If you're vegan, you've more likely than not experienced some form of unkind comments and unsolicited "advice" about your eating habits. It's difficult not to be put down by snarky remarks about the way you eat, but once you understand the psychological motivation behind what people say to you, you'll be better equipped to deal with those that give you a hard time for being vegan.

I began writing about this in my article on the 10 Things I Wish I Would've Known Before Becoming Vegan, but I realized there was so much more I wanted to say about this important subject matter. The psychological torment some of us have to go through–even in our own homes–can take a lot of the fun out of a lifestyle that is supposed to be all about positivity, compassion, wellbeing, and happiness.

A Little About My Experience

When I first came out of the "vegan closet" to my family, they were not happy, to say the least. Among comments revolving around "dying of malnutrition" (I cured my allergies on this lifestyle so I don't think I'm getting there any time soon), "protein deficiency", "we've always eaten meat", "what will you eat at weddings/events?", my spirits were really taking a hit. 

It's hard to not feel the support of your own family, but I decided that my health and wellbeing were more important than whether people liked what I was doing or not. So, I embarked on my plant-based journey to see what it was like for myself. Honestly, I wasn't gonna be stopped by other people's negative opinions and uninformed conjectures. 

It's been a year since I've stopped consuming animal products, and it still seems like every time I sit down to enjoy my delicious, healthy plant-based meal, I get hateful and judgmental comments about what I choose to and not to eat. It's exhausting having to constantly defend yourself in your own dining room, and it can really take its toll on one's peace of mind.

With time, I've gotten better at blocking out these comments as my friends and family adjust to my lifestyle, but I gotta tell you, sometimes it still gets to me. It's funny how I rarely encounter any problems other than the occasional friendly discussion with strangers, but with the people close to me, it's like I can't get a break. 

Social Outings

Every time I go out to a family reunion or gathering, I feel like I'm committing some sort of crime for choosing not to eat the rich, fatty foods and treats that everyone else is enjoying. I feel weird enough already, and the looks and snide comments from my relatives certainly don't make it any easier. 

Most of my friends were supportive of me, and their questions were simply out of sheer curiosity about my eating habits and how the diet shift was going for me overall. The concerns revolved around me "eating bird food" and "not enjoying life", but they were generally well-meant and friendly banter. 

I didn't go full-on plant-based overnight–it was a gradual process–, so at the beginning, I was a little lenient and would allow myself to have a few treats (only with eggs and dairy), but I found that it was more to appease others than it was to satisfy my own craving, which really just wanted a big bowl of fruit. 

I mean, is it really so unacceptable to go to an event or gathering and choose to just have a good time and socialize without having to eat? What if it were food allergies or intolerances? Now that would be a different story. But deciding not to eat something? Oh no. 

For the record, it was never my intention to go 100% plant based. It was never my plan. I was flirting with the idea of eating as vegan as I possibly could at home, but, in order to save myself from being seen as an "inconvenience," "picky," or "weird" by society, I would eat as I normally would on outings. It seemed like the perfect arrangement.

I quickly realized, screw that! I wasn't gonna let what other people thought dictate my life. And part of me also did it out of self-doubt. I just never thought it was even remotely possible to live my life without the food I grew up eating my entire life. I gradually phased out of eating animal products, until I realized that, without even intending it, I was 100% vegan.

Parents: be grateful your kids are into fruits and vegetables and not drugs. It wasn't that long ago you were the ones trying to get us to eat them. Now they're all we eat and suddenly it's a problem? Jeez.

The Reasons Behind Criticism For Healthy Habits

People may find your way of eating offensive, and sometimes straight-out criticize you. What happens is that, as Alan Goldhamer and Doug Lisle explain in their book, The Pleasure Trap: Master the Hidden Force that Undermines Health & Happiness, "These people will often attempt to relieve their own psychological discomfort by pressuring you to change." Sometimes, people can see your healthy habits as a threat to their lifelong indulgence of comfort foods, which are also endorsed by culture and society.

What Goldhamer and Lisle explain in their book is that, subconsciously, the people around you that don't pay attention to their health like you do and continue to indulge in sweet treats and disease-promoting foods (which is nothing bad or anything to be shameful about–everybody is at a different point in their life and we all go at different paces. Not everyone is there yet, and that's OK), feel inadequate in some way, and try to cover up their embarrassment (while they wouldn't outwardly admit it) by coming off as defensive of their food.

Way to get salmonella and E. coli on perfectly good salad bro. Just why?

Even if you don't say anything to the people that give you a hard time for being vegan about their eating habits (which is advisable, and if done should be with tact), they may feel a little weird around you because of your avoidance of their favorite foods. They don't understand why you are willing to sacrifice those 10 seconds of pleasure comfort foods give you just to be healthy or for the sake of the animals, and even the planet. Screw climate change, right?

Basically, quoting these two authors, "Our behavior looks too 'different' and they feel the need to pressure us into conformity." It doesn't mean these people don't love us; it's just that they are experiencing some cognitive discomfort and want to get us off our health "high horse" so we can fit in with the crowd and redirect us back to the norm. 

Also, even if they know that you really are choosing the healthiest path, they can become irritated because while they are aware of it (be it consciously or subconsciously), they still continue with their habits. This can become annoying for them because they can start to see you as a constant reminder of their bad habits. People really don't like change or any talk about change tbh. You know what they say, ignorance is bliss.

A World of Excuses

The people that give you a hard time for being vegan will tell you anything under the sun to convince you (I think it's more to convince themselves but we'll just keep that between us) that your diet is inadequate. 

"You need protein."

"I need meat to gain muscle" (this vegan bodybuilder has never eaten meat and it doesn't seem to be a problem).

"But bacon" 

"Calcium in milk for strong bones."

"Animals don't feel pain."

"Now it turns out that everything is bad for you."

"You don't know what you're missing" (well actually I do because I stuffed my face with that food for 21 years of my life so yeah. I know.).

The list is goes on. 

My grandma even sent me an article from a meat website about just how much we need meat in our lives. Surely, there are no conflicts of interest. Bless her heart.

It may have helped our ancestors with their chewing and "evolution" and all that, but let's keep in mind that they were eating wild game without any additives, antibiotics, preservatives, or food coloring. They ate an animal they killed on the spot, not one that's been deceased for who knows how long, that's been raised with not only inhumane but unsanitary practices, and kept fresh unnaturally. 

Truth is, people love hearing good news about their bad habits. Any skewed study with thumbs on the scale and corporate interests behind it that they find in the first hits on Google is enough to justify their way of eating and keep them from making a change that they, quite frankly, are not willing to make. And I totally get where they're coming from because I've been there myself. It's hard letting go of beliefs that have been hard-wired into our brains our whole life. 

Pretty much. 

The excuse I dislike the most, however, is "Oh, whatever, I'll die of something." Like really? It's fun to say this when you're young and well, but fast-forward to a few years or decades and you're not gonna be smiling in a hospital bed, all tubed up, thinking "those Big Macs were well worth it." Or you could just be forgetful, have digestive issues, arthritis, and blame it all on "ageing." It's not to be morbid, and of course, this is not everybody's fate; there's people that can eat what they want and never get sick, but you just never know.

Dr. Kim Williams, the past president of the American College of Cardiology and fervent advocate for a plant-based diet for preventing and reversing heart disease, also struggles with this concept. He says, "I don't mind dying. I just don't want it to be my fault." Dr. Williams is taken aback by the fact that more people are willing to take medications with side-effects and undergo invasive procedures than give up their favorite unhealthy foods.

He avoided fried food and chose skinless poultry (which is still recommended by the American Heart Association despite its high saturated and trans fat contents) over red meat, which is why he was surprised to receive an unusually high result of his LDL (bad) cholesterol. He gave up all animal products and was able to get his levels back on the healthy range with no pills and procedures–just a health-promoting plant-based diet. 

The frightening truth behind the saying that most people would rather die than live without their comfort foods is honestly shocking. Sure, you can be eating salad every day and get hit by a bus out of nowhere at 20 years old. But then again you might not. It's a Russian Roulette, and if we can take out some of the bullets that are within our control, why wouldn't we?

We should want to live a healthful life–not just now but in the future–with no prescriptions and expensive medical procedures to make up for the years we spent eating junk food just because "it tastes good." It's not about living in fear but living in peace knowing that your health is in your hands, not in your genes entirely like doctors like to tell you, nor just plain bad luck. We have more power than we think.

How To React

I bet you have all the comebacks and links to scientific studies and statistics, ready to whip out at any given moment when someone tries to test you. It can be tempting to fight fire with fire, but that can often end badly. I can tell you first-hand that it pretty much always does.

It's hard to change people's deep-set lifelong beliefs about food and nutrition, so at times it's best–especially with older people–to nod, laugh, respond politely, and keep on eating your plants. You just gotta brush it off.  

That's not to say that we shouldn't try to help others adopt a healthier lifestyle; we should just know when it's appropriate to give advice and when it isn't. Always be tactful with your suggestions, and it helps to make sure that what you're saying doesn't come off as offensive or condescending. 

You're not gonna change people on the spot (although I've seen it happen), but definitely expect a gradual shift to healthier eating from your close circle. 

What you're doing has a ripple effect, which will inevitably bring about more healthful habits in the people you spend time with. It took me a year to get my siblings on almond milk, and look at them now, making banana-chia-oat-almond milk smoothies after their gym sesh all on their own. So proud.

Also, always wait until after eating to talk about food. It's not exactly polite to talk about your wonderfully clean diet while everybody else has a juicy steak on their plate. And even though you're sure as can be that your diet is the best for health, the animals, and the planet, make it seem like it's something you're experimenting with. Sounding overconfident is a quick way to get the naysayers going. 

Another tip from Alan Goldhamer and Doug Lisle is that when people try to pull the "a little won't kill you" card on you, simply say that you've been staying on course pretty well for the time being, and that since you struggle with self-control, you'd rather pass up the opportunity. Remember to mention how good whatever they're offering you looks and to thank them for thinking of you. This is what they call "communicating integrity with humility." 

It's easy to get frustrated that people don't see eye to eye with you in terms of health and longevity, which is why it's always useful to remember your own journey and where you came from. Nobody's perfect, and it takes time to come to grips with certain things about how we eat. People get very emotional and defensive about food, and it's totally understandable.  

For more tips on tactful responses for people trying to undermine your health, check out this witty and hilarious article

Focus on the Good  

When we speak of our diet enthusiastically, and mention all the amazing benefits it's brought to us physically, emotionally, and even spiritually, we're more likely to spark others' interest. If we get crude about it and tell people straight off the bat that they're murderers and that they're gonna die of cancer or diabetes, we're likely to scare them away. Scare tactics have their place, but most times it's best to leave them out. 

You can show them pictures of all the delicious things you can eat on this lifestyle and even cook a meal for them, and mention some of the benefits of certain foods. If you get them hooked on one healthy habit, they're likely to adopt more in the future.

Don't focus on converting everyone because it's just not gonna happen like that. People have to see it for themselves most of the time in order to make a change. Point them to some educational documentaries, and suggest Instagram pages and websites for them to follow for additional information and recipes. Make eating healthy sound as exciting as possible–because it is.

Dealing with people that give you a hard time for being vegan should be its own sport by now. It requires a great deal of skill, practice, patience, and information to be successful at it. We want to get the good word about plant-based nutrition out there and the positive impact of veganism on the planet and animals, but we don't want to sound like jerks while doing it. 

Sure, when you take away certain foods from your diet due to health, environmental, or cruelty concerns, you lose the freedom of choosing to eat whatever you want. However, when you eat whatever you want, you can also lose your freedom to crippling chronic disease down the line, which is further perpetuated by our contaminated planet. Personally, I would like to be hitting the gym at 80 years old and watch my grandkids grow up in a clean world, without the help of a wheelchair or a nurse. 

When you learn that food is so much more than just a mere pleasure outlet and source of instant gratification, it's difficult to understand why other people don't see it as well. Food can be our greatest tool to achieve great health, emotional wellbeing, not to mention have an unpolluted environment and less animal suffering.

That doesn't mean that you have to eat bland food. You just have to get creative in the kitchen and make awesome food combos that surprise even the biggest meat-lover. Your taste buds adjust as well, so the hot dog that used to be your favorite, might not taste as good to you now that you're becoming used to plant foods. We crave what we eat every day, so make it healthy!

No matter how proud we are of our diet, we gotta be respectful of others, know when it's best to agree to disagree, and present any information as non-offensively as possible. Remember to make your lifestyle about what's best for you, and to try to tune out any incoming negativity (which is mostly just concerns for your health), and simply carry on with your plant-eating ways. 

However, it's always good to keep an open mind to different perspectives and points of view when it comes to health and nutrition. Everybody has something to offer. And no one really has all the answers, which is why you should do what works for you, and try your best to stay updated on this ever-changing science and do your own research.

Let's face it, no matter what, people are still gonna give you a hard time for being vegan. It's how you handle it that makes a difference.