7 Tips for Navigating Social Dietary Pressures

It’s day one of healthy eating and things are off to a good start – you’ve prepped food for the week, started the day with a nutrient-packed smoothie and left the house feeling determined to stick to your newfound lifestyle.

As you sift through morning emails, your colleague suddenly appears ready to make the trek for a mid-morning muffin and latte. You look at them and proudly announce your decision to forgo the specialty drink in favour of healthier habits. 

Your colleague seems surprised and annoyed.26741167_ml

“Really? No more lattes with whipped cream? Who am I going to vent to on my walk?” 

Not quite the encouraging response you had hoped for, you decide to join them for the walk but opt for an herbal tea instead. A mental check is added to the victory over temptation column.

By the end of the day you’ve successfully navigated leftover birthday cake, the danish platter in the afternoon budget meeting and an invite to grab a drink after work. It’s no surprise you arrive home feeling proud of your victories, but exhausted from defending your dietary choices at every social interaction.

Does this scenario sound familiar? There’s no doubt about it, adopting a healthy lifestyle is HARD. It takes commitment, time and being organized, but what about the many factors that are beyond your control?

Today access to food is like nothing before. Combine the sheer volume of food options with the feeling that certain people are purposely trying to derail you from your goals, and it’s no wonder most people quit before they ever get started. As a nutritionist and someone who has long used diet to relieve myself of multiple sclerosis symptoms, I have heard every diet-related comment imaginable. I’ve seen people roll their eyes at my list of food intolerances, heard side comments about how annoying the gluten free ‘fad’ is and remarks about how I’m too thin to be worried about my weight (this one drives me bonkers, given the relationship SO many people have with food is dictated solely by the numbers on the scale.)

The most common complaint I hear from clients trying to make healthy dietary changes though is the lack of support and pressure they face from their partner, friends, family and colleagues. It’s the friend who shows up with freshly baked cookies knowing full well you’re trying to make positive changes. It’s the boss who acts offended when you turn down a piece of birthday cake, or the partner who just wants you to chill out with them in front of the TV with a big bag of chips.

While it’s not likely that all these people are purposely trying to sabotage you or want to see you fail, making significant lifestyle changes can force those close to us to evaluate their own habits and decisions. If they’re unhappy or feeling guilty about their own habits, it makes sense that they  could feel threatened by you changing yours. Indulging is always more fun when you have someone to join you.

As a result, here are five tips for navigating the social pressures that can come with adopting a healthier lifestyle:

 

 
Don’t justify your choices – no one will ever truly know how you feel or why you’re making the changes you are. Maybe it’s to lose weight or help relieve symptoms of a chronic disease, but maybe it’s just to improve your overall quality of life. If you decide to say anything at all, simply state you’re doing what’s best for your health, but don’t feel the need to explain or justify further.

Build a support system – if you don’t get the support you need within your own social circle, find a buddy or online forum where you can share experiences, find motivation and talk to other like-minded people. Hearing from others who are experiencing the same challenges can be a good way to feel less alone while discovering tips that make staying on track easier.

Be prepared – the key to success is planning ahead. You’ll be less likely to dive into the bowl of chips if you’ve eaten a satisfying meal in advance or brought your own snacks to a party. Weekly meal prep is essential for staying on track and will ensure you have healthy options ready when needed.

Speak up – many people end up caving on foods they don’t really want simply because they’re too embarrassed to voice their dietary restrictions or seem high-maintenance. You don’t have to be dramatic or make a scene in order to avoid certain foods. If at a restaurant, quietly pull your server aside and ask what your options are. If attending a social gathering, mention your food aversions to the host in advance  and offer to bring a dish you CAN eat. This will help to avoid an awkward confrontation of  turning down a food your host has graciously prepared and prevent them from feeling badly that they didn’t have an option on-hand.

Voice your concerns – sit down and talk to the person who consistently puts pressure on you. Maybe they don’t even realize they’re doing it, or maybe they are not aware of how important their support is to you.

Suggest an alternative activity – if meeting up with your best friend typically means sitting in a pub with nachos and beer, suggest another activity that will help keep you on track. Grabbing a tea and going for a walk by the lake is a great option for getting out and being social (without compromising your lifestyle.) Hey, your friend might even be inspired to start opting for healthier options as well.

Share resources – knowledge is power. Offer to share articles or resources that help educate and get someone else started on a healthier lifestyle. Only do this if the person expresses interest in learning more though and never force someone who isn’t ready on their own.

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