One of the things many of my clients dread most about the holidays is feeling guilted or coerced into overeating by family members and friends who try to derail their healthy efforts. Some are subjected to comments like, “You don’t need to lose weight” or “C’mon, it’s the holidays, live a little!” Others feel silently compelled to eat more than they’d like, in order to avoid standing out, or offending relatives. Sound familiar? If so, try out these six dos and don’ts for either stealthily or openly dealing with holiday eating peer pressure.
DON’T get drawn into an argument
A lack of support for your healthy quest may leave you feeling frustrated, or even angry, but remember that the reaction of your loved ones is really more about them than you. Some people sabotage so they won’t feel guilty about overindulging themselves. Others may truly be operating from a loving place, if they were socialized to believe that food represents affection. Try to understand where they’re coming from, and rather than reacting defensively, test out the tips below, and find your support from others who “get it.”
DO offer an authoritative excuse
If you think that watching your waistline, or simply trying to eat healthfully will be dismissed or pooh-poohed by your friends and family, give them a clinical explanation for why you’re not pigging out. Some of my clients explain that they get heartburn when they overeat or eat certain foods, or that doing so wreaks havoc with their blood sugar levels or digestive health. Sometimes presenting reasons that are more “therapeutic” helps others take you more seriously or allows them to better respect your choices.
DON’T follow the leader
Research shows that when dining in groups, we tend to adjust our pace to that of our companions. In fact, one study found when women eat together, when one takes a bite, the other is likely to do the same within five seconds. To use this to your advantage, consciously become the pacesetter. When enjoying dinner with your clan, slow down, and put your fork down between bites. Taking the lead on speed can help you (and possibly your eating companions) avert overeating, and feel more satisfied with smaller portions.
DO express your feelings
Confrontation is never comfortable, but if this is an ongoing issue, putting your cards on the table may be the only way to work through this conflict. Just be thoughtful about how you do it. Rather than attacking or accusing your “food pusher” take him or her aside to a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Start out positive, like recalling a time when they truly supported you, ask for that support again, and explain why it’s important you. When one of my clients explained to a loved one that eating healthfully wasn’t just about her weight, but that it also boosted her mood, energy, and self confidence, her former food bullying relative became her biggest cheerleader.
DO find other ways to bond
If overeating together has been a bonding ritual with friends and family members, create new traditions. Suggest a fun game, do crafts with the kids, invest in a karaoke machine, or round up whoever’s on board for getting outdoors. You may be surprised just how open people are to mixing things up or trying something new.
DON’T forget about online support
If your friends and family are reluctant to change, find support online. When you can connect with other people who share your interests, and goals, even “friends” you’ll probably never meet, it can give you the confidence and motivation you need to deal with challenging situations, and stay on track. For a few places to start, hop on Health’s Facebook page and my page as well. We encourage you to share or tweet your healthy successes @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass. From well-balanced plates to fun ways to be active, our communities will appreciate and applaud your efforts!
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.