Healthy Eating Does Not Have to be Lonely!

person in sand

It can be stressful embarking on a new “get healthy” eating plan. It’s a project that requires planning, preparation time and, of course, personal energy. Clients often feel they must curtail their social activities, fearing they’ll have difficulty controlling their eating while with friends. And perhaps early on in the program that’s the best and easiest approach. But at some point it’s not a winning strategy. Either the eating plan will fall by the wayside when we return to social events, or we’ll simply grow lonely trying to eat healthfully all by ourselves. Socializing is an important part of a balanced life. And, it’s also a way to bring joy, pleasure and community into our lives. So at some point, learning how to take our new healthy eating habits with us into social situations is another step in the process of change.

The first level of change requires learning what to do for ourselves – how to prepare, shop, choose appropriately and order food when we are eating alone. It can add another level of challenge when we are eating with family and friends. When I was a child my family ate out only a few times a year. That seemed to be the norm in those days. But now, eating out is not a treat or reserved for special occasions. For many of us eating out is a way of life, yet we still act like it’s a treat and go all out, ordering everything from soup to nuts, as the old saying goes. So the first step is recognizing that if we eat out a lot, it’s crucial to learn how to scan a menu and order healthfully. And what about going to a party, throwing a party, having friends over for a meal or having houseguests for a few days? Unfortunately these are all opportunities to let all our new healthy behaviors fly out the window. So how do we incorporate healthy eating into these events when perhaps the people around us are not doing the same?

One thing I suggest is starting with baby steps in these areas. If you are going to a potluck that can be a bit easier, because you can bring something you know is healthy for you to eat. If it’s a party, plan ahead by eating healthfully all day, and don’t go to the party starving, which tends to sabotage our commitment. If you always drink alcohol when you are social, experiment with attending an event and not drinking at all. Experiment with not ordering dessert when everyone else at the table does. Or instead of dessert, ask the waiter to bring you a bowl of berries or other fruit. Ask your group of four or six to share a dessert instead of ordering one per person. You can also work with decreasing the quantity you eat. Of course, that’s challenging when eating in restaurants. One thing you can try is ordering off the appetizer part of the menu instead of a full entrée. Or share appetizers with your group, instead of ordering entrées. I actually find the more interesting dishes are often in the appetizer section of the menu. And many of my clients as they experiment with these ideas, are surprised when they discover how little they need to eat to feel full and satisfied. And you can keep up your experiments: What does it feel like to enjoy eating with friends without being overstuffed with food or alcohol? Is it possible to enjoy one nice glass of wine instead of multiple? Can you experience the sweet pleasure of one or two bites of the dessert without having to eat the whole thing?

When I suggest taking baby steps, I mean don’t try to do it all at once. Experiment in one area at a time. As we take these baby steps, we begin to build a structure over time that allows us to enjoy the pleasure of sharing food with others without risking our health goals. In our culture, we tend to believe that enjoying our food means overindulging. We can teach ourselves one step at a time, that we can enjoy food and enjoy eating and sharing meals with others and still feel good in our bodies.

We more often need to be reminded than instructed.”
~ Samuel Johnson

If entertaining is a challenge for you, see the article, Healthy Entertaining, for some great tips.