Have you ever pressured a friend to have another glass of wine, slice of pizza or bite of dessert? Have you ever been pressured by family and lost track of a wellness goal — or experienced stomach upset — because you felt awkward about refusing something you didn’t plan on eating? Most of us have experienced both.
There’s a playfulness around eating together that makes these scenarios nearly unavoidable. Our culture has come a long way when it comes to shaming folks around unhealthful eating, but — believe it or not — for those who are wellness-minded or who have allergies and sensitivities, the shaming around healthful eating can be just as awkward.
Rachelle is a clinical herbalist and her straight-forward advice on how to respond to pressure around the dinner table is something we knew our readers would relate to. In short, the video identifies a dozen smart ways to say, “No, thank you”, in ways that won’t disrupt the joy around the table. We asked Rachelle to expand on the topic…
My practice: My work is in creating accessible, plant-based solutions for those seeking connection between modern life and functional nature. I’m committed to empowerment via education about natural health—from herbalism to habit remodeling and, as you’ll see here, taking to task traditional or tired approaches to health in order to repave paths, and lives, to thrive.
In my role as a functional herbalist, educator, and advocate for informed natural health, people ask me for help navigating social pressures to eat foods that don’t make them feel good all of the time. While resisting social pressures to consume ‘conformationally’ has been part of my personal life since I was eating seaweed snacks in elementary school, the number of clients and community members raising this concern seems to be increasing exponentially.
Do you ever feel pressured to eat or drink things that don’t make you feel good? Because of family pressures, friend pressures, brunch culture, happy hour, anti-diet culture, intuitive eating, or really good marketing?
I asked my following about this and wasn’t surprised to find a yearning for support. That said, I was impressed by how overwhelming the response was.
How To Deal With Social Pressure Around Food
When you’re in those high-pressure situations I’ve found that people benefit from the following approaches.
Remember that just like meal prepping, choosing how many drinks you’ll have before going out, or how much time you’re planning to spend at the gym, thinking about how you’ll navigate social meals ensures better alignment with your values and boundaries. Thinking ahead also takes the pressure off of having to make up your mind in the moment.
Here are some of my clients’ most reliable, preferred lines to use at meals with friend and family:
+ XYZ food doesn’t make me feel great, so I’m going to pass.
+ I need to be mindful of my blood sugar.
+ I’m gluten free.
+ I’m allergic /sensitive to that.
+ I’m sober right now.
+ I can’t have XYZ right now, thank you.
+ I need to avoid XYZ right now, thanks.
+ I’ll have more of the (preferred food) instead.
+ I’m living without XYZ right now, but thanks.
+ My doctor/healthcare practitioner/herbalist prefers I avoid XYZ so I’ll pass this time, thanks.
+ I’m full, thanks.
+ No, thank you.
Consider planning (and practicing) a few phrases in advance of your gathering. What feels truthful to you? What is comfortable and easy to say? Do you want to start a conversation about your preferences — or avoid one?
Choose a line or two and try it out. Carry on with the ones that work.
Peer pressure can result in a slow erosion of our ideal intentions, by friends and family — usually with good intentions.
I began following this thread about social pressures that thwart our goals to help stoke conversation around an issue that’s undermining our health.
Recently, yet another client expressed the struggle to me. She felt fantastic when eating a certain way we’ve spent years crafting into a lifestyle for her and her family—and yet she was under constant pressure to deviate in ways that felt difficult to resist. A neighbor brought over baked goods every week. Her mom mailed cookies at every occasion. She felt like a downer if declining dessert with friends.
“She had no trouble at all turning down alcohol, but forgoing dessert felt more offensive, suspicious, unhealthy.”
In what is now a template for me, we worked through her experiences and planned for future conversations, which included practicing lines that she can use to respect herself with more confidence and less offense, while remaining honest.
We discuss how saying “I can’t” frees her from appearing to reject others’ offers by removing a degree of preference in the matter. This lightens the burden of responsibility, which most people prefer, but often we’re still making excuses rather than saying outright that we don’t want the thing. My aim is to find phrases that we’re comfortable saying, and that are always truthful.
My recent video immediately hit a nerve with wellness-minded folks — and I find that bittersweet.
“Food is part of a traditional medicine system that 80% of the world’s population uses as a primary form of healthcare.”
Our lives depend on a spectrum of factors that affect our relationship to food, from access to acceptance and so much in between.
The effects of food on our health are clearer and more widely communicated all of the time. I’m optimistic that the current state of affairs resembles where we were with alcohol not so long ago. While still nascent and niche, the enthusiasm for low ABV is normalizing a kind of sobriety that resembles flexitarianism.
When I quit drinking in 2015, it felt akin to saying “I don’t breathe, thanks.” Everyone assumed I was either pregnant, joking, or confused.
Just a few years later and non-alcoholic spirits abound. Gen Z is taking drinking down by more than 20%.
We wouldn’t press someone in recovery to drink alcohol, and we can extend that same courtesy to friends and family making consumption-related choices.
So much of my work has been in ‘edu-powering’ people to know which food works for them, and how to make their relationship with food a thriving and vibrant one. There are enough challenges in this work without the drag of unhelpful peer pressure.
Vegan as you please, dry as you like, and, to come: let’s normalize counter-cultural consumption.