How to Go Plant-Based (When Your Partner Won’t)

iStock 000006045828 ExtraSmallOne of the most common questions I get in Q&A sessions following talks:

What if you want to go vegan or vegetarian, but your partner is not on board? 

And I never have a good answer. I was very fortunate that from the minute I came home and said, “Honey, I want to try being vegetarian,” she said, “Let’s do it!”

Same with going vegan a few years later. So while I can give suggestions (don’t be preachy, lead by example, and look for recipes that can swing both ways), they’re based only on others’ experiences.

My friend Jeff Sanders has such firsthand experience; he’s a nearly-raw vegan and his wife is an omnivore. I asked Jeff if he’d help me answer this common question, and this post is the result.

Jeff, by the way, is the host of a fantastic podcast called the 5AM Miracle — one that I’ve started listening to as I’ve become more intentional about my mornings (even if I’m still sawing logs in my bed at that ungodly hour). I was even a guest on the podcast a few months ago; so have been other vegan runners Rich Roll and PJ Murphy.

Enter Jeff

As vegans and vegetarians, we’re in the minority — and that often holds true even in our own homes.

If you eat a plant-based diet or are considering making the transition, it’s likely you’re flying solo — buying your own ingredients, cooking your own food, and ordering meals for one.

I want to offer a little peace of mind. Living as a plant-based athlete does not have to be painful, even if your significant other, roommates, or family are not so keen on joining you.

My First Day as a Vegetarian

My wife, Tessa, had invited a friend to come visit for the weekend, which just happened to coincide with my “Grand Vegetarian Experiment.”

Fully stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, our refrigerator was ready and so was I. I nudged Tessa and Kendall into the kitchen and we all three got our hands dirty as we added bunches of spinach leaves into the strawberry-banana mixture for our first-ever green smoothies. We took happy photos of each other holding up the green concoction and then gulped it down.

I’ll be frank — it was awful.

None of us was prepared for the foul taste. My “fresh” spinach leaves were anything but. Tessa and Kendall had big, plastic smiles on their faces, but it was obvious they were masking their disgust.

In spite of this failed experiment, my passion for the plant-based lifestyle only grew. Within the next few months I completed my transition to a full-time vegan and then eventually a raw vegan. It took time, but I was committed.

My wife, however, was not on board. My failed green-smoothie initiation may have permanently left a bad taste in her mouth.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

We all eat different foods. My cousin has a gluten allergy, so her dinner plate looks different compared to her dining companions’. My dad loves steak, so he eats considerably more meat than my mom. My wife hates asparagus more than going to the dentist (and that’s saying a lot), so there’s not much asparagus around my house.

Transitioning to a plant-based diet — whether it be vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, or something similar — while your partner is sticking with meat isn’t easy. But with the right approach, it can be done.

If you suddenly learned you had an intolerance to a particular food, what would you do? You’d simply buy, cook, order, and eat slightly different foods. Most likely, you wouldn’t ban your spouse or partner from preparing that food for his or her own consumption — after all, you are the one with the intolerance, not them.

Going plant-based when your partner will not requires a similar approach — even if the ethical implications of plant-based diet complicate things somewhat.

I didn’t go vegetarian in secret. My wife knew every step of the process because we discussed it. She knew why I wanted to make this life transformation. She empathized with me and accommodated my wishes, and her willingness to go along with my transition made the entire process much smoother.

What About the Critics?

If your partner is not sympathetic — not happy about your change — or simply not willing to go along with the transition, what are your options?

Find opportunities to share your food whenever possible. There are plenty of vegan meals and side items that many people love (salad, pasta, chips and salsa, fruit, etc.). Make it a priority to include these items at meals as often as you can. Many new vegans find that their partners adapt to their new lifestyle within a couple of weeks without any problems.

It’s not the end of the world if you find yourself cooking and eating separate meals. My wife and I share a small portion of food, but the bulk of our diets are quite different. It doesn’t cause problems and it doesn’t have to. As long as everyone is eating food they enjoy, no one has to miss out on eating together.

If you find that your partner is still hostile towards you because of your choice to eat more plants, you can always reach out to other vegans for support. A supportive community — and good news for No Meat Athlete readers, I hear there’s one coming soon — can help you solve many problems that you may not be able to on your own.

Cook for Yourself and Everyone Else – Without Causing World War III

Shopping for your new plant-based foods may cause the financial wizard in your house to hiccup. Produce costs more — sometimes considerably more. Though you may be willing to pay up, it’s also important to be considerate so your own wishes don’t put an immediate wrench in the family finances.

I recommend a slow transition. Find a few recipes that everyone in the house might like that won’t break the bank. All-fruit smoothies are always a big hit, for example, and frozen fruits are considerably cheaper than fresh produce. In the beginning, try making one or two plant-based dishes to complement your partner’s otherwise omnivorous meals: Make veggie burritos, big salads, or pasta dishes, and allow your spouse to add meat if that’s what he or she wants. You can also try soy dishes as replacements for meat, especially if you are missing that flavor or texture during your transition to a plant-based diet. (And No Meat Athlete has a whole post about ways to make your plant-based diet cheaper.)

But don’t force your own philosophies (and foods) on others, especially if they are not 100 percent sold on the idea of a plant-based diet. You can stretch them a little with a new dish here or there, but if you push too much at once, you could inadvertently lose their support of your new lifestyle.

NMA Readers’ Best Tips

When Susan and Matt asked the NMA Facebook fans for their best advice, here’s what a few of them said:

Alanna Garrison-Kast: ha ha – I have struggled with this for 11 years. Unfortunately it means we eat a lot of separate meals, although I have found that a large customizable salad, whole grain pasta with some veggies, or dairy-free burritos are a good compromise.

Janet Oberholtzer: Best tip for coexisting… live and let live!

I am the only NMA in my family and I’m generally the one cooking. I became a vegetarian when my three sons were in their teens and they weren’t thrilled with a no meat diet, so I cooked meat for them, but in smaller portions than I did in my pre NMA days.

When our youngest son moved out this past year, I told my husband that I’m done cooking meat. He’s been supportive of my plant-based diet, (he even agrees it’s healthier) so he eats whatever I make/cook when we eat in, but when we eat out, he often orders a burger or other meat dish.

Ryan Mesler:I was fully expecting my wife to stick with her meat-based diet, and I didn’t try to force anything down her throat. I simply let the results speak for themselves. Within a month, she was eating MOSTLY vegan with me. She would still eat deli meat sandwiches for the occasional lunch snack.

I think if you stress that we shouldn’t try to actively convert anyone and just lead by example, you have much better luck getting your spouse to join with you. To this day, she still won’t “knowingly” eat tofu.

View all of the 87 reader comments on Facebook.

Arm Yourself With Knowledge & Respect

I mentioned soy previously, and I am aware that soy is a bit controversial in some health circles. However, I have found that nearly every food is hated on by someone — sometimes for logical, evidence-based reasons (arsenic in brown rice, for example), and other times because of misinformation.

Do your homework. Read as much as you possibly can. Educating yourself and others about your lifestyle comes along with living it. You’re an ambassador for the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle, whether you intend to be or not.

Perhaps more important than what you say is what you do. Lead by example. It’s not as direct as preaching, but a sermon falling on deaf ears is a waste of time. I’m always surprised when I visit my parents and see how much of my diet they have adopted. It has taken more time than I anticipated, but they are eating healthier in large part because of what I do — not as much what I say.

Focus on Motivation and Results

It’s not surprising that many people view veganism as the lack of meat, instead of the addition of health, energy, and vitality. To truly go plant-based is to remove certain foods from your diet, but it’s not always obvious how that is better.

If you are motivated to go eat a plant-based diet, share your passion with those around you. If you have a goal to improve your health and you believe that veganism is a big part of that, tell people. It’s rare for someone to hold you back from self-improvement.

Also — and this is huge — don’t forget to mention the results. If you lose a lot of weight or improve your marathon time, other people will be pleasantly surprised to hear about it. The positive results of making a big switch are always persuasive, and for the right reasons.

What Now?

If you are on board to make plant-based living your new reality, go for it! Start the process. The green smoothie weekend that I shared with my wife was a great first step to educating both of us. Start small and gradually build up.

The best first step is always a small one that builds momentum. I recommend fruit smoothies as the first step because they are so easy to make and I have not met anyone yet who doesn’t like Mother Nature’s sugar.

Do you have a favorite tip for making different diets work under the same roof? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author: Jeff Sanders is a raw vegan marathoner, goal achievement coach, and host of The 5 AM Miracle Podcast. He blogs at JeffSanders.com about daily habits, productivity, personal development, and plant-based health & fitness. NMA readers can get a free copy of his ebook Life Without Bacon: Action Plan to Go Vegan With Confidence at JeffSanders.com/nma.

39 Comments

 


Dig this post?
Spread the word!

Keep in touch:

Get Fit, Become a Runner, and Love It



3D-5k-Roadmap Ever wished there was just a roadmap to guide you to the finish of your first 5K, starting from where you are now? The No Meat Athlete 5K Roadmap covers everything you need to know to get fit, become a runner, and love it:
  • Four 10-week training programs for your first 5K all the way to an advanced 10K
  • How to get started on a plant-based diet, and what to eat before, during, and after your workouts
  • Two-week meal plan plus 15 healthy, substantial, and easy recipes, so that you'll know you're getting everything you need
  • Two-hour "Getting Started With Running" audio series
Click here to learn more!

Comments

  1. Love it Matt! Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to share my story with your readers. Going vegan is quite a personal journey and it’s not always easy to convince others to join the party (even if that means your wife!).

  2. I have been a vegetarian and sometimes vegan for 33 years. No one else in my family are. So, I normally fix my own meals and my wife fixes for the rest of the family. When our kids were growing up and did not like what mom fixed she said, “Then eat what your dad fixed.” Funny thing they never did try what I fixed!

  3. GREAT post!!! When I met my partner we were both omnivores. I was at a normal weight and he was slightly overweight. After a few years, we decided to go veg. I lost some weight and am now slightly underweight. He gained a TON of weight! Note – we were eating the same things! It was crazy. Last year, he gave up carbs completely and lost 50 pounds over about 8 months. I was really proud of him but the lack of carbs definitely put a strain on our relationship! First of all, he was crabby as H3LL! Next, a vegetarian (really just about vegan) can exist with an omnivore, but for someone excluding 90% of carbs, it is REALLY hard! We could share non-starchy vegetables! In moderation! Fortunately, he has added back in some carbs (quinoa, mostly) and gained only a small amount of weight back, so things are better. He also moved out, but that’s a separate issue! LOL!

    • Isn’t it amazing how when two people live together and eat different food it can cause so much craziness?! Thanks for sharing your story Sharon. It’s good to know that I’m not alone when I get frustrated. ;)

  4. Great post, Jeff. I agree wholeheartedly that the best approach is to do your thing, let your partner/family do theirs, and many times they will become more interested as you happily and peacefully (and not preach-fully!) enjoy delicious food and the many benefits of being vegan. :-)

  5. It’s good to know from some people with experience that I seem to be starting off right. I’m currently making the transition to “mostly-vegan”, but my wife definitely wants to stay an omnivore. However, I’ve started making fruit smoothies for us each morning and she loves them! Next up I’m going to start cooking a little more (she normally does it), because she says she’s fine trying some veggie/vegan recipes but obviously she’s not going to be the one to cook them. I’m gonna start with the veggie burger recipe in Matt’s book, so here’s hoping I can get it right!

    • That’s a great approach Brandon. My wife also loves my smoothies but she normally only eats vegan food when I prepare it. It’s a little more work, but she’s worth it.

  6. I’m not strictly vegetarian or vegan, but most of the meals I cook at home are vegetarian and low to no gluten, for about a year now. My boyfriend is usually along for the ride, since the alternative is cooking for himself. We also eat out 2 or 3 times a week, so he gets his “fix” then (and sometimes so do I), and I’ll make meat at home once or twice a month. Finally, I try to find dishes in which meat is optional, and make some for him (to add to a salad, stir fry, etc.). Time has been the only factor that’s brought him more on board with how I’m eating. It took about 10-20 offers of making him a green smoothie for breakfast before he tried it, and probably another 10 before he realized how great it makes him feel. Just be patient!

    • I totally agree Tessa. Patience is everything. My wife definitely eats more vegan food now than ever. Maybe she’ll be fully on board in a few years. I’m crossing my fingers!

  7. Great article! I love the approach. As a dietitian I work with people to carve out the diet that is right for them. One size does not fit all. If the approach is subtle and not a “my diet is the best and everyone should follow it” family members can co-exist and figure out way to enjoy meals without the stress. I love your site!

  8. Twenty years go, I figured out that I was intolerant of beef and dairy. As in throw-up-for-three-days intolerant. So I immediately dropped beef and dairy. The internet was young, and I got on some usenet groups to figure out what to cook to replace the missing red meat in our diet. I discovered Dr. McDougall, vegetarianism, and a great veg community. Within a few weeks I was vegan. I told hubby that I would be cooking vegan. If he wanted to cook his own meat, he could, as long as he cleaned it up afterward, and he could eat meat at restaurants or such if he wanted to. Within a year, he was vegetarian as well. Twenty years later, we are both still happily veg.

    • It’s awesome to hear that both of you are still eating veggies 20 years later. That’s really unfortunate you had to ditch meat for such a violent reason, but I’m guessing both of you are healthier now because of it.

  9. My daughter is an omnivore, my wife a pescatarian and I’m a vegetarian. I was a fat vegetarian mind you before we removed juicing, most gluten, cooking oil, margarine and butter from our lives. Fructose and Oil are not my friends. :) Great article.

    • I’m still working on getting oils out of my diet. I didn’t think it was possible to be a fat vegan until I discovered oil, hummus, guacamole . . . which are all so tasty and tempting.

      • Oh…it’s possible. I’m a very fat vegan. The carbs (read corn) and lack of planning. I don’t think that I will get fat out of my diet, but I will try to slow down on the margarine and…corn. Eek…

  10. Thanks for the wise words. I find that I make 2 separate meals every night. My partner is a meat and potato person! That’s it!! The only veggies he likes (or will try) are carrots, corn or peas — all smothered in butter. I find if I just make a separate dinner for him we all all happy!

    • My wife loves butter and cheese more than most things, and I don’t think vegetables make it on her dinner plate very often. Two meals at our house is not only common, it’s the standard!

  11. Oh my goodness – how common this must be!
    I have been a vegetarian on and off since I was 12 – originally for ethical reasons. During my ex marriage I ate quite a lot of meat (for me!), but never beef or veal as I just love cows. I ditched the meat again 11 years ago and since then I have spent time healing on 100% raw vegan and now have a good balance – mostly vegan and lots of raw. My partner on the other hand was raised on a traditional French diet but unfortunately without the salad and veg. He now eats the most extraordinary amount of vegetables, (although still not salad), as rather fortunately he doesn’t cook! Yes, he still eats meat but I just don’t prepare it. He can eat it at work or when out and sometimes will buy some cold meats to have with lunch. I feel that for him in particular, and I would say in my experience with many people, when one has always had a particular diet, a habit and rhythm (and we’re talking half a lifetime here), the impulsion to change requires a huge amount of energy and time and there is fear about the consequence. He loves animals and I believe has a disassociation between the animal and the food, as do most people. He has told me that he can see that one day in the future he will not be eating any meat which is a bold statement if you knew the culture here! He does eat a lot of fruit however which I think goes a long way to enabling him to continue to train at a high level and compete in many ultras a year (and these are mountain ultras requiring high levels of endurance and very little sleep! – you can’t go very far without going up first here!)
    My children on the other hand never expect to eat meat at home and know they should eat some fruit each morning and salad each day. They are free to eat whatever they like at school, although this is France so the children have three courses every lunch time, starters always include salad, main course with veg and there are always yoghurts and fruit for dessert(!!) and they have plenty of time to eat as well.
    I suppose for me, it’s about non judgement, respecting the individual and the choices they wish to make (most of which I have discovered come out of a lack of knowledge and nothing more), and just trying to prepare delicious, fresh and filling food for my family, all of whom are extremely active. If I could say one thing though, it would be SOUP! Just how many veg can you cram in…………
    It is interesting however, that I always recover from training or races much quicker than my partner, although that may well be as I’m much more laid back and probably don’t push myself quite like he does!

    • I think you nailed it when you said that there is a disassociation between animals and food. That’s exactly what drew me into veganism originally. I really love how the French school system works with their food. It would be great if we had that here in the States.

  12. This post is great and I wish I’d had some guidance like this when I first started living with my omnivorous partner as a vegan in August. Unfortunately, I have an iron deficiency that has hugely affected me – I’m often fatigued, having to sleep 1-2 hours per day most days on top of my 7-8 solid hours at night. I’m taking tablets and the side effects give me stomach aches. I can’t seem to win. So, naturally, my partner looks at all this and blames it on my diet (which is pretty well balanced most of the time) and has said outright, twice, that he doesn’t support it. He doesn’t usually complain and still eats my food although it really hurts when I spend a couple hours on a meal and he says it tastes bland or just “okay” or even bad. It seems that sometimes this pushes him even further in the other direction, making comments like “I can’t wait to buy meat/milk/etc. when I get my next paycheck” etc. – not in a hurtful way but I can still find it difficult to deal with sometimes. If anyone has any advice I would be very grateful but otherwise I’ll just keep on the path to getting my iron levels up and hopefully my energy too, then attempt to lead by example and all the other suggestions that this post gives. Thank you for your wise words in this article and for providing a platform for me to share my experience and feelings.
    Lots of vegan love xx

    • Hey Megan, I’m sorry to hear that you are struggling through an iron deficiency AND living with someone who doesn’t quite get it. I know what you mean about sharing vegan food and having others call it bland. I switched my diet to mostly fruit, in part because most people love sugar, so it’s easier now to share tasty food.

      As far as helping with the iron deficiency, I would recommend you try juicing lots of leafy greens, especially spinach, which is high in iron. Juicing is a great way to funnel lot’s of nutrients into your body.

    • Hey! I have struggled with iron deficiency and if you haven’t already tried it, I just wanted to recommend Floradix Iron & Herbs. It’s a liquid supplement that you need to keep in the fridge. I have tried a bunch of pills and this formula seems to work way better for me all around, but especially belly-wise.

    • Hi Megan,

      I’ve been a vegan for more than 10 years now, and I also (occasionally) struggle with getting enough iron. A couple of things that you could try (if you haven’t already): (1) Drink less tea/coffee, as caffeine can interfere with iron absorption. (2) Eat less soy-based foods; soy can also reduce iron absorption. I try to use almond/rice milk instead of soy milk, for example. (3) Have some orange juice with your greens (or other iron-rich foods) as vitamin C can increase iron absorption. (4) If you wish to try a supplement, liquid supplements (such as the one made by Salus) are supposedly easier on the stomach. When I find myself getting low on iron, I usually supplement for a while but use only half the recommended dose, and it seems to work for me. Good luck!

    • Hi Megan, to help alleviate your anemia I would also recommend mixing in a tablespoon of unsulphured blackstrap molasses into hot almond milk or other liquid of choice. Besides being high in iron, it includes magnesium, copper, zinc, calcium, potassium, and manganese. I am unable to take iron supplements too (stomach issues, just like you), but I find this does not upset my stomach. Hope this helps!

  13. Michael Middleton says:

    I think the biggest issue with food is we immediately categorize EVERYTHING. How many diets are there that we’ve labeled and adhere to for the purposes of making ourselves better when really it comes down to 1. How does it taste? and 2. Am I getting everything I need during the day from a nutrition perspective?

    When I went vegetarian I noticed one thing – people start with meat and then try to incorporate the rest of the dinner around it. After my choice, we started cooking dinners the hard way. I would have something entirely different, or she would make two meals (sometimes three, depending on kids) leaving meat out of mine. It was more effort for her and more impact than I wanted to make. I tried to help out where I could by pre-making meals or helping make suggestions, and it just wasn’t working.

    Then a beautiful thing happened. I think there was some boredom in the meals. She also tried some of the stuff I was making and loved it. After that, we started looking for recipes. Granted, we would have to type “vegetarian” in sometimes to get a meatless recipe, but that was expected. The idea however was to look for recipes that looked good and didn’t have meat, or where meat could easily be substituted with tofu, or even dinners where I could eat all the “sides” (main dishes to me!) and the rest of the family would eat meat. Really what we did is we stopped eating by diet or style and started eating by taste and using “healthy” ingredients. Can you categorize it? Sure. I like to label it as “Yummy”.

  14. I love that perspective! Focusing on taste is definitely a great way to incorporate many new meals into your diet.

  15. Thanks for the awesome post! Matt, I definitely asked you this question at your book signing and it’s been one of the major barriers to going fully vegan for me. Jeff, these are great tips and I love the focus on leading by example. I was so excited about my transition early on that I think I got a little preachy without realizing it. I’ve backed off a bit and now my boyfriend drinks almond milk regularly and has a smoothie most mornings (when I make them for him haha). I think I could do better about acknowledging the results, so I’m gonna work on that thanks to this post :-)

  16. Wonderful post and comments. It’s a difficult one.. years ago I ended up switching back to eating meat for the sake of my relationship. But now that my veg cooking skills have improved it is tipping the other way – a very slow transition back to where I (or maybe both of us!) are vegetarian!

    • Your story is very intriguing because it shows that people make big changes for their significant others. It’s also good to hear that you are leaning back to veggies!

  17. What an amazing article! My husband is an omnivore and I”m a vegan, but we do just fine respecting each other’s decisions. The funny thing is, I think he gets more judgment from others for not joining me most of the time!!! I’ve always thought, he doesn’t try to persuade me to eat meat so I shouldn’t try to persuade him to make a major diet change either. Love this article!

  18. My partner is a butcher! We met when I was transitioning to veganism. It works…he loves vegetables, but he also likes his meat. We have the same diners, but I`ll have a vegan version. Or, he will just eat what I eat. I respect his choice, and he respects mine. I do not try to preach to him: he knows why I am a vegan and doesn`t judge me for it. He was one of the only guys I met who didn’t crack a stupid joke when I told him I was a vegan. What I do try to help him with though, is eating whole foods. So, we try to keep out convenience foods and try to cook our meals. We have been together for 7 years and we have no issues

  19. I was vegetarian way before my husband and I met and I to.d him from the beginning that I would never cook animals for him. One because I just can’t stand to do it and two bevause I don’t know how. He will eat anything but since I do most of the shopping and will not buy meat he is now mostly vegetatian. I have “progressed” to vegan, mostly raw, and he has come along because he has noticed how much better he feels…he keeps saying that he would like to give up meat completely but “likes”the taste of meat. I was brought up a meat eater in a family of butchers and was informed I would die when I stopped eating meat at age 17…. Well I’m still around at age 53 and have become a long distance athlete..i feel I recover faster since becoming mostly raw.
    I agree with
    “Leading”by example but I also think it’s important to stand ip for your convictions. My husband has tried many times, in the past, to get me to “just try the ….meat” i asked him to respect my wishes and beliefs, since I never tried to “convert” him. Eventually he got it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] to Handle Different Eating Habits in the Same Household via Roni’s Weigh and How to Go Plant-Based (When Your Partner Isn’t) via No Meat Athlete because I’m currently single and live alone, so it doesn’t speak […]

  2. […] This article (and the whole website) has some really good points about eating vegan with a spouse who doesn’t. Since my husband is still a part time omnivore, I can relate. Respect is key, and having patience. […]

  3. […] How to Go Plant-Based (When Your Partner Won’t) | No Meat Athlete. […]

Leave a Comment

*