Finding Balance Between Friends and Food

In one of my classes, I spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about the emotional significance of food and how people tend to organize their social relations around food. You’d think that if I am teaching this stuff, that I’d know a way around it. But, alas, I do not.

The night I skipped my friend’s 60th birthday party at a local pub/restaurant in favor of going home and grabbing a salad, I realized that I have yet to find balance between friends and food. When I am not as serious about how I am fueling my body, it’s easy — I tend to spend more time eating with friends. Incidentally, however, those are the periods where I am also most likely to backslide on my goals. And, just so you know that I’m not the only one, research shows that people routinely eat a lot more calories –up to six times as many! — when they’re eating out and/or when eating with groups!

When I hunker down and get serious about diet, I tend to withdraw socially, as I have yet to find that balance between food and friends. One, I don’t often feel comfortable being grilled about my food choices — which consist, shockingly enough — of mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, legumes, and soy-based products. Two, I don’t feel comfortable by the way that friends all too often defend their choices to me, as if I am sitting there silently acting as judge and jury — which I am not. I don’t want to be judged for what I eat, so I am certainly not going to do it to anyone else! And, three, typically I meet friends and restaurants or at their homes, where I have less control of the ingredients used, amounts served, etc. And, again, a look at any restaurant menu that also provides nutritional information will tell you just how full of pitfalls eating out can be! Even something as seemingly innocuous as a weight management salad! Just as an aside, does this mean you can’t order one if you don’t need to manage your weight? What if you just happen to like salad? And, FYI, if you’re trying to limit your calories to 1200 (or even 1500) a day, seeing that the only thing on the menu that even resembles a real meal is “below 590 calories” is not reassuring!

Anyway, so what are my options — other than staying home? I suppose I could just go and not eat, but it feels strange sitting there drinking water while others are drinking margaritas and having dinner. To me, that seems even worse than not going. Do you go, touch base with everyone at the table, and then make excuses for why you’re not staying? Or do you just do your homework ahead of time (assuming that the nutritional information is available), pick the lesser of all evils, and live with the consequences?

And, for obvious reasons, having dinner at friends’ houses — where they are providing you a real offering — provides even more socio-emotional challenges, but more on that later!

This is something that I still struggle with — usually opting for food over friends. But this is not a sustainable answer to the problem. It’s certainly not a sustainable approach to friendship given the cultural weight we put on (no pun intended) “breaking bread.”

Anyway, I’d love to hear how other people handle it! How do you do it?

7 comments so far

  1. Meg on

    Go out with your friends. Have a pot of green tea. Have a cup of soup and/or a small side salad. You’re right that it’s not sustainable to hole up and miss your friends’ important milestones. Your friends — because they’re your friends — want you there with them. And someday you’ll want the same. You wouldn’t want a friend to feel like he had to miss your party because he didn’t want to feel pressured, right? So make it clear to everyone that you’re happy with your tea, and you can only stay an hour or so, but that you’re so happy to be with them all to celebrate.

    • KJ on

      Good ideas! I have similar issues when going home to visit family — negotiating the line between food and family. I’ll sure you’ll be hearing more about that as summer approaches!

      • Q on

        It is a lot harder to deal with family than friends! Friends, in general, tend to be more understanding of your goals. I think that part of the problem is that when eating with family, “home cooked” meals are more the norm, and feelings get hurt by the preparer when the offering is not consumed by all present.

        If you’ve a way to skip over those emotional landmines, I’d LOVE to hear it!

  2. KJ on

    My strategy when visiting my parents is to bring my own groceries — hit the store on the way from the airport so that I am the one making the home-cooked meals. Then they’re the one’s who have to suck it up! Actually, my parents have really broadened their palates, to be fair. I had to change the name of my favorite Lentil Dal recipe to “Daddy’s Favorite Dal,” so mother would remember which one to make!

  3. cher on

    I have been thinking the same thing you write about. Everyone in our ladies group are overweight. What I decided to do with friends, is create and suggest “active get-togethers” instead of just eating and drinking get-togethers. For one friend, I suggested we use my free for two coupon to attend a 90 Minute “hot yoga” session; where we can relax, learn something new, and burn some calories and toxins sweating;

    I also meet friends at tea cafe where they only serve fresh soups and salads;

    I also meet friends to walk our dogs too at the local 3 mile track, we talk and walk our dogs; which is actually more fun than eating to me.

    So, just think of “active” things you want to do together instead of eating and invite a friend to do this with you.
    Even thrift store shopping is active, or do volunteer work as a group, or with a friend for a day.
    The important thing is, friends are important, and we need to make special time with them to maintain and grow as a person and as a friend.

  4. cher on

    You could always say, I am not hungry right now, or I just ate…now and then…or I’ll just have the tea thank you. Or, I have said this…when someone offers cake or cookies..or I love homemade lemon pie, but I can’t eat another bite, and they might wrap it up for you to take home…take it….I think it is rude when people say, I don’t eat this or that when someone cooks something to others; keep your likes or dislikes to yourself, and your simply just not hungry…I have even used, I just brushed my teeth to those friendly store sample people… Food is everywhere..and it can be a challenge to keep our weight healthy.

    • KJ on

      These are all great suggestions! Thanks for reading AND especially for contributing! I’ll let you know how implementing these strategies work out for me!

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