I've probably touched on this before at some point, but I'm going to devote an entire post to it now. Forgive me if I'm repetitive. For me, the principles of this post are make-or-break.
When I started "dieting" (I use that term loosely because it's more than a diet; it's a lifestyle.), I had my meal plan, I had my workout plan, and I knew what to do when I was in control and it was just me and the food or me and the gym. However, I had to get some major coaching from my sister, Christa, about how to deal with social food situations. She was training for bikini fitness competitions at the time and was on an even stricter plan that I was. I will get to her tips in a moment, but I want to talk about social food situations.
When I lived to eat (my fatty-fat-fat days), I looked forward to going out to eat, birthday parties, baby showers, WEDDINGS, meeting a friend for lunch, etc. I would think I wonder what will be served. YAY! However, when I eat to live, I realize Holy shit, does every single social event have to revolve around a meal!? It is a part of American culture to celebrate with food. I realize that this dates back a long way in human existence and it is a part of other cultures as well, but I'll focus on what I really have experienced. We Americans in 2013 celebrate, gather, and connect with food. Think about it. It's true. Early on in my weight loss experience, I started to notice that my family and friends used these opportunities to "indulge a little" or to "live life." I started to develop the mindset that I don't need to order a steak, baked potato, and macaroni and cheese in order to "live life." That's ridiculous. I was teetering between this person I used to be who would order or eat the best tasting stuff in order to maximize my experience in a social situation and this person I was discovering who would realize I am here to spend time with people and what I put in my mouth does NOT indicate how much I care about the event at hand.
It was January and I was realizing that while food is automatically involved in our social gatherings, that doesn't mean there is an emotional connection to the food. There should be an emotional connection to the PEOPLE I am there to spend time with or celebrate.
The hard part is, our mothers, grandmothers, uncles, etc. will probably think you are a FREAK if you don't eat at these events. I'll get to these "Food Charmers" at the end.
If someone is dieting to lose weight, they have a meal plan. They have a workout plan. It is my opinion and has been my experience that you CANNOT AFFORD TO CHEAT IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS. If you are maintaining your weight, then you can plan on these social events and work them into the overall game plan of 80% clean 20% cheat. Okay, fine. But if you are someone who is working to lose weight, you cannot cheat. Period. I really do think that when you are losing 1-2 pounds per week (which is how it's supposed to be done), you are not going to be able to cheat 1-3 times per week and lose that weight. You will start to slow down on your progress. You will get frustrated with all of the "dieting" you are doing with little-to-no results and you will quit. That is my personal experience and what I have observed in my own family and friends.
Christa's tip to navigate a restaurant:
Research the menu beforehand. Most restaurants have a great option that you can eat. Plan ahead and order what you planned to order. It's not emotional.
Christa's tip to navigate a shower or small home party with snackies/dessert:
Pack snacks. Eat a small snack beforehand (half a banana, some nuts, etc.). That way if there is NOTHING for you to eat there, you are okay. Drink water, and connect with the humans. Have a snack in the car to eat when you leave the party. That will keep you from driving through fast food on the way home. You can survive a couple hours without food. Food Charmer present? Read on.
Christa's tip to navigate a family-cooked meal:
Food Charmer alert. A family member prepared this and will freak if you don't eat it. More on FCs later. Find out what is served, if you can. If you cannot eat it, follow the tip above. Eat before and after. Work the Food Charmer. Another option is to inform the hostess that you are on a nutrition plan and ask if you can bring a dish on the side that you can enjoy and others can try (a quinoa salad? a chicken salad?). A third option is if the hostess is serving something you CAN eat, great. Control your portions and thank your lucky stars!
If any of the above tasks sound impossible, I really just think that you might have a serious emotional attachment to food that needs further work. Therapy? More close friend support? Someone to lead by example? Just being honest... I really think if you can't look at a menu beforehand and stick to a meal that is smart for your fitness goals, then there is more of an issue that I don't know how to advise.
Tips to navigate the Food Charmer:
Now we have come to what this post is all about. I feel like I could control my meal plan when it's just me and the food. I feel like I can pick out a meal on a menu. However, it becomes difficult when you are not eating OR you are eating an alternate meal around a Food Charmer. Here is the definition for a term that I made up..
Food Charmer n. Usually a host or hostess who is responsible for supplying a meal for a social event (big or small) and associates an attendee's food consumption with health and/or happiness.
Hypothetical example: Your grandmother prepares a Sunday dinner for the family and if you act finicky about eating the food, she spends a lot of time and energy making sure you are eating and if you don't eat what she wants, her feelings are hurt. Usually, Food Charmers are women. It is like a love language for them to feed you food. This is how they show their love. I can relate. I do this for my family. I want to make them a kick-ass meal; I want them all to eat it; I want them to rub their tummies, say "yum" and request it again. Duh. It makes us feel good. It's a primal nurturing technique. The thing is, like I said, if you are striving for significant weight loss, you cannot afford to indulge Grandma. You can't. You can say that I'm wrong..it is a matter of opinion. But I lost 33 pounds in 18 weeks. I put my money where my mouth is. Pun intended. What you can do with a Food Charmer is always call him/her before the event to explain that you are on a nutrition plan. Explain your healthy meal plan concept and that you are investing a lot of time and energy into eating well all week long and so you just can't afford to have your favorite his/her lasagna this time. Explain that your goal is to lose x pounds in x weeks and after, say, October, you will be x pounds thinner and you will be able to plan on indulging in all of the lovely food when you are coming over. It's about forewarning and communication. It would be a 5-minute phone call. Honestly, your Food Charmer is probably overweight themselves and should be able to respect the idea that you don't want to live this way. (Don't point that out to them, but I think it's a valid thing to point out.) If you have communicated and you actually follow through on your discipline at the "event," and the Food Charmer respects you and doesn't give you a hard time, great. If you have communicated and the Food Charmer DOESN'T respect you, I have major concerns about THEM. (If your FC gives you a hard time, ask yourself if you communicated clearly and in advance. If you didn't, it's your fault. If you DID communicate but then went to Grandma's house and ate a little of this and a little of that that you said you wouldn't have, Grandma doesn't believe your intentions and you have opened the door for Grandma to pressure you with some enchiladas.) It will be uncomfortable, but stand your ground. You control what you put in your mouth. Be loving, but be focused. You might end up on the porch crying...as a 30-year-old. Fine. I really think it's worth navigating these waters. What is more important: Avoiding social discomfort for 30 minutes or meeting your weight loss goal? As I've said before, you are making a choice. If you can't handle the Food Charmer, it is because of YOU.
Honestly, the strongest tool you have is to SHOW your success. There is no way Grandma can feel hurt or can make snide comments if you are ACTUALLY LOSING YOUR ASS. You will gain Grandma's respect. You just have to be about action....not just talk a big game.
In my personal experience, my family very much respected what I was doing and NEVER gave me grief. My friends were curious at first...never mean at all...and once I started losing weight, they respected the way I ate in social situations. I became a symbol of strength and success. My mother-in-law had an episode where we were deciding where to go for dinner and she kept asking me to pick a place that I could eat at. I appreciated that, but I knew that the family wanted Longhorn Steakhouse. I researched. They have a Fabulous Under 500 menu. But MIL went on and on about "Are you really going to eat?!" I got grumpy. I clammed up. I disengaged. Hubby to the rescue. He straightened her out. If you know Colby, he was nice and told her to go to the restaurant and it would all be fine. :)
I hope your experiences are as smooth as mine were. Are yours more difficult? Any other situations? I really hope this post helps SOMEONE!