I am the member of a Facebook group for people who do what I do with food, and one of the newer members asked about how she was going to explain her food to someone new. And a friend of mine recommended I make a blog post about it. And it’s a great idea because it’s a huge part of having a specific lifestyle. Especially a food lifestyle like the one I have.
People have a lot of questions. They have a lot of thoughts. They have a lot of things to say and stories to tell. They are full of “helpful” information. So it helps to have a plan when it comes to how we are going to deal with people in our lives around our eating boundaries.
The first thing I want to say is that you really don’t owe anyone anything in the way of an explanation. Truly. What you put in your body is not up for debate. Nobody is going to shove food in your mouth. And if they do, spit it out. And then file a restraining order. You have the right to eat or not eat whatever you want in whatever way you want.
But none of us lives in a vacuum, and chances are, there are going to be people that you want to make comfortable around your (possibly weird, or at least perceived as weird) food lifestyle. You want to be comfortable around your friends and family, and maybe your boss or your clients.
My first piece of advice is to be honest. How in depth you want to get is up to you, and will probably vary based on your relationship.
The person I end up seated next to at a wedding, who I will never see again, will probably get the bare bones of the matter. “I do this crazy food thing. There are lots of rules. Mostly I don’t eat sugar or carbohydrates.” They will most likely say something like “Good for you. You have so much willpower. I could never do that.” And then they will be handed a piece of cake or a drink and they will forget about your crazy food thing. Because chances are, they really don’t care.
Sometimes, when I am in the middle of weighing out my food in public, strangers want to know what that is and what I am doing. Let me tell you, I hate this. Weighing my food is of grave importance to me. I weigh my food because then the portion is exact. It is as much a mental thing as it is a physical thing. Yes, I am doing it for portion control, but also because I can spin my wheels when it comes to food. When I see an exact number on a scale, there is no doubt as to whether I had too much or not enough. I could plan a whole binge around how I possibly under ate and now I can “make up for it” with something else. So when someone comes along and they want to know all about what I am doing with a scale, they are taking my attention away from this action that requires my full attention. Most importantly, I don’t answer until I can safely remove my attention from what I am doing. I don’t need my scale turning off on me, or to accidentally hit a wrong button when I don’t know what is going on. And when I do have a moment to answer, I usually say something like “I can answer your questions later, but right now I am in the middle of something.” Sometimes those people are offended. I highly recommend not caring about that. Also, when they are not watching you do it, they never come back and ask. My experience is that people don’t actually care.
When I get invited to go out to eat, there are a few ways that can go.
If it is something I should participate in, namely family celebrations, I tell them I need to choose the restaurant. I go on line and scope out menus, and then call ahead and ask how certain dishes are prepared and how big portions come. If necessary, I ask them to put portions aside for me so that they are not prepped with foods I cannot eat, like flour or certain marinades. And then I ask them to let the waiter know I have special food needs. Also, I make sure I have enough backup food on me so that if I don’t get enough food from the restaurant, my portions are taken care of. Is this a pain? Of course it is. But I usually get a great meal and I’m there for the company anyway.
And there are plenty of people who do what I do with food who love to eat out. They don’t mind the questions and the calls and bringing extra food.
In other circumstances, I sometimes recommend people come to my home for dinner and I or my husband will cook. Our boss has come to our home for dinner quite a few times now. He always asks to take us out. And I alway request that he let us feed him. Especially in the south, it can be hard to find what I need in a restaurant. (A vegetable in the south is often a potato, or if it is a vegetable I would eat, it is breaded or cooked in wine or honey or some other sugar or starch.) The last time he was here he said he felt bad that we were always cooking for him. But I let him know that I prefer it, and he has seen me eat enough times to understand what I do.
Sometimes, I go out, but don’t eat. I either eat before, or after, and I spend my time drinking iced tea or diet soda and enjoying people’s company.
When people want to know why I am not eating, I usually say I ate earlier, or I will be eating later. I make sure they know I came for them, and it’s worth it to me to spend time with them. It’s not about food.
There are a lot of people, well meaning, loving people, who will think you are punishing yourself. In some ways, this is the hardest group to deal with. They think you won’t eat a piece of cake because you don’t like yourself. They think that not eating the cake is terrible for you. They truly do not know that *eating* the cake would actually be terrible for you. “Why don’t you live a little?” is a very common phrase.
I recommend you be firm but gentle with these folks. Say no, clearly. “No thank you.” “I don’t eat that anymore.” “I’m great but I appreciate the offer.” “I don’t eat sugar.” “I don’t miss it.” “Quitting sugar is the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
I sometimes have to go more in depth. Be more clear about how sick I am with food. “I have a pretty serious eating disorder and this is how I take care of it.” “I was really miserable and desperate before I gave up sugar.” “This is a matter of life and death for me.” I don’t say these things dramatically, but I do say them seriously. And usually that is enough.
It can be a struggle to deal with the expectations of people when it comes to food. For so many people, food is how they express love. It is how they show hospitality. It’s how they offer fun.
The most crucial thing I can say is “set boundaries.” Better to set a boundary and offend someone than to betray yourself. Set boundaries that are graceless and clunky. Sounding like a jerk is better than going back to food hell. Your boundaries will get smoother, kinder, more graceful. But don’t worry about that as much as you worry about taking care of yourself, being true to yourself.
Many years ago, I knew a woman who had let her mother-in-law guilt her into eating a dessert she made “especially” for her. And it sent her into an eating disorder relapse. And she said “I will never do that again, because she sees me at that party, but she isn’t going to come into the bathroom to hold my hair back when I go make myself throw up.”
Nobody else has to live with you in your body. Nobody has to go home with you and see the repercussions of that one bite. The way it affects your job, your relationship with your spouse or your kids, your self-esteem.
So say no however you need to say it. Just say it.