How to Win an Argument About Nutrition

Monday Jan 18 | BY |
| Comments (33)

Young Couple Screaming At Home In The Kitchen.

When I decided to become a vegetarian at the age of 18, I naively thought that because I “saw the light,” everyone around me also would.

“If only they knew the truth,” I thought, “everyone would go vegetarian.”

Not only did people not care about the truth, but they also felt uneasy by my bringing up that I was a vegetarian — even when I didn’t try to convince them at all that I was “right.” This situation led to a lot of arguments and wasted energy.

But I grew up, and I learned how to handle delicate social situations with more tact and finesse. I see people making the same mistakes all the time! Running into opposition from their friends, family members, doctors, etc.

I titled this article “How to win an argument about nutrition.” In reality, the best thing is NOT to try to win at all. My first principle is: don’t ever try to win an argument about nutrition. I used the title to get your attention about this important topic.

The reason people confront you about your dietary or lifestyle choices is because they feel uneasy about your place in the social hierarchy. They feel uncomfortable that you’re doing something different — something outside the norm.

Every society is concerned about non-conformists. Built-in our psychology is the desire to make sure that we’re hammering hard on those nails that stick out so that every nail is perfectly flat.

John goes vegetarian and announces it to the world. Family and friends become uneasy. “So now John is better than me? Does that mean that I’m doing something wrong? No, that can’t be true, so John must be wrong. Let me tell him about protein.”

John made his first mistake by announcing to the world that he went vegetarian. This announcement was the source of a lot of tension in the family.

At the same time, John also created more difficulties for himself. Now he’s got to challenge everyone’s expectations that the diet he’s on is not going to work. He’s no longer doing it for himself — he’s doing this to prove something to his friends and family.

But what if the diet needs some tweaking? What if he cheats and can’t stick to it for a while? He’ll become a failure in his social circle, and that will create unnecessary stress and lead to procrastination.

To avoid all of this, I suggest the following replies to typical social situations and questions.

Water or Juice Fasting

You’ve decided to fast all day for whatever reason. The wrong thing to do would be to tell everyone what you’re doing! Instead, you can go about your day with no one being the wiser.

Whenever I do a one-day water fast, I don’t tell everyone what I’m doing (unless they’re close friends who know about my habits and are comfortable with it). Someone asks you to share coffee with them? No problem, but you’ve already had coffee, so you’re going to order some bottled water instead. Dinner invitation? Geez, you’re too busy that day but can I join you later or another day?

Where do you get your protein?

A common question on any vegetarian diet. Wrong answers include:

1) Where does the gorilla get its protein? Where does the cow get its protein? You know, this whole theory is wrong, you’ve been brainwashed, man!
2) I get my protein from fruit!

Instead, you’re going to be evasive and non-confrontational by saying:

1) I don’t know.
2) I’m not sure. My nutritionist (or doctor) takes care of that

People are natural omnivores. We’ve been eating meat for thousands of years.

Wrong answer:

“That’s true. People have also owned slaves, kept women from voting, and forced children to work in factories. Just because something has a long tradition doesn’t mean that it’s right.” (an actual answer from PETA)

Instead, You’re going to say:

Yes, you’re right. I’m not trying to become a vegetarian. I’m just trying out this diet. If it doesn’t work, no big deal, I’ll switch back.

So are you a vegetarian/vegan now?

People are quick to put labels on you. This can be problematic as it may cause you unnecessary stress to live up to their expectations. For example, when everyone thought I was a raw foodist, they judged that I lacked conviction when I started including cooked food in my diet. Instead of claiming to be a raw foodist and assigning myself that label, it would have been better to have just said that I was “trying out this diet for a while.”

So don’t say: “Yes, and I’ll never have a bite of meat again!”

Instead, say:

No, I’m just trying this plant-based diet for a few weeks. Just as an experiment. I don’t know how it’s going to go… we’ll see. If it doesn’t work, I’ll switch back.

So are you still on your vegetarian diet?

Six months have passed, and you lost weight and looked better. Still, it’s not the time to make a big statement. Instead, you can answer:

Well I’m not really vegan/vegetarian, but this diet seems to be working right now, so I’m going to keep it up for a little while.

(One year later, you look great)… They won’t ask you about your diet. They won’t dare!

You know, if you don’t drink milk, you’ll get osteoporosis.

Wrong answers (unless you’re committed to making enemies):

Did you know that the three countries that have the highest rates of osteoporosis are also the biggest consumers of dairy products?

What you’ll say:

Darn, I better check that out.


Oh, my nutritionist takes care of that.

I read in the newspapers that vegetarian diets are dangerous.

Wrong answer:

It’s all a bunch of lies paid by the meat industry!

What you’ll say:

Oh really? I’ll check it out. (Change subject).

A friend of mine tried a vegetarian diet, and she got very sick. She ended up at the hospital.

Oh geez, that’s too bad. (Don’t say anything else, change subject).

If necessary, add:

It seems to be working for me right now.

Come on, why there’s only a little meat in that dish, you should, at least, taste it.

People will often push you to eat something even though you just said that you won’t eat it. You can easily avoid the situation by remaining non-confrontational and polite.

It looks great. And you know what, I will try when I’m off this diet. But for now, if I cheat I know I won’t be able to stick with it! So I’m sorry, but I’ll pass for today.


Oh, I just ate. I’m full!

Will you have a glass of wine? (And you’re trying to avoid alcohol)

No thanks.

If that doesn’t get you out, say:

I’d love to, but I need to drive back home. OR

I’d love to, but I’m not in the mood today.

It looks you lost some weight (looking worried). Or “You’re losing too much weight.”

Wrong answer:

And It looks like YOU put on some weight!

What you’ll say:

Yes, but I feel good. (Change subject).


But I love the taste of (insert food). I could never give it up.

I hear ya.

I think vegan women look too skinny.

I know.

I think vegan men look too skinny and don’t have any muscle. They have low testosterone too.

You know what, that’s possible, but I’m feeling good.

Hitler was a vegetarian!

He was! (Laugh). Gandhi too (laugh).

I could never eat this way! (looking at your meal with disgust)

Actually, it’s not too bad.

You should be careful with all those potatoes; you’re going to gain weight.

Yeah, but they fill me up!

Come on, olive oil is good for the heart.

Of course!

But you need good fats!

Yes, I know. I get those.

You know, not all meat (or any other food) is bad for you.

You’re probably right! I’m just giving this a shot.

Don’t do this for too long, you’ll become too skinny!

Ok! I’ll make sure I don’t. If that happens, I’ll start eating “real” food again (laugh).


Some people might accuse me of “white lies” and “not standing up for yourself.” But if you’ve been following any alternative lifestyle for a period, I think you’ll understand the reasons behind this approach of “peace vs. truth.”

When someone asks you any of those questions, they are not truly interested in what you’re doing. They are afraid that you might be doing something better than them. It makes them feel uneasy.

By reassuring them that you’re not so sure of it yourself, it establishes positive balance in the relationship.

Results will speak for themselves, and no arguments will be needed.

When they see you getting results, they won’t dare question what you’re doing. You can then answer most questions by “Oh, It’s working for me right now.”

If someone is genuinely interested in what you’re doing, they WILL ask you. Until then, you can work on you without the unnecessary pressure of living up to other people’s expectations. Become an example, and that will be enough PROOF for everyone.

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.


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  1. EthicRanger says:

    Its not really resonating tactic. I’m sorry.
    Its kind of white lie to what you believe, and missed chance to squeeze some info, so they can check as well. Why show yoursf unknowledgable? You might be attacked for not carefully researching things. People will not believe in other answers if they hear I do things just for trying.

    Giving genuine question back with squeezed info to their comment or question is better tactic. Now you can know soon was he genuinely asking or what. If he will check what you said, then it’s genuinely.

    I’d rather give impression that I care about some ethics rather look for super peace of mind.

  2. Jenny says:

    Excellent consideration, thank you.

  3. Hi Frederic, thanks so much for posting this! It’s really resonating with me, because it mirrors my own experience. I’ve been made wrong so many times for my food choices I lost count. Just like you, I value my peace of mind way more than “winning” an argument – especially one that can’t be won because your “opponent” is not interested in genuinely learning something, but in keeping THEIR peace of mind and worldview intact.
    I’ve been all vegan and raw for a while, have been able to live on nothing but sunlight and water for a while, have gone back to SAD when circumstances would have driven me nuts without me lowering my vibration again and munching on conventional comfort foods and everything inbetween. I know what makes me feel best and allows me to be most productive and happy, so I strive to create the living situation that allows me to eat very little over a prolonged period of time and drink fresh clean water.
    Sadly, in a transition period, I’ve learned, people around me aren’t interested at all, but, as you say, feel threatened. So, I applaud you for pushlishing an article on how to create a win-win situation out of a seeming impossible conflict. Keep up the great workd!

  4. Christine says:

    I have also heard a real health concern raised up on switching to a vegetarian/vegan diet. How about getting enough Vitamin B12, since I heard that Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal and animal products? I heard that Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause many health problems including Multiple Sclerosis.

  5. Rob says:

    Dear Frederic, very clever writing tool that gives you the space to express both the confrontational and non–confrontational response. I am guessing it was fun to write? Certainly enjoyed reading it … entertaining and funny.

    and I didn’t say …

    oh nevermind .. let’s leave it at that .. ha! ha!

  6. Priti says:

    Frederic , I faced this all time. Believe me what you said above absolutely works.

  7. Brilliant article. We have been plant eaters for a long time. Haven’t been to a doctor for 36 years. A relative who loves to take the “mickey” out of me sent me a photo yesterday of a table setting with a dinner plate full of ice cubes. Caption ” Vegan, gluten free, organic, fat free, sugar free”
    She always asks me “how come your nails are so long? My answer, must be all the plants we eat.
    So like your article says, we just try to avoid an argument and every day I note how grateful I am for learning how to live this way.
    Sydney, Australia.

  8. Isabel says:

    Thank you for bringing up this very important topic Frederic.

    I find that staying focused and committed on being the healthiest plant-based me takes a lot of discipline. I am spending energy on being my top-notch self under all conditions and circumstances. Therefore, I agree with you; stop reaching out to “convert” or to “win arguments” with others.

    I strongly believe that those who are ready will be open to the information, knowledge and the embracing community of people for support. I am on the look-out to share with those who are interested in receiving the live-changing forces that come with being a plant-based human. The strength of the plant-based movement is in the air. Lets support those who are ready to be part of it. 🙂

  9. I love this article! Totally agree, they are uneasy and let the results speak for themselves. I love the “actual” answer versus the peace answer because it makes me laugh and lets me know that what I think in my head is in yours, too. And the ones who do wake up and want to know will ask and then my total thoughts pour forth. So I do not feel like a sell-out at all = instead, wiser now, realizing I can catch more flies with honey than vinegar AND pearls before swine just get squished into the mud anyway so why waste energy.

    Amen, bro, and thanks 🙂

  10. Angela Miller says:

    Please remember that, if the Eskimos or anyone living in the most northern parts of the world had to be vegans or vegetarians before transport was available they would all have died! Everything in moderation and eat local is the best advice for anyone.

    I have sent you this advice before but have never received a reply, I would really like an answer to the Eskimo/Northern hemispheres question, how would they have survived? If it is only natural for human beings to be vegan or vegetarian? Thanks in advance for your answer. Angela Miller

    • Of course the eskimos had to eat lots of meat to survive. It’s not a question of what’s “natural” but a question of survival. I’m not arguing for a diet that will work for all of humanity in all circumstances. I’m arguing for a diet that will reverse the common diseases of affluence that we suffer from.

  11. vibrantgal says:

    Very wise answers!!!! I have been a vegan/vegetarian since 1975, when few people ever heard of it. I used to get questions like, “You’re a what”? 80% raw and 20% cooked since 1992. Fantastic transformation, physically as well as mentally.

  12. Yllyndra says:

    Another good answer, especially for the Candida Diet, etc., is “I’m doing this for medical reasons to reclaim my health.” That’ll shut people up fast or get them to ask serious questions about it (have some answers prepared ahead of time). Another tactic is pick a few of the more offensive ingredients, like pork, and if offered them, simply say you’re allergic. People will back off fast because no one wants to be responsible for sending someone into anaphylactic shock (though that can “backfire” too; got a waitress once who happened to be a pharmacy tech who asked if I had an epi pen with me…oops). Claiming to be allergic gets faster beneficial results w/o having to explain that you’re super sensitive to the food and will be sick for a week or struggle to breathe for several hours after you eat it.

    As for “lying,” so long as you’re not “bearing false witness against your neighbor,” don’t worry about it, imho. You can change the topic w/o having to pretend to know nothing, also. Eventually you’ll learn to discern who has “ears to hear” for a more thorough and respectful conversation. If they respect you, they’ll go over the planned menu with you when they invite you to dinner, or pick a restaurant that serves dishes you can eat.

    I had the opposite happen to me once. My favorite restaurant in the universe is vegetarian… because it’s delicious, of course! Another patron asked me if I was vegetarian, so I politely explained I was not, but their food is the best tasting and I really enjoyed eating there and it’s certainly OK to enjoy a meal without meat on occasion, which I think may have surprised him to hear an omnivore say. =)

  13. Sheila says:

    I think that the best approach would be the same one Jesus used. When confronted by people who were obviously just trying to trick him, he answered questions with questions. Get them to answer the question themselves and do the thinking. Now they are on the spot, not you. If they say you aren’t getting enough protein, “really? do you really believe vegetarians aren’t getting enough protein?” If they still don’t back down, “how did people get protein For over a thousand years before the flood?” This might lead to a spiritual conversation. If the person doesn’t seem genuinely interested, “it doesn’t seem like you’re interested in my lifestyle so I won’t waste your time. If you do want to learn about going vegan in the future I can answer your questions then”

    Learn to answer questions with questions like Jesus did and do it in a loving, non threatening way. You will filter out the attackers and keep those who really do want to learn. please don’t resort to lies and deceit

    Sample conversation

    You’re vegan? Isn’t that unhealthy?
    Do you think it’s unhealthy?
    What makes it unhealthy?
    They aren’t getting enough protein
    How do you get your protein?
    How do you think vegetarians get protein?
    They don’t
    Really? They don’t get any protein? (Show big biceps if you have them at this moment)
    Well they don’t get enough
    Where do they get a little bit of protein then?
    Salad. Tofu
    Etc etc

  14. Rose McCoy says:

    Definitely a strange article. First of all there’s no point in ever arguing. That doesn’t make sense. If someone’s interested in the topic I’ll have a discussion with him or her, but if they’re not interested there’s not really any point in talking to them and that’s OK. Sometimes we’re just not ready for information even though it may be very helpful and truthful information. I definitely agree that the best way to promote any truth is to be an example of it. You can’t argue with results. I thought that your answers however were rather strange. I’m certainly not going to lie if someone asked me a question I’m not going to be evasive or say something that I don’t actually believe. People aren’t that fragile. As long as we express ourselves with kindness and courtesy and not with an attitude that we somehow know better than them or we are better than them simply because we have information that may be they don’t have I think We’ll be OK.

  15. Jane says:

    I just say “I’m allergic to it”; or “I don’t digest it well … It doesn’t agree with my stomach.” Fun to read your writing! Thanks!

  16. RMD says:

    I was nodding my head throughout the entire article because my experience was completely the same as yours with all of the comments and questions (primarily from family members). People at my local YMCA who noticed my weight loss (that was needed) were much more open-minded and wanted to know what my “secret” was. You are dead on that it makes people uncomfortable with anything that isn’t the norm. I don’t bother trying to convert anybody to my way of eating or challenge anybody with the facts. People are going to do what they want to do. Change occurs at an individual level when change is desired, and there is enough motivation. Either you open somebody’s mind via the results speaking for themselves, and/or they are in so much pain that they are willing to try something new.

    The other comments that I hear more frequently now are: “well, you gotta live . . . .” or “you can’t live forever, you know . . .” The latter comment really cracks me up (inside) but I do as you do and take the high road and just smile and say, yes that’s true. What I really want to say is, “Ahh, yeah, I’m not stupid and know that we are all going to die someday and I never said that I wanted to live forever. I’m just trying to have the best quality of life possible. I think that life stinks when I don’t feel good and energized. Hopefully keeping my mind engaged and body well-maintained will keep me active and enjoying life until the end. Even if something negative happens with my health down the road, it seems logical that I probably delayed the on-set of the illness, and that I will probably recover faster due to having a healthy eating and exercise plan established.

  17. isabel says:

    congrats with regard to most answers! clever reasoning! keep on enjoying the experience that come from “results speak from themselves” which always, sooner or lather seams to reflect the obvious truth: just feeling your best ever…

  18. BarbaraL says:

    Great reminders Frederic, as usual, well delivered. Been doing it wrong for so many years until I realized it was an ego trip. I actually did think I WAS better than, more progressive than, even more noble and humane than! Eeeks. How pompous! Now I say the truth: I have been experimenting for many years and I find this works best for me, for now. Because I can change, and do. If asked further, I also add that I get weary of all the conflicting expert opinions back and forth that I used to follow, so now I just decide for myself and live with the results because we know so much, yet so little about the body’s requirements. The jury is out on so much, I truly don’t know if down the road I will find I did it wrong. But its really important to me to heal my gut so I can follow my gut better. And that requires paying attention to stress and what I eat.
    I used to say that I read Diet for a New America when it came out and vowed I would NEVER partake in factory farming again, but I found that just makes me look noble, and them look either dumb or evil or insensitive. I have made so many mistakes out of pride and frustration, out of self defense too, and also out of a desire to truly help others suffer less. I discovered that encouraging people to study and experiment rather than think I have their answers, works best for me. I have to still be careful. I think what you are saying to some degree is go about yourself humbly and don’t worry if you are well received or not. No one likes to be shown up or coached unless they ask for it, and even then it is so hard to take advice from others at times. Tread lightly, gently and with respect even for ignorance. Thank you for a well thought out article.

    • Hi Barbara! I echo your feelings and experiences. Especially since Diet for A New America was the very first health book I read (and took seriously). Those who want to know will ask! And that happens a lot too…

  19. Joanne says:

    I find it easiest just to say that what I’m doing works for me. Playing stupid by saying things like “I don’t know” or I’m just trying it out” or not admitting your a vegetarian or vegan to avoid a moment of discomfort is a lie. I don’t want to be the person that lies. If someone was about to shoot heroin and said they heard it was good for stress, I would not agree with them. I am a “senior” vegan that has been in these situations before people could even pronounce the word vegan. I don’t expect anyone to change what they are doing just because they met me but neither would I “poo poo” it. I would hope to be a good example.

  20. Shirley says:

    Why not just ask them ‘what is it about my choices that makes you so uncomfortable?’ Let them bring up their limiting beliefs and judgments to increase their awareness and see what else is possible?

  21. Luis Medrano says:

    “If someone is genuinely interested in what you’re doing, they WILL ask you. Until then, you can work on you without the unnecessary pressure of living up to other people’s expectations. Become an example, and that will be enough PROOF for everyone.”

    My favorite words. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Cheryl says:

    I get so much opposition to my diet from family and friends, I end up staying home and not eating out anymore.

    Sometimes, even by replying with your suggestions they find a way to corner you, and make you feel like a worm.

    Personally, I do not think it is anybody’s business how or what I eat. The healthier your lifestyle, the more they love to aggravate you. Totally not worth it at all.

  23. Caroline says:

    Funny story. Mom was lambasting me for going raw vegan. As i was peeling a fresh ear of corn to eat she went on and on about the necessity of cooking to control food born illnesses…. She then began to left a fresh organic strawberry i brought to the picnic to share to her mouth. I stopped her hand before the strawberry reached her mouth and gasped “WAIT! Don’t you want to cook that first!?” Our separation over nutrition principles continues (of course) and my nickname in tge family is “the food patrol”. Great advice, I’ll try it instead of my kneejerk slap them in the head with the absurdity of their own outdated knowledge that no longer works for health. Will be hard. I’m a peacemaker at heart.

  24. Marge says:

    I have been first vegetarian, then moved on to being vegan fairly quickly. It has been 38 years now eating this way! If the topic comes up, no one seems that interested. I had house guests recently who were obese and diabetic, on lots of meds. We went out to eat and I ordered a beautiful vegetable plate. I did mention I was vegan. They didn’t ask any questions or anything! I’m slim, and love wearing my size 4 skinny jeans. You would think they would want to know how I do it! But, no, they just ate their meat dinner and spoke of other things. So I didn’t say anything. But that’s how it is in my life. I just go on my way and eat my vegan diet and stay slim and trim at 66 years old. Ha No one wants to know my secret!

  25. Helen W says:

    I have to take a lot of supplements too for health problems. Recently an acupuncturist of all people told me (when she read about all the herbs and vitamins I was taking): “If I had to take all those pills and be so restricted with my diet I think I would die!” Made me feel very bad esp. coming from an alternative health care professional.

    This article has given me ammunition for the future and of course the best revenge: looking a feeling good! But when you look and feel good they try to convince you that you are wasting your effort on whatever you are doing because they assume you are one of those ultra-naturally healthy people just being a hypochondriac. That’s when I have to keep in my mind “before and after pictures,” of my health before and after I started. People can be such jerks! Excellent article!!!

  26. Chris says:

    Good article. But one must decide “who” to be diplomatic with and “who” to be truthful based on experience and research. It takes work to educate and use Socratic questioning. Being aloof is the lazy way out obviously. You decide this way: If it is just a stranger of a person of no consequence (do they really exist?) then it is no effort to just change the subject and move on, or ignore them gracefully. But those who matter to us deserve the effort it takes to educate. Personally I have converted my family, and best friends 100%. Sure it took years and lots (LOTS) of effort and work on my part, providing materials, even meals and the best smoothies for a very long time… this all tales gargantuan effort as you know plus time and money. But it was worth it. One small example is now I have a mom who is almost eighty, in literally perfect health, takes ZERO medications, has ZERO health or physical issues, and who exercises hard core, including real weight training, plus cardio at least and usually twice per day, plus the fundamental stretching every single night. Her diet beats 99% of the health gurus on the internet, and she does it all with efficiency and aplomb. She is my Frankenstein creation, and at her age actually gets mistaken for the daughter of all her friends even ten years younger than she. This is but one person (the most important is your mom and dad by the way) in my life who I have “converted”. I would not trade all the effort and heart ache it took for all the riches in the world.

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