What You Can Do
Going to a relative’s house for dinner can trigger feelings of guilt for making specific meal requests. The hosts may feel you don’t appreciate their efforts. Family members might feel shamed or judged for their food choices.
Going “out with girls or the guys,” or going out to business dinners, you may feel that you stand out because of your choices. Your choices might cause people to reflect on their own choices and feel bad about themselves or judged by you. People may encourage you to “join in” with what they are doing: “Just have one bite…” or “Have the steak, it’s a business account…”
This focus on your own consumption can be uncomfortable and unwelcome. Pressure from friends, family, or colleagues may be hard to take when you are already struggling with the challenges that come with making positive life changes. You stand out. Without intending to call attention to your own choices or those of others, the situation brings everyone’s feelings to the fore.
The comments can feel personal and hurtful.
You can take charge of your safety by protecting your feelings in the moment, projecting calm and confidence, setting clear boundaries, and using other tactics such as ‘changing the subject.’
By remembering that people have their own personal concerns around their health and their choices and protecting your own feelings, you can avoid being confrontational, work towards de-escalating the trigger and take the focus away from you.
Here are some ideas to set boundaries in a positive way:
- Make it about you: Everyone has their own issues around what they eat and don’t eat. Instead of saying “I’m not eating it because it’s not good for me,” you could say “I’ve noticed I don’t feel well when I eat…” People are usually less triggered when issues are around illness, for example, if you are allergic to something, most people won’t continue to push if you let them know. You could just say, “I have a sensitivity to [gluten, dairy, certain meats, etc.].”
- Give it a time frame: People are often triggered by what seems like an extraordinary permanent change. Don’t make it permanent, you can say “Right now, I’ve been eliminating sugar and I have been feeling really good.”
- Thank people for their efforts: “This looks so good! I am disappointed to be missing out. I will have to try it another time, when…” When they do take the time to make a meal that accommodates your dietary needs, make sure to thank them.
- Find ways to celebrate and connect without food: Meet friends for a walk or hike rather than a meal. Go to a “make your own” art studio with groups of friends to spend time together. Avoiding a situation that will lead to problems can prevent the unwanted attention.
- Let your partner know that you can be close without sharing the same foods and without drinking alcohol: Reassure your partner that you can have fun together and enjoy each other’s company in new ways that allow for your healthy choices. Have open conversations with your partner about why the changes are important to you. You may even enlist their help: “I wish I could eat these tasty snacks, and I’m glad you enjoy them. It’s hard for me when they are in the house. Can you choose to have those snacks when you are away from home?”
- Change the subject: Take charge of the direction of conversation by following up your boundaries with other topics, such as questions about your friend’s activities or family. “I’ve been trying to reduce my sugar. How is your mom? Did she have fun on her trip?”
Being aware and understanding of people’s triggers, using an emotional shield and not taking comments personally, using skills to de-escalate triggers, and communicating your needs and goals without judgment can help empower your interactions with others while you make a positive lifestyle change for yourself.
What have you done to set boundaries for yourself? How has this helped you? Please leave a comment below, this may help others.