Being on a weight loss journey is daunting when you need to engage in social interactions. Social interactions and strong connections with family and friends are vital to our emotional well-being. However, our culture has conditioned social interaction to almost always revolve around food. A weekend braai is packed with yummy pre snacks, braai broodtjies, chips and dips, and everything you need to stay away from when you are on a weight loss programme. When I coach clients, I will motivate them to avoid social settings for the first 4 weeks of their programme. Just until you have managed to effectively deal with food triggers and temptation. Weight loss does not mean you can never go to a braai ever again or meet up with friends for dinner. There is a solution, you must understand what situational hunger is and why it happens. Food addicts respond to situational triggers more so than women who do not struggle with excess weight. There are five situational cues that lead us to overeat in social settings.
1. Interaction: Wanting to overeat to partake in a shared experience in the hopes that we will connect with others. We tend to overeat in a social setting, to avoid feelings of inadequacy or because we are not finding the party engaging.
2. Sensual: Eating because the food is there, the desire to eat is a learned reaction tightly connected to certain activities. Eating in front of the TV or going to the movies. We have learned that these activities involve food, it becomes an automatic response to eat while doing these activities.
3. Thoughts: Eating because of an internal dialogue that is self-reproaching. We feel bad about ourselves, and experience anxiety in the social setting because the spotlight is on us. We are overwhelmed with thoughts to stick to our diet at all costs, and not give in to the food around us. When we then experience little willpower we scold ourselves and this very act leads us to eat. We do so that we can comfort the negative self-talk and avoid the discomfort from the emotion we are feeling.
4. Physiological: Eating in response to physical discomfort. We can eat because we have a headache or experience other physical pain.
5. Emotional: Eating is a response to boredom, anxiety, or loneliness. Instead of identifying the inadequacies we are feeling in a social setting and deal with them effectively…we grab a chip. Our desire to fit in is overpowering, to connect to others we need to be “on their level” for the connection to take place. And you are definitely not going to fit in because you are on a diet and can’t eat or drink like the people around you.
Knowledge, Mindfulness, and a decent “Eye of the Tiger” Pep Talk before the braai is the key to managing food triggers and sticking to your plan. Before we get into that. There is one challenge with weight loss I’ve never managed to understand. It is the ‘make or break’ of your willpower. I’ve found myself in several of these moments on my own weight loss journey. Or when a friend of mine must submit to the same condition because she decided to lose weight. I call it out as plain abuse. Because you are forced to experience shame and vulnerability at the hand of another. Let me explain. Does this sound familiar “Come on Jess, what will one glass of wine do!! You can start again on Monday, don’t be such a bore – have a beer!” People who respond in this way at a social gathering to your weight loss choices are self-centred, and just plainly malicious. They willingly subject you to feelings of guilt and shame. And! It is not like you don’t already struggle with shame and guilt because of your body. So, thank you, I’ve got that T-Shirt.
We need to be aware that many diet saboteurs hide in plain sight. These problematic people are often your family, friends or colleagues. They can either be directly negative and pessimistic about your weight loss goals or passive-aggressive because of their own failed attempts at weight loss. It is important to monitor how often they discourage your weight loss and understand their comments are due to their envy and jealousy. It breaks my heart when I see people who are supposed to love and support someone actively and openly aim to discourage them from their choice to make themselves a priority and be a happier more confident women. Surely these people would want to support your journey and want what is best for you. Sadly, when it comes to weight loss this is hardly ever the case.
The difficulty with weight loss is that it does not instantly make you happier, more confident or improve your body image. In the first few weeks of your programme you may not be strong enough to set clear boundaries and have difficult conversations with the people who are sabotaging your motivation. Weight loss will challenge your relationships with friends and loved ones. You will in time experience positive mental and emotional changes, but these will have little to no impact on making your close relationships more supportive of your choices. Your loved ones will need time to support your changes as they perceive them negatively. The choice to make a lifestyle change does not rest with only you. It is a ripple effect, it filters through to everything and every relationship around you. For your weight loss to be successful and maintainable, your family and friends will have to be encouraged to engage in activities that do not only revolve around food. This is a challenge, you have made the decision to live a healthier lifestyle, and you are breaking the bad habits, not them. If it was so simple no one will struggle with weight. People don’t like to be drawn out of their comfort zone, they don’t like to be confronted with the things they themselves are also struggling with. Hence the passive-aggressive comments and vibes you will certainly get at your next braai.
This period of transition and change offers new opportunities for growth and reflection for you. In these moments you will gain more self-awareness about your choice to lose weight and so practice better mindfulness when it comes to your relationship with food, food choices, and people.
Another aspect that needs to be taken into account is the radical shifts you will personally experience. This also affects your social interactions and fitting in with friends. By losing weight, others will see you differently. You will receive compliments and extra attention when, in the past, you were ignored. This may cause feelings of discomfort and resentment from your friends, and in turn, make you self-conscious.
Now that you know, the actions or comments of diet saboteurs have nothing to do with you. It is their own internal issues that they are struggling with and not dealing with.
Shout out to you for having the courage to do this, to change, and to take back control of your life!!! The abuse should fuel your willpower not dissipate it.
Find a group that you can share your journey with. Sprezzatura has a great support community of like-minded women, all in the same proverbial boat. These confidants are able to offer you supportive advice and companionship. You need support because the mental and physical stress that comes from lifestyle changes is natural and challenging.
To prepare yourself before a social function, you need to have a good amount of mental preparation. This is important because once you arrive at an event, you can remain focused on achieving your weight loss goals. Before the event and while you are there, you can coach yourself, reconnect back to your bigger goal, and remind yourself of what you desire most. Your mental preparation is a great start to increasing your social interactions.
· If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution
· This month’s choices are next month’s body
· Ask yourself, does this habit support the life you are trying to create
· What is it going to be? The food you wanted in that hour or the body you’ve wanted for years
· Eating does not solve emotional needs
· Whatever you are not changing you are choosing
· You are the most valuable investment you will ever make – make the right choice
Apply mindfulness. Notice your self-talk, identify your emotional need, and distinguish between emotional hunger vs. physical hunger. Take note of how your body feels, and what your mind is thinking. When the food trigger is too much, remove yourself. Go to the kitchen and help the hostess with prepping the table setting. Or help peel the potatoes, get your mind focused on anything else other than the food. Have a deep conversation with a supportive friend and talk about matters of the heart.
Prepare, and take your meal with you to the social event. Bring your own healthy snacks. When you go prepared you are less likely to cheat and give in.
Social interactions will be a challenge for you in the beginning. You need to know what to expect and anticipate what people will say so that you are not caught off guard. Despite any confronting situation you can possibly find yourself in, stay focused, take action and act in ways that support your goal. Don’t make choices because of social pressure and trying to please others or for the need to fit in.
With time, each event gets more manageable and you will breeze through them.