A gluten-free girl and her BFF, who’s on her “cheat day,” walk into an Italian restaurant… but, this isn’t a joke, especially when the BFF pushes to share pasta coated in cream sauce, cannoli, or other unhealthy foods.
Who hasn’t been in a similar situation? Whatever our diets — whether they’re gluten-free, elimination, vegan, Paleo, or simply focused on real foods — we shouldn’t be expected to eat things we might not otherwise, or overeat in order to demonstrate a sense of camaraderie. So, what do you do when your friends want a partner in “crime”?
We chatted with Carolyn Brown, a New York–based R.D., and Jennifer Silvershein, a New York–based therapist who specializes in adults struggling with eating disorders, about handling these situations with poise. Here’s what you might want to say to pushy Aunt Betsy, who pressures you to eat more than one helping, or dad, who doesn’t understand why you don’t want a stack of buttermilk blueberry pancakes at age 32 (they were your favorite as a 12-year-old).
How to Explain Your Healthy Choices to People
“I know it may seem [insert humble disclaimer, such as ‘trendy’], but this is my decision.”
The best route to success is to demonstrate resolve and “own it”— whatever your choices. Our decisions about our diets can cause others to pause and, at times, be combative. But that response is about them, not you. Be resilient and, also, willing to discuss your reasons. A non-smoker wouldn’t be guilted into smoking, so why should someone focused on improving health and possibly losing weight be guilted into eating French fries?
Silvershein explains: “Why is it that we can respect someone who doesn’t like eating fish but we’re not OK with someone who’s no longer eating red meat? I have a friend who is [mostly] vegan, but eats crispy bacon. She says, ‘I don’t really like chicken or red meat but it’s bacon I enjoy.’ It’s her speaking her preference, and she stands by it.”
“This isn’t about being thin — it’s about [insert benefit].”
People tend to be more understanding when you provide reasons that center around your health, even if the reason is somewhat vague, such as, “I’m trying to pinpoint what’s causing my fatigue, and I think it might have to do with something I’m eating.”
Demonstrate a researched effort when it comes to the reasons for deleting dairy, gluten, etc. from your diet and, then, enthuse about your body’s response to the new regimen. This should be a conversation, not a criticism. Who wouldn’t appreciate your initiative to improve your digestion, energy, mood, etc. — and even be curious about whether they could benefit, too?
Brown advises: “Be sure to know your stuff, so you can answer questions. And give it a timeline: I’m doing this for a week, a month. There are so many ‘non-weight’ reasons to change the way you’re eating, and people have a much easier time hearing that from a ‘non-diet’ perspective,” says Brown. Blame the doc.
This isn’t, perhaps, the most “honest” approach, but what’s the harm in a white lie — especially when it’s dressed in a white coat? It’s important to have conviction with these endeavors, but an endorsement from an expert can help silence the cynics. Who wants to challenge the advice of a professional with a degree? This is about health, and what doctor wouldn’t invite an experiment with a cleaner diet?
How to Dodge Unhealthy Foods When Dining In
“I adore this other food — seconds, please!”
Concentrate on the dishes that you do eat, especially when the dinner has been prepared by your relative (or, even, your partner’s relative). Show gratitude. This isn’t about saying “no” to one food (i.e. pie, potatoes) — this is about saying “yes, yes, yes” to another food (i.e. salad, skinless turkey).
Brown advises: “Ask for another serving of the vegetables. Say, ‘This is so delicious and I love this particular thing so much that I’m going to have a second helping.’ Talk about what you like.”
She adds: “That said, I once heard someone say — and I love this idea — eat food made with love. It can feel [like an] attack to give [the cook or host] attitude about the food. So, as far as you’re comfortable, eat food that’s made lovingly.”
How to Avoid Unhealthy Foods When Dining Out
Go “course for course” (but not “calorie for calorie”) at restaurants.
Order with the rest of the table to encourage a “group” experience that doesn’t draw attention to you (and your plate). Are they doing appetizers/desserts? Do an appetizer or a dessert; just don’t select the mozzarella sticks or the chocolate mousse. Opt for the sliced seared ahi, roasted Brussels sprouts, or a small veggie-based salad tossed lightly in vinaigrette before your meal. Share a dessert, and only eat two bites of it when it comes to the table (“accidentally” drop your spoon or fork under the table if you have to in order to stop eating). Or, order a decaf, unsweetened cappuccino or herbal tea after dinner so you can have something to do with your hands while everyone else shovels extra sugar and calories into their mouths (oops, no judgement).
Brown explains: “People notice that you have something on your plate, but not so much what you eat or what the food is, necessarily. Consider not sitting there with nothing in front of you when you eat [or drink]. Get a salad, get a soup. Order berries for dessert.”
“I had a snack before dinner.”
Prepare for a meal by researching the menu, because the best defense is a good offense. Does the food at the restaurant accommodate your diet? If not, eat a snack.
Brown advises: “Be straightforward. Choose restaurants that give you flexibility, and look at menus so you know what you’re getting into. It’s easier to pick a restaurant ahead of time, knowing what your preferences are, than to show up and realize that there’s only pasta on the menu.”
What to Do When a Persistent Friend Won’t Support Your Diet
But, what about that one friend who continues to undermine your efforts? Silvershein advises: “Do you have a friend who makes comments? Maybe she shouldn’t be your brunch friend, but maybe she should be your manicure friend, your movie friend, or the friend you watch Grey’s Anatomy with. It could be time to put a pause on going out to eat with her.”
Or, better yet: Invite your friend to join you on your mission to complete a fitness program. Tell your friend that you’ll be by her side, enduring the workouts, eating cleaner, and helping her stay motivated every day. The best things that can happen: She sheds some excess pounds, gets fitter, fuels her body with optimal nutrition, gains confidence, and understands what getting healthier is all about. The worst that can happen: She quits. But, the choice is up to her, and at least she would have spent an hour, day, days, or weeks walking in your shoes.