Week 2 and we are going to talk about trigger foods and eating food someone else has prepared. I mentioned last week that someone made a meal for me which included sugar (honey), when I had consciously decided to not eat sugar this month. I figure that this is a good situation to talk about.
A fair number of forums and message boards dedicated to healthy eating have threads discussing how to eat healthy (however that may be depending on the type of diet the person is on: low-calorie, low-carb, low-sodium, low-fat, high-protein, gluten-free, etc.) when you may have little or no control over what is being served. This may include eating at restaurants, where some options are available, or eating at someone’s home, where you may not be able to say something unless you have an allergy or extreme aversion to a particular food item.
As is the case, some people are able to put aside their personal dietary goals for a meal so as to not offend their host. Some people have certain triggers and cannot eat foods which may send them into a spiral of unhealthy habits again. I know that I have some foods that I have trouble stopping eating until they run out, chips and salsa and cheese and crackers we talked about in my last post. There are other foods which I have the same relationship with, and so avoid them if I can.
Many of the discussions in those threads mention having a smaller portion or “just a little bit” of what is served, after-all, the host put time and effort into preparing this meal. This isn’t an issue for the people who have the will power to eat a little bit of anything without “falling off the wagon.” However, if someone puts out cheese and crackers and wants me to have some, it takes conscious will not to mindlessly eat all of them. Because that is what I can do sometimes, mindlessly eat while talking to someone, while on the computer, or while watching television. Some people can have a bar of chocolate in their house and have a small piece every now. Others can’t have a bag of cookies otherwise they will eat them all in one sitting.
So, what is the “trigger foods” person to do when their host brings out a cake after dinner? No one wants to reject what is being offered, that is rude to some degree in most cultures. A non-main dish that you are not comfortable eating can be a bit easier. One option is to be honest; compliment their effort (“This looks lovely!”) then mention that while you would love to have some, you have to watch your calorie/sodium/fat/carb intake. You could even throw a family history in there if one exists, “I have to watch my carbs/sugar since diabetes runs in my family.” Being honest may open the discussion to critiques of eating habits, which is something some people are not comfortable with. Especially if the host is eating the macaroni and cheese with wild abandon and you are drinking water. Another option when pressured to eat something, which would might work best with a dessert, is to take some with you when you leave. You can then do with it what you please: give the brownie to your partner, give the slice of pie to a friend, or, if you can handle it and think they may ask later how you liked it, take the tiniest bite and immediately toss it in the trash. I generally dislike lying to people, which is why I say to take a bite.
A main dish can be much harder to get around. If pasta is your trigger and they come out of the kitchen with an eight layer lasagna, what can you do? No where does etiquette state that we can just ask the host to run back into the kitchen and make something else. To a degree, this depends on your relationship with your host and their personality. Are they sensitive (moms, grandmas, close friends) or is hosting a big deal to them (neighbors, coworkers, social friends)? Are they someone you don’t want to offend (bosses, social leaders, prominent community figures) or are they critical and you just don’t want to put up with their comments (frenemies, friends-of-friends, distant relatives)? If possible try to eat some part of what is offered: eat the lasagna filling but not the noodles. Also, fill your plate with a side and just a little of the “trigger food.” A good host should just ask if you were satiated, not interrogate why you didn’t eat something. If they ask, mention that the lasagna/hamburger/chili cheese dog was good just a bit heavy/you filled up on salad before.
If you are ok with lying, then the list of excuses to not eat food someone else prepared opens right up: food allergies/sensitivities, doctors’ orders, etc. As I said, I don’t like out-right lies, and lying about food allergies/sensitivities can get you in trouble if you turn down red velvet cake with walnut cream cheese icing due to a “nut allergy” and then, a few weeks later, you eat a salad topped with pecans in front of them.
One other option, of which I am not a fan, is to avoid the situations where you might have only options where there is no food that you feel comfortable eating. I don’t like this option because you are cutting out social situations from your daily life, which is an important part of living! If there is a way to go to the event and not eat or be exposed to your specific trigger foods, then try to go. If your company is ordering pizza for a lunch meeting, you can bring leftovers to eat and claim that they will go bad unless you eat them. If you are like me and cook like you have to feed an army, it’s not even a lie! Some meals I can eat on twice a day for several days before all the food is gone. You can then park yourself as far away from the pizza as you can get and still be there and participate. Another option is to bring “the healthy item” to a potluck. In many social circles, there are usually only one or two healthy items at these events. Load up your plate with whatever you brought and some “non-trigger” dishes someone else brought and then get away from the table. Converse with people away from the tempting fried chicken, pasta salad, or whatever it is you want to stick your whole face in and inhale like a vacuum. Another option is to visit the feeding line last, if your trigger food is a popular item, it may be gone by the time you go to eat.
One thing to remember, it’s usually just one meal. If you indulge for one meal, or even if it turns into an all day binge, you can always pick yourself up and start again tomorrow. If someone is going to be making food for you on a regular basis, talk with them about foods you avoid. The best option is to make it more of a conversation, “these are the things I don’t eat, what are some of yours?” They may not understand why you want to avoid certain things, but hopefully they will respect your request.
Oh, so how did I do on week 2 of no sugar? Much better than last week, I got through the week without indulging in any sugar-added foods. I’ve also cut back a bit on the chips and salsa and cheese and crackers. Overall, doing pretty good! Let’s celebrate with a picture of acrobats from a renaissance years ago!