Ahhh the holidays. The time we get together with the people who know our buttons best and love to push them – on purpose. I have often wondered why we do that to ourselves every year. But it is expected and so we do. There’s not much point in grousing about it. The best we can do is gather our wits and our best conflict resolution skills and smile.

I (Dr Robyn) have written books on conflict resolution and the one thing it always boils down to is, you get to control you, your emotions and your physical space. As long as you keep your head (logical brain) and don’t let your emotional brain takeover, you will be in control. A couple of quick tips:

Recognize when your body is telling you things aren’t okay. We all have a physical “tell.” That thing our body does when we feel hurt, threatened or unsafe. Maybe your stomach sinks or clutches, maybe your chest gets tight or your neck and shoulders clench. Whatever your tell is, pay attention to it. When it happens, you have the briefest of moments for your logical brain to be involved. Miss it and you’ll just have to hang on for the ride as your emotional brain takes over (like that time you said things that were true but not very kind or the time you couldn’t think of a good response until an hour later).

Expect the best but be prepared for the crazy. We all hope this year will be different. That no one will bring up our food choices (“are you STILL on that vegan kick?”) or your relationship status (“Why are you… single, getting divorced, stuck in that marriage” or whatever judgmental, none-of-their-affair nonsense they are complaining about) or how you make money (“Are you still in that dead-end job?” “Did you finally give up that dumb side gig thing?”) or any other personal, not-appropriate-for-dinner topic (“Why don’t you have kids yet?” “Why do you have so many kids?” “You know what causes that right?”). But we all know it’s going to happen as some point. Maybe not to you (yet) but that uncomfortable, awkward moment will happen. So be ready for it. Have a canned answer that you can just continue to use. Depending on how snarky you want to be, here are some ideas:

  • This choice is working for me right now.
  • Fortunately, I am an adult and get to make my own choices/mistakes.
  • I appreciate your caring. That isn’t a conversation I am willing to have.
  • It’s a personal choice and I’m not interested in having to defend it.
  • I’m here to enjoy time with the family. Let’s stick with topics that make that easy.
  • Don’t double down on being mean.
  • My answer hasn’t changed since the last time we talked about it.
  • Ugh, that’s on awkward topic for the family dinner.
  • By all means, let’s find a divisive topic so we can all leave unhappy.
  • Really?
  • I see your people skills haven’t improved.

Know the things that set you off and be prepared to deal with them. One of the most common things that causes family get togethers to crash and burn is too much alcohol. Be aware how much you drink. Your logical brain can’t be involved if you’re buzzed (or worse). And if things deteriorate as people get drunk, plan on saying your goodbyes and leaving before it gets out of hand.

There is always that one person in the family (at least I hope you only have one) who takes great joy in razzing, teasing and generally making people the butt of their jokes. If you say anything, their response will be, “You’re too thin skinned” or “You never could take a joke.” First let’s be clear, it is never your responsibility to have thick skin so someone can cut you and laugh while you bleed. It’s not cool and it’s not okay for someone to be purposefully harmful/mean. You have a spectrum of options from laugh awkwardly, roll your eyes, ignore them or push back. Decide what strategy you want to employ ahead of time and guard your heart from their arrows.

Don’t revert back to old roles. Too often when we are around people we’ve known forever, we go back to old, familiar, unhealthy roles. You are not fifteen. You are not trapped there with no choices. You do not have to put up with unhealthy behavior just to be “polite” (this is a tough one for a lot of people!). You can choose to use healthy coping patterns. You can walk away. Go to the bathroom. Call a friend (Not to complain. Just to change the energy). Talk to someone else. Think about what a great story you’ll have to tell later. Have a funny story to tell. Suggest a board game (assuming that’s not going to become a cutthroat battle). Talk about sports or something that interests you. Ask questions about how everyone is and what’s going on with them. I have found that most inappropriate comments/questions happen when there is a lull in the conversation.

Don’t fan the flames but also don’t feel like you have to be the fire department. Depending on your role in the family you could find yourself in a heated, verbal battle about something that isn’t even your issue. Sometimes a simple, “that’s not cool” or “that wasn’t nice” or “let’s not put people on the spot” or the ever popular, “awkward!” is enough to cut the tension and have things move on.

Since we are a whole-food plant-based site, let’s talk about how do deal with comments about the way you’ve chosen to eat. You might hear things like, “It’s Thanksgiving! Surely you can have some turkey” or “That isn’t a healthy way to eat” or “Your diet isn’t working. You’re still fat” or any number of other ugly, uninformed, rude, hurtful, mean and just wrong comments.

First – don’t argue. No one is going to have their mind changed about eating animal products while tucking into a full-on fat, sugar, salt animal product orgy. Just keep saying, "this is the choice I’ve made for my health and I feel great." And leave it at that.

If they try to pressure, bully or trick you - “Peer pressure? Really? We aren’t in junior high. Certainly, we are adult enough to respect each other’s choices.

If they tell you that eating plant-based isn’t healthy – “I have reviewed a lot of science and follow a Nutritional Therapist and I know I can get all the nutrients I need from plants.” If you want to go down the rabbit hole of the conversation, ask them where they get their fiber and explain that the lack of fiber in the diet is linked directly to colon cancer. (Don’t go there unless you’re ready for a full-on discussion over dinner about toilet time.)

Don’t make the host/hostess go out of their way for you. Bring something to share so you know you’ll have something you can eat. Just make sure that you get to your dish first. As much as people complain about “vegan” food, it always seems to be the first dish empty at potluck events.

If all else fails, shake your head and walk away.

On a side note – as hard as it is, when everyone starts talking about all their ailments (and you know they will), bite your tongue. They don’t want to hear about how eating plants will make them better. And if anyone asked you if vegans eat animal crackers tell them, “I don’t. They’re highly processed and not food.”

Have a Happy, no-arguments Thanksgiving my friends!

Photo by Егор Камелев on Unsplash

Dr Robyn is a former competitive volleyball player turned psychologist with continuing education in nutrition. Russ is a former competitive bodybuilder and trainer on the Mr. Olympia Tour. They are the co-founders of Whole Food Muscle and the authors of How to Feed a Human The Whole Food Muscle Way. To work with them one on one to improve your health and fitness or to have them speak at your event or organization email them at Health@RnRJourney.com.