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The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating Acceptance and Self-Care

NEW LESSON: SPRING 2014

Sharing food with friends and family is an important part of our culture. It is the being together, rather than eating the same food at the same time, that keeps us connected.

As you work toward listening to your hunger cues, you may wonder how to handle gatherings like family meals, meeting a friend for lunch, and special celebrations. There are many strategies you can use to remain true to yourself without giving up the social aspect of sharing food together.

If you have a family, mealtimes may be an important part of your daily life. The structure of mealtimes provides a wonderful opportunity for coming together to share the highlights of the day or thoughts, ideas, and feelings. It may be a time to laugh together or consider a problem confronting a family member. Unfortunately, mealtime can also be a time of tension. There may be unresolved conflicts, issues over food itself, or difficulty in knowing how to connect with each other. However meal times go in your family, it is a function of the dynamics in your family, not the food you eat.

If you usually sit down to dinner at 6:30, find that you are hungry, and have prepared a dish that is just the right match, you will comfortably eat along with whoever else is at the table, assuming they are hungry! However, if it is 5:15 and you are hungry, it's important that you respond to yourself, even though you still want to eat with your family at 6:30. Eat enough of something to take the edge off your hunger so that you avoid the problem of becoming too hungry and setting yourself up to overeat. By feeding yourself a small amount of food, you satisfy your hunger in the moment with a strong possibility that you will once again become hungry when dinner is served.

Now consider the possibility that when you followed your hunger on a particular day, you found yourself eating at 4:00. When 6:30 rolls around, you don't experience physical hunger. Can you imagine sitting at the table, but choosing not to eat? It's up to you. You can still be part of the family conversation, which is the real way in which connection takes place. Will you feel deprived? Then you make sure you put aside some of the food for yourself so that you don't feel compelled to eat it just because it will be gone later. However, the choice is yours. Even though you are not hungry, you may decide that you want to eat. As always, pay attention to how your stomach feels at the end of your eating experience.

Another issue that can arise at mealtimes is that sometimes people have different food preferences that affect what is a good match for them. Perhaps when you grill steaks, you can throw on some chicken for the family member who does not like red meat. Remember, it is being together at the table that connects you, not whether or not you eat the exact same food.

The principles related to family mealtimes can apply to social gatherings as well. Whenever you know that you will be eating a meal with others at a certain time, always stay in tune with your natural hunger. If you become hungry prior to the event, decide how you will respond to yourself. You can eat a small amount of something so that you do not become ravenous before the party or dinner engagement. Or you can choose to eat a bigger amount of food in the present and adjust the amount you eat at the social gathering. Always give yourself full permission to get your food wrapped up for later when possible so that you won't experience the deprivation of thinking that if you don't eat it right then, you cannot have it later.

Food is an important part of all cultures. In addition to providing satiation, shared eating experiences give people great pleasure. Enjoy eating! As you become more comfortable with your attuned eating, you'll find that social situations provide a wonderful way to experience the joy of food on many different levels without the anxiety created when you feel guilty for breaking through the restrictions of a diet.

Activity: Staying Connected

Over the next week, assume the role of an anthropologist during shared meals. Your task is to observe what is happening in a curious and non-judgmental manner. Consider the following:

  • Are there verbal struggles around food?

  • Do you notice non-verbal struggles around food?

  • Is there conversation between people? If so, what kind?

Don't forget to include observations about yourself. Consider:

  • Am I hungry at this meal?

  • Where is my primary focus?

  • How do I interact with others?

Take some time to think about what truly "feeds" you and how you can incorporate your physical and emotional needs into any mealtime.

A smiling face is half the meal

– Latvian Proverb