As if your journey to wellbeing wasn’t hard enough, family and friends are throwing peer pressure into the mix!! Sound familiar? Well, we have all been there; sat in the café with a cuppa and a well-meaning friend says, “Come on, have a slice of cake.. I can’t sit here and have one alone!”. “No,” you respond firmly, “I don’t want any.” But your face reveals that you are caving inside and before you know it, you have compromised on one giant slab of cake and two forks between the pair of you. You leave feeling sluggish and riddled with guilt for going ‘off plan’.
There are many situations you may find yourself experiencing this, including:
In the office (cue birthday cake…)
In the pub (post match pint, anyone? Drinks on me!)
Invited to a friend/family home for a meal
Restaurant meals out with friends/family
On a date
At home (comparing food choices or portion sizes across the dinner table)
Now look, I am not saying there is anything wrong with enjoying food freedom in these situations. But if you are working hard to stay focused on reaching a personal goal, or finding yourself becoming emotionally disturbed in these scenarios, a coping strategy needs to be put into action.
Often, peer pressure comes in the form of other people’s comments around food such as;
“Don't make me have dessert alone!”
“Let’s go for it… diet starts Monday!”
“Are you really going to eat that?!”
It is my opinion that many people use these tactics to feel better about their own choices. Dragging you down with them, as it were.
Sometimes the peer pressure is actually self-imposed as a result of comparing everybody else’s choices with your own.
Then, probably worst of all is feeling obligated to eat something because somebody has made it or paid for it! Guilt trip central!!!
Here are just a few coping mechanisms that I suggest to help navigate your way through these situations…
1. Identify your WHY
Strip emotion out of the situation and have a clear picture in your mind of WHY you want to eat (or abstain from eating) certain foods. If you have a goal weight, or competition to work toward, or if you have food intolerances, then you have a very strong WHY to back up your choices.
Use this as a personal mission statement, making you confident in your choices and trusting what feels good to you. When you do this, you are able to switch on the practical part of your brain, rather than reacting on emotions tied around food. Food is around at least three times a day and will feature at every function with friends and family so avoiding it is impossible. Do the internal work so you won't be negatively affected.
2. Don’t engage
It is inappropriate for people to comment on your diet choices but it will happen. You can't control what people say (or how they feel around certain food choices) but you can control how you react. Do not engage. Do not get into a debate.
If you are rejecting the offer of a certain food or drink, I find physically raising my palm up to reinforce a, “No, thank you.”, adds power to the statement, firming my own resolve, whilst also setting a boundary with the person I am speaking to. Alternatively, you can smile and change the subject.
You do not have to justify your food choices to others.
3. Take control
In some cases, you may have control over suggesting a setting that you find comfortable. You could propose a restaurant where you know there are healthy food options or food options that you are comfortable eating. Most places have their menu available online, so you can look first and familiarise yourself with what the options are, and even plan what you will choose, if that helps.
You can opt to have a (small) meal at home before you eat out, or drink a tall glass of water before you order your meal. It will help make you feel fuller and avoid ‘mindless’ over-eating, allowing you to eat sensibly while focusing on the social aspects of the meal. You can order an appetizer as your meal or enjoy a healthy salad with your choice of protein.
When it comes to alcohol, offer to be designated driver. Or if friends have arranged to buy ‘rounds’ on a night out, simply opt out and say you would rather buy your own drinks.
If you feel like you are dealing with social eating pressure at home, you can take control by preparing your own meals, so you can eat what you want and not feel judged. Make a meal plan for the week and shop for your own food.
4. Honour your body
YOU are the person that has to live inside your body, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, for the rest of your life. If your great aunt is begging you to have a second slice of her famous apple pie but you know it will make you feel too full and sick, you must honour that. A firm but gentle let down such as, “It really is/looks delicious but I’m just not hungry, thank you.”, will suffice. Likewise, if you are full and can’t finish your plate rather than feel guilty, a grateful, “That was amazing, I’m just so full!” is all you need to say. No explaining yourself. The starving children in Africa wont know you didn’t eat that last spoon of mashed potato… leave the food and make a donation that will actually get food where it needs to go.
We will not always be on the same page with those who surround us, so make a choice based on your natural hunger cues, or choices that align with your goals. If we let emotion take over or give in to pressure to eat something we don’t want, that doesn’t align with our goals, or worse, are intolerant to, we will leave what could have been a lovely social arrangement with more than a bad taste in our mouth.
Social eating pressure that goes unaddressed can lead to eating disorders or other issues with food. You may develop issues around eating in social settings due to stress, anxiety, or poor self-esteem. So be pro-active about having a strategy to deal with these situations and you can enjoy food freedom, without a side order of emotion.
Thanks for reading,