In the New Year, many of us go after this health and wellness thing in earnest. But since it's a new -- or at least not continuous -- pursuit for so many of us, it can be hard to know how to integrate our new regimes into our well-mannered lives. Enter Mind Your Manners, our just-in-January series on all things health and etiquette.
Though success rates for resolutions hover in the single digits, that won't stop many of us from deciding that 2015 will be the year we stop taking the cake-for-breakfast approach to eating. Instead, we say, we'll eat right. We'll stock up on produce as if it's being discontinued. We'll kick sugar. We'll pretend that we're OK without coffee. We'll say the d-word: Diet.
But with a new lifestyle comes a new set of etiquette rules: What is okay to discuss in polite conversation and what should be left to a message board with other converts? We spoke with Patricia Rossi, author of "Everyday Etiquette: How To Navigate 101 Common and Uncommon Social Situations," and Steven Petrow, manners columnist for The Washington Post and USA Today, to find out.
Is it ever okay to talk about one's new diet? (In conversation in person or through social media.)
Petrow: Absolutely. In moderation, like everything else. For many people, whether trying to lose weight, stop smoking, or curb their drinking, it’s useful to make a public statement as a means to hold yourself accountable.
Rossi: Yes. It is fine to share your favorable results and new discoveries regarding your new diet, just make sure it isn't a keynote speech. Be aware of folks eyes glazing over if the conversation is in person. If people start to unfollow you in mass numbers on your social media channels, then you might have been a little overzealous about your diet.
Another perspective: How do you quiet a person who talks about nothing but his diet?
Petrow: For those on a diet, don’t overplay this New Year’s resolution. No one really wants to hear incessant updates. For those in ear shot, always try to stay supportive but it’s perfectly fine to change the topic of conversation, even abruptly. Who knows, your friend on a diet may even take the hint.
Rossi: Change the subject. "Hey I wanted to ask about your recent ski trip/new boss/your Mom's bunion surgery."
When dining out, how can you gracefully let the waiter know about dietary restrictions without seeming difficult?
Petrow: Most restaurants will make accommodations, especially if requested nicely. “May I have the sauce on the side?” “Is it possible to have those vegetables steamed?” When I want to consume fewer calories I ask for the kitchen to hold back half of my entrée to take home later. I’ve never run into a problem with that strategy.
If you have a medical condition like celiac disease, diabetes or food allergies, then you must be clear and specific with your server about your requests and have him or her double check with the kitchen. Soon enough you’ll figure out which restaurants will accommodate you; patronize them regularly.
Rossi: Restaurants truly want to give you the best service possible. Simply say I wanted to share with you I'm allergic to nuts. Could you suggest a few entrees that are nut free. Ask with intrigue, patience, and kindness. Repeat back what they shared then ask which one would they recommend.
When dining at a friend's house, is it okay to bring up dietary restrictions?
Petrow: No. You’re a guest, not a customer. I’ve seen hosts go crazy with friends who are by choice — not necessity — vegetarians, vegans, or won’t eat gluten, non-organic products, etc. I often point out that meals taken with friends are about connecting and community — don’t lose the big picture. In general, most guests can make do with what’s served to them.
Again, if you have a medical condition or food allergy, then you must tell your host ahead of time. Good hosts will also ask their guests, at the very least, about food allergies if not general dietary preferences. But, again, dear guests, don’t expect restaurant choices.
Rossi: It would ruin the dinner party or vibe if you had a reaction and blew up like a float at the Macy's Day Parade. If it's a personal choice, like being a vegan, Paleo or fruitarian, then ask if you can bring a dish to share with everyone. A veggie lasagne, huge platter of fruit, etc.
Can you bring your own food to a friend's dinner party if you have a dietary restriction?
Petrow: If it’s a potluck or a family get-together, be my guest -- but be sure to bring enough for others. Otherwise, you can volunteer to bring a salad, some appetizers, or even a dessert (that you know will be healthy); but if your host says “no thanks” let it go and eat a healthy snack before you leave the house so you won’t be starving the moment you arrive and derail your diet.
Rossi: See above. Just bring enough for everyone to enjoy.
How can you best deal with a food pusher?
Petrow: “No, thank you.” “Really, no thank you.” No reason is necessary. Food pushers are one of my pet peeves; hosts and cooks should be generous, but not overbearing. Whether or not a guest takes more has nothing to do with how well they liked the meal -- or you.
Rossi: Just say, "I so appreciate the offer, but again no thank you." If they just won't stop, you could launch into a diatribe about how your Great Aunt Gertie's gout would act up every time she consumed it, so you have never cared for it.