Socializing Without Consumption

I was recently having a text conversation with a friend who’s coming to visit in a few days. He wanted to catch up and asked if I’d like to go for a run or something while he’s in town. Since my neck is all jacked up, that’s out of the question, but we made plans to go for a walk downtown instead — I can still walk ;). Then he sent me this: “I am tired of eating and drinking as social stuff with friends. I love your hospitality. No food out. No food to get. Just chat or get the f*&k out.”

After asking for some clarification, he explained that he found it refreshing to have a friend who doesn’t have to socialize around food. That got me thinking.

In our society, socializing almost always involves some form of eating and drinking. I guess that’s fine as long as it isn’t a requirement for hanging out… but that often seems to be the case. You begin to notice this most after you’ve committed to eating clean or when you’re dieting. Since social eating is such a normal pattern in our society, it can be difficult to recognize unless you attempt to withdraw from it.

Then you start to see that we sure do eat… a lot. And a lot of what we eat…is crap.

It freaks folks out when you make the decision to stick to your plan and forego eating or drinking that isn’t conducive to your goals. Socializing can quickly get awkward when you take a pass on the merriment and people often get uncomfortable when they’re consuming, but you aren’t. But since when do we have to have a buddy to eat? Are we supposed to breath synchronously and go to the potty together as well? I don’t know about you, but those are tasks I like to handle on my own.

While there isn’t much you can do to change the perspectives of others, you can make some adjustments to your own attitude to navigate these situations with grace — while holding fast to your goals. Here are three common types of reactors you may encounter on your road to a healthy diet, along with a few tips for responding to them:

1. Crazy Concluders:

These are the folks that will draw wild conclusions when you order a salad and seltzer or pass on the party tray. She must have an eating disorder! She thinks she’s too good to eat with the rest of us. She must be sick! She thinks she’s better than us because she’s dieting. I bet she has a body image disorder…etc.

The good thing about Crazy Concluders is that they don’t usually say what they’re thinking to your face. These are the folks who wait for you go to the bathroom and then get the whole table talking about all the wild conclusions they’ve come to since you passed the butter. The best way to deal with these people is to just ignore their neurotic assumptions. Stay focused on your goals and don’t be bothered by any false beliefs anyone wants to come up with based on your healthy eating habits. Really — who cares?

But if you’re bothered by this, you can also try to nip this situation in the bud by just talking openly about your goals. Make it clear that you’re committed to whatever health or fitness quest you’re on, and that you don’t intend to sabotage your plans by “cheating.” Who knows, maybe you’ll inspire someone!

2. Guilty Gluttons:

Guilty gluttons are those who feel bad about themselves as they chow on their second piece of cheesecake after you’ve resisted. Your ability to say no makes them feel inferior because they weren’t able to exhibit the self-control that you did. Guilty Gluttons can come in a variety of forms — some may keep their feelings to themselves while others will make a big scene out of your resistance. Guilty Gluttons have the propensity to be inspired and motivated by your behaviors, but they also have the ability to turn into Shameful Saboteurs (see below).

To deal with a Guilty Glutton who’s making a big deal out of the fact that they’re indulging and you aren’t, I find the best response is to smile and shake it off. If they persist, just explain that it’s cool if they indulge — it doesn’t bother you — but you’re choosing to pass for now. The implication here is “since it doesn’t bother me that you’re indulging, it shouldn’t bother you that I’m choosing not to.”

3. Shameful Saboteurs:

These are the people who will do everything in their power to make you cave. Shameful Saboteurs take things to a whole new level. Since they don’t have the willpower to say no to indulgences themselves, they’ll often do everything in their power to make you fail too. Saboteurs may make you feel like you’re being silly or obsessive over your diet with statements like: Oh, come one. One dessert isn’t going to kill you. It’s not like a piece of cake is going to make you fat. Don’t be ridiculous. Live a little.

First things first, you aren’t being silly or obsessive. You’re being committed and disciplined. You’ve got shit to accomplish and you’re not going to let the momentary fun of a few martinis or a piece of cake get in the way of the long term goals you’ve laid out for yourself. That’s something to feel proud of. The more frequently you practice this discipline, the more powerful and deliberate your run toward your goals will become.

But you will probably encounter a Shameful Saboteur at some time — we’ve all got them in our lives. There are a couple of ways to deal with these people. If the Saboteur is an old foe — that is, they’ve proven themselves to be a consistent downer when it comes to your success, it’s probably best to remove yourself from the situation (or even remove the Saboteur from your life). As is the case with any type of success, you’ve got to surround yourself with people who inspire you! Attach yourself to those who are going to support and encourage you, not those who want to see you fail. If you let them, Saboteurs can be incredibly powerful, negative influences, and choosing to remain around them can wreak havoc on your inspired momentum. Be polite, of course, but excuse yourself and don’t let a Saboteur rattle you. Take a moment to visualize your goals, congratulate yourself on your discipline, and move on.

The other option is to have a talk with them. If they genuinely have bad intentions, let them know that you’ve made a decision about your lifestyle and don’t intend to change it, regardless of what they have to say about it. Saboteurs can be bullies, and if you stand up to them or call them out on their behavior, you may be surprised at the attitude adjustment that can inspire.

Socializing doesn’t have to involve eating or drinking. There’s a ton of things you can do that don’t involve consuming crap you’ll later regret. Go outside. Get active. Plan a day at the beach. Go for a hike. Take a bike ride with friends. Try being the person in your circle who recommends some alternative activities from the regular social night of eating and drinking. It might just catch on.