“Sorry, I can’t eat that”. If that is you, then you known that during celebratory seasons or on special occasions the pressure can be on. Temptations are everywhere. How to keep going?
Whether we no longer eat certain things for health, lifestyle, religious, social, economic, ethical or other reasons. Whether it is our own choice, or not. Whether the change is new, or not. At certain times it may be hard to say “Sorry, I can’t eat that” and stick with it.
Food for health or emotional first aid
Most of my life I have experimented with my diet. Usually for weight reasons, but more recently for other conscious health and some ethical reasons. Losing weight and keeping it off is a bonus.
The new regime is severe – for me.
It is not just what I can no longer eat. But what I need to eat instead and at what times of the day.
My eating and overall daily routine had to be re-organised and get used to.
I find myself embracing what I am doing. While others may disagree, it makes sense to me. But at the same time I crave for the old foods, not so much physically but emotionally.
It does take time to weaken and resolve an emotional bond we may have with food, especially if it is “occasion food”, like comfort, celebration, a treat.
And because of that I often grieve for “the good old days”. Even though I now know they were not “good” or healthy for me at all. And if I was to continue, I would do myself more harm than good.
Yet the power of grief, frustration and anger can romanticise even harmful habits, that we have stopped out of self care, self respect, self worth or sheer survival instinct.
Social occasions and celebratory seasons can be especially hard. We are surrounded by foods, smells, memories, invitations, special offers, atmospheres that we can no longer be part of. The pressure is on to remain stoic, to resist, to defend and to explain to others, who may unhelpfully suggest:
“Just a little won’t kill you … Everything in moderation … It’s a special day … Just the once … You deserve it …”
Would you say that to an alcoholic, who exercises abstinence, or someone who has stopped smoking? “Just a little…?”
On such days, temptations are all around us.
Five suggestions to help you, when you can’t eat that!
1. You have a choice!
Special occasions have a start and an end. The same goes for temptations. Giving in to them, will extend their power over you. Hold out when you can’t eat that – it’ll pass. You have a choice, and you are in charge. You may need to remind yourself of that on a regular, ideally daily basis.
At the end of the day, you don’t have to do anything. You are free to choose between “I can” and “I can’t” eat that. And every choice has its consequences.
2. Don’t reprimand yourself if you eat despite knowing you should not!
If you fall off the food wagon, then do not admonish, chastise or criticise yourself. You might be angry, frustrated and disappointed with yourself. But the more reprimanding you do, the longer you extend the temptation period and you can get caught up in a vicious cycle.
Acknowledge that you surrendered. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t get emotionally drawn into it. Get back into your health or lifestyle routine. (However, if it becomes an ongoing problem, then you may need to reflect on your reasons for the diet change, and perhaps seek some external help to work it through.)
3. Get an ally who understands what it’s like!
If you are invited to celebrations, gatherings, meals where the food on offer and the people around you tempt your resolve, then you may want to open up to someone. A person who appreciates where you are coming from; who may have their own lifestyle or health restrictions to contend with. Or discuss it with the host. In doing so, you will reduce the pressure to explain yourself.
4. Don’t apologise or preach!
People may find it difficult to let others have their dietary preferences, because it can make them aware of their own (unhealthy?) choices. They may be concerned it may spoil the atmosphere. Or preparations will get too complicated. Indeed, you may be the one doing the preparations and entertaining, not just on special occasions but daily for your family. That can be extra hard!
You don’t need to feel guilty or convert others. You are entitled to your choices. The least said the better for all. Don’t get drawn into debates.
Prepare 1 liners like “I am ok, thanks” or “Not today, thanks”. If asked to elaborate, you can do that if you feel strong. Otherwise “It’s a long story, I will tell you some other time” or “I don’t fancy it just now.” and gracefully change the topic. Don’t get flustered.
The less fuss you make, and the more firm you are, the quicker others’ will get off your case.
5. Practical ideas.
Don’t get tempting stuff into the house, office, car, your bag … If you have to because you need to cook for others, then (space permitting) keep it as separate from your food as you can, until you feel comfortable with your diet choices.
If being surrounded by food for others is tempting you, then you do need to have a daily thought practice before food preparations, that reminds you of the reason for your own food choices and the benefit of it.
If you go to eat at someone else’s and depending how close you are to them or not, find out what is on the menu, offer to bring your own supply (and don’t apologise for it).
If that’s not possible, then depending on your diet, eat frequently and certainly before you go out.
When you go shopping during times, that are particularly hard, then
- Write a list and stick to it.
- Don’t explore the aisles; get in and out of the shops.
- Buy online and get things delivered if you can.
- Take limited cash with you and no cards, to help make sure you stick with your shopping list and budget.
Be prepared, be prepared, be prepared!
Know your achilles heel when it comes to sticking to your dietary regime. Prepare for it, rehearse.
My weak spot is emotional and I have to mentally, emotionally and practically prepare for it. I know that certain types of foods represent periods in my life that I wish were not over. Eating the food creates a brief illusion of still being as young or as healthy or whatever it may be.
But the illusion is grief. Grief for days gone by and for food I can no longer have makes me sad and frustrated. It’s not fair. Why me?
And when I feel the victim, that’s when I crave my food crutch.
I known it. And I have to be blunt about it to myself. Do I want to make myself suffer and risk my health over something that has gone? Is it worth it?
It is not easy, and I do wobble. When I do, I pick myself up and carry on with what I know is best for me.
Every bite and every day counts.
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Need some advice? Submit your question to my #DearKarin advice column here. Karin Sieger BA (Hons), MA (PsychCouns), Reg. MBACP (Accred) is a therapist and writer. All rights reserved © Karin Sieger. Neither articles nor videos substitute medical advice or therapy.