Ask a Health Coach: Sabotage and Eating Healthy in Social Situations

friends having dinner to demonstrate staying healthy while eating in social situationsNow that the world is opening back up (well… in some places), we’re eating out more, going to more parties, and returning to a “new” new normal that sometimes leaves us (or our partners) struggling to find balance. In this week’s Ask a Health Coach, Erin is here to answer your questions about all this, plus much more. Got something to ask? Post your question in the comments or in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.

Maria asked:
“How do you handle social situations, specifically a party where no one is health minded? The host said to bring an appetizer and that’s it. We are also planning on staying overnight, so this may need to be part of my 80/20 plan. What can I do to mitigate the damage?”

The Primal Blueprint’s 80/20 philosophy means lots of things to a lot of different folks. For instance, you might interpret it as eating Primal 80% of the time and enjoying your favorite non-primal foods the other 20% — and this can be enacted in many ways, from every fifth day being an indulgent day; or one-fifth of every meal being a non-Primal treat food, etc. Or maybe you use that 20% for those times you’re out and about and decide it’s easier to go with the flow and have the bun (or the fries or the crème brulee). By the way, this is how I use it.

The Basics of the 80/20 Principle

In short, it’s less of a rule and more of a guideline around keeping you sane. It’s the recognition that life throws curveballs at you sometimes. And it’s the acknowledgement that you’ve decided to take responsibility for your overall health. Here’s what it’s not though:

  • It’s not an excuse to avoid standing up for what’s important to you (#boundaries)
  • It’s not intended to make you feel like you’re some kind of “diet pariah” with strict and fussy rules
  • It’s not set up to leaving you feeling guilt or shame
  • It’s certainly not something to stress about

If you already have a good idea what the scenario looks like, and you’re not interested in eating Standard American Diet fare for an entire weekend, here’s an idea: don’t.

 

What if You Felt Empowered Instead?

It’s possible to enjoy social situations and weekends away without worrying about what you’ll eat. It’s possible to feel confident instead of stressing out or already making plans to combat the aftermath. You’ve just got to have the right tools in your toolbox. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Get comfortable saying “no.” Many of my health coaching clients feel bad about passing up a dish that someone has made from scratch, but how liberating would it be to just say “no thanks” and then move on? Practice the art of declining an offer without feeling the need to justify your response.
  2. Bring your own food. You’re already bringing an appetizer, so why not bring more? Even if your friends aren’t health minded, I’m fairly confident no one’s going to turn their nose up at a plate of deviled eggs, beef kabobs, or a bowl of guac. Charcuterie boards are trending right now.
  3. Relax a little. Like I said, 80/20 is a guiding principle — one that goes way beyond just what you eat. Being successful is less about what you do over the course of one random weekend, and more about what you do over a week, month, or year.

 

Jackie asked:
“I really failed at keto. When I make the effort, I feel amazing, however I’ve totally fallen off the wagon. I’ve completely stopped trying and have put on nearly 14 pounds in the last few weeks. It’s the heaviest I’ve ever been. Do you think keto isn’t right for me?”

Sometimes folks just want me to just answer the darned question… but I can’t help myself; I need to go deeper.

What strikes me the most isn’t the fact that you’ve gained weight, or whether or not keto is right for you, it’s your internal dialogue. The way you talk to yourself (often called your inner critic), plays a huge role in how you live your life. If you’re constantly being told you’re a failure or that you’re not a *healthy* person, or that you’ll just gain the weight back anyway, it’s going to be that much more of a mental battle to change your ways.

You’re Born with a Negativity Bias

It’s also important to know that the brain is hardwired for negativity. Ever notice how bad reviews get more attention than good reviews? Or that criticisms have more of an impact than compliments? Psychologists call this the negativity bias, and basically it means that we tend to register negative experiences more quickly and feel them more deeply.1 That’s why past traumas can be so hard to overcome. Notice I say hard and not impossible.

It’s up to you — a health coach can also help you through this process — to reframe those negative, nagging thoughts into less destructive ones.

How to Reframe Your Thoughts

It doesn’t have to be all rainbows and kittens, especially if you’re not feeling it, but acknowledging these thoughts and choosing different ones is the first step to accepting where you are and carving out a clear path where you want to go.

  1. Understand that your brain is trying to protect you. Its job is to keep you safe from the unknown. That’s why it keeps replaying the same soundtrack over and over again. Also: you don’t have negative thoughts, you have the habit of thinking negative thoughts. I realize this is a minor shift in language, but it has big implications on how open you are to letting go of things that no longer serve you.
  2. Take away your inner critic’s power. Feels like a daunting task, right? It’s easier than you think. Next time you have a thought that feels negative or like something a worry wart or bully would say, give that voice a name. Give it a silly voice too if you can. Personifying the thoughts that repeatedly pop into your mind starts to separate you from those thoughts and ultimately takes away the power they have over you.
  3. Challenge the negative thought. Look for proof that the thought isn’t true. Did you really fail at keto or did you have a stressful week (or year) and decide not to make time to plan appropriately? Or maybe you didn’t have your why totally dialed in. Regardless, find evidence to dismantle your negative thought. So, to bring it back: You say you “failed at keto” — is that really true? What if it weren’t true? What if the only thing you actually “failed” at was forgetting to have some protein thawed in the fridge, or clearing the corn chips out of the pantry?
  4. Embrace imperfection. As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you first-hand that this strategy is crucial to reframing your thoughts. Honing your ability to accept your imperfections allows you to look at situations as feedback, not failure. Plus, it helps you stay on track because you’re not fussing over every little detail.

Remember, being healthy isn’t just about what you’re eating. It’s about your sleep, your stress levels, your activity, and your self-talk. It’s all important if you want to achieve health and happiness.

(As for whether keto is right for you, since folks really do just want me to answer the darned question… I think it’s pretty “right” for most humans, some of the time.)

 

Mary asked:
“I think my husband is a “sabotager.” We designated an account for food shopping, but he keeps dipping into our budget for other things, even though he knows I am trying to do this low starch and low sugar diet and require special items. How do I get him on my side?”

Ahh, the struggles of navigating self-improvement with a partner who’s not totally on board. One of the biggest challenges of eating a certain way is that not everyone in your household is going to be on the same page. Not only that, those people may begin to resent (and subsequently sabotage) you for taking steps to improve your health.

Like you’re noticing, maybe they spend money allotted for one thing on something else. Or they look at you sideways when you order your burger lettuce-wrapped. And while you’re probably not going to get him to ditch his processed food diet, you can lay the groundwork for having a more respectful relationship.

Get Clear on Expectations

The biggest source of conflict I see with my health coaching clients is the disconnect between what one person is doing and what they expect from their partner. The best advice I can give you is to have a well-rounded, fully two-sided conversation about what your food budget is meant to be spent on. For example, if your husband brings home cookies when you’re abstaining from sugar, you probably feel like he’s sabotaging your efforts. But what if the guy just likes cookies? It’s his budget too, and as much as the world would be better off taking processed food off the table, it’s not going to happen.

Frame this conversation as an agreement, rather than an expectation. Instead of telling your partner what you want or need from them, explain why it’s important to you and ask them if they’d be willing to come to an agreement that is mutually beneficial. For instance, maybe you co-create an agreement that says that treat foods like cookies are brought home from the store on specially-designated treat days (Treat Tuesday?), and the purchase of said treats doesn’t come out of the shared food budget. That puts some parameters around the treats, without foisting your health decisions on your unsuspecting life partner.

P.S. How to Save on Healthy Food

Another thing to keep in mind is that eating healthy — and that includes low carb and low sugar items — doesn’t necessarily have to cost more. In other words, you may not need to budget as much as you think. Sure, grass-fed beef costs more. And organic fruits and veggies cost more. But nutritious foods don’t always have to break the bank.

  • Skip the store and visit a local farmers market instead. Don’t have a market near you? Frozen fruits and veggies are a good option.
  • Lean cuts of conventionally raised meats are a decent back-up if you can’t swing grass-fed.
  • Watch out for the extras. You know, the biodynamic wine, the fancy dark chocolate, the artisan cheeses. They’re nice to have (and as a proud hedonist, I am a true fan!) but you don’t need them. If budgeting is (one of) the great obstacle(s) in your way, get clear on what you actually need in the fridge and pantry.

How about you? Do you agree? Disagree?

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