Dear Jewish Food Hero:
I am a 40-year-old woman and 5 months ago I started eating more plant-based foods.
Within 30 days, I had lost the 8 pounds I struggled to lose for the past three years. My body morphed from a sort of lumpy, bloated, swollen appearance to sleek and lean. I was getting a glimpse of what my younger body once looked like. My chronic bloating completely resolved.
I felt calmer, more in control of my thoughts and actions.
In month two, my body continued to lean even though I reduced my exercise routine (it was a bit obsessive). My skin felt soft and appeared clear and glowing. Again, something I hadn’t seen for years. My friends took quick notice, complementing me on my appearance and how I seemed happier.
Every month I continue seeing positive physical results. This experience means more to be than just the physical improvements. I simply feel amazing inside too. I am not only nourishing my body but my whole life. I am more gentle and loving with myself: the way I move my body, the way I think and speak and the way I feed myself.
The only surprise has been how my family and friends have responded. At first, they took quick notice, complimenting me on my appearance. This slowly shifted into something else: aggressive questioning, backhanded compliments, remarks, and watching intently what I eat (and don’t eat).
They say things like:
“Have you eaten enough?”
“You need more protein.”
“What, are you vegan now?”
“Just eat some!” (referring to dairy products or meat)
Up until a few weeks ago, I was focused on responding positively to my friends’ questions and comments. Lately, I am feeling annoyed and tired of the comments and questions. I am surprised to find myself “hiding” my meals and what I am eating to avoid predictable negative responses from family and friends.
What is the best way to respond to these negative reactions to my plant-based lifestyle?
Dear Mature and Radiant Woman, USA
It sounds like you are taking such good care of yourself and that eating plant-based foods is giving you back your body and peace of mind.
After I read your question I felt sadness. Instead of supporting you, the people closest to you are being unsupportive.
The statements and behaviors you describe are “passive-aggressive”
Good to know: Passive-aggression is an intentional or veiled indirect way of expressing feelings of anger.
It sounds like your change in eating habits (and how this has impacted your overall lifestyle choices and demeanor) is making your family and friends uncomfortable. Food choices and changes touch on issues of dependency, control and competition (among other emotional issues).
Passive-aggressive expressions are a common way that people deal with anger, hostility, and resentment. Passive-aggression is a strategy used when a person feels powerless and fears “being dominated” by another.
What could be happening (but isn’t): Your family and friends could speak with you directly about their feelings. For example: “You know, you really look great and you seem so happy and I find myself feeling so uncomfortable with your food choices. I feel jealous/angry/sad.”
Most of us do not have the courage and/or training to speak directly about our emotions, even with people with whom we are close.
Often when we begin eating a plant-based diet (or doing anything outside of the majority) there is a risk that our friends and family will not support us. The worst part about this is sometimes we misunderstand this negativity as proof that something is wrong with us. We start to judge/blame ourselves as being “extreme,” “controlling” and/or “difficult.” It is easy to feel like you are doing something wrong when people are giving negative feedback.
Your Relationship With Yourself Comes First
First and foremost, stay positive and clear with yourself. There is a risk that you might locate “the problem” within yourself and punish yourself through isolation (i.e. eating alone) and or feel ashamed about your food preferences and eating habits. See the situation for what it is: You have made changes that are positively affecting you and the people in your life feel uncomfortable and are acting out in word and behavior.
As a woman, you were probably raised—or received messages from society—to maintain harmony around food.
- We’re trained to say “yes” all the time, even if it’s not an authentic “yes.”
- We’re taught to smooth the eating experience for others.
- We’ve been socialized to worry about other people’s judgment of our actions instead of what is best for us.
Possible response pathways to gain their cooperation while increasing your own confidence and composure.
Pathway 1: Time
Perhaps your friends and family will drop this negative strategy as time passes. As you consistently keep on your course reaping the benefits of your food choices, they will see that their negativity is not impacting you. If you choose this route be mindful not to take the “bait” and engage in food battles. Stay assertive when you speak about your food choices and when you eat. When friends and family start asking me loaded technical questions about plant-based eating, I refer them to this book to both help them understand to disengage from the food debate.
Pathway 2: Direct
At any time, you can address the issue head-on. Perhaps, being brave and naming the elephant in the room will allow your friends and family to express their hostility directly and then they will stop being passive-aggressive. If doing this in person does not feel right, you can try writing a letter (here is a fill-in-the-blank template that might help you get started). When you speak (or write) describe how you feel using “I” statements to cultivate understanding and empathy.
Pathway 3: Withdraw
Sometimes it is not possible to process emotional dynamics with people close to us because of a lack of interest or self-awareness (or both). Some people are not interested in changing even when they are hurting others. If this is the case, make a conscious decision to kindly “withdraw” emotionally to a point of safety. This withdrawal is not one arising from anger but rather from clarity. Better to withdraw to a safe and perhaps more superficial relationship to preserve your own emotional energy and goodwill.
I believe that you can be kind to others while not adjusting so far that you make your own food needs and preferences unimportant.
I am in hopes that you continue to see physical and emotional/mental benefits from your choice to eat plant-based foods. Keep going. You are a mature and radiant woman.
To Your Health,
Jewish Food Hero