This is indeed a real cookbook. I hereby invoke awesomesauce.
Advice columnists have a sweet gig. Basically they get to tell strangers how to run their lives without ever having to deal with the consequences. And yet, as I discovered during my senior year of my Psych degree, I am really really bad at giving advice. Seeing as I generally manage to make easy stuff look hard (Person: “How do you do it all?” Me: “Badly.”) I don’t know why I thought advising people would be any different. I can’t even run my own life with any degree of sanity. So I figured it was a cosmic candid camera when I got the following two e-mails from readers within just a couple of days of each other:
Reader Danielle wrote a comment on my Intuitive Eating Meets the Easter Bunny post asking:
“How do you deal with those who don’t understand your deire to choose healthy options and to eat intuitively ?I feel like”well meaning” friends/family put pressure on me to “pig out”. And I can’t tolerate it psychologically or physically. Help! I’m running out of polite ways of explaining my lifestyle!”
Any person who has tried to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the face of the all-you-can-eat buffet that is our culture can relate to Danielle’s problem. I think we’ve all encountered a social situation where we felt like food we didn’t want (or perhaps food we did want but didn’t want to want – catch that?) was being pushed on us. In the past I used to use my magical excuse of -ism to get me out of it. Veganism, for instance, covers a lot of food bases. You can even knock out sugar with this one because, “Didn’t you know that beet and cane sugar is processed through bone char?!” Look appropriately aghast and most people will leave you alone. But when I started Intuitive Eating – and stopped inventing lifestyles to mask my food restrictions – I had to come up with a better answer than “my lettuce bikini is in the wash.” (Just to be clear: I am not saying that all vegans use their lifestyle to mask eating disorders, only that I did.)
While it’s true that Intuitive Eating is all about giving yourself permission to eat and enjoy whatever food you want – nothing is off limits! – the real genius of IE is that it teaches you to listen to your body and decipher want you want from what you really need. Deb asked on that same Easter post why I was worried about eating the jelly beans in the first place if IE says I can eat them and enjoy them. The nuanced answer is that my mind wanted the candy but my body knew that if I ate a ton of sugar I’d get a headache, bloat, and then need a nap when the sugar crash kicked in. I didn’t need the sugar and really I didn’t want it either. I don’t even like malted milk balls. But sitting with it all there spread out before me, it felt like I was being deprived if I didn’t eat it. This was different than when later that day I ate my friend’s Best Carrot Cake Ever and enjoyed every bite. So I totally get where Danielle is coming from – it’s hard enough figuring out what my body wants and needs without someone else trying to interpret it for me.
Then, just when I was getting all fired up to tell Danielle how to get the food pushers to back off, Reader Sue e-mailed me with a question about the flip side, asking:
“How far do I go to accommodate other people’s diets? My daughter (shes 20) is a really healthy eater and I feel like I have to bend over backwards to get everything just right for her and even then she sometimes won’t eat it. It makes family gatherings really uncomfortable. Where do you draw the line and just say who cares if it’s healthy- this is what I made, eat it?”
My immediate response to Sue’s e-mail was just like it was to Danielle’s: Boy have I been there! I have one friend who doesn’t eat sugar, another who doesn’t do gluten, a third who is still married to her low-fat dairy as well as a smattering of vegetarian and vegan buddies. Oh and my one friend who despite knowing her for years (YEARS!) and eating with her scores of times I still haven’t been able to figure out her food philosophy. It can make planning a party or other get-together nerve wracking. But not only do I relate to Sue’s problem, I also have to admit that I’ve been that person like Sue’s daughter whose food choices make everyone else uncomfortable.
So: What if Danielle is Sue’s daughter?? (Kidding! They’re not related. At least I don’t think so. I don’t know either of them in real life. But wouldn’t it be funny if they were?) But my point is that one person’s healthy diet is another person’s pain in the butt. And to make matters more complicated, what one person defines as a healthy diet can be seen as totally unhealthy to someone else. Short of never eating with anyone ever again without signing a liability waiver first, there’s got to be some rules. I came up with three and I’m hoping you’ll help me out in the comments with some more ideas for Danielle and Sue!
Charlotte’s Rules for Eating Nicely With Others
1. Ask yourself if the other person has a point. To Danielle: I remember getting really defensive about my food choices when I was deep into my eating disorder. The sicker I was the more defensive I got. I’m not saying that you have an eating disorder but there is some merit to asking yourself if the person pushing the food has a valid reason to be pushing food on you. To Sue: Perhaps your daughter is trying to help you make healthier food choices and she just hasn’t figured out a kinder way to make her point yet. Or perhaps this is your daughter’s way of asserting her newfound adult independence.
2. Ask yourself what your point is. To Danielle: Are you just being stubborn or are you genuinely trying to respect your body by eating in caring way? Sometimes food is really important to certain people in certain situations and by compromising and taking a bite or two, you show them that you acknowledge the love and effort they’ve put into the dish. To Sue: Are you trying to be a martyr or are you genuinely trying to respect your daughter’s food choices? By not making a big deal out of it you take some of the power struggle out of the situation. Also, if your point is to have a good relationship with your daughter then maybe you need to explore some other ways to relate. Ask her to make you her favorite meal. Or do something together that has nothing to do with food.
3. Get to the point and just say “no thank you”. To Danielle: There are times when people do not have a good reason for pushing food on you (or worse, they have a diabolical reason like jealousy, envy, sabotage or fear) and you do have a good point for refusing the food (i.e. too much sugar makes you feel sick). I’ve found the best way to deal with this is to just say “No, thank you.” Don’t feel compelled to give them reasons – you don’t owe them any and they’ll likely just argue with you. Don’t lie. Don’t get upset. Don’t explain yourself unless you want to. Just repeat “No, thank you” with a big smile until they desist. To Sue: If you are the one doing the cooking I think you have every right to say, “Dinner is served, I hope you enjoy it.” and leave it at that. If people make additional demands like requests for a meat-free dish or a gluten-free dessert you can decide if you’d like to accommodate them but only do it if you can do it and feel good about it. Don’t be afraid to say “No” if you feel like it is unreasonable. You are the host not a short-order cook. Don’t feel compelled to give them reasons. Don’t lie. Don’t get upset.
Have you ever had someone push food on you or have you had to cook for or eat out with people with wildly different food restrictions? Ever been on both sides?? How did you handle it? Hit me up with some great advice for Danielle and Sue because I know I missed a lot of points!