In my practice, I treat women every day who are on a specialized diet of one kind or another. For some, it’s about healing their gut or avoiding food temptation. Then there’s those who need to regain hormonal balance or are working towards weight loss goals. Some dietary restrictions are a result of food sensitivities. And more and more women are simply beginning to realize that to feel their best, they can’t follow the typical American diet, which is filled with processed foods, artificial colors and flavoring, and an overabundance of sugar.
Even if eating restrictions are temporary, it’s difficult to go any length of time on a special diet without a social occasion popping up. Spontaneous gatherings with friends are so valuable, and there’s no reason a woman should have to miss out simply because of the way she is choosing to eat. But American culture features food in a starring role at most special occasions, where it can be difficult to deal with food temptation. Many people find it hard to stick to their guns about what they will – and will not – eat when surrounded by friends who are indulging.
Just think about it — when’s the last time you were at a party that didn’t have a buffet table laden with sweets, chips, dips, and other junk foods? When everyone else is filling a plate and finding a place to chat – and eat – it can be very isolating, and even depressing, to hold back. Well meaning friends may tell you to just have a “taste,” and it can be awkward to continually refuse your hosts’ offerings. After a while, it might seem as though avoiding the social scene altogether is your best bet.
But why should you isolate yourself over food? You shouldn’t! Although food temptation is often present when hanging out with friends, socializing is about connecting with people. After all, no one would attend a party if the only other guest was a buffet table with tempting treats. When you start shining the spotlight on the real main attraction — friends and family — you can enjoy fun and companionship without sabotaging your efforts to be healthy. Let’s learn about focusing when on a restricted diet, plus I’ll give you 7 tips on how to avoid food temptation.
Focus on Connection, Not Food
When you start to get anxious about eating while you’re out, try to remember all the reasons you want to go. It’s unlikely that food is your primary motivation. Women generally socialize to build relationships, engage their bodies and minds, and stave off feelings of loneliness and depression. Being with others can reduce stress, make you feel happier, and boost your cognitive function. The benefits from interacting with others far outweigh the challenges of avoiding certain foods. If you’re an extrovert, it’s even more important that you don’t isolate yourself, because you are likely to crave constant social stimulation. And even introverts need some socialization interspersed with reflective time alone. The National Institute on Aging says that social stimulation boosts health and combats cognitive decline in the elderly. And people of all ages tend to be more active, both physically and mentally, when they are with others.
With all those reasons to seek out company, it’s essential to find ways to enjoy yourself even when you are on a restricted diet. The best way to do so is to plan things you love, with people you truly enjoy being with. But sometimes, you need a few extra strategies to help you stick to your specialized diet. Here are some tips that I, and my patients, have found helpful to avoid food temptation.
7 Tips to Avoid Food Temptation
Sticking to a special diet can be tricky when you are surrounded by options that don’t fit your requirements. But if you remind yourself of all the reasons you – or your health care practitioner – chose to implement dietary restrictions, it’s easier to say no. Feeling great is the best reward! Still, foods you have enjoyed in the past can be very difficult to resist, particularly in the first couple of weeks of changing your dietary habits. Let’s take a look at some tips that might make it easier to avoid food temptation:
1. Choose Social Activities That Can Keep You Busy
If the only thing going on at a party is conversation around a table laden with goodies, you’ll probably have a hard time resisting. When you are engaged in an activity, your mind will be too busy to obsess about the food you can’t have. Suggest bowling, running, card games, dancing, the theater — the possibilities are endless. The important thing is to make it something you love so you get fully engaged. When I go ballroom dancing, for instance, there’s often a table of sweets or chips and dip on offer, but I spend all my time on the dance floor so it’s easy to avoid.
2. Examine Your Habits
I have a friend who told me that she just couldn’t go to a movie without getting popcorn and Junior Mints. It’s something she’d done since childhood, and the thought of walking past the concession stand without stopping never occurred to her. The worst part? She didn’t even like movie theater popcorn.
Another woman I know, Betty, decided to try The Whole 30 with a group of friends. She knew she needed to surround herself with others who were eating the same way – for both support and recipe ideas! The group chose September, which just happened to be her birthday month. Betty had always had chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting on her birthday. Her preference was so well known that friends often bought her cupcakes in that combination – so temptation was everywhere. That year, she made sure everyone knew that she wouldn’t be eating cake until October. And by then, she didn’t even want it anymore.
Do you have eating habits like that, so ingrained that you don’t even consider letting them go? Recognizing it is the first step. Once you know what you’re up against, you can do something to change it!
It might also be worth looking at what’s behind those eating habits. Are you using food to bring you comfort? Going without specific foods shouldn’t make you feel deprived — if it does, it’s time to look at what else might be going on. Remember, the food you eat won’t take away old hurts, and it won’t bring back earlier times. If you’ve been using food to hang on to the past, it’s time to find healthier ways of dealing with those emotions.
3. Bring Something Delicious – and Compliant – With You
Okay, so you’ve been invited to a potluck, and you really want to go because all of your favorite people will be there. But it’s right at dinner time, and you’re terrified that you’ll be too hungry to resist the food that’s offered.
This is when it’s important to think about yourself and your own needs ahead of time. It’s a perfect time to bring your favorite meal along and show others how delicious food that works for you can be. I have a gluten free, dairy free lasagna recipe that I bring to parties all the time. It has tofu, ground beef and spinach in it, and people are constantly asking me for the recipe. They don’t even notice that it avoids my triggers!
There are so many great recipes you can try. Check out my recipes if you’re looking for ideas. Cutting out sugar or dairy doesn’t mean you can’t have delicious treats – you can make ice cream with coconut milk, strawberries and Stevia, meringues, tapioca pudding, and so much more with just a few simple substitutions. And when you make something you know fits your diet, you’re guaranteed to not leave hungry.
4. Be Honest About – and Proud of – Your Healthy Habits
There’s a reason you chose to eat this way, and it’s usually all about health. If you let your friends and family know why it’s necessary – and how much better you feel when you stick to your restricted diet – they are far less likely to push you to eat things that aren’t allowed.
They may not understand it all, but people who love you will want to support your efforts. Set food boundaries for yourself before a big event so that you know what to say if someone encourages you to “cheat a little.” Let them know you that cheating yourself out of the best possible health just isn’t worth it. You deserve to do this for yourself!
You might be surprised at just how many people are paying attention to what they put in their bodies. When you speak up about what you are doing, you may just find a network of support.
5. Invite Friends to Your Home for a Food Tasting
Changing dietary habits, even short term, is difficult. When your goal is long term change, it can be even more so. As you explore your new normal, ask your friends to join in the journey for a night. Show them that black bean brownies taste amazing, and that you aren’t “depriving” yourself of anything!
Whatever your dietary restrictions are, there are plenty of amazing recipes available to accommodate them. Choose three and ask your friends to enjoy them with you. You could even make it a cooking party, so they can see how easy healthy eating can be. When you invite friends to a taste test party, you’ll get lots of feedback on what people enjoy — and you might even get some new ideas from your circle of friends!
You can even do what a friend of mine did with a small group of girlfriends. They made a list of restrictions – no gluten, no sugar, no dairy, etc – and created a challenge for themselves. They rotate from house to house each month, and the hostess gets creative in preparing a meal for the group that follows the restrictions they laid out at the start. It’s a fun way to socialize and still pay attention to their health!
6. Break Out of a Restaurant Rut
If you keep going back to places where you have indulged in unhealthy favorites, sticking to healthy choices might be me much more difficult – especially if they tend to favor fried foods of dishes smothered in sauce. It might be time to try a new ethnic restaurant when you dine out. They tend to use more fresh vegetables and less dairy, gluten and sugar in their dishes. Thai, Japanese and Ethiopian restaurants are particularly good for avoiding dairy. If you’re avoiding gluten, be sure to pass on the bread, and ask for gluten-free soy sauce. Speaking of sauces, tread lightly here — ask what’s in them before you order. These days, planning ahead is easier than ever — many restaurants show their full menu online. If you can’t tell from the menu what your options might be, call the restaurant to discuss dietary restrictions. Just do this in the afternoon, around 2 or 3 pm, when restaurants aren’t as busy as during traditional lunch or dinner hours.
7. Seek Out Support
Changing old habits is hard, but you don’t have to do it all on your own. Seek out a group of people with similar needs and pledge to support each other through the first few weeks. If you can’t find a group of friends, the internet has a wealth of information and support available. Blogs, social media groups, and websites exist to help people navigate all kinds of specialized diets. You certainly aren’t the only person to need a restricted diet. I suggest visiting sites that offer recipes, advice and discussion with others avoiding food temptation. A few of my resources are food-allergy.org, megwolff.com and livingwithout.com.
Food Temptation and a Specialized Diet Don’t Have to Isolate You
There are so many women looking to take control of their eating habits and their food temptation. That’s good news; it means food restrictions are probably easier to navigate in social situations these days. And you don’t have to feel like you’re missing out — there are plenty of mouthwatering recipes available for almost any dietary restrictions. Sometimes, it’s easy to zero in on what you can’t have but try to find a new spin: celebrate the delicious new delicacies you discover and how good healthy can taste!
Here’s a delicious coconut whipped cream recipe to get you started:
Coconut Whipped Cream
- 14 ounce can of full-fat coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon of arrowroot powder
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon of stevia or maple syrup
Refrigerate coconut milk for at least four hours before using. Scoop the solid cream that rises to the top into a mixing bowl and whip with a handheld or stand-up mixer until fluffy. Add the additional ingredients one at a time and enjoy! Keeps for up to 3 days when refrigerated.