How to deal with peer pressure about food

I was doing an initial consultation with a potential client recently, and one of the things he said to me really struck a chord: 

I know what I need to do to feel good, but it's so hard to do it around my family and my fiancée. I feel like I'm always getting pressured to eat a slice of cake or something else I don't want to eat.  

That totally resonated with me, and it's something that I have struggled with a lot in my life. It's hard enough to really get clear on how to eat in a way that lets you take as good care of yourself as possible.

It's even harder if you feel like other people have opinions about how you should be eating and make you doubt yourself or feel like you're disappointing them by not eating in the way they'd like for you to eat.

Just because you're at a social event doesn't mean you need to feel peer pressured to eat

Just because you're at a social event doesn't mean you need to feel peer pressured to eat

I've found that there are three situations where peer pressure about eating can come into play. Here's what has worked for me and for my clients in dealing with each of the three scenarios:

1. Food is an expression of love and caring

For many of our loved ones, food is a love language.

 Your mom shows she loves you by making your favorite double chocolate brownies. You grandmother labored over beef brisket all day, and she only sees you once a year.  

They've made these foods as an expression of love, and if you don't eat them, they feel like you are rejecting their love.

That's a heavy emotional burden. I've found that the best thing to do in this situation is to do whatever you can to be as loving as possible, while also being as true as possible to your self-care needs.

You might not be digging sugar as much right now, but you could try taking a bit (if that feels possible for you), and making lots of noises about how delicious it is.

Or if you don't feel like it would be a good idea for you to have even a little bit, you can vociferously admire how beautiful it is and perhaps take some for later or to share with a friend. And you can make sure to loudly appreciate the time and love that went into the baking process: Oh Grandma, thank you so much for making this. I always love your brisket and it's always so wonderful to visit you.

If you are very, very clear about the love, then even if the eating isn't as much as they would like, the most important part has been conveyed.

2. Food and eating are a way of avoiding awkwardness

 Why won't you eat dessert with me at this trendy restaurant? Stop being so strict about your diet and have fun for once! 

When someone is aghast that you're not eating what they think that you should be eating, but it's not a food-as-love-language situation, it's often a sign that something about how you're eating is making them feel uncomfortable, insecure, or guilty about their own behaviors. Nick isn't eating dessert — he's so good. I shouldn't be eating dessert either! 

And, look, you could call them out on that.

But I wouldn't recommend it. Because why draw attention or make them feel more uncomfortable?

Instead, I've found that radical honestly usually stops Food Forcers in their tracks. "Hey, I totally get that you think I should eat dessert with you. But you know, I've been really struggling with eating and food stuff for a long time and I feel like I'm finally finding a way of eating that's working for me. I don't want to hurt your feelings at all, but it feels really important that I give myself space to take care of myself around food right now. I'd love to sit and chat with you while you eat chocolate cake, though."

They might be teasing you, but if you get serious and actually get a little vulnerable and tell the truth about what's going on with you, it's hard for people to argue with that. And to boot, it helps them understand that this isn't something they should be pressuring you about in the future, either.

3. Eating shows good manners

It's worth noting that there are situations where it's just good manners to be eating something.

Maybe you're at a restaurant or a bar with friends where you are expected to buy something. Or perhaps you're at a dinner party and you don't know the person well and don't want to make a fuss by not consuming the food on your plate. 

In those situations you’ve got do what's necessary to be appropriate. If I'm at a bar and don't feel like drinking anything, I'll get a sparkling water and give a huge tip. Or if I'm at a dinner party, I'll push my food around a bit and if anyone asks, I'll apologetically say that I'm not hungry. Nothing is perfect, but you have to do what’s right for you.


My challenge for you this week is to find a situation in which you are usually pushed along with the eating flow or feel pressured to eat, and instead be tactful and kind in the social situation while still being true to what your body needs.  

And for extra credit: share in the comments the situation in which you feel the most pressure to eat when you’re not in the mood, so I can cheer you on and give you more ideas for how to handle it!