Under (Food) Pressure

It seems like you just watched Hocus Pocus for the twelfth time in twenty-four hours and already, The Holidays are upon us… bringing with them parties a plenty with friends that feel like family and family that feels like… well, family. Amidst good conversation and genuine connection are abundant apps, snacks of snacks, and tempting treats that leave our hearts, plates, and bellies full, fuller, and fullest.

But what happens when – gathered ’round the charcuterie board or seated at the dining table – someone makes what’s on (or off) your plate, their prerogative? Whether a curious inquisition or a snarky snipe, commentary about your eating choices may leave you feeling anything less than merry this holiday season. Here’s how to deal:

Before we begin, a disclaimer.

It goes without saying (but I’ll write it anyway) that even if you’re striving to live a healthy lifestyle and tend to be very thoughtful about your food choices, it’s okay to engage with food containing little nutritional value in whatever context is appropriate for your individual wants, needs, and goals. For you, the holistically-healthy choice may be enjoying a piece of candy or cake free of guilt. Or, it may be saying “no thank you” in a demonstration of developing discipline. Whatever it is, make sure what you’re serving yourself is serving you – body, brain, and belly.

We may choose to engage (or not to engage) with a food for several reasons, from personal preference to specific goals to ethical beliefs to allergies and beyond. Of all the things that belong on our plate, peer pressure is not one of them.

To eat the cake or not to eat the cake is not the question – but either way, you’re gonna hear about it. So, let’s strategize some effective responses to navigate Nutrition Nudgers.

First, make sense of the motive.

If you ask me, there are three reasons a “Food Pusher” may have something to say about your eating choices:

  1. Genuine Love & Care: For Aunt MaryPat, cooking enough meatballs & gravy (or is it sauce?) to feed an army is the ultimate expression of love. Keeping the people she cares about “well-fed” (maybe by way of calories, but not so much nutrients) by questioning whether or not you’ve eat yet before both feel are the door or suggesting – or straight up serving – seconds before you’ve cleared your plate makes her feel fulfilled. She means well, and that means you might feel badly about offending her…
  2. Curiosity: Your coworker Jane sees you happily munching through your colorfully-packed tupperware each day at lunch while she stares solemnly into a styrofoam take-out container. She’s been prime witness to your progress from how your productivity has increased to how your clothes are fitting, and she wants in! Don’t get your guard up! Jane might come off like she’s making a back-handed remark when in reality, she’s totally inspired by you.
  3. Pride: With all of the Diet fads floating around, one of your family members or friends is bound to be testing the trends, and they aren’t afraid to share it – after all, they lost 3 pounds! Your cousin Carla who’s “mostly Keto” will probably be the first to side-eye you for spooning some pickled beets onto your plate, but she’ll be the first to over-justify her slice of pumpkin pie at the end of the night.
  4. Insecurity: The girl you later refer to as “That B****” when you call your bestie to tell her what went down at your boyfriend’s cousin’s sister’s Friendsgiving is probably jealous of you. Or, what she thinks she knows of you based on your eating choices. Beneath the brash, she’s insecure about her own habits and decisions, and she wants to make you feel badly so that she can feel just a little bit better. It’s unfortunate, but remember – her words speak more about her character than yours.

Once you know who you’re dealing with, choose your tactic.

  1. Gratitude: Express your gratitude to Aunt MaryPat in your own way, something meaningful and tangible that doesn’t necessarily translate to unwanted food on your plate or in your belly. Start with how grateful you are for her thoughtful and sure-to-be delicious preparation. If the pushing persists, don’t be afraid to ask for her love and care on your terms, as well. After all, it’s these motives that are at the heart of her actions. Tell Aunt MaryPat that, while you absolutely love her meatballs & gravy – they’re the best in the world! – you’ve had your fill. Or let her know that, right now, you’ve made a commitment to your nutrition and would really appreciate her support in honoring your current priorities. That way, she can feel she served her purpose of caring for you, without serving you unwanted food. Plus, maybe she’ll even be inspired to whip up a delicious and nutritious meal for the next time you stop by.
  2. Education: Get curious right back and ask Jane what’s been going on in her life. Has she started a new exercise routine? Is the thinking about making some changes to her diet? Has she ever tried brussels sprouts? Be a catalyst for change from a totally supportive, I’ve been there, I get it, type of way. No need to lay down the dogmatic law with Jane. She’s not quite ready to hire a Nutritionist and get under a barbell, but with the right encouragement she’s well on her way. To get there, she needs empathy and a real deal, authentic role model. Feel free to share some healthy hints (or maybe even a bite of your snack?!) when she seems to pry. This could be the start of a brand new fit-friendship!
  3. Neutrality: Stay in your lane, sister, and don’t forget to celebrate cousin Carla’s success, no matter what your knowledge tells you about her tactics. Much like religion an politics, Nutrition Dogma doesn’t belong at the dinner table. Change the subject and do you, boo!
  4. Assertiveness: For someone who’s rarely at a loss for words, “That B****” won’t know quite how to respond when you politely lay down the facts. The straight-forward strategy will have her reconsidering her – and your – confidence while you move right along.

Above all else, remember that the actions you take to respect yourself, your values, and your priorities do not require justification or validation.

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