It’s My Party and I’ll Eat What I Want To

By Katie, 6:50 am

After attending not one but two 4th of July parties last weekend, I’ve realized just how far I’ve come in terms of food anxiety and social engagements. Yesterday I spent some time reflecting on the way things used to be, how much has changed, and the steps I currently take to make peace with picnics and potlucks.

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Now I’d like to share my story, along with five concrete steps I take to ensure that such social engagements are fun rather than stressful. I realize this post would have been more useful to you before the holiday weekend, but better late than never, right? :-)

The Before

Before I acknowledged that my issues with food, weight, and body image were indeed issues, family gatherings and social engagements involving food were, quite simply, difficult for me to enjoy. I spent most of them obsessing about what I was going to eat and not eat, avoiding the “bad” (but delicious!) foods like the plague, and then wondering why I compulsively raided my pantry the minute I got home. Or, conversely, I thew caution to the wind and used parties as an excuse to binge, eating continuously throughout the course of the entire event.

In either case, I was rarely mentally present at these events; while I appeared engaged in the company and immersed in conversation, deep down I was thinking about food. Period. :oops:

Enter Intuitive Eating

I hoped wished dreamed assumed all of these issues would simply resolve themselves when I began the process of learning to eat intuitively. Au contraire! 8-O Believe it or not, sometimes social engagements felt even more difficult because now I had all of these new, foreign guidelines to try to apply.

You see, eating intuitively was fine in the comfort of my everyday, structured life, where all of the pieces were well within my control. But parties – at least those where someone else is hosting – are generally filled with unknowns. What if I’m not hungry when it’s time to eat? What if I’m starving an hour before? What if none of the food options available are “singing” to me? What if they all are?

How do you listen to and honor your body when there are so many unanswered questions? :-?

Finding Balance

I wrestled with these questions for some time, experimenting with what works for me and what doesn’t. Then, once I figured out how to take the anxiety out of the situation, I practiced. And practiced. And practiced some more. And though all of that practicing certainly hasn’t made perfect, it has made some things that once seemed impossible now feel like second nature. :-) It wasn’t until after all of last weekend’s food-filled gatherings that I even realized I had gone the entire time food-anxiety-free!

Five Steps for Eating at Social Events

So how did I find that balance? Which steps did I practice over and over again? Here they are!

1. One thing at a time.

One of my biggest challenges is eating mindfully while in public, and yet it makes such a difference. Now I know people will think I’m crazy for suggesting you not mix eating and socializing, since that’s often what the entire gathering is about. But savoring my food is essential for preventing overeating, and I can’t do that very well if I’m holding an in-depth conversation at the same time. These days I make a point to focus on the food while I’m eating it, and then talk and socialize once I’m finished. (And no one has ever accused me of being anti-social while we’re eating – in fact, I don’t think anyone even notices!)

2. Eat with intention.

I try to eat foods because they appeal to me rather than simply because they’re there. Before making my plate, I’ll take a quick inventory of the entire spread to determine which choices I simply must have, and which I can stand to skip. Some people like to try a little bit of everything, but I’d much rather have a larger portion of the foods that are calling my name, and in return am willing to completely forgo those that aren’t.

3. Stay in the present.

Focusing on the present moment has been key to changing my experience at social gatherings. Before, as I mentioned, I would spend most of the time in this whole other world in my head; I was physically there but mentally on another (food-obsessed) planet.

Now I work really hard to stay in the present moment as much as possible. So when the present moment involves eating, I pay attention to that. But when the meal is over, I put all of my mental energy into the next activity or conversation, rather than continuing to think about food.

4. Break the rules.

I think some people (myself included, at one point) struggle with Intuitive Eating because they see it as just another set of strict rules to follow: only eat when hungry, always stop when pleasantly full, always eat what you’re craving, etc. But to me that is missing the point. Yes, we should strive to listen to our bodies most of the time, but we also must embrace a certain degree of flexibility (easier said than done, I realize!).

For example, at the picnic I attended on Sunday I enjoyed dessert along with everyone else: a nicely-portioned plate of fresh fruit, a brownie, and a scoop of ice cream. An hour or so later, as I was putting the leftover brownies into a Tupperware container, I decided I wanted another one. Not because I was hungry. Just because they were good.

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So I popped a small one into my mouth! 8-O While I was standing up! 8-O I didn’t bother putting it on a plate! 8-O And I was multi-tasking while I ate it! 8-O Intuitive Eating? Not exactly. A big deal? Nah!  :-)

Why was this not a big deal? Because of Step 5…

5. Move on.

Those of us who experience a lot of food-related anxiety need to accept that we often bring the drama on ourselves. But that’s actually a good thing, because it means that it’s within our power to let it go. We can choose to obsess over an extra brownie, or we can choose to forget about it and enjoy the rest of the day. 8-)

Like I said, conquering these five steps required a good bit of practice and a healthy dose of dedication. But I’m thrilled to say that most of the time I’m now able to view parties with excitement and enthusiasm rather than dread and anxiety. :-D

Have you ever experienced food-related anxiety at parties or social gatherings? How have you handled it? Have you tried or will you try any of these steps?

63 Responses to “It’s My Party and I’ll Eat What I Want To”

  1. I love this I love this I love this! Excellent points, Katie. You make me feel so strong and encouraged with each of these insightful and personal posts. Thanks so much for the continued soul-searching and revelations! You can’t imagine how much they mean to me

  2. wow, you have totally read my mind! i have had the same exact feelings every time i got to family gatherings and especially around the holidays. i’ve asked the same questions and hope to test them out this weekend at a big family reunion. should be interesting! great job having fun at your gathering though!

  3. oh my gosh! i can relate to EVERYTHING you just said.. you are awesome for all these tips!! its def something i need to work on!

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