dinner party

How to Stick to a Healthy Diet (and still keep your friends)

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You’ve probably discovered by now that there are many obstacles to learning how to stick to a healthy diet, from lack of accurate information to lack of support to your own innate hunger drive. Why, even your own personality can play a role in determining whether you are able to consistently stick to a high-nutrient food palette.

When it comes to relationships, do you tend to set boundaries, ask for what you want, speak up when you don’t like how things are going? Or are you a “nice” person— easy going and eager to please, putting aside your needs in favor of others’?

It turns out that the practice of putting other people’s happiness above your own can pull the plug on your best healthy-eating efforts. My client, Chris, who is learning how to stick to a healthy diet, illustrated this point recently when I asked what might prevent him from sticking to his food plan in the coming days.

“Well, I’m having some friends over for supper Saturday night. I’m making a big pot of veggie bean soup—that’s what I’ll eat. But they might bring over some cornbread and cheese. I’ll just avoid that stuff,” he asserted confidently.

warning signRed Flag

I was skeptical. “Ok, you’ll just avoid the bread and cheese. Now, based on past experience, how what is the most likely outcome of this scenario?” Chris was “forgetting” that the strength of his resolve in the moment of our conversation had no relationship to his willpower on Saturday night.

“Well,” he began sheepishly, “I’ll probably end up eating some cheese and cornbread, and maybe even lots of it.”

“Unfortunately, you’re probably right. What’s a good antidote for this situation? What can you do to make it almost impossible for you to fall off your food plan Saturday night?”

“Hmmmm. . . .I could drink some tea. . . .”

WWCD (What would Caroline do?)

“You could drink some tea as a distraction,” I agreed, “but cheese and bread are pretty potent temptations. What would Caroline do in this situation?” Surely after these months of working together, Chris would have an answer.

Alas, Chris is a people pleaser. He wanted nothing more than to provide a fun and savory dinner for his friends and was even willing to put himself at risk to that end.

“Hmmm. . . . I’m not sure what Caroline would do,” he admitted.

“Caroline would request that the friends bring some berries for dessert. And she would ask that they not bring cheese, bread, crackers, etc.”

Mind you, I am not a pleaser and it’s not hard for me to ask for what I want. Since that is not the case for Chris, I recommended that he tell his friends he’s on a very strict diet, doctor’s orders.

Chris’ phone call to dinner guests might go something like this, “Hi, Friend. I’m learning how to stick to a healthy diet prescribed by my doctor. The diet specifically excludes things like bread and cheese, meat and dessert. It would help me out a lot if you’d not bring those things and bring some fresh fruit for dessert or an undressed green salad. How’s that sound to you?”

Yea, but…

ask for help sign
Don’t be afraid to ask friends for support in healthy eating.

Chris balked, insisting that it was his responsibility to choose well, and that his friends shouldn’t have to change their behavior because of some weakness on his part. I reminded him of his past (in which he routinely gave in to tempting, nutrient-poor foods) and that the environment is the biggest predictor of behavior. And that there’s nothing wrong with asking friends for help. Wouldn’t he want a friend to ask for support when s/he needs it?

In other words, he would do much better if there were no cheddar.

Also, spending time in the midst of temptation saps willpower—even if you don’t succumb to desire—making you more vulnerable to food plan breeches in the near future.

Luckily, Chris finally came around, and after we hung up, he called all the dinner party attendees to make his request.

When we next talked, Chris excitedly recapped his nutritarian evening. It turns out that, rather than feeling deprived, his friends enjoyed trying simple, unadulterated beans and greens and asked him lots of questions about his new way of eating. And after the meal, instead of lingering over wine and dessert, the party moved into the living room where they played a lively game of charades for two hours!

The bottom line

Don’t let people-pleasing rain on your high-nutrient parade by expecting that you should be able to resist highly-palatable fare just so your friends can have fun. Gently set boundaries with others so you can continue to enjoy relationships while learning how to stick to a healthy diet in the meantime.

Check out Caroline’s 4-part compulsive eating program here.

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