Do you eat differently when you’re with other people than you do when you’re alone?
If you’re like most people, you probably do!
Social eating situations raise a host of issues for us.
Here are three situations in which people may eat when they are not hungry or make food choices they would not make if they were alone. Are your eating choices influenced by any of these?
1. The food pusher: This is someone who encourages you to eat even though you’ve already declined what they are offering. We’ve all encountered them. Food pushers are often very persistent. Although some of them think they have good intentions, others may be purposely trying to undermine your efforts to eat better.
Then there are the ones who give you mixed messages. Like your mother asking you when you’re going to lose weight, while at the same time offering you a piece of cake five times after a hefty dinner, despite telling her you do not want any.
There is only one way to deal with a food pusher, and that is to be polite but very direct. Something like, “Thanks so much, but I have already eaten enough and might not feel well if I eat any more.” If you know they’re incorrigible, you can add “Please do not offer me anything else to eat today.”
2. People pleasing: Sometimes the other side of the food pusher coin, this is when you accept food you’d rather not eat because you don’t want to offend the person who prepared it or offered it to you. This is a bad practice if you want to lose weight and keep it off.
With all due respect to those of you who love your old family recipes, my experience with other people’s favorite family recipes that have been handed down through generations is that they are not to my liking around 90% of the time. Yet these are the kinds of foods people are most often reluctant to decline.
Unless there is a medical professional involved or you’re in an international diplomacy situation, don’t feel obligated to put anything in your body that you’d rather not.
If Cousin Sue is insulted because you don’t want to eat Aunt Thelma’s favorite Cole slaw, that is not your responsibility. Everyone has different tastes and appetites. People should be respectful of yours, and so should you! Just because, for nostalgic reasons, someone loves the stuffed cabbage their Grammy used to make doesn’t mean anyone else will. Honor your body. Don’t ever feel bad saying no to food.
3. Copycat eating: You’re in a restaurant with friends. How do you decide what to order? Do you look at the options and choose what you want most? Or are your eating choices influenced by the people you’re with? If everyone is ordering salads, and you want a burger and French fries, do you order it anyway, or change your mind for fear that you will be judged based upon your choice?
Studies have confirmed that young women tend to mimic each other’s eating behaviors when dining together, although the reasons for this are merely speculative. It is true for other people as well.
Base your decisions upon your body’s signals, not the imagined judgment of your friends. But really listen to your body because in a restaurant, your head might be giving you a different opinion. If you’ve eaten heavy early in the day, your body might want something light. If it is cold outside, your body might want something warm. Ordering a salad because that’s what everyone else is doing may be a very unsatisfying experience which could lead you to make up for it with bad food choices later.
Your eating choices are your business, and none of the scenarios discussed above are reasons to abdicate to anyone else your responsibility for making decisions that are aligned with your health goals.
Food is everywhere and most of us eat three times a day, and we often eat with others. Social eating will present challenges for you as you learn how to eat only when you're hungry. Next week I will describe some other types of social eating challenges.