One does not need to look far to notice how food permeates most of our social interactions. When friends go out, they often “go out to eat.” When people come to your house, they usually congregate in the kitchen. When you need to talk to someone, you go for lunch or coffee. How then does a person begin to change their eating habits without changing their social relationships? The answer is by planning, being assertive and keeping your eye on your goals.
If you frequently socialize at restaurant but are now trying to eat better, you may feel that you have to give up these interactions because at a restaurants you often make food choices that you later regret. For example, if everyone around the table knows what they want to order, but you need to study the menu carefully to avoid your customary burger, you may be unwilling to attract so much attention to your eating habits by putting in the extra time. To avoid this, try to prepare for the restaurant. Since most menus are available online, spend some time before going to the restaurant deciding what some healthy options would be. Selecting more than one option puts you in a better position to choose something that you are actually in the mood for when it is time to order.
Now imagine that you are committed to eating well and you are out eating with friends at a restaurant. Everyone orders burgers and beers and you order a salad and a glass of water with lime. What do you think this will feel like? For some, it will feel like a proud moment that they were able to stick with their food choice regardless of what others were doing. However, for others, this may feel very uncomfortable. You may say to yourself, “Don’t I deserve a burger and beer?” To address this thought, remind yourself of your goal and ask yourself what you deserve more, the burger or your goal. Also, be prepared to answer questions and comments from others about your choice. If others try to make you feel like a “health freak” or say that you are doing this to show off, then you need to have responses ready. You may explain that you have decided to eat a healthier diet or today you are not in the mood for greasy food. It is important to develop such responses before you need them because in the time of need you are unlikely to be thinking clearly enough to respond appropriately.
Although it seems that socializing that happens inside your home should be easier to manage, it often is not. This is because the center of home gathering is most frequently the kitchen, and when people are in the kitchen food is again the center of the interaction, and this increases the chances of overeating. This problem can also be solved with appropriate planning. Try to avoid keeping snacks in the kitchen, which encourage people to stand around and munch. Instead plan activities that do not relate to food. For example, invite everyone to the living room to sit and talk, play party games or invite people to dance. These activities are hard to combine with eating and will give you a break away from food. If food is served at the party, in addition to serving healthy options, try not to have people linger at the table. Once everyone is done eating, again invite your guests to return to a room that is not associated with food. This might feel awkward at first and guests may comment that they preferred the old way, so you need to have responses prepared. You may explain that you are trying to make your parties stand out or that you are trying to start a new fad or be honest and say that you would like to spend a smaller portion of the party eating, but be prepared to say something that keeps you on track. It is important that you do not leave your own parties feeling bad about the food experience that you had had.
It may seem hard and artificial to prepare for social interactions by assessing what role food will play in them, but this may be the only way to help you maintain your goal of changing your eating habits for the better.