Are these scenarios familiar?
You go to your family member’s house and they have prepared food for everyone, which is the kind of food they eat, but not the kind you eat (or want to be eating). You feel like you’d be rude not to eat what they prepare, or inconsiderate to insist on eating your own way. Perhaps they even tell you that you are indeed rude, or inconsiderate, or difficult. So you eat what they make, and it makes your body feel bad, or it brings you a conflict morally (ie. if your different way of eating is vegan or vegetarian for ethics).
Or perhaps, your friends or family want to go out to dinner, and all the suggestions are places that don’t offer what you want to eat. What do you do then? Eat whatever kind of food the restaurant serves? Eat a bland salad that isn’t satisfying? Not go at all?
Or you are at home, and the family you live with (which might be your own partner and/or children) eat completely differently than you want to be eating. None of them understand or are interested in the same level of healthful foods that you are. Perhaps you’re the main person who prepares food for everyone, and perhaps not, but either way, even in your own home, you are the black sheep. The meals they want are totally different than what you’d prefer, and there’s lots of food around that you don’t want to be eating.
Whether these scenarios are ones you regularly face, or if there are other situations where, when you are with certain people, you struggle to remain on the kind of diet you want to eat, you are not alone in struggling with social situations, pressures, and judgements.
I’d like to unravel some of these and what I believe about them. I have been eating quite differently from most people since about 2005, so I can safely say I have had a lot of experience. By the way, related to this blog might be a blog I wrote a while ago called “Why You Deserve To Change Your Diet“.
Society’s Unloving Expectations
A lot of families and friends are products of society in the ways that they expect you eat. There are a lot of unquestioned beliefs about food and eating that affect us. Here are some of them:
- If you don’t eat what someone prepares for you, you are rude/inconsiderate/ungrateful.
- If you don’t eat what others want you to eat, you won’t be able to connect with them. ie. food as a means of emotional connection.
- If you eat differently than others, you are just “too good for normal food” or overly indulgent and prissy in some way.
- If you choose to make certain arrangements to provide food for yourself, you are being difficult/inconsiderate/rude.
The truth is that your wanting to eat healthier is not ever inconsiderate to other people. It’s not ever ungrateful, and it’s not rude. You’re not indulgent or frivolous. You’re not difficult. Your choice to eat a certain way is your right, and it has nothing to do with other people. If other people do take offense or accuse you of any of the above, then it means they have unkind, unloving and disrespectful expectations of you, and that is their problem only. What you do or don’t put in your mouth is not the concern of a single other person. You’re not hurting anyone else by eating healthfully.
It is a false belief that you need to be eating the same things as other people in order to somehow have a connection with them. You don’t! And truth be told, if you need to both be eating the same thing and eating differently would impede some kind of special connection with someone, then it may be that that connection really isn’t that strong inherently.
I have had immediate family members, extended family members, friends and strangers who have accused me of every single thing above (and still do!). It’s a widespread experience for those wanting to be healthy, and the cultural beliefs and expectations around food are also widespread. But just because they’re common doesn’t mean they’re true.
If we do sabotage ourselves in the company of others, the first step we need to make to change that is to recognize that we too still believe a lot of these myths around food, love, respect, and appreciation. If you didn’t believe them yourself to some degree, you wouldn’t struggle with it. So first, recognize that you believe some of those tales, and next, consider that they are not necessarily true. Question those beliefs that others have, and that you might partially agree with.
When we do not eat healthfully when we’re with others, and it is primarily due to what other people might say, it is actually a form of people-pleasing. It certainly is something that people who know they are people-pleasers in many situations, but I have found it can also be true for people who do not consider themselves people-pleasers in other areas of their lives. In other words, many people find it odd that they don’t always care what people think in regards to other things, but when it comes to socializing and food, suddenly they are affected by those things.
Think about it: if you completely didn’t care at all what anyone else thought, would others ever be a reason for you self-sabotage? No, they wouldn’t. So, at the core, this is an issue of caring what others think and modifying our behavior to please them. Modifying our behavior, in many cases, to actually hurt ourselves all for the sake of not making someone else feel upset or unappreciated or whatever. Even if it’s really their issue if they feel unappreciated or upset based on our choices!
The next step is you need to start seeing this as people-pleasing. Even if you do realize you’re people-pleasing with your eating, what do you do? How can you change that? Once again, the first step is to acknowledge that you have an issue with caring what others think and with people-pleasing in this area.
Here’s what you do next.
Question Your People-Pleasing
The only reason we ever care what others think, modify our behavior for them, or hurt ourselves so they won’t be upset is because there are some underlying fears. There are a plethora of fears someone could hypothetically have since even with this issue, everyone is different. The most common fears that drive people-pleasing however, are such fears:
A Few Examples of Fears That Drive People-Pleasing:
-I am afraid of being made fun of by others.
-I am afraid of being rejected by others.
-I am afraid of criticism from others.
-I am afraid someone will get angry with me.
Once we discover what the fears are that are underneath our social self-sabotage, we have to experience them as fears. Emotionally. When you are really in these fears, you will experience them physically. If you stick with them long enough, you can actually sometimes have quite an emotional experience that could even include tears.
Generally people-pleasing in any way has some very deep roots in having been rejected, ridiculed, or receiving someone’s anger in the past that hurt so much that we have decided to just pander to everyone else in order to avoid those experiences at all costs. And so to truly change the experience of eating poorly when in the company of others, we have to often go through an emotional healing process that in truth, is actually not at all about food or eating but rather about our own emotional wounds. We have to feel how bad it feels to be ridiculed, criticized, or told we are bad for doing what we want with our own nutrition.
Even after eating how I do for so many years, I still sometimes get negatives responses from other people who haven’t worked through their own false believes about the relationship between companionship and different food choices. But because I’ve gone through the emotional healing experience of why I wanted to people-please, why I was ok with hurting my body for others, even if people say the same things now, it doesn’t affect me. No matter how mean or angry or condescending someone might be, I never change my eating in a way that I don’t want just for them. And because I’ve emotionally healed people-pleasing around my eating, I actually don’t even really feel upset myself when someone says something. I may choose to distance myself from a person or not spend time with them if they are being unkind or unloving towards me, but it doesn’t make me feel panicky or anxious or angry anymore.
It can be quite a process to resolve the fears and other reasons we have for compromising what we want for the sake of others, but there is such good reason to do it. When you do it, you won’t struggle to stay true to yourself. You won’t sabotage yourself. You’ll be much more clear on how to make decisions in varying scenarios with people and food. And of course, you’ll end up feeling much more in alignment with yourself and happy that you are treating yourself lovingly now. Your body will feel much better and you’ll be healthier. Ironically, you may end up enjoying social situations more, even if others do eat differently. You won’t have anxiety or dread for the event based on what others might think or say.
I would love to hear from you. Do you struggle with sticking to your goals when around other people? What has helped you to stay true to yourself?