my food journey, week 5: a meditation on food peer pressure + mirrors

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Let me tell you about the kind of person I used to be. I was a pusher, a procurer of muffin bombs and an orderer of butter-slicked cookies the size of small plates. I consumed sweets at an alarming frequency, and when you didn’t partake, the world knew about it. Specifically, I reminded you, and everyone in a ten-foot radius, about it. My reminders were miniature inquisitions–Why don’t you want this muffin? Oh, guys, SHE’S not going to have this COOKIE! ALL EYES ON HER! LET’S MAKE A SCENE OVER HERE IN FRONT OF HER (arms flailing, preparing for flight)–and never did I realize my pressure was less about my friend, colleague, or acquaintance eating said muffin or cookie, rather it was all about me and my insecurity. And much like how I never understood how my binge drinking deeply affected others until after I stopped drinking, rarely did I pause and consider that my constant pressure to push food onto people might make them feel uncomfortable.

A few months ago, I read an article on food peer pressure and judgment. How it’s so easy for us to slip back into bad habits in the company of others. Do you know a friend who orders fries for the table and you feel strange if you don’t have at least a few? This article talked about our fear of standing out, of judgment, of not being liked if we play the part of the contrarian. I thought about this, and wonder why we constantly feel the need to make other people feel uncomfortable for making salient and smart choices when it comes to their health. Why do we shine a strobe light on the friend who has food allergies, the friend who already feels anxious eating out and just wants to make her inquiries and order her food in peace? Why do we cupcake bomb people when they’ve made it abundantly clear that while they appreciate the sweet offer, they do not, in fact, want the sweet? Perhaps it’s because we want other people complicit in our choices, or maybe we don’t want our choices highlighted; we want them validated, smothered in the sea of same.

One of my closest friends often makes comments about how much I exercise. Hearing her speak about my workout friends (deliberate emphasis) somehow makes an act of self-care seem unseemly. Once, I confronted her, jokingly, and asked why she had to mock my choice of self-care and she responded that she felt intimidated. And while I thought we cleared the air about things, while I thought I shared that my choices have nothing to do with her body and health, she still makes jokes from time to time (to me or my friends), and, as a result, I’ve created some distance between us.

I choose to exercise. I choose to be mindful of the food I put in my body. I choose to photograph it and document it in social media not as a means of making you feel bad, insecure or intimidated, I do it for ME. I do it to hold myself accountable to portion control since this is the only thing that seems to work. I do it to keep track of my progress and celebrate the fact that I survived a workout without needing a gurney. If it inspires you, AWESOME. If it motivates you, AMAZING. But the intent is never about the person who consumes the image, rather the purpose is purely selfish and inward.

Years ago, after I stopped drinking, a friend confessed to me that her circle of friends made her feel uncomfortable about not drinking. They upbraided her choice of seltzer after she thought, wouldn’t it be nice to wake without a hangover. I told her that their chiding was more about their issues with alcohol than hers. Because why should her friends care that she’s chosen not to drink, if only it illuminates just how much they drink? If only her not drinking were a mirror they were adamant to dodge.

I view food pressure in the same vein. We all have our mirrors. Some are pristine, others are cracked and covered, but the mirrors exist and they’re individual, custom-made. My choices–good, bad, ugly–are my mirror alone, and they’re mine to deal with alone. There’s nobility in receiving feedback on our reflection. However, there’s no nobility in peering over someone’s shoulder, staring into their mirror and trying to alter their image to make it your own.

I invite you to consider this, as I’ve done, and think about the words you use in front of others, and whether those words should be directed inward. Because had I asked myself the questions, Why do you feel the need to order sweets every day? Why do you feel the need to chastise someone else for their polite refusal?, I might have confronted my choices instead of using a scalpel to others.

As you might have noticed, today’s post is a bit early because my lovely food coach is on an Italian holiday for two weeks. YIKES! However, I have my tools, have been keeping up with my FOOD DIARY, and have started to see that a gluten-free existence isn’t complete and utter ruin. However, check in with me later on today when I get the results back from my celiac test. You might notice a lot of fancy greenery in this week’s snaps. I’ve invested (translated: spent a pile of money) on Sakara Life Organic Food Delivery, while I sort out my cabinets, cookbooks, and life, and believe me when I say that this service is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ll have a more formal review of the service in another post, however, I’ve been floored by all the creativity and food ideas.

In short, I’m starting to feel the best I’ve ever felt, and I’ve finally retrained my body on smart portion sizes on my plate. Also, call me by my new name: VEGETABLE.

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14 thoughts on “my food journey, week 5: a meditation on food peer pressure + mirrors

  1. Great post!

    I have been fighting food pressure forever because I was super picky as a child (no one could ever understand my hatred of peanut butter and doughnuts, and kept trying to make me eat them despite my declarations that the smell of both made me physically ill), and my default when I was served or offered lots of things I did not want to eat was simply to say no and eat very little, then eat something else later so as to not offend whoever had cooked/etc. Of course, that resulted in people asking my mother if I had an eating disorder (I did not).

    Now I’ve married into a family in which it is not unusual for one person to order something, cut it in half when it comes to the table and then plop it on someone else’s plate (which is full of whatever they ordered), because they don’t want to eat too much, or they think we aren’t eating enough. Usually they do it to my husband, but they try to force food (often things I’m allergic to or would never, ever eat) on me, too. It’s exhausting.

    As a baker, I try to strike a balance: letting people know I’ve brought a home-baked treat and encouraging them to try it, but not hounding anyone specifically (especially if they’ve already said no). It is hard sometimes, though, even when you hate other people doing that to you.

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    1. I am APPALLED at the thought of people throwing half of their meal onto your plate. Or onto anyone’s plate without asking first. I would probably flip out. If they don’t want to eat all of it they’re certainly welcome to take half home for tomorrow’s lunch! Goodness. I’m sorry you have to go through that.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Jen – I agree with Sherry. I think there’s a difference between communal eating and breaking boundaries. I’ve actually had to be firm with people and say, “No, thank you.” And then I honestly would leave the food untouched, speak with them privately, if all else fails.

      I agree on the baking bit. I used to bring in baked goods to the office and felt sad when everyone didn’t partake, until I realized that it wasn’t a reflection of me or my prowess, maybe people were just trying so hard to not snack all day long 🙂

      Warmly, f.

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      1. Oh, I definitely say no (and sometimes even move my plate away or take more drastic measures if it’s something I’m allergic to), which is probably why they now just ask me a dozen times if I will have some of whatever they’ve ordered or made, or put it on a separate plate and then offer it. After the first few times, I started saying, “I don’t like (food item)” or “I can’t eat (food item),” or even “I am really full” or “No thank you, I have my own.” I sometimes even object when they put the food on my husband’s plate. But his grandmother is the worst offender, so I don’t think we’re going to be able to change her behavior at this point. Oh well. We aren’t around them that much to have to deal with it anyway, and luckily my husband recognizes how horrible this behavior is and doesn’t do it to anyone else.

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  2. I have a friend who always is the one commenting when someone isn’t drinking as if it’s personally offensive to her. She also is the one who says, “get a dessert. I don’t want to be the only one.” I’ve pointedly called her out on it a few times, but mostly just kinda roll my eyes and ignore.

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    1. Jill,

      So funny you bring this up, as I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday, and she told me, point blank, if your “friends” don’t support your food choices, they really aren’t your friends.

      I operate under a new philosophy of Felicia’s Bus. You either on my bus or you’re not on bus, and I don’t have time for you to shame my eating game.

      Warmly, Felicia

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  3. Great post. But I thought your new name was GROAT. (Thank you for introducing me to that — and just so you know, I love hearing about your exercise options. It was YOU that got me started on Physique 57.)

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  4. I’ve been much more aware of how I project my own food securities on friends and how I look for someone to validate my poor choices. If that friend, eats a cookie, then I can too! It’s hard changing, but it can be done.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks very much for this post, Felicia. I’m so glad you are no longer a pastry pusher!! I’ve had points in my life where the pressure to consume food I didn’t want to was so high that I actually WISHED for allergies so I could refuse guilt free. I now recognize that I can stand up to these people and that I should not feel guilty for making decisions that are best for me and my body.

    It’s been so great and inspiring watching you make your nutritional transformation these past few weeks. Good luck with your coach gone, but looks like you are going strong!

    Sam

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  6. Today I listened to someone scold and shame another person for their dedication to fitness and incredibly healthy eating – and I thought to myself “who the hell tries to shame someone for being insanely fit and healthy?!”….an incredibly insecure person with an inferiority complex they seem to be unaware of. Sheesh!

    Just another example of how we deflect our own shortcomings!

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