Bringing Peace to a Household With Different Diets

Living with different diets. Getty Images Credit: JGI/Jamie Grill

Are you a square peg at a round table? Are you trying to eat in a way that is different from your spouse/partner/family/roommate? This can be a challenge, but know that many before you have met it and thrived! You can be one of these, and here are some guidelines to help.

General Principles

Take yourself seriously. Have you been on a new fad diet every month for the last year? If so, maybe you're not imagining that the people you live with are rolling their eyes a bit. If this rings a bell, you might ask yourself how and why you expect this time to be different. If you seriously want to make a change, act like it. Research the hows and whys of the change you want to make, plan menus and snacks, and think about whether you can imagine yourself following this way of eating in the long run.

The more others understand, the more helpful they will be. Explain why you are changing your diet. Is it to control blood sugar? Usually, people are supportive if they see what you are doing as a treatment for a "medical condition". If you are diabetic, prediabetic, insulin resistant, or have metabolic syndrome, explain this to your loved ones or roommates.

Ground Rules

When living with others who are eating differently from you, I think there are three basic rules that can help immensely.

1. No Discouraging Comments. Your spouse or roommate doesn't need to agree with you, but they do need to respect your choices as an adult. You know that cutting carbs is a healthy, safe, and scientifically valid way to eat. You can tell them, and they can believe it or not, but they must refrain from making digs about the way you eat.

2. No Food Police. It is rarely helpful for people to comment negatively on what others are eating (e.g. "Should you really be eating that?"). If it's your spouse who you will be living with for the rest of your life, it should be akin to a marriage vow that you both are adults and you aren't going to comment on what each other is eating. Even if your spouse asks you to, refuse to slip into that role. I know my own carb limits, and I know that a treat once in awhile isn't going to throw me off. I don't expect comments from the peanut gallery!

3. Mitts off your special food! Anyone who lives with other people has experienced this. You're on your way home, thinking of what you're going to have for dinner, and you open the refrigerator to find that someone has already eaten it. This is much worse when your food choices are limited. Find a way to label your food, or have a special shelf so that your food stays yours. I once knew a guy who had a small fridge in his bedroom to keep housemates away.

Tips for When You Are the Cook

If you routinely cook the meals for your family, the issue of competing for food preferences and needs becomes much simpler, as you are in the power position. You can cook healthy low-carb meals, and perhaps supplement with bread, rice, potatoes, or pasta for the starch-eaters among you. Over time, you might even convert your family to cauliflower "rice" and spaghetti squash!

You will probably find you need to cook fewer carby foods if you include a couple of hearty low-carb side dishes in a meal. For example, if you are serving a grilled meat, include low-carb cole slaw and BBQ black soybeans, and even perhaps a dessert.

Low-Carb Vs Low-Fat

If you live with someone committed to a low-fat diet, you'll need to break meals down into the basic components. Cook lean protein and plenty of vegetables. Then add carbs to the low-fat plate and fat to the low-carb one. For example, make a pasta meal, but for you, substitute spaghetti squash for the pasta, and then add some olive oil or pesto sauce to the dish.

You'll probably both be eating salads, but you can add avocado and an oil-based sugar-free dressing to yours. (Fat-free salad dressing often have quite a lot of sugar added, but it's easy for everyone to have their own dressing.)

Find some key foods that are low in both carbs and fats. I have some recipes which are low in both fats and carbs, so both of you can enjoy them. 

When Your Partner is the Cook

More negotiation is called for when you are more or less at the mercy of someone else's cooking. Hopefully, you can convince your partner or roommate to try cooking some lower-carb dishes, and the guidelines above can help. Realistically, though, sometimes people's cooking skills revolve around a few dishes. The best defense is to start doing some of the cooking yourself. Learning just a few key recipes can make a big difference. Barring that, there are still some strategies that can help.

1. Have some low-carb substitutes on hand. For example, if the cook in the house is making sandwiches of some sort, if you have low-carb tortillas on hand or a bag of salad greens, you can put the sandwich filling on a salad or in a wrap. Other helpful substitutes include bags of shirataki noodles or other low-carb pasta, low-carb bread if you can find it, and raw vegetables for dips and spreads.

2. Get some low-carb condiments, such as sugar-free salad dressings, low-carb ketchup and relish, and real mayonnaise (the low-fat kinds usually have added sugar). Also, sugar-free jams if you have something to put it on (truly, it isn't hard to make low-carb muffins!)

3. Have some special low-carb foods set aside in case dinner doesn't have much for you to eat. Knowing that you have some "go-to foods" on hand can make all the difference in staying on your diet.

Finally, keep in mind is that the longer you stick to your new way of eating, the more accommodating the people around you are likely to become. When your low-carb diet truly becomes "the way you eat" rather than a short-term diet, and when the results in terms of your health become obvious, you will probably find that others will become quite helpful, and may even join you!

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