For the past few weeks, I’ve been asking y’all via Instagram about your biggest challenges with your health. Today we’re going to start to tackle a big one that came up: your social life. I heard SO many different iterations of how your social life gets in the way of your health: overindulgent eating, drinking all weekend, friends who don’t share the same priorities, JUDGMENT from said friends, general lack of community, etc.
Yeah, there’s A LOT in those responses so we’re going to break it up. Today we’re going to talk about eating, then drinking, and lastly we’ll talk about your community.
Let me start by just saying that if you feel like your social life and your health are at odds with each other, I totally get it. I’ve been there too.
At the height of my struggles with food and my body (you can read my body story here), I saw social activities as a big road block on my journey to health.. Well, mine was more of a misguided journey to self-love via weight loss, but I digress. When I’d get invited to a group dinner, I’d feel so anxious about what I would eat, how much, how I’d track it in My Fitness Pal, and if it would make me gain weight. Quite often, those feelings would ultimately drive me to decline the invite or bail last minute. And when I did make good on the invitations, I’d go to dinner well-intentioned (and hungry… I was always so hungry) but still end up bingeing anyway.
Through a lot of work, I’ve gotten to a place where my social life and my health serve each other (or, at the very least, have a net neutral effect).
So, yeah, I get you and I’m with you. Now let’s get into the food.
Like I tell my clients all the time, this is not going to be a list of #hottips. You know the ones I’m talking about… Skip the bread basket! Share your meal with a friend! Ask for a to-go box when your meal arrives! Pour water over your leftovers so you don’t eat them! (Yes, people really do recommend that last one.) You can find tactics and strategies for overeating/dining out all over the internet, and chances are they’re already on your Pinterest board. Which just goes to show that THEY DON’T WORK. At least not long term. The fact that you’re here reading this is proof of that. To truly overcome this challenge, we need to target the root cause: your mind.
So that’s what we’re talking about today. Mindset strategies to support you in making intentional decisions around food while you’re dining socially. The first step is reading. And then you implement, and then you’ll find yourself flailing and failing a few times. You’ll learn, you’ll implement, implement again, implement once more, fail, pick yourself up, ask for help, learn, implement, so on and so forth. The point is: don’t expect to be “healed” or “solved” immediately because that’s just not how it works— and that’s ok! There’s so much to be enjoyed about being a work in progress. I know I am and it’s pretty damn fun.
Is this you?
Let’s run through a pretty typical example of how social eating can feel incompatible with your health goals. Let’s say that all week, you’ve been eating the meals you prepped for breakfast (overnight oats) and lunch (grilled chicken, sweet potato, broccoli). For dinners, you and your boo have made a couple recipes from your favorite healthy food bloggers and enjoying the leftovers. And now it’s Friday night and you feel like you’ve been so “good” all week, that you’re ready to let loose a bit at tonight’s dinner with your girls!
Dinner rolls around and you’re H-U-N-G-R-Y. One of your friends asks the table with a *twinkle* in her eye if anyone would poooossibly want to get an order of chips, guac, and queso for the table. Earlier in the day, you’d been thinking about how awesome you feel when you avoid dairy, but you’re so hungry right now that you DGAF. The chips and accoutrement arrive and you go in. Then everyone starts ordering drinks and because it’s #friyay, margaritas are in order, right?? You’re the last to order and you don’t want to be a buzzkill (even though you have to be up early tomorrow to go wedding dress shopping with your sister), so you get a frozen marg like the rest of the table.
When your main course arrives, you’re not remotely hungry anymore. But you figure that you’ve already ruined the day (and obviously your diet has to re-start on Monday), so you eat until you’re physically uncomfortable. You get home later that night, still stuffed, cursing yourself (and your friends) for what went down. You give yourself the green light to continue overeating/overindulging through the weekend, but you vow to be “good” again next week.
Leave a comment below if I just described your last Friday night, and then continue reading for mindset strategies to help you create a different pattern.
Set an intention before you go into the meal experience.
I know intention setting sounds super woo woo and not what you’d expect to hear from the #realistdietitian, but this has been super effective for both myself and our clients. Thinking ahead to how you want to experience a dining experience with your loved ones can really help you go from behaving in default mode, where your Lizard Brain runs the show, to acting with intentionality.
Get familiar with the hunger scale.
Have you ever looked forward to a meal, only to eat too much at happy hour, ruining the main course? Or maybe you were so excited about dinner that you decided to skip lunch. Then when 7pm rolled around, you inhaled your meal instead of enjoying it. Or perhaps there was that time that you had an incredible dish that you just couldn’t stop eating… So you drove home with your pants unbuttoned, and then when you tried to fall asleep, heartburn kept you awake. (Just so we’re all very clear, I’ve done all of those things many, many times.)
It feels wonderful to sit down to a meal when you’re hungry, but not starving. And you’ll likely enjoy a meal more if you stop eating when you’re satisfied versus stuffed. Developing an awareness of the hunger scale and noting (mentally or on paper) where you are on it before, during, and after a meal can help you make more mindful decisions about when to pick up and put down your fork.
Note your hunger scale numbers (before, during, after) the next time you go out to eat with friends. Let it simply be an exercise in awareness, not problem solving. Chances are, the longer you’re aware of the hunger scale, the more naturally you’ll be able to operate within it comfortably. Don’t force it, or go directly into fix it mode. Stay curious.
You will still overeat sometimes, and that’s only a big deal if you let it be.
A follower recently asked me if I still binge. The truth is, I really don’t. But I do overeat from time to time, but the experience is totally different. When I used to overeat (or binge), I’d adopt the “screw it” mentality, overindulging at subsequent meals for the next day/weekend/week/month! Or I’d punish myself afterward physically by skipping meals or adding in extra cardio, and mentally by engaging in inexplicably cruel self-talk.
Now it’s totally different. I still overeat, but I don’t let it mean anything. I don’t let it mean that my day/weekend/week is ruined. I don’t let it mean that I don’t deserve food, or that I need to repent through exercise. I don’t let it mean that I’m weak, or fat, or lazy, or stupid. I don’t make it mean anything other than I ate a bit too much, because that’s all overeating means.
And the cool, unexpected part of transitioning to this neutral viewpoint is how I overeat so much less as a result. The mind is so powerful, y’all.
I’d love it if you’d leave me a comment below to let me know what you found most helpful about today’s post!