especially women) go out to eat together. I would let your friend know that you are not judging here at all, and that we all have different needs. I would then turn it back to her and say that she is the one who needs to feel good about her choices…and you’re just excited to enjoy your meal together! Then focus on how happy you are to spend time in person and not make it about the food. Hope this helps.

  6. Karen Yankovich March 1, 2015 at 12:53 am #

    This is such a great conversation to have! I’ve been on both sides of that conversation 🙂

    Love the suggestions!

  7. Anne Omland March 3, 2015 at 11:34 pm #

    Love this, Elise! I can totally relate to that first scenario you mentioned. It can be uncomfortable! These are great tips- I especially love the one about the meat and following your own plan. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  8. Reena December 9, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    I love this post! First of all, in this era where I feel like I’m seeing more and more lists like “Fifteen things to never say to a vegetarian” (which are totally pointless because the people who would say those things would never read the list) these are actual tools to help facilitate conversation among well-intentioned people with different attitudes about food.

    When I became a vegetarian 6 years ago, my hugest concern wasn’t that I wouldn’t be able to give up meat, or how to get enough protein. It was that people would think I was being difficult or judging their choices. Admittedly I am the kind of person who will order the unhealthy thing at restaurants just to avoid that conversation. I’m working on it, and this helps a lot.

    As much as we need healthy food, we really need healthier conversations around food. Thank you for starting this conversation.

    • Elise Museles December 10, 2015 at 1:14 am #

      Reena! You always add so much value to the conversation here. I love your perspective & insights. Plus, I agree with you that beyond healthy food, our dialogues need to be healthy as well. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Samantha @ Startup Housewife December 11, 2015 at 11:07 pm #

    This is great advice! Thank you for the timely post, especially as we run up to the season of indulgence and then resolutions!

    • Elise Museles December 12, 2015 at 12:57 am #

      Hi Samantha! I am so glad that this resonated with you. It’s especially helpful this time of year for sure. Happy holidays!

  10. Tangie August 21, 2016 at 3:31 am #

    What a plsaeure to meet someone who thinks so clearly

  11. jasmine December 22, 2016 at 2:57 am #

    Loved this post! Any advice for responding to people who ask you why you don’t eat “normal” foods (red meat, dairy etc)? Specifically any way to get your point across that it is not about the calories at all, rather the way the food makes us feel? Sometimes feel lame when saying that

    • Elise Museles December 22, 2016 at 4:17 am #

      Hi Jasmine! I understand what you mean. It is hard to explain the concept of listening to your body to people who have a different mindset. You could say that you have tried so many different eating styles and followed the different trends. Then explain that after all the experimentation, you found a much easier approach and that is to trust that your body knows what is right for you. Since we are all unique, you really believe that it makes the most sense sense! Then ask them what works best for them:).

      Let me know how it goes!

  12. Kendall Rivera December 22, 2016 at 4:07 am #

    I’ve had a couple of awkward encounters myself. I’m so glad you posted this right before Christmas time because that’s when I get the most questions. I learned a lot from this. Thank you love!!!

    • Elise Museles December 22, 2016 at 4:18 am #

      You are so welcome, Kendall! I know this time of year can be the most challenging for people with so many shared meals. I hope that you continue to make the choices that are best for you! xo

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