A friend of mine recently told me that this was one of her favorite “messages” that I had written—it appeared in my “What The Fork” newsletter last year…right around this time. I figured if she liked it (she’s a tough cookie), it might bear repeating. Enjoy! ~ Sheree
One of the biggest challenges in transitioning to any new way of eating is societal and peer pressure. Our culture is undeniably food-driven and we alternately use meals as a means to establish community, a way to celebrate or reward and as a demonstration of love. Conversely, consumption of food can also be used as a stress release, a way to commiserate with others or even a peace offering. Food is laden with meaning and—if we let it—cuisine taken in the company of others takes on significance far beyond it’s mere calorie content. Imagine inviting someone to your home for an evening and not offering them something to eat or drink: you’d feel inhospitable and they might even be insulted!
Once you gain a level of confidence you’ll find it’s not necessary to avoid family gatherings, poolside barbeques and parties in order to stay true to a healthy food lifestyle. The first step in being able to handle the pressures of “eating out” is to reconcile what the event really is about. Unless you are attending a gourmet food writers’ conference, the reality is that the occasion is about something other than the food. Yet many times food and drink can take center stage and our focus shifts away from the real reason for the gathering —usually, that would be spending time with friends and family or celebrating a milestone. The reasons for this are many times emotional, and often based on tradition. The challenge becomes how to replace patterns or at least substitute behaviors in a way that serves you better in the long term.
Here are some tried and true tips to get you through your next social occasion:
1. Eat before you go.
It’s a lot harder to resist a slice of cheesecake when you’re famished than when you’re genuinely satisfied from the green smoothie you just had an hour before. If you can honestly say, “Oh, it looks wonderful, but I am full right now,” you’ll be that much closer to being able to stay the course. Try and keep your focus and attention on the occasion and the camaraderie of other people.
2. Practice the art of dodging.
From cocktail parties to sit-down dinners, I have learned how to identify the most opportune time for me to visit the ladies room, go greet a colleague across the room or simply “take a powder”: and usually it is when there is something being served that I do not choose to eat. Although most of the time now I am comfortable enough to simply say “no thanks” without a grand explanation, in the early days of transitioning to the raw food lifestyle that I currently practice, I needed to feel like I didn’t stand out too much. I learned that sometimes the easiest way of handling a potentially awkward situation is to simply avoid it. Just knowing when to make an exit can be a valuable skill.
3. Have an alibi.
Sometimes having a ready-made reason why you’re only eating a salad or not having dessert makes it easier to avoid the embarrassment of having attention directed at your plate. While I am certainly not an advocate of lying, I will confess that some stretching of the truth got me through the uncomfortable early days. A few examples of things that helped me over the hump were:
- “My stomach has been acting up: I’d better not.” (This one is actually true: my stomach was revolting from years of crappy food and I wasn’t going to give it any more!)
- “My doctor has me on a special diet.” (People back away when you trot this one out: after all, your doctor knows everything, right?)
- “It looks great but I am stuffed from a late lunch…maybe in a little while.” (In a “little while” everyone else will have eaten it anyway and you’ll be off the hook!)
The idea is to have a ready-to-go reason why you’re doing what you’re doing —assuming you are in a situation you feel that you can’t (or don’t) choose to be in the open about your food choices. Yes, the pressure can be tough at times. But if you keep in mind that for most social engagements it really isn’t about the food, you’ll be in a better place.