I don’t know what it is about our culture, or at least my own personal life, that so much of our social interaction is based around calorie consumption. But almost every interaction I have with people revolves around eating or drinking (or both). It makes sense. People are busy, they work all day, have other obligations, eating and socializing is a way to multi-task. Plus it gives everyone something to do.
I’m a very social person. As an extravert, I get a little stir-crazy if I spend too much time by myself. At first, I was passing on invitations, laying low and just using avoidance as the best option. But that doesn’t work for me AT ALL because being alone stresses me out and stress eating is one of the reasons I am here in the first place! Thus, I find myself in restaurants searching menus for diet-friendly things to eat quite frequently. I have found thus far it is often a difficult task, but not unmanageable.
There are generally two types of meal companions: those who help you cheat and those you help you stay on course. Generally, I think which kind of helper you are dining with depends on what that person’s goals are for him or herself, and what kind of relationship he or she has with you. For instance, I have friends who don’t pay any particular attention to what they eat, and/or have zero nutritional knowledge, and those people generally say things like, “it’s just cheese, you need to get your protein in from somewhere!” or “you really need to give yourself a break once in a while.” Neither of those statements are necessarily untrue, but cheese is not the healthiest (or most efficient) protein choice and I give myself plenty of breaks, I’m not looking for an extra!
The other friends are great. “The grilled salmon looks like it would be pretty good, and I bet it’s fairly low-calorie.” Those are the helpers I like to go out with. Unfortunately, even with those friends around, there is still that pesky laminated card stock of gluttony staring up at me at any restaurant, teasing me with all the foods I want to eat instead of the pickled beet salad. Usually, though, if I’m with the helper friend, the helper will help talk me down. Or (and admittedly this is not the healthiest tactic) I will feel bad about myself for cheating when the person I’m with is really pulling for me. I don’t want to be a disappointment! Nothing like a little neuroses to keep me in check. (Isn’t that the point of this blog, anyway??)
There is a third kind of friend, and that is one that I struggle with for different reasons. That friend is the one who is also dieting, but is on a much more conventional (less strict) diet plan. For instance, last week, a friend made me dinner. I’ll start by saying it was so delicious! And much more nutritious than if we had gone out for Mexican like we used to. But this friend is trying to lose five, maybe ten pounds, if she even has a goal weight at all. And, her weight loss is basically superfluous because I’m sure she already was in a target BMI category. Although, I will never look down on someone for trying to be healthier, so her brand new interest in physical health is great! But I got to her house, and she was so excited she was making a beautiful, very healthy meal for us. Except the very healthy meal was spaghetti. And certainly if this was me six months ago, it would have been the healthiest thing I ate that week. And, I really loved it! But pasta is supposed to be off limits. So is parmesean cheese. So it’s difficult because this is a diet-friendly meal by all accounts, and it is great to have someone who is also working on changing her lifestyle, but I have to make more extreme changes. And how do you say, “thank you so much for being healthy with me but it’s not healthy enough?”
So how do we deal? I’ve started gathering techniques.
- I try to look for the healthiest option on the meal that isn’t just going to make me sad. For instance, I’d rather eat a salad, even if it has say, cheese and boiled egg on it, over some depressed, soggy steamed frozen vegetables (that have been marked up 500% from the bulk grocer). But I still definitely stick to as little dressing as possible! And make sure it has more nutrients than an iceberg wedge, too.
- I guess this should have been number one, but try to go to places that actually encourage healthy living. I live in Indianapolis, which has not historically been known for its physical fitness, but there are tons of restaurants that specifically market eating fresh, local and healthy. So, if I can pick one of those places to go, we go there.
- The to-go box. The to-go box has a downside, which is that there is another unhealthy meal later. But, eating half the meal on Monday night and half of it a couple of days later at least gives your body a chance to balance that small portion of restaurant food with all the green, clean superfoods you are eating in between.
- Plan for the meal. If you know where you are going ahead of time, and you can anticipate how much cheating will be involved, it makes it a lot easier to make up the difference. If you know you are going some place where it’s nearly impossible to eat a meal up to super-diet standards, maybe you should plan on that being a cheat meal for the week. If you think you can find something relatively healthy, maybe just have a smoothie and some mixed greens earlier in the day.
- DO SOMETHING ELSE!! I have started suggesting to my friends that we catch up by going for walks. Why not burn calories instead of adding on extra? Or, I don’t know why it isn’t more acceptable to just sit and visit. Growing up, my mom and her old lady relatives used to do this all the time. There didn’t need to be a precursor or a crutch like sharing a meal, we could just share each other’s company instead.
But, since I know five is not particularly realistic, I try really hard to follow advice 1-4. Try. Sometimes I institute four retroactively, and decide while I’m eating that that better be a cheat meal. It’s hard, though. I never want to be that girl that says, “oh no, thanks, I’m on a diet.” That girl is boring and uptight.
Except of course usually that girl isn’t making up for 2 decades (on and off) of eating whatever the hell she wants, and thus that girl doesn’t actually NEED to “diet” for health reasons.
Sadly, this girl does. So I am constantly learning to manage my social life in terms of healthy living.
Oops, this was a long one. xo