Note: This article contains excerpts from the e-book 7 Best Practices to Inspire Your Loved Ones to Go Plant-Based (available through WeDidIt.Health)
Have you experienced the amazing healing power of a plant-based lifestyle? After celebrating your own health improvements, and learning about the extensive research supporting a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet, it’s common to wish that everyone could experience these same benefits. Perhaps you have loved ones who are struggling with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or cancer, and you long to nudge them toward this lifestyle.
But all too often, others turn a deaf ear when we encourage them to try this way of eating. There is so much confusing and conflicting information out there about nutrition and health, it may appear as if a plant-based diet is just another fad.
Often others dismiss what we are sharing and question it in light of information from the media or even their health care providers. In the face of others’ reluctance or outright resistance, it’s easy to give up on encouraging healthier choices. However, while you can’t control others’ choices, you can help to inspire curiosity and hope. Stoking these embers of hope for a healthier future may start them on the path to change.
Below are seven tips for empowering others toward greater health with a plant-based diet. Consider the person(s) you hope to inspire as you mindfully engage in these practices.
1. Consider their readiness for change.
While we may wish to influence everyone to become healthier through a plant-based diet, the reality is that a plant-exclusive diet is not (yet) embraced by society. Many people find it difficult to adopt a way of eating that appears to go against familiar norms and traditions. Even some medical practitioners promote diets high in meat and dairy, and low in carbohydrates. Receiving this type of advice from trusted experts makes it difficult for many to accept that there is extensive research validating the health benefits of a plant-based diet.
In addition, research on the process of lifestyle change suggests that individuals go through stages of readiness in considering, initiating, and successfully maintaining change. When sharing about the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, it’s helpful to consider the other person’s stage of change to determine which approaches will be most effective.
Where is your loved one on the change continuum? Are they strongly opposed to trying a plant-based diet? Are they somewhat receptive, but have a number of concerns and questions? Are they receptive and interested, but unsure how to make this lifestyle change in a healthy and sustainable way?
If the other person is firmly opposed to considering a plant-based diet, being a positive role model (practice 4) may be your best bet. However, be alert for times of greater receptivity to take the opportunity to share information that is relevant to their specific interests and concerns.
For those who are somewhat receptive, but are ambivalent due to concerns and/or misinformation about a vegan diet, practices 2, 3, and 5 may be helpful to lessen their fears, and raise awareness of the positives of this lifestyle.
If your loved one is intrigued by the possibilities of a plant-based diet, but unsure how to go about this new lifestyle, explore how to best support them with practical resources, role modeling, and developing new skills (practices 4, 5, and 6).
2. Tailor your message to their deepest concerns.
If they have serious health problems that impact their quality of life, they may be inspired by hearing stories of yourself or others healing through plant-based nutrition. For those who value physical fitness, it may pique their interest to learn about the benefits of this lifestyle for athletic performance. If they are environmentally conscious, they may be motivated by learning that a plant-based lifestyle can reduce their carbon footprint even more than switching to a hybrid car.
3. Address their barriers to change.
Once they have shared their concerns and feel heard, they may be more receptive to information, resources, and/or learning how you overcame similar challenges. For example, if they think it’s too much work to change their diet, perhaps you can suggest meal planning and cooking together to develop new skills. If they are afraid they won’t enjoy the food, you might explore plant-based recipes that create a healthier version of their favorite meals.
4. Show, don’t just tell.
One of the best ways to inspire others is to role model a healthy lifestyle. Develop a repertoire of scrumptious vegan dishes to share at social gatherings. Continue to educate yourself on the benefits of WFPB nutrition and build a support network with others who embrace this way of eating. This will help you remain inspired and committed to your plant-based lifestyle. As you enjoy better health, while overcoming any challenges in the process, your positive outlook and results may be an inspiration to your loved ones.
5. Share compelling documentaries.
Invite family and friends to watch What the Health, Forks over Knives, or The Game Changers. It’s amazing how many people have awakened to the benefits of going plant-based through watching a documentary. You might also recommend an article or a podcast that is relevant to their specific concerns. As they hear information shared by experts, and witness the stories of those whose health has been transformed, their view may expand to see nutrition and health in a whole new way.
6. Focus on positive messages and encouragement.
Lasting lifestyle change occurs more readily when individuals connect with their own reasons for change versus feeling pressured or brow-beaten. Support your loved one when they express interest in making healthy dietary changes. Encourage any positive steps toward a healthier, plant-strong lifestyle, rather than critiquing their unhealthy choices. It’s OK to express concerns about your loved one’s dietary choices and the potential impact on health, but you will be most impactful if these concerns are expressed in a compassionate and respectful way. Be aware that criticism and unsolicited advice is rarely effective in eliciting behavior change. Be an ally on their health journey, rather than an adversary.
7. Be patient (and keep faith).
Everyone has their own process of change, and it’s important to respect other people’s journeys. It may help to recall your own experience of moving toward a plant-based lifestyle, including any initial skepticism or resistance, as well as setbacks you may have experienced along the way. Also remember your reasons for being plant-based, so that you remain hopeful and motivated to continue sharing the message.
Often many seeds are planted over time before a person is ready to implement and maintain healthy lifestyle changes. Keep communication open, even if the other person doesn’t immediately adopt a plant-based lifestyle. Continue to share intriguing stories about the health, environmental, and ethical benefits of eating plant-based. Keep bringing delicious vegan food to social events. Someday you may be pleasantly surprised when the others in your life tell you they are eating a lot more plants. Maybe they will even be sharing great plant-based resources with you!
Continue to hold your vision for a healthier world. With each person who awakens to the health and planetary benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, we create an unstoppable momentum toward the healing and flourishing for all.
For a complimentary copy of my e-book on this topic (7 Best Practices to Inspire Your Loved Ones to Go Plant-Based, published by Hippocrates Table LLC, 2022;), which contains more in-depth tips and resources, take the one-question survey at WeDidIt.Health. You will then contribute to sharing the plant-based message with others as well!
Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist and transformational coach. She is passionate about empowering people to create healthy lives that nurture mind, body, spirit, and planet. Dr. Crawford is certified as a Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, and has a Plant-Based Nutrition certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies at e-Cornell. She is currently doing research for a book on the psychological and emotional benefits of a vegan lifestyle.