What do you do if you want to change your eating patterns but have a reputation for eating, especially if there’s chocolate involved?
That question came up recently when talking to a friend who is in such a situation. He feels somewhat pressured in social gatherings to eat a lot, to polish things off, to never say “no,” because that’s how he’s been in the past.
It was surprising in a way because I never experienced that myself. Part of the difference may be that I didn’t like to eat much in front of others because I felt they were judging me, so they didn’t have the expectation. Another factor is that, unlike me, my friend is quite tall and appears fit, so others may think it doesn’t do him any harm to eat more, even if that’s not true.
Then I realized that I’ve had this same perception of a couple of my co-workers who historically ate large quantities of whatever food was around, but particularly sweets. I, and perhaps others, felt like I could bring in any leftovers or treats that I didn’t want around at home, and like magic they would disappear.
I even came to rely on it, sometimes, and I remember feeling cheated or annoyed if something wasn’t gone by the end of the day. Then I overheard one of those co-workers saying that he was trying to pay more attention to what he was eating and to make healthier choices. I was embarrassed. After all, I had radically changed my own eating habits but not recognized others doing the same. I might have even made it more challenging for them by bringing in food.
When I asked my friend, he said he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of letting others know he was trying to change. I don’t know why, but perhaps part of it is the difference in situation. It’s one thing to go into the kitchen and not eat something when no one is around; it’s quite another to be at a social event and tell someone directly that you don’t want what they’re offering, even though you’ve always accepted in the past.
It’s tricky, but I think if you do want to change you have to start learning to say no in a gentle way, perhaps telling them that you’re not hungry right now, or that you only want a small amount. And those of us on the other side should remember not to take it personally, since we may not know the whole story (for instance, my friend is pre-diabetic), and to not push food on those who politely decline. No means no.
The good news is that if you can start doing this, those expectations will change. After a while, others will likely learn to think of you as someone who eats more instinctively, enjoying sweets in moderation while balancing them with other foods, and that type of reputation is much easier to live with.