What you'll learn from this episode:
- If being polite is getting in the way of your weight loss goals
- How overeating to be polite is actually selfish
- Why our minds make us feel bad for eating healthy around others
- How to stop feeling guilty when you turn down food
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Today I want to talk about those of you who overeat to be polite. This might sound like a foreign concept, but I used to do it without even realizing and you may be unaware that you’re doing it as well.
Polite overeating came up recently with a client of mine.
My client, let’s call her Polly, mentioned how she was planning to go to her mom’s house this upcoming weekend to help her out with some yard work. Her siblings would be there as well. But she was nervous about going because she has overeaten there in the past. She didn’t want to sabotage all of the work she’s done so far with her weight loss goals.
I asked her to walk me through her fears and we worked together to create a plan for how she wanted to approach this day.
Polly knew her siblings had planned to bring food and she knew her mom would make some food as well. Her plan was to bring food so she had an option for something healthy to eat that she could confidently reach for without much thought. It was a potluck of sorts.
When we discussed the challenges that would come up, that’s when we discovered that a big worry of hers was that she was afraid of offending her mom by declining any food she might have made.
After talking about it for some time, she realized that she actually doesn’t even know if she would be offended. She couldn’t think of an example from the past where her mom was offended when Polly declined food. But Polly had a hunch that her mom might be disappointed or hurt if she didn’t eat the food she made.
My client has grown so much on this weight loss journey. She is truly amazing and has become so empowered around food. But, she was falling into this trap of using food to control what people think of her. In her mind, eating the food her mom makes despite what her health goals are is the polite thing to do.
In addition to this thought trap, Polly was also trying to predict the future and mind read by predicting how her mom might react. She was hoping she could read her mom’s mind to know exactly how her mom felt if she were to decline food.
When I say it out loud, it sounds kind of crazy right? Controlling minds, predicting the future and mind reading. But if I had to guess, you’ve probably done the same in the past
I know I have.
Predicting the Future
First of all, I want to address the whole predicting the future aspect of polite overeating.
Let’s say you into a party with a plan that you don’t want to overeat and plan to stick to largely vegetables and protein with some carbs on the side. But once you walk in someone offers you to try some homemade spinach and artichoke dip that they made.
In a split second your brain tries to assume what’s going to happen if you say no thanks. It may try to tell you that, I need to take one because she’ll be disappointed if I don’t. Because not trying someone’s food is rude.
In that moment, you actually have no idea how she’ll react despite how certain your brain wants you to believe the outcome. Since you have no idea how she will react, if you decide to try the dip, you are sacrificing your goals because you are trying to predict and control the future.
The truth is, you have don’t know how she will react even if she has reacted disappointed in the past.
Now let’s talk about mind reading.
Let’s say you decide to decline that cheesy dip with a simple, no thanks. No matter how she reacts, you will never know what she is truly thinking.
If she says, no worries with a smile and walks away she could be thinking:
- “She must have an unhealthy relationship with food to not want to try something so delicious”
- “She’s probably lactose intolerant”
- “Okay she didn’t want any, I’m going to see who else might want to try this”
And you’ll never know the real answer because you can’t read minds.
Even if she has a reaction like, “are you sure? It took me all day to make. Trust me, you’re not truly living until you try this dip.” You still will have no idea what’s going on in her head. Maybe she’s self-conscious that you’re eating healthier these days and she’s comparing herself to you. Maybe she thinks your depriving yourself from fun and truly enjoying life. Again, you will never know so why bother trying to guess?
Now let’s talk worst-case scenario. It’s actually an experience that I would encounter all the time at one of my old jobs. This is, before I discovered coaching.
Most of the time, people won’t make comments if you decline food. But sometimes, they will. And this is really your worst-case scenario. Someone saying something about your decision.
At my old office in NYC, food was a big thing on my floor. We had bagel Fridays (paid for by employees who would bring them in on their commute into the office), team lunches, pizza parties, monthly cake birthday celebrations, team happy hours and dinners, the building would even bring in famous food companies like Donut Plant or Momofuku Milk Bar in the lobby to sell treats at a discounted price. And of course, people would bring in homemade treats sometimes
If you like food, it was awesome to have the variety. But I would gain weight pretty easily working on that floor. Not because of the amount of food, but because I didn’t have to tools to be around all of that food without giving into cravings or feeling deprived when I would try to avoid them.
I have a bunch of memories of when I declined food and someone would make a comment about it. These times are when I would feel the most uncomfortable.
I remember this one day a coworker, let’s call her Debra (because the names Karen and Susan have been made fun of enough these days). Debra brought in some homemade brownies. She offered them to me and I said “no thanks, I’m on a diet.”
Then the reaction started.
“What do you mean you’re on a diet? You look great! You’re going to miss out if you don’t have them and just a little bite won’t hurt.”
Then I caved and had a bite. And then I had more. And kept going up to grab more little bites throughout the day.
Each time telling her how good they were
I wasn’t lying, they were really tasty. But the reason I first started eating them was because I didn’t want her to feel bad that I wasn’t eating her brownies. The fact that I didn’t stop eating is a topic for another podcast.
I didn’t want to eat the brownie in the first place and the fact that I ate one in the first place despite my plan was an example of me trying to control someone else’s emotions and thoughts about me.
But, it’s not our job to make other people happy. Only their thoughts can make them happy.
I will repeat this.
It’s not our job to make other people happy. Only their thoughts can make them happy.
All circumstances are neutral like me saying the words, “no thank you, I’m on a diet.” Me speaking those words are neutral. Declining a brownie is neither positive nor negative. It just is
How do we know this is neutral?
Because there are so many different thoughts that someone can have about this action that are both positive and negative or even neutral.
Some positive thoughts might be, oh great there’s going to be more for me to take home or wow I’m proud of her that she’s following through with this weight loss goal she’s been talking about.
Some negative ones might be, she’s depriving herself of pleasure because she’s not having this delicious brownie or she must not care about the effort I put into the brownie.
A neutral thought could be, okay she doesn’t want one right now.
Whatever thoughts someone has about me or you declining a brownie has nothing to do with us. And everything to do with the beliefs that this person has developed over their lifetime about what it means to decline food.
Why I Bake
I also want to share why I bake to offer the perspective of someone who makes sugary treats.
I enjoy baking and cooking. There’s something I find really satisfying about creating something from scratch. I feel really proud when I finish making a dish
But unlike cooking, I never bake unless I have people to give the rest to. I rarely eat sugary treats like that but I enjoy the process of baking.
While I love it when people eat the food and tell me that they thought it was delicious, I mostly just don’t want the cookies to go to waste so that’s why I give them away.
And I’ve been in situations where I brought a desert over to a party and only like 4 out of 24 cookies were eaten. Even when I felt disappointed that only a couple were eaten, it didn’t take away the enjoyment I experienced when I was baking.
So that is why I still bake, I enjoy the process of baking. And the fun I experience when baking can’t be taken away when by someone turning down my desert.
Being A Buzzkill
Even if there was no homemade food in the equation, I’ve still had other times where I made my eating choices based on how I thought others might react.
There were even times that I would go out to eat with friends with a plan to order a salad because I had looked up the menu beforehand. And then after hearing their orders I would change it at the last minute because I didn’t’ want people to think I was a buzz kill with my salad.
Living a life where we are afraid to upset other people isn’t going to be a very fulfilling one. And if you are constantly putting others ahead of yourself at the sacrifice of your well-being it isn’t because you are being selfless. You’re changing your behavior because you don’t want to feel uncomfortable.
If someone is disappointed that you didn’t try their food, you’re probably going to feel guilty. And it’s that feeling of guilt that you’re avoiding.
But instead of changing your actions to avoid the guilt, what if you changed your thoughts causing the guilt?
Remember, that all of our feelings are caused by our thoughts
If you change your thought about declining the food, you don’t have to feel the guilt, and you can lose the weight.
So, decide. How would you want to think about turning down food?
I personally like to think, this isn’t going to change how they see me as a person.
Which is true. I have yet to meet anyone who has ever said that they don’t like someone because they turned down food they made. Have you?
I have also never had someone who came back to me weeks or months later and say, “I still remember when you turned down my casserole. I’ll never forget how hurt I was.” People just don’t say that.
Turning down food, usually isn’t as big of a deal as our minds make it out to be. Even if someone is disappointed that you didn’t try their food, they usually get over it within a few minutes. And the sooner you decide that it isn’t a big deal (because thinking that is a choice), the easier it will be to make decisions based on what you want and not what you think others want.
- You can’t predict the future, so don’t try to assume how someone will react to you declining food
- You also can’t read minds and will never truly know what they were thinking when you said no thanks to their homemade dip
- And since our feelings come from our thoughts, no matter what you do, only that person’s thoughts can control their emotions, not what you eat
- In reality, you eating food to try to make someone feel differently isn’t selfless, it’s actually self-serving. Because you are really just trying to avoid negative emotions like guilt.
- If you don’t want to feel guilty about declining someone’s food, then you have to change your thought around what you’re making that mean when you turn down someone’s food