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I do a lot of writing on this blog about physiological issues for women on the paleo diet, but as it turns out, social issues can be just as – if not even more! – important.
Being paleo at a dinner party or out at a restaurant can be a big, anxious mess, if you don’t do it right, especially at the holidays! Trust me, I’ve been there… fretting, ripping a napkin apart in a corner, worrying about making my host unhappy when I tell her I can’t eat the teriyaki pork.
Also, feeling very hungry the whole time.
So I’ve done it a lot, and I’ve picked up some tips along the way. Here’s what I’ve got so far as tips are concerned. If you have your own input – I’d love to hear it in the comments!
1. If a potluck, bring something you can eat.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but bringing your own dish is a wonderful way for you to meet your own dining needs at a dinner party – whatever they may be.
If you anticipate that you won’t be able to eat much of anybody else’s food, try and see if you can prepare one of the main dishes like a pot roast. If you can’t or choose not to do that, perhaps you can bring a protein-rich dish for a side like a chicken stir fry or lamb kebobs.
2. If not a potluck, still bring something you can eat!
Every host loves a guest who will contribute! Admittedly, there may be some occasions in which bringing a dish is inappropriate (like a wedding), but on most occasions I think a host would be more than happy to add a dish to her table!
And you don’t need to be like “hey I’m bringing a healthy entree, unlike all that other crap you’re serving.”
You could instead say something along the lines of “I’ve been experimenting with this great pork recipe… would you like a hand with dinner? I’d love to bring some!”
This is a lovely way to be nice to other people while also making sure you get properly fed.
3. Don’t go expecting to eat everything
If you are at a party and only 10% of the people are “paleo” or what-have-you, you can reasonably expect 10% of the dishes to suit your needs.
I know that doesn’t sound particularly awesome, but the point I want to make is that it is a bit unfair to expect the party to revolve around your needs when everybody’s elses are so different. Would you want 100% of the dishes at a party to be vegetarian if there were one vegetarian?
Well, maybe. I might.
But not everyone in the world is as accommodating as you and I. 🙂
So lower your expectations on the variety of food you are going to be able to eat. Of course, entirely depending upon the situation, you could expect that your host would want to make most or everything edible to you… yet in other situations (like a potluck) that’s just unreasonable.
Tailor your eating expectations to the specific event and people, and then move on from there.
4. If the host inquires about food allergies, tell them!
If your host wants to know about allergies, tell them about your issues. If what you struggle with is not a specific allergy – say, perhaps you think you are gluten intolerant, or you get acne from dairy – then tell your host that you still can’t eat that food. You can even explain why.
Honesty is really the best. Everyone’s heard of a peanut allergy, but no one has heard of people being allergic to potassium. Yet I can’t eat potassium! So I always give a little mini-explanation about my kidney problems. The more you can relate about why you avoid a certain food, for a specific health reason, the more understanding everyone will be.
5. When telling your host about your issues, make it clear you don’t want to impose.
When I tell people about my potassium issues, I never demand that broccoli be taken off the menu.
Of course, I will sometimes make it clear that I would be grateful if I could have something to eat – because I would definitely be grateful! – but I prefer to consider that a delightful surprise rather than an expected demand.
I will say to a host “yes, I could eat a dish that was all vegetables but no green ones, and I would love that, but please don’t worry about cooking so many dishes to my tough specifications.”
They normally really love how thoughtful I am being, and will respond by assuring me that at least a few dishes will be made.
And that will make both of us feel respected and safe and happy.
6. DON’T PROSELYTIZE.
This is far and away the most important point I am going to make here.
Diet, these days, is the new religion and politics. Everyone has a strong opinion in some regard. Friendly discussion on the finer points of smoking pork can become a heated argument about the ethics of meat consumption in mere seconds. Mentioning butter can bring up the saturated fat debate. Sweet potato fries can get people arguing about low carb diets.
It’s all very serious and sensitive and intense, and in my personal opinion, if you have an opinion, it is best, nowadays, to keep it to yourself.
If you start to preach paleo at a dinner party, people will feel judged, defensive, and alienated. They’ll feel condemned. They may walk away from the party remembering you as that jerk who couldn’t shut up about paleo. This is absolutely the opposite of what you want to happen.
The way that I do this is by simply keeping to myself. If people ask me about why I am avoiding a particular food or what-not, I will tell them about the personal choice I am making for my health. I don’t preach paleo, but I talk about my own needs and how I meet them.
Here are some examples:
“Wheat doesn’t really agree with me most of the time, so I am going to steer clear of the bread just in case.” “I have a kidney issue, so I need to be careful with how many greeens I eat.” “Dairy gives me acne, and I am so vain, so I tend to avoid it at all costs.”
If people get pushy, just insist that it’s a personal thing you are doing, at no affront to them.
And if people ask, well, then you can talk about paleo all you like.
I just wouldn’t start in on it first, without making sure that I were being super careful with my language – using opinion phrases such as “I think” instead of truth phrases like “this is right,” and not stepping on anyone’s toes.
Then you can go ahead and fight about Donald Trump all you want. 🙂