I'm not on this diet to alienate you, I promise!
October 24, 2013 8:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm on a diet that many (most) people would consider very restrictive if not downright odd. It's for health reasons, though I don't have any visible health or weight issues. I'm going to be spending several days with my boyfriend visiting his family over the holidays, and I'm dreading trying to navigate the weird food issues that will likely arise. If you are on a specific diet, how do you get around not eating various things that people are expected to eat (especially around the holidays)?

I'm basically on the Bill Clinton diet--a whole foods, vegan diet with very few grains, no oils, no salt and no sugar. So, I can eat beans, veg, fruit and nuts. It sounds crazy-restrictive, but it's not; at least, not when I'm eating at home. I'm very happy on this diet, get plenty to eat, and feel physically and emotionally healthier than I have in, like, ever.

My boyfriend's family has a holiday tradition, though, of eating one meal at a country club, where the dishes consist of meat, gravy, biscuits, sugar- and oil-laden side dishes, etc. If a salad is served, it consists of iceberg lettuce and perhaps a few slivers of carrot. I have partaken of this meal in past years, and it left me in a carb-induced fog for the rest of the day (not pleasant, especially not when trying to interact and be chipper among a bunch of my boyfriend's relatives).

There is also usually at least one meal served at a family member's home, where the homemade desserts are brought out and passed around with an insistence that everyone have a piece.

At an occasion earlier this fall, I ate a baked potato that had been brushed in oil and then spent the rest of the evening in an increasing state of digestive distress. I shudder to think what a whole meal of stuff I'm not accustomed to would do to me. The holidays are sort of stressful for me as it is, because my idea of a perfect holiday is one spent alone in my pajamas watching old MST3K episodes. I also think that my boyfriend's family finds me a little "unusual" as it is--I'm not thinking my announcing that I no longer eat meat, dairy, eggs, flour, sugar, oil or salt would go over too well. I'm perfectly happy to eat store-bought beans and veggies at the B&B we're staying at, and then at big family events just discreetly nibble on salad or crudités--but I'm sure someone will notice and insist I'm not getting enough to eat.

Is there a graceful way to handle this? I'm youngish and not obviously ill or suffering, so it's not like I can claim that I have to follow this diet to keep my cancer or heart disease at bay (not yet, anyway). I don't want to spend the holidays alienating people, but nor do I want to spend them huddled up in the bathroom.
posted by whistle pig to Human Relations (50 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Could you claim that you're on an "elimination diet", the sort intended to detect allergies by excluding every possible allergen for a few months and then re-incorporating them one by one?
posted by XMLicious at 8:13 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is the duty of your bf to speak with his parents in advance and give them a heads up that you are are a special medically called for diet and if you decline something they should take nothing from it other than you are not eating it based on doctors/nutritionist's orders.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:16 PM on October 24, 2013 [60 favorites]

People are likeliest to notice what you're eating at the serving phase of things; could you make a point of putting small amounts of various forbidden foods on your plate, then stick close to your boyfriend and have him discreetly finish off most of what you haven't eaten? If somebody notices, you can pass it off as a cute couple thing: "Oh, he always cleans my plate! Waste not, want not!"
posted by Bardolph at 8:16 PM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: So many people are so aware of their food issues right now that saying that you have specific restrictions in diet should be enough for the family. If you could bring your own food and say that it's what's necessary, that sometimes also carries more weight.

Also, I've found (with my nieces, who are extraordinarily restricted in their food intake) that if you say what the host/ess can make for you, they're generally pretty accommodating. As long as they can give you something that makes them feel like they're feeding you, people are generally happy to accommodate you.
posted by xingcat at 8:17 PM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I follow a diet that is restricted, for religious reasons. Our teaching is that it is a greater sin to be ungracious towards another's hospitality than it would be to break from the restricted diet, so in cases where the social situation calls for me to deviate or else call attention to myself or be ungracious towards hospitality, I will break the diet. Refusing hospitality is kind of a Big Deal for us, and I see that concern to some extent in your question. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that breaking the diet is an option for you.

But, many traditions call for their dietary restrictions to be kept (almost) no matter what. So, you could say that your diet is restricted for spiritual/religious reasons. Most people will respect that without a second thought. Or, you could simply say, "I have to follow this restricted diet for health reasons/doctor's orders".

I agree with JohnnyGunn's suggestion that you bring this up in advance. People don't like surprises for these sorts of events. We've been dealing with this for years with one of my uncles. He's Seventh Day Adventist and follows a vegetarian diet. We make sure to have vegetarian items at Thanksgiving and Christmas so he will have something to eat, and he often brings his own food as well.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:22 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Can you just say that it's doctor-ordered? (Or doctor-recommended- I'm sure some doctor, somewhere, recommends this type of eating!)
posted by windykites at 8:27 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Another way of making sure you get enough to eat AND being seen as wanting to be part of the food bonding ritual is bringing a dish "to share" and mainly eating that.
posted by bleep at 8:28 PM on October 24, 2013 [11 favorites]

Country Club almost always equals older patrons, some of whom, I'm sure, have pretty seriously medically restricted diets.

Call them up, tell them you'll be attending a family meal on X date, and were wondering what they have available on the menu that will meet your needs. I will be shocked if there isn't anything on their menu that would work for you, or they can't make an arrangement in advance to accommodate you. Member accommodation is pretty much what Country Clubs DO.
posted by anastasiav at 8:29 PM on October 24, 2013 [23 favorites]

People are going to react. You can't stop that or control it. Food has enormous cultural and emotional meaning to people and I, personally, can't even read your question without projecting a bunch of my own crap onto it, and I'm not even your in-law.

My suggestion is, make as little a deal about it as possible, be prepared with your own food when possible, do not engage in conversation, do not bring it up, do not elaborate, and be as respectful and gracious as you can as you (in their eyes) violate their family tradition.

If you are a generally nice person, the family, if sane, will love you anyway, and will just chalk this up as your One Weird Quirk.

Best of luck, it will be over soon.
posted by latkes at 8:30 PM on October 24, 2013 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Why not just tell them what you told us? Say that your stomach has gotten really sensitive to certain foods lately, and you just can't have too much/any or you'll regret it later. Follow up with however much graphic description of gastrointestinal distress is required to make them stop asking.
posted by fermion at 8:31 PM on October 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

PS: I now have two friends, both in their mid-30's, who are following almost exactly the diet you describe, and both because of serious cardiac issues (which is, I think, how Clinton ended up on that diet, actually.) Your diet is not actually all that weird.
posted by anastasiav at 8:32 PM on October 24, 2013

always remember that people care way more about themselves than they do about you.
posted by Salvatorparadise at 8:35 PM on October 24, 2013

Best answer: If they're country club people, they're probably a bit waspy. This one is on your boyfriend to make nice-nice. He mentions to his mom (or whichever is the "boss" family member) "hey, whistle pig has a few food restrictions...no, no, she's fine of course...right, well, just please don't give her a hard time if she doesn't eat a whole lot, and back us up if grandma starts in on her."

-He pre-warns his family giving as little personal detail as possible.

-His family obeys social convention and quietly assumes this is some terrible private thing for you, and sideyes you the whole time but for the most part leaves you alone.

-You get to follow your diet restrictions.

The best part about waspy folks is that once they know this is A Thing, they become the "unusual" ones if they bring it up or give you a hard time about it.
posted by phunniemee at 8:36 PM on October 24, 2013 [26 favorites]

Best answer: I have a few friends with various extremely restricted diets.

The key things to avoid are:

1) People thinking you're weird/antisocial/picky. You can avoid this by just being really talkative and friendly. Try NOT to talk about your diet at all unless anyone asks a specific question. Have beer or wine, relax, be engaged in the conversation, compliment the chef, and no one will notice that you're barely nibbling at the food.

2) People thinking you're anorexic. This one's tough to work around. If possible, eat a large quantity of some food that you are able to eat, and do it in front of everyone. Sadly a lot of women eat very little in public (for stupid social reasons) and you want to demonstrate that you're not one of them.

I really think this is doable without having to get into a lengthy explanation of your diet. Of course, if you WANT to, I'm sure everyone would understand.
posted by miyabo at 8:37 PM on October 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Follow up with however much graphic description of gastrointestinal distress is required to make them stop asking.

On lack of preview, yes, this. I'm sure it's not what you want to be discussing with your boyfriend's family, but if I've got the right read on these folks, any hint you publicly give that you have a functioning (or worse, nonfunctioning) digestive system should stop them dead in their tracks.
posted by phunniemee at 8:38 PM on October 24, 2013

Best answer: I have a third item to add to "the key things to avoid." People who aren't used to cooking without the basic staples of almost all the recipes they know don't know what to do with you. They don't know how to feed you, if they try to follow your diet they will probably screw up following your restrictions*, and they start feeling resentful of you for being a special snowflake and difficult and causing all these problems because you just won't eat like a normal person, like the rest of us! Combining that with "the in-laws" and....well, good luck. I would definitely indicate to them that you are having gastric distress and feeling ill, rather than letting them know that you are choosing to eat like that because you like it. If you say that eating the potato will make you camp out in the toilet for the next hour, they'll probably back off, at least from the TMI.

I like the idea of calling up the country club that was already suggested. As for the relative's house, bring as many dishes as you can come up with so it looks like you are eating enough, even if it's only your own food. And what everyone else said about taking small bits of the bad food, having your boyfriend sneak them, push it around on your plate, etc.

* yes, I'm also projecting my own stress every time someone tells me they don't eat or are allergic to a basic food staple and I have to provide them with dinner at a potluck. Plus there was the bad feelings that came up two nights ago at watching a girl I know who's allergic to soy have to eat popcorn and chips for dinner because other people screwed up the dessert and dinner.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:54 PM on October 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think it depends why you are on this diet.

If you are doing this on the advice of your doctor, for actual medical reasons, and eating a few meals off-diet would have an actual impact on your health (like, say you have celiac or are diabetic), you should politely decline the things you cannot eat.

If you are doing this to lose a few pounds, just eat the food you don't want to eat. You won't die if you have a little gravy or pie. Be a good guest. You don't have to eat every single dish served, nor do you have to clean your plate or have a heaping serving. Practice saying things that most people find appropriate and polite about these sorts of special occasion foods, like, "Wow, these mashed potatoes are so rich!", "Sorry, I don't really care for fois gras," or "I'm not really a sweet tooth, but I'll try a tiny sliver..."

If it's more of a buffet setup and no one seems to be opining on your dietary choices, just eat what you feel comfortable with and don't mention it to anyone else. Just like all other human beings do every single day. Most people are really not that interested in your dietary habits.

I would err on the side of not talking about your health or how the food will make you feel. A monologue about your medical conditions makes for dull party conversation, and a harangue about how you would never sully your body by allowing it to come into contact with this revolting garbage is straight up rude.

If the issue is more about leaving social events hungry, stop and get something else afterwards.
posted by Sara C. at 9:00 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers! And thanks for the reassurances that the diet isn't too incredibly wacky. The way it came about is that I had some worrisome cholesterol and blood glucose readings at my last appointment, so I wanted to address that through diet. After I went on this diet I found that the severest symptoms of my depression and ADHD vanished. Then there is that whole gastrointestinal thing. And finally, there is the issue that I seem to be really sensitive to even small amounts of things such as sugar, such that having a slice of pie might leave me in a non-communicative state of sugar coma for the rest of the afternoon.

Still pondering what I might do. The best thing would be to just totally fly under the radar on this, though I suspect that people will notice if I'm only nibbling at dry salad during dinner.
posted by whistle pig at 9:06 PM on October 24, 2013

Best answer: It's totally okay not to eat food that will make you physically ill. Especially avoid doing so to be "polite" over the holidays; why on earth would anyone expect you to suffer through having the shits or painful gas just to put a nice face on things? If anyone is insufferably rude enough to ask you why you aren't eating something, you can simply say that you are avoiding foods that upset your stomach. Anyone further pressing the matter can be responded to with meaningless platitudes like "it's so thoughtful of you to be concerned, thank you".
posted by elizardbits at 9:08 PM on October 24, 2013 [11 favorites]

Gosh, just don't go to these meals. You said you don't even want to go, and now you have this added wrinkle where you'll be at a meal with people you don't care for in an environment you don't care for with a plate of food in front of you that would make you ill. Surely it would be easier to tell this truth to your boyfriend and come up with an acceptable fib about your absence to his family? An unexpected migraine is always a pretty airtight excuse for staying in, alone.
posted by telegraph at 9:12 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's yet another way to think about it. Social relationships are built on give and take -- I ask for things from you, you ask for things from me. We trade things and grow to trust each other. Sharing food is the simplest, most popular way to build that kind of relationship.

You can't participate in that transaction. So how else can you build a stronger relationship with his family? Can you ask for non-food things that would fulfill the same purpose, like seeing a movie with everyone or playing a game that you'd like to share? What about trading photos, music, or stories? Basically you have to figure out some other way to build a stronger relationship without using food as an intermediary.
posted by miyabo at 9:13 PM on October 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: The way it came about is that I had some worrisome cholesterol and blood glucose readings at my last appointment, so I wanted to address that through diet. After I went on this diet I found that the severest symptoms of my depression and ADHD vanished. Then there is that whole gastrointestinal thing. And finally, there is the issue that I seem to be really sensitive to even small amounts of things such as sugar, such that having a slice of pie might leave me in a non-communicative state of sugar coma for the rest of the afternoon.

Reduce this down to "I'm on a restricted diet for health reasons."

Give not a single fuck about anyone looking askance at you having only salad.

If you genuinely can only eat a truly unappetizing salad with no dressing at the event in question, eat a full meal that you actually enjoy either before or after the party. I mentioned after in my first post, but now that I think about it, eating before is better if you plan to be drinking.
posted by Sara C. at 9:14 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A friend of mine who was on a pretty restrictive diet just brought pre-measured servings in tupperware with her to others' houses or restaurants. It worked better than noticeably not eating anything would have and also proved the point that she really was on a pretty restrictive diet and wasn't just unhappy with the specific food offerings which helped the hosts/restaurant-pickers not feel insulted.

So I'd do that. Just to make sure there won't be issues at non-house dinners, you could also call ahead to the restaurant/club you'll be eating at and see if they can accommodate your needs, and if not, if they have a problem with your bringing your own food (while hinting that if they do, your whole party may need to go elsewhere but that restaurants that let you do this get great tips and raves).
posted by vegartanipla at 9:20 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Definitely call the club ahead of time and ask about their accommodations for people with special diets. If they can't oblige, they are a horrible club, but if it comes down to it make sure you're not hungry before you leave and that you have a hearty snack waiting for you back home afterwards.

I come from a big food family and the relatives who have food allergies and other dietary restrictions are definitely seen as oddball in the eyes of my parents' generation. However, the ones that pull it off as a quirk rather than annoying do some of the following things:

-They make sure they bring their own special food or can get somewhere under their own power that they can buy said food, to fill in any "gaps". (For example my uncle is allergic to wheat, so he brings his own grains, but will happily chow down on host-provided veggies. He brings lots of fresh fruit to double as gifts and dessert replacement snacks.)

-They always talk to the host ahead of time, not to demand accommodation but to explain privately why they simply won't be eating some of the provided food. A good host will go on to ask how they can help; they then have some reasonably priced, very easy suggestions so the host can feel like they're being good at their duties. (You might say "when you bake sweet potatoes, please set one aside for me with no butter or salt on it, that's all I need!" or "I'd love it if you could have some plain nuts for me? Not roasted or salted please, just plain. Great protein! Do you have a nut cracker? I'll bring my own to share with you if you don't."

-They definitely ask permission for using the kitchen, and keep any resentment about helping to clean up after meals they didn't eat to themselves.

-Their explanations for abstaining from "treats" are succinct. Good ones I've heard in action: "No thank you, that will make me sick." "Please enjoy it for me, I wouldn't want it to go to waste." "Eating this will give me a terrible headache, I'm sorry. Tea, anyone?" "I'm happy and full! Don't harsh my food buzz!" (That last one of course is for the most casual of company.) If somebody is pressing you to eat food that you've stated makes you sick, then you are entirely within politeness rights to say something like "Please stop insisting that I do something that will hurt myself." If that doesn't stop them dead, I don't know what will.

Of course then when everybody else is rolling around in a food coma and you feel chipper and spritely, do a little tidying up and enjoy your me-time.
posted by Mizu at 9:42 PM on October 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you're worried about coming off as neurotic, I think it could help to acknowledge that your diet restrictions are a drag for you too instead of acting really apologetic or nervous. (e.g. "Grr I wish I could, mean doctors" instead of "I'm so sorry"). Hopefully that will make it feel less like you're rejecting them or looking down on their food choices.
posted by Gravel at 10:06 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I have a medical condition that sometimes neccessitates quite a restricted diet; I empathise with your anxieties, and refute those saying no one will make a big deal about it. Peeps get weird and pissy when you refuse food - offence is generally far great than the perceived "crime". Things I have found that help ameliorate this:

1. Invoking a higher power. Tanizaki used the example of God; I use my doctor, my gastroenteroligist etc. People who are reluctant to believe me, will be believe my doctors they've only heard about second hand.

2. Keeping it short. My step-mother has some weird food issues. She tells people about it, way way too much. No one wants to hear your medical history; and going into too much detail draws attention in a bad way. Keep it short "Oh my doctor's got me on this new diet to help with my X, I'd love to [have some cake or whatever], but I just can't at the moment" (doesn't matter if moment = forever). Also, don't call it back to your illness/diet everytime someone offers you something; it gets so old. Just say "No thank you." or "I'm quite full, but thanks so much for offering", rather than "Oh I couldn't possibly eat that I will die/be sick/whatever" - people interpet that as you upbraiding them for not remembering/anticipating their needs.

3. Don't expect anyone to accommodate you. Don't make a big deal of asking waiters for off the menu things, unless it's like a boiled egg or something any kitchen could do. Don't ask hosts to make/do something different or special. Make sure your diet/illness is your thing, not everybody else's; it will prevent resentment. Bring your own food 'to share' that you can eat.

4. But conversely, do accept something. A lot of the weirdness I've had around diet is refusing offers of food. People get really fucking pushy then weirdly offended when confronted with a no. Nearest I can tell, it's obviously nothing to do with the food, but the breaking of a social compact where a host does something to a guest - a gesture of generosity and hospitality. So give your hosts an opportunity to make that gesture. "No, thank you, but I'd love a glass of mineral water [or whatever, commonplace item they will totally have in the cupboard], if you have any." If people feel they are giving you something, they are much more comfortable, in my experience.

5. Eat when others eat, drink when they drink. Doesn't matter if it's water, if there's a glass in your hand, people will relax a bit more.

5. In general, don't dwell on it, redirect. If people feel someone's diet/illness is another guest at their party, it will get weird. If you draw the attention back to the party, people having a good time, christmas, etc, you will be golden.

That's my experience, at any rate, and it seems to work. I get less wtfs than my step-mother, at any rate. Then again, who knows what people are saying after I leave the room? O_o
posted by smoke at 10:13 PM on October 24, 2013 [23 favorites]

Best answer: I think the big thing is not letting it be something that sets you apart from everybody else. Express regret that you can't eat potatoes and cake. Go with stuff like, "I have to eat a really restrictive diet for health reasons, so I ate ahead of time mostly but I hardly wanted to skip coming to this because I love you guys so much." You know how much you can tolerate, but if you can have a teensy taste without it hurting you too much, have just a taste of your boyfriend's and then say it's amazing and you wish you could really eat such things still. If you can manage it with where you're staying, offer to bring a salad or something to any dinner eaten in, and mention that since your diet's been so restrictive you've had to get really good at them, so you'd like to show off. Find ways to reassure people that you really like them and you value being with them.

My mom's family is kind of WASPy if not very well-off. My stepdad had bariatric surgery, which resulted in lifelong restrictions on what he can have. I think he's generally gotten along much better because, like, he'll always have a taste of her pie even if he's not having his own piece, he always stays involved in dinner conversation, and that sort of thing. They might still think you're weird, but they can think you're weird and still part of the family. And over time, our family meals have had their horizons broadened a fair amount by adding new weirdos to the family who bring food that turns out to be tasty. But if their family is like my New England relations, you won't really be invited to be family; you just kind of have to show up and act like you belong, and that counts way more than what you eat.
posted by Sequence at 10:44 PM on October 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

The details of your health issues are really not anyone's business; please don't try to share them because people will literally ARGUE with you about your own body which is rude, awkward and tedious.

In the interests of avoiding this and preserving your privacy, I would suggest lying. "I've been having food allergy issues so my doctor has me on an a very restrictive elimination diet. I'm really happy with my salad, thank you!"
posted by DarlingBri at 12:47 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Oh, honey, you know how it is. It seems like *everybody* has some kind of food restriction these days -- thank goodness we all at least *know* these days, right, instead of just suffering through it, or inconveniencing others with our little tummy crises! But I don't want to bore you *and* myself by dwelling on it, and really, the biggest reason I'm here, the *most* important part of the afternoon, is to talk to *you* lovely people. Believe me, next to that, that fabulous-looking pie is not important at all, not compared to the chance to have a real conversation with you. Please, please tell me what's happening in your life!"
posted by amtho at 3:27 AM on October 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, again! I had a chat with my partner this morning about the matter, and think I know what I will do.

Although the food-allergy explanation seems like a relatively low-conflict way to resolve this, my boyfriend has this thing about not lying to his family (what can I say; it's part of his charm. He also thinks this will result in a lot of worried questioning about it, which might end up backfiring and resulting in even more lying.)

We decided that a good strategy would be to tell folks I'm on the Bill Clinton diet to get my cholesterol and glucose levels down; as I've been following it pretty strictly, eating "normal person" food now has undesirable side effects. We're going to contact the country club and see if I can get a couple of microwave baked potatoes sans oil, as well as extra salad. I'm going to help with grocery shopping and preparing food at the relative's house so that I have something to eat and can share something with others.

And thanks for the perspectives that accepting the food is more about social bonding than anything. I have been in situations where people got weirdly angry about my low-key turning down of food offerings, and now I think I understand why.
posted by whistle pig at 5:12 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds like you have an excellent plan in place now, so I'll just add -- Saying you're on a restricted diet for medical reasons really should be the end of it. If they ask for details (which they might if they're curious), don't lie but don't downplay it either. By which I mean, never say, "Oh, if I eat carbs, I just feel a little foggy for the rest of the day." If you have high blood glucose and cholesterol, not following an appropriate diet could lead to serious medical conditions. Feel free to say that.

(Been vegan for many about 22 years now. Most people get used to the idea pretty quick.)
posted by kyrademon at 5:18 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm late to this, but I'd strongly second latkes's One Weird Quirk advice. You can't do much about the diet. What you can do is be super normal and cool about everything else so the diet stuff kind of fades away whenever anyone thinks of you.

I mean, don't be the person who sleeps in until 11 every morning, refuses to take part in the family karaoke night, doesn't want to be photographed, can't go on a planned woodswalk because she doesn't want to get burrs on her cashmere shawl, and is on a Bill Clinton diet. I'm not saying you would! But you get my drift. Go out of your way to go with the flow when it comes to everything other than food, so people will say, "Oh whistle pig? She was perfectly lovely! Oh, the food thing? I'd forgotten about that, ah well, everyone's got a food thing!"
posted by payoto at 6:01 AM on October 25, 2013 [14 favorites]

Dude, I would bag this whole trip. Go ahead and stay home and watch MST3K on TV in your PJ's and let your BF do his thing with his family.

It will save his family the trouble of dealing with your eating plan and any stress you may feel about your food.

Seriously, you are not integral to the process.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:20 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think one thing worth being aware of is any sort of "judgmental" vibe that people might perceive from you, as they nom down the carbs and fats while you nibble at your veggies. I'm not at all saying that you really ARE judging them, but sometimes people project that on the healthy eater in the bunch since we all know that the holiday food we're cramming down our gullets is terrible for us, and the act of eating is bound up in some weird moralistic value judgments anyways. So I'd go easy on any talk about lowering your cholesterol, or how rich the potatoes are or whatever, and try to up your game when it comes to socializing and being part of the gang (this is, of course, assuming that you do want them to think of you as part of the family). In the same vein I would also gently suggest you get any thoughts of how "WASPy" these folks are out of your head - not that you'd necessarily act on it deliberately, but if you are concerned about alienating them it would probably help to get rid of that one more thing that could negatively color the way you interact with them.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:31 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Express regret that you can't eat potatoes and cake.

This. Don't be a sourpuss. Keep it lighthearted.

Not too much, mind you, because you don't want it to be All About You. But it can't hurt to spend a little time ooh-ing and aah-ing over Grandma's pie, or the bemoaning the heaping plate of turkey your table neighbor receives.

The holidays are about getting cozy with family, and most of that coziness revolves around food. If you position it as, "Argh, it really sucks I can't have those mashed potatoes—they were so good last year! But hey - at least I get to spend Thanksgiving with you guys, and that's what matters!"

A couple things you could say:

"Oh, Aunt Laurie, your pumpkin pie is the best! Can I at least get a whiff of it, if I can't have a taste?"

"Hey Mom-in-Law, what do you think the chef puts in the mashed potatoes? I'm getting garlic. Does [BF] like garlic in his mashed potatoes? I wonder if they'll give me the recipe so [BF] and I could make it."

"I have to admit, I feel exponentially better now that I eat like a bunny. But damn if I don't miss cheese. Cheese, cheese, cheese."
posted by ulfberht at 8:25 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, I wouldn't say why you were on the diet you are on, just that you are on it for medical reasons, unless you want advice from everyone about how to control your blood glucose and cholesterol. And don't say you have a food allergy unless you want these people worrying about causing you to go into anaphylactic shock for the rest of your life, this could seriously cause them to pay MORE attention to what you eat, not less.

Food is a huge social bonding thing, and I think when you are on a restricted diet for any reason, it can make extra stress on hosts who want to make sure everyone feels welcome and has something to eat.

I'm sure that you would be, but if his family goes out of their way to prepare food for you, be grateful, even if it doesn't taste great or whatever. If there's a good bean dip or fruit salad you can eat, compliment it. I've been a vegetarian for 13 years, and I have some other health-related food restrictions, and I know my partner's family stresses about making sure they have food I can eat, which I think is a big part of the whole making sure everyone feels welcome thing.
posted by inertia at 8:29 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

> "But it can't hurt to spend a little time ooh-ing and aah-ing over Grandma's pie, or the bemoaning the heaping plate of turkey your table neighbor receives."

I'm afraid I have to disagree with this comment, actually. This is almost certain to come off as moaning and bitching and being envious and a drama queen. All it will do is draw LOTS of attention to the fact that you're not eating it, while adding in a little side of Woe, Poor Me, Please Feel Guilty For Eating These Delicious Foods I Cannot, You Awful People.
posted by kyrademon at 8:44 AM on October 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

The problem with calling it "allergies" is that, assuming you and your boyfriend are serious and you plan to be in these people's lives a long time, you will have a lifetime of lying about these supposed allergies that don't actually exist. And what happens in a year when you decide that you can have a little turkey at Thanksgiving, or a few bites of pie?
posted by Sara C. at 8:49 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Dude, I would bag this whole trip. Go ahead and stay home and watch MST3K on TV in your PJ's and let your BF do his thing with his family.

It will save his family the trouble of dealing with your eating plan and any stress you may feel about your food.

Seriously, you are not integral to the process.

Depending on how long the relationship lasts, this could be the thing that people talk about whenever whistle pig is mentioned, and not in a good way.

I'd go and just advise that you have a medical diet and eat what you can of the food to participate in the ritual.
posted by winna at 8:51 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

> "Please enjoy it for me, I wouldn't want it to go to waste."

Ooh, yes, that's a good one -- people won't get defensive, because they won't feel like you're judging them for eating the food they do. Since you care about getting along with these people long term, it's important that this be framed in a way that says "my doctor told me to do this for my specific, unusual problems" and not "this is the way everyone should eat."

I had relatives, who were in their 70s and could possibly fit in at a country club, doing the same diet. It might not be that unusual.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:52 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know someone on a similar diet. She's got major psychosomatic issues with food and I wouldn't touch them with a ten foot pole. I'm happy for her to do whatever feels good to her but I don't want to eat with her and I definitely don't want to talk about food with her because all I can say is "I'm glad you're feeling good" or "I'm sorry you're feeling not good" and anything else seems bordering on enabling woo.

I think let your boyfriend lay the groundwork with his family and then just do what you want and don't make it anybody else's concern to discuss your food choices.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:24 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Folks have given a lot of good advice on how to handle discussions about food. But it seems like there's a second issue lurking in your question: your boyfriend's family finds you a little "unusual." If you can try to address this, it makes the food things much easier. I don't mean that you should pretend to be more "usual" (whatever that would mean), but make a real effort to get to know them, and to let them get to know you.

If being a social butterfly isn't your forte, maybe you could strategize ahead of time with your bf. Have him give you a run-down on some of the relatives' interests and hobbies. Pick a couple of people who seem most approachable, and for each of them, come up with one or two things you can ask them about. In general, whoever you're sitting next to, ask them about themselves, ask them about the family, show an interest in their lives. By showing that you're warm and friendly, you'll be able to overcome any suppositions they have based on your diet, which is a pretty incidental part of who you are.
posted by pompelmo at 10:56 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

vegan diet with very few grains, no oils, no salt and no sugar.

Later on, you also add flour to your restrictions.

I'm glad your diet is helping you feel better. That's super important. It isn't my intention to not be helpful here, but I really want to be pragmatic and give you honest advice. Almost everything anyone cooks or makes is going to have one or more of these things in it. Many restaurants salt salad. Many salad ingredients are salted. Almost every dessert (even vegan, gluten free) has salt, sugar and oil. Veggie broth for soup has salt. Are you cutting out gluten, or just flour? Most gluten free foods are salted.

People are going to try to be helpful. They'll want to tell you what's in the dish they made because there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with it, but they'll go through the list of ingredients and you're inevitably going to hit one that you can't eat.

What I'm trying to say here is that you're probably going to have to just provide all your own food for the whole trip. Maybe you can specify a *very* specific salad at the restaurant that doesn't have extras with salt/oil (canned mushrooms, canned beans, croutons, oilves, artichoke hearts, jarred roasted red peppers, etc.) Obviously, all dressings have either dairy, salt, oil or vinegar (which has salt) so they're out.

Also, don't say you have allergies. It's not true and they're going judge you if you pop a salted cashew next year. Good luck.
posted by cnc at 1:42 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The other point of view...

My wife recently started eating Paleo, but she did so just before we went on a three-day road trip to Seattle and the Oregon coast. Every single place we went, she would talk about how the restaurants didn't have any food she could eat. I would say "You pick the place. The kids and I can find something we like there," and we would walk and walk, block after block, looking for a place that fit her needs.

It was, quite frankly, frustrating. When you've got hungry, fussy kids, you don't really have the luxury of stopping at several different places. We went to the Seattle zoo and went from one eating area to another across the whole zoo trying to find something that fit her diet.

I have no problem with her dietary restrictions, but I *do* think it is her responsibility to plan ahead. Since she knew about our trip for weeks, she could have researched restaurants in advance or brought food for some of the meals. Either way, it would have made things easier for the rest of us.

Adding in-laws to the mix would have just made it worse...
posted by tacodave at 3:50 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think as important as packing your own food is to be sure to pack your sense of humor and humanity. Really, all your bf's family needs from you is to feel like they are heard, understood, and accepted...just as you need that from them. Lead by example.

I think if you take the initiative to engage them and reassure them and affirm them by finding ways to compliment the food you are unable to eat (the presentation on the plate; the aroma; the effort that has gone into it), your bf's family will feel less discomfited.

I would avoid saying anything that implies fault with the food or their cooking, even if it's intended as a compliment (e.g. "Oh, that looks delicious, but I'm afraid it wouldn't agree with me") -- it unintentionally sends the wrong message ("Your food is bad.").

If you plan to bring your own food, have your bf let the host know in advance so they can plan kitchen space / serving space / etc in advance. It's not easy hosting people and coordinating all the logistics, so the host might be a bit stressed and not receptive to last-minute accommodations.

I think explaining it as the "Bill Clinton diet" will get a lot of "Oh, now I get it" responses, and open the conversation for some good-natured jokes at Bill's expense.
posted by nacho fries at 4:02 PM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Just as a data point, I eat a mostly vegan diet for personal ethical reasons. When I started doing this last year I thought I was going to be THE most annoying guest ever and was horribly putting everyone out. I was pleasantly surprised to find that most people are a lot less phased than I'd feared and most people already know a bunch of people with dietary restrictions for health, religious or other reasons and if they fret it's generally because they're worried you won't enjoy yourself. If I'm invited to food things, I apologise for being difficult and explain what I do and don't eat, then offer to bring a dish along. And then I don't mention it to other guests unless they ask and will happily say the roast smells delicious though or whatever. Most people aren't that fascinated.
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 8:15 PM on October 25, 2013

I'm afraid I have to disagree with this comment, actually.

Which is why I said this:

Not too much, mind you, because you don't want it to be All About You.

There are really nice, heartwarming ways to make it about bonding over the holidays (food) without making it about Your Diet.
posted by ulfberht at 9:08 PM on October 25, 2013

Best answer: As someone who's on an anti-cholesterol diet myself, I would say ...

a) push the cholesterol thing. People know a lot more about that stuff now

b) explain that because you've been on this diet for a while, eating off it affects your system badly and you really can't face feeling unwell and disrupting the event

c) explain what you can have but do include a note of what you can't (e.g. I'd be thrilled to have smoked salmon sandwiches, as long as there's no butter, in my case)

d) bring your own thing to the family meal but make it delicious and unusual. I allow myself sugar, and I make excellent meringues - a treat for everyone. A treat also makes it seem less "I am miserable person, I have no fun, I am superior to you mere mortals"

e) phone the country club in advance. Most of their older cholesterol patrons will be on statins so avoiding grapefruit and eating everything else, but they should be aware of other issues. Use c) for this, too

f) suggest eating out once somewhere you can eat so they have an idea for next time

g) make sure your partner is super supportive and watches your back - they may need reminding.

Good luck! It does get easier ... promise!
posted by LyzzyBee at 11:57 PM on October 25, 2013

Oh god seriously don't try to explain that much about your diet to strangers, unless they really start grilling you about it. You will inevitably come off as that weirdo who doesn't eat anything and is probably judging us. Keep it very simple. "I'm on a strict diet for health reasons."

Also I would make sure to avoid any comment about how you really can eat X or Y, it's just that eating off-diet affects your system badly. Which will make you sound like every stereotype judgmental people think of when they think of people on special diets.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 AM on October 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I should have been more clear in the above - it's not that you really can eat X or Y but if that you physically force yourself to do so to be polite, you will have a bad reaction to it, just like if someone who gets migraines eats chocolate they get a migraine or if a gluten intolerant person eats gluten accidentally. I find that this really helps to get past the "oh, just this once won't harm" or "just treat yourself" thing. After all, it's not like my cholesterol is going to jump up there and then and give me a stroke, and I find people really only grasp the short term thing - so, I will feel bad, rather than my body will grab the cholesterol producing chances it can get plus if I do this more regularly it will affect my cardiovascular health. So, this is a long-term thing for my healthy and I try to avoid individual incidences of not doing it. I really find this works well for me.
posted by LyzzyBee at 2:44 PM on October 26, 2013

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