As a nutrition consultant, many of my clients tell me that they do so well when they are on their own and they can control their eating environment. But the second they are put in a situation where other people have provided food, it all goes downhill very quickly. This can happen at work, at parties, at BBQs, at a restaurant, or just at a friend’s house. If you struggle with saying no to food, the first thing you need to know is that you are not alone.
When other people are providing the food, it throws a wrench in any planning you have done. Your mind is tricked into thinking you are no longer in control of your eating. Since someone else provided the food, you may feel obligated to eat it, or you think you will feel left out if you don’t eat it. Or the food might just be too tempting to resist. So what’s a girl to do?
No, the answer is not to become a hermit. Socializing is just as important to your health as eating right and exercising. It’s just that in our society, socializing tends to involve food, and not always the healthiest kind of food. Instead of avoiding social situations altogether, you need to build up a set of strategies to help you say no to the food.
#1 – Can’t vs. Don’t
Another birthday at the office? That means another chocolate cake. If you cannot resist the temptation of that cake, it’s time to train your brain to think a little differently. Instead of telling yourself and/or other people you can’t have the cake, tell yourself and/or other people you don’t want to have the cake. And be honest about why you don’t want the cake. Remember your reasons, whether it be eating less sugar, losing 10 pounds, or just eating a little bit cleaner. Say it as a statement, “I want to eat less sugar,” “I want to lose 10 pounds,” or “I want to eat cleaner.” Imagine saying, “I want to eat more sugar,” “I want to gain 10 pounds,” or “I want to eat more unhealthy food.” Not only would that sound silly, but it will also help you realize what you really want.
#2 – Don’t be afraid to offend
A lot of people accept food because they don’t want to be offensive or hurt people’s feelings. But what about your feelings? You need to take care of yourself and be loyal to your goals and eating habits, not anyone else’s. When you have to say no, be polite, smile, and say, “That looks delicious, but no thank you.” If someone is being really pushy, you may have to offer a specific reason why you are turning the food down. But when it comes down to it, think about this: Would someone ever be truly mad at you for not taking one of their brownies? I wouldn’t think so. Be strong and stand up for what you want.
#3 – Come prepared
This is the best strategy in my opinion. It is a tangible strategy that will help you not to feel left out from the party. Prepare and bring a portable healthy snack with you. Keep this in your purse or desk drawer at work so you are ready for any situation. If you are confronted with an unhealthy food option, pull out that snack and eat it. Make it something healthy and fulfilling that you actually enjoy eating. If you have a hard time saying no to sweets, make your snack something sweet like fruit. If your weakness is potato chips, have a bag of air-popped popcorn ready to go to satisfy that crunch and saltiness. This way you won’t feel deprived, left out, or hungry, all things that could lead you to indulge.
#4 – Have a mantra
Some people think mantras are silly, but if you haven’t tried it, you could be missing out on a very simple yet effective strategy. Your mantra can be anything, but for this scenario I like, “Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean I have to eat it.” When you are heading into a social situation where there will be unhealthy food, repeat your mantra in your head and out loud several times. You might also want it written down on a card in your purse, or set as a reminder in your phone. Seeing the words may be more powerful for you than just hearing them.
If you are the type of person who can eat one bite of cake and walk away, by all means enjoy it. But if you are the type that goes back for a second piece of cake, then I would say to work on using some of the strategies described above. Most of all, if you do end up overeating, don’t beat yourself up about it. Accept that you made a poor decision, and move on from it. Aim to make better decisions for the rest of the day.