One of, if not the biggest, holiday concern Lady Leaders share with me is peer pressure around holiday eating and drinking. Tell me if you’ve heard these before…
“Aunt Jane made the casserole (enter any relative & their special dish) just for us, you have to have some.”
“That’s all you’re going to eat? You can’t be done, have another plate.”
“The pie is to die for, you have to try with whipped cream.”
“Come on, you’re not going to make me drink alone are you?”
If you too are dreading the thought of family members and friends who seemingly enjoy derailing your health & fitness efforts, here are some things you can do to prepare & avoid being guilted into indulging & overeating.
LEAD WITH LOVE
It’s important to remember that how your loved ones react to your decisions around food and drink is really more about them than it is about you. Some, who believe food represents affection, will be coming from a place of love even though it may not feel that way sometimes. Others, usually those who trigger your frustration, anger & even hurt, may be unknowingly (read as subconsciously) trying to sabotage you so they won’t feel guilty about overindulging themselves.
Rather than going on the defensive, first try to understand where they’re coming from. Their lack of understanding, support, and respect for your lifestyle choices may never change, however you don’t have to drop to their level. Use this as a way to filter out those who don’t support you and to find those who do support your lifestyle and goals.
Just as much as you should seek to understand others, it’s also important to help others understand where you’re coming from. The goal here is a focus on communication, rather than confrontation when others are pressuring you. More specifically, I want to empower you to have a courageous conversation. I say courageous because these types of conversations can be uncomfortable and we tend to avoid them rather than braving our way through them. This is especially true if pressure from someone has been an ongoing issue.
It’s time to lean into your fear and stand firm, but be thoughtful about how you do it. Ask to speak with them in private. Be positive rather than attacking or accusing them. Recall a time they’ve previously supported you, share how much it helped you, and ask for their support again. Lastly, explain why it’s important to you.
SET THE PACE
Research shows that eating “socially” has a powerful effect on increasing food intake. They explain that sharing food protected them against periods of food insecurity in the days of hunters and gatherers. This survival mechanism is believed to persist today, leading people to eat more with friends in family.
Other research showed when dining in groups, we tend to adjust our pace to that of our companions. In fact, one study found that when women eat together, when one takes a bite, the other is likely to do the same within 5 seconds. Researchers note that this once ensured an even & fair distribution of food among the group. It was an important ancestral mechanism that became a practice, almost like dining etiquette, in which one person didn’t want to be seen unfavorable within the group by eating too much. Instead, they took a bite when another, “often the group leader” took a bite.
Although this was once a vital strategy that served ancestral environments very well, this practice now exerts a powerful influence in groups that can not so good. This is especially true in groups where food is abundant and unhealthy dietary intake is prevalent. Aka, we’re likely to overeat on all the goodies, sweets, treats, alcohol and more when we’re with friends and family. My point…slowing down during dinner can avert overeating and support you feeling more satisfied with smaller portions for longer periods, leading to less snacking as well. In the process, you just may help others slow down as well. So go stealth on your speed of eating.
CREATE NEW TRADITIONS
If stuffing yourselves together is the usual family tradition, perhaps you can suggest or prepare something new and different. I understand this time of year is about tradition, but what about starting a new tradition? Maybe suggest a fun indoor game of hopscotch or freeze dance, do hot potato with the kids stuff animals, invest in a Nintendo Switch sports, or roundup whoever’s onboard for getting outdoors for a walk or other games and adventures.
Novelty itself could be the tradition, in which you put a bunch of unique activities in a hat a randomly draw to make it even more fun and interesting each year. You may be surprised just how open people are for mixing things up or trying something new. Adding more fun and play may inspire you to lead even more.
EDUCATION & EMPATHY
If you think your healthy eating and lifestyle goals won’t get the respect they deserve from your friends and family. This is where education comes in to create empathy. For example, you can explain that eating certain foods ruins your gut causing bloating and gas (this one always works. Hehe!). Or that overindulging (sweets, alcohol, etc.) causes really bad acid reflux for you. When people dismiss your journey and try to dim your light it’s easy to get defensive and attack or shame them. I’ve learned in most cases, people just lack awareness and understanding.
This is very similar to helping them understand your perspective, however providing them with a more clinical explanation or scientific reason that is a bit more therapeutic can really help them more easily empathize; taking you more seriously & better respecting your choices.
RESPECT OTHERS IF YOU WANT RESPECT
Just as you seek respect for your decisions, it’s important that you respect others who don’t have the same lifestyle as you. Allow others to make their own choices around food without hearing your opinions on those decisions. We can respect each other without choosing to eat the same way as each other. We shouldn’t confuse the value of our relationship with an obligation to eat the same way. If they get upset or offended that is not on you, but rather that’s a responsibility they must deal with. Applying this respect will minimize potential pushback when it comes to respecting your healthy lifestyle choices.
REHEARSE FOR POISE & CONFIDENCE
All of the above points sound great in theory, but are understandably difficult to apply in the moment. This is why it’s especially important to prepare and even rehearse prior to the upcoming social event. These key steps of making time to anticipate, prepare, & rehearse are arguably the most important things we teach in our Little Black Dress coaching program. These steps combined with other strategies help our participants not only survive, but thrive throughout the entire holiday season.
These seven strategies should help provide you with a quality perspective and a portfolio of ways to successfully navigate eating peer pressure and the potential negative food influences at your next social party or family gathering. These will allow you the opportunity to confidently stay true to who you are and true to the path you’re currently on in your healthy lifestyle journey. Whether that’s a more flexible and balanced approach or focused and determined way, you should be feeling poised and ready no matter what your family, friends, and colleagues throw at you during the holidays.