Sharing food is one of the most basic ways in which human beings unite with each other.
We celebrate our religious holidays with food.
Family gatherings center around food.
We get to know possible romantic couples going to a restaurant to eat.
When we have an office party: food.
When we have a party on the street: food.
The initiation rites are closed gathering around the food.
Our first bond with another human being develops through food: the mother who breastfeeds her baby.
But food can also be a basis for social conflict, especially when you start saying “no” to unhealthy food, partly because of our strong mutual attachments.
There is family conflict, like, “Why aren’t you eating my chocolate cake, I did it just for you?”
There is the tacit friendship conflict: “If you don’t want to bother me, you will continue eating the same food we are used to eating together.”
And there is the silent conflict of vampires. “I don’t like her thinking that she is better than me with all those healthy food choices she is making.”
Because food is so social, it can be difficult to make different decisions from those of the people around us.
Some people can be supportive when you make that important change from unhealthy to healthy eating habits. Some may even be inspired by their choices and decide to do the same.
Other people can make their decisions as personal to them. They react as if their healthier food choices were a negative reflection of the choices they are making.
The “dark side” of food as a means of social bonding is that it is loaded with social judgments. People judge themselves and each other by what they eat.
And it’s not just about “healthy versus unhealthy” judgments.
If you say “no” to a food that symbolizes love or friendship with the person who offers it, they may not think that you are saying no to the effects of food on your body. They may assume that you are saying no to what the food symbolizes.
Complicated things to deal with, especially given the fact that making the transition to a healthy eating lifestyle is already quite difficult.
But dealing with social complications around food doesn’t have to bother you. You don’t have to give in to social pressure, and you don’t have to isolate yourself from people who have unhealthy eating habits. .
You just need to remember how loaded the food issue is for some people and prepare in advance.
Usually, all that is needed is to have some explanations prepared for your food choices.
By having an explanation prepared for your constant “no” to certain foods, you can safely move through a social minefield by presenting your explanation in a way that minimizes the tendency of some people to interpret their choices as personal to them.
For example, let’s say you are visiting your parents, who think that refined sugar is one of the great inventions of the modern world, and Dad is making cake.
Dad: “Don’t you want a piece of your mother’s cake? She spent the whole afternoon preparing it!”
You: “I know, it looks so good. However, I ate a lot of your delicious dinner. I’m so full!” (Slight lie: It wasn’t that delicious, and you’re not so full.)
Dad: “Well, here, just a small piece.”
You: “Well, I want to eat it when I can appreciate it, so not at this time, or it won’t taste as good as I know it is. I better get home with me a little. So, anyway, Dad, I heard you have a new …! ”
If you don’t feel comfortable with a polite lie, then find your real splinter to present. Simply find it in a way that makes people feel safe, and they will be less likely to think that their choice is a reflection on them.
Of course, they should not take it personally. But reality is not what it “should” be. It is what it is.
People are as they are. To keep your emotions out of your personal food choices, it is good to have a strategy for each social situation.
If you stick to carrots and hummus at the office party because everything else is loaded with sugar and chemicals, you could briefly explain to anyone who asks you why you’re not trying the incredible hydrogenated high fructose oil. Corn syrup delight, you’ve noticed that sugar makes you feel tired, and you want to see if you start feeling better if you let it.
This explanation keeps the problem and the solution all about you. It is not about weight. It is not about willpower. It is not about “good food” and “bad food”. No, “Are you crazy, do you know what’s in those things?”
Especially nowadays, when junk food abounds and people everywhere struggle with their weight, food can be a very emotional subject.
Unless you want to relate to people about your “strange” healthy food choices, simply come prepared with a brief impersonal explanation for your rejection of certain foods, one that honors your choices and diverts intrusive reactions.
When preparing in advance, dealing with the complicated social dynamics around food can be something like bringing an umbrella when it seems it can rain. With just a little foresight, you can have a totally different experience in challenging climates.