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Life Performance Blog: How Relationships Impact What You Eat

How do your relationships with people affect your relationship with food… and vice versa?

For better or worse, the way we relate to the people in our lives both mirrors and affects the way we relate to food.

Likewise, the way we relate to food can have powerful effects on our relationships with people.

Complicated food relationships

Food is so much more than fuel. We eat for many reasons other than keeping ourselves alive. Some of those reasons are healthy and positive. Some of them are less so.

For instance:

Some of us look for the comfort, soothing, and physical pleasure that we aren't getting from our relationships.

Unlike certain people, food is undemanding. It's always there for us and it lives to give. Overeating is often a welcome release in a life that is full of commitments, obligations, responsibilities, and demands from others.

Some of us try to protect ourselves by eating (or not eating).

Many people can trace their disordered eating to a period of their lives when things weren't going well. Extreme restriction or binging on food can be a mask that distracts from other deeply unmet physical or emotional needs. Temporary distractions are protection from having to deal with those needs in other ways.

Some of us "stuff" ourselves with food to help us "stuff" our emotions.

Eating can distract us from conflict or take the place of self-assertion and direct confrontation.

For sure, these rationales aren't always. Not every irrational food choice is a cause for concern. Although, if those choices are frequent and compounding, it could be an indicator that another, deeper problem isn't being addressed. If unwanted food choices are making life more challenging and goals unreachable, you may want to try digging deeper for an underlying cause.

Human meme makers

For better or for worse, humans are meme makers: we naturally and subconsciously mirror the behaviours of the people around us, and naturally seek approval from the people we're surrounded by, especially the people we love. Those patterns are often true of eating styles.

For example:

The Mismatch You move in with a tall, naturally skinny guy. He works in construction, and you work at a desk all day. You eat what he eats. You bond over meals and you start to adopt his styles, eating similarly to what he eats. Months later, your eating styles have merged, but your genetics have not. He stays slim and active. You, following a similar diet in an entirely different lifestyle and set of genes, is going to look much different.

The Provider You care for your family and want their approval. Food is love, you think. You cook what they enjoy, and indulge in it heartily, as a way of showing affection. Plus, the kids love burger night, right? Even in your immediate family, what's right for them may not be right for your body, lifestyle, and unique long-term goals.

The Food Pushers "Oh just have one bite! You're always on some stupid diet!" Whether at a party, an office social, or breaking the Ramadan fast, people sometimes push us to eat more or differently than we would like. Peer pressure can be a powerful force. In these moments, it can feel like a struggle to differentiate other people's goals from your own, and stay focused on what's most important to you.

The Food Club It's common and awesome for friends to bond over a coffee and cake, or a couple of drinks and appetizers.

It's a central joy of life. In those moments, it can be hard to detach the excitement of a group and celebration from food choices. It's easy to get caught in a moment making emotional food choices, even exciting ones. It's easy to lose grounding and lose touch with longer-term goals. These celebratory moments always offer a choice: how much of a long-term goal are you willing to delay for a celebration? You get to choose the best answer for you. Whatever you decide, if it's intentional, it'll likely leave you feeling more confident and settled.

Try a small relationship adjustment

It can be overwhelming to try to deal with all relationships at once. If you suspect that your relationships are frequently contributing to unwanted food choices, start small.

Try concentrating on one relationship.

Maybe that's the one that seems easiest to address, or the one that is most important, or the one that seems to be posing the biggest obstacles to your success.

Thinking about that particular relationship, could you:

  • Choose a different restaurant for your regular get-togethers (one that offers healthier menu options)?

  • Suggest meeting for a walk rather than a coffee?

  • Ask for help?

  • Do the difficult-difficult work of having a tough conversation instead of masking your feelings through food choices?

  • Say no to pressure and food pushers?

  • Ignore teasing or undermining comments about your weight loss goals, or speak up and tell the person that you find the comments hurtful?

Even the easiest-seeming of these suggestions might feel overwhelming at first. Every tiny step you take in the right direction, will eventually accumulate to having profound effects.

Your Health Coach, Chris

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