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How to Beat the Pressures of Social Eating By Aditi Mudaliar

Picture this: you’re at an Asian occasion, chatter surrounds you as an Uncle asks what you’re doing in life, and a child eagerly zips past you. A gleaming china plate topped with golden glistening pyramids edging closer in your peripheral, culminating with an assertive “have some more…”

Sound familiar? 

We have all been there. Whether it is a family occasion or a meal with friends, the pressures of social eating can be overwhelming, especially when trying to make healthier choices. 

As wonderful as the social company is, it can become stressful to make the conscious choice out of fear that you may be displeasing someone. Temptation can be consuming and challenging to stay on track with your healthy eating habits. Fear surrounding this can lead to the easy option of ditching your goals. Of course, natural feelings of guilt and shame arise from this lack of control.

Not to worry, this is a common sentiment amongst those trying to keep on track. There are many ways to enjoy yourself socially but have boundaries to ensure you don’t feel pressured to conform to the norm. 

Our Environment 

Childhood exposures uniquely affect how we view and interact with food as adults. Models of eating behaviours are, therefore, shaped by our caregivers choices and routines. If we have constantly been exposed to unhealthy behaviours, we are more likely to repeat them. This early influence is why returning to nostalgic environments, such as the family home, can act as a trigger and knock us into old habits. 

It’s simple; we eat differently when we are with people than we do alone. Scientifically proven, humans find it rewarding to conform to the behaviours of others. Eating with people amplifies our experience, and the positive feedback associated with similar choices can be gratifying. Evidence has shown that sticking to these norms may be the driving force for the development and maintenance of obesity. 

So… how do we combat this? 

  1. Remember What You Have Learnt. 

An easy way of minimising the influence is to remain firm in your foundations of balanced eating. 

Think about how you can make a balanced meal or snack out of the options in front of you! One of the easiest methods to use is the Nourished Plate model. 

Keeping this method in mind during social situations will eliminate the stress of eating out or with others. Practice makes perfect; the more you solidify your foundations of balanced eating, the easier it becomes to apply it outside the house! 

  1. Set Intentions

Mindfulness is incredibly useful in social environments. Setting intentions allows us to understand what we are experiencing during a gathering. 

Think to yourself:

  • What am I celebrating?
  • Am I here to catch up with friends/family?
  • Do I want to enjoy this food at a new restaurant or place?

These intentions are helpful when physical nourishment is not the main priority. Maybe you want to catch up with a friend or check in on a relative. Social interactions should not be rigid; ultimately, you are the dictator! 

Perhaps suggest an activity for the next time you meet up?

  1. The More the Merrier 

Visiting friends or family can be daunting when it is an unknown environment. Food is the heart of most gatherings, especially South Asian ones. How could you contribute to promoting your health and your loved ones?

Try bringing along a dish that you’re proud of making! The ideas are never-ending, from a roasted vegetable salad for a BBQ, date and nut ladoos for Diwali, or peanut butter, chocolate and oat blondies for a night of girlfriends and gossip. 

Not only is food a love language and a token of appreciation, but it can also be a great conversation point to distract people from questioning your choices. 

  1. Know Your Boundaries 

It can be easy to fall into the spiral of having “one more”. Soon, one can turn into four and self-control can go out the window. 

Having strict boundaries for yourself allows you to enjoy food and the experiences that come with it but also honour the journey you’re on! 

Remember, it is okay to be assertive with yourself and others if needed. Communicating how you feel is the first step in setting those boundaries for yourself. Here are a few phrases to keep in mind for the next time you feel at crossroads: 

“Thank you for offering! However, I am enjoying ____ right now, but I might come to that later.” 

“This looks delicious, but unfortunately, I don’t currently feel hungry. Thank you for offering it.” 

“I feel quite full now, but I would love to try some. Can I take a piece home?” 

“Unfortunately, I ate before coming here and now feel quite full! Would you like to try some of what I made?” 

Setting boundaries allows people to understand when and where to offer you temptation. It will enable you to stay on track with your goals and strengthens your relationship with that person, allowing them to gain insight into your food choices. A smile and warm tone when saying these go a long way! Remember to show appreciation for their efforts, and the respect will return to you. 

The Joy of Eating 

Finding a balance between enjoying your food and your health goals is easier than you think. Eating is an experience encompassing sights, smells, environment and taste.

 By no means should social gatherings remove the pleasure of eating, but it is essential to enjoy indulgent foods in moderation. If your body is calling out for homemade Gulab jamun for dessert or an authentic pizza at the new Italian in town, allow yourself to relinquish but know that it can be balanced by perhaps a lighter meal or some veggies on the side! 

Take the time out to reflect on what foods make you happy and check in with yourself to understand when you truly want something. Being mindful and present in all aspects of eating heightens the experience even more. Sharing these moments with friends and family is important to all humans and should be joyful.

Remember, it is natural for our ideas of health and the journey towards it to ebb and flow between nourishment and pleasure. There are going to be moments of indulging or being regimented and there is no shame in it! However, you control how you react in social environments, which will be the most important key in unlocking your potential for change. 

So… enjoy those samosas! But know when to say no!

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