Your dairy-free diet doesn’t have to be anyone’s concern but your own, and you don’t owe anyone any explanation about your diet. It’s even possible that some people may never find out that your diet is different — unless, of course, you tell them.

The more-likely scenario, though, is that your diet is going to be an issue at some point. If you’re dairy-free, you’re different. The way dairy-free diets are viewed is changing, but at this point, dairy products are still highly integrated into meals nearly everywhere you go in North America and Europe.

Because dairy-free diets aren’t mainstream yet, you’re the one who will likely have to do the adapting when you’re in social situations. Adapting often entails telling people about your dietary restrictions and explaining why you don’t do dairy.

You may prefer privacy and feel uncomfortable sharing personal details with people outside your closest circle of family and friends. If so, that’s okay. However, realize that when it comes to your diet, you’re likely to find yourself in social situations that force you to explain what you’re eating — or not eating — and why. You don’t have to respond when people probe, but it’s easier if you can be prepared with a diplomatic response.

If someone asks about your decision to go dairy-free, the best response is a simple, straightforward answer. For example, you can say:

“I’ve realized that dairy products don’t agree with me, so I’m learning to replace them with other foods.”

If your reasons for avoiding dairy have to do with ethical or political motivations, this isn’t the time to pontificate or criticize someone else’s lifestyle. Simply stick to the facts about your own eating style. Rely on your own judgment, but realize that when most people ask questions about your diet, they’re just curious. The idea may be new to them, and they’re exploring, not criticizing or judging.

You may be dairy-free because you don’t absorb lactose well, or it may be because you’re trying to control your saturated fat intake to protect your heart. These are good reasons to avoid dairy, and people may find them interesting. After they discover that you eat a dairy-free diet for health reasons, they may begin to wonder whether they should be doing the same thing.

The way you talk to others about your diet choices — and the choices that other people make — has the potential of cementing or dissolving relationships. Food choices are a very personal matter, so you need to be careful about how you approach the topic with others. If you’re overbearing — bossy or belligerent — you’ll come off as being unstable or uncouth. If you’re preachy or harsh, you’ll put people off.

Your diet may be healthier, and it may follow the ethical high road and the ecologically responsible path. However, you won’t convince others if you hit them over the head with it. Instead, answer questions politely, and be open to sharing your knowledge and experience when somebody cares enough to approach you for insight. Lead by example. Show others that it’s possible to follow a dairy-free diet easily, deliciously, and nutritiously.