Originally published on November 17, 2013.
By Sue Ingebretson
How Family Influences Can Sabotage Your Fibromyalgia Eating Plan Over the Holidays
Where would we be without the unconditional support of our family and loved ones? After all, they worry about us, care for us, and are there for our ups and downs. They support us in every way, right?
But, what if I shared with you the fact that their influences may not always paint such a rosy picture? In fact, when it comes to our nutrition plans, our family influences can often sabotage our best efforts to get or stay healthy. Many even claim the influence of their families as the primary reason for their poor health choices.(1)
In this article, we’ll explore how those around you, your families in particular, have the greatest authority over what, how, why, and how much you eat.
While the topic of your waistline isn’t the primary concern here, it’s worth noting that the influences mentioned happen to sabotage both our short-term and long-term nutrition plans. Yes, genetics and metabolism do have an effect on our overall body type and structure, but it’s the day-to-day healthy food practices that have the greatest impact. For this reason, it’s important to know why your relationships have influence over your eating habits each and every day.
These family influences are particularly poignant at this time of year as multiple family gatherings are likely planned for the months ahead.
For most of us, eating isn’t always a solitary activity — especially for those with large families. In sizable groups, there always seems to be cause for celebration. There are birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, housewarmings, new births, or just about any excuse for get-togethers. And, let’s get real. Get-togethers are about family, for sure, but let’s not deny that they’re about food, too. And, not just any food. They often feature family favorite foods made from handed down recipes, and are served with an abundance of tantalizing options to choose from.
Do you find it difficult to stick to your meal plans at family events? It’s likely that you do.
Holiday gatherings inadvertently cause us to pile the food on our plates, unconsciously matching our portion sizes with others in the buffet line.
As children, our belief systems about food were developed from our family mealtime experiences. After all, we ate most of our meals with our parents and siblings. What was the environment like in your home? Were mealtimes full of chatter around the kitchen table? Did you eat family style or were you served a plateful and expected to finish it? Or, were you made to feel deprived with inadequate meted out portions? Did you eat in silence facing the TV screen? Overeating can simply be an emotional attempt to break the silence.
There are so many messages about eating that we learned as children. But it boils down to two schools of thought — did the lessons provided teach us to eat mindfully or mindlessly?
Eating mindfully is a rare practice.
Of course, our family members didn’t deliberately dispatch negative food ideas. The intentions of most parents were well-meaning and guided by love and concern for our well-being. However, heaping portions of guilt often accompany comments such as, “Clean your plate,” or “Have some more of my homemade _________ (fill in the blank). It took me all afternoon to make it!”
Obedience has its price. We nodded our heads to a second helping, cleaned our plates, and sought to please others with our eating habits. We inadvertently “ingested” the message that we can create love, acceptance, relationships, etc. with food. Then we went outside to play. As grown-ups, we may spend countless years (not to mention countless dollars) trying to unlearn these unhelpful messages. And — to add insult to injury — we no longer go outside to play.
Co-workers and office parties play a role in sabotaging our nutrition plans, too. Birthdays roll around with consistent regularity as do the boxes of doughnuts at early morning meetings. And what about the ubiquitous bowl of sweets strategically placed on the desk closest to the copy machine? In a “misery loves company” mindset, co-workers may (unconsciously) feel a sense of satisfaction to see you struggle with your healthy eating plans as much as they do.
So, what happens if you just say, “no”?
Here’s where we introduce the topic of rejection. So much about what we eat and how we eat, is unspoken. There are powerful societal (including workplace and family) pressures on our food choices.(2) If we fail to sample a family favorite casserole at a family potluck, what will happen? Do we receive chiding, teasing, or even “good-natured” ridicule (that feels anything but good-natured)?
There are two important — and different — sides to this rejection scenario, so let’s look at them separately. First, we worry about how rejection affects others. We fear that they’ll feel disparaged, hurt, or somehow snubbed by our actions. We don’t want to say “no,” because we don’t want them to feel offended. We then eat (the food we didn’t even intend to eat) just to keep the peace and foster the status quo.
Second, we worry about how rejection affects us. If we don’t go with the flow and do what everyone else is doing, how will we be viewed? Will we be looked at as superior, haughty, or snooty? Will we be singled out and have our food choices made public? I’ve been to gatherings where I’ve heard comments such as, “Oh boy, Samantha is just eating carrots. She must be on another ridiculous diet.” Or, “Marge is picking the croutons out of her salad. She must be going gluten-free.”
Do the above statements sound judgmental to you?
If so, you get to take action to change how you feel about what was said. There’s a difference between a simple observation and judgment. It’s when the sense of judgment seeps in that we feel hurt, angry, offended, or chastised. While we can’t change what others say, we can change two things: 1) We can stop anticipating their negative comments — because waiting for negative comments to come is a negative behavior in itself, and 2) We can choose to view their comments as simple statements rather than judgments — because any other view is detrimental in the long run.
Your nutritional plans are simply that — yours. You have no obligation or requirement to explain them or validate them to anyone. Eating well is an evolutionary process. We decide on a plan, and then make adaptations as needed. We may choose to focus on eating more of some foods and less of others, but it’s our choice. We get to choose. We get to decide. We get to create the confidence in our own decisions — and stop waiting to receive it from others.
When it comes to family, can we really tell them what we want?
I think we can. When we create a plan in advance, we’re much better armed to handle the circumstances that may arise. Therefore, here are a few tried and true tips for navigating the rocky path of your next family and office gathering. They’re geared to help you get through the coming season ahead and beyond.
Try one or several to see how they work for you.
Write down your meal plan in advance and carry it with you.
Bring your own healthy meal (or at least parts of it, such as raw veggies).
Bring your own healthy snack (don’t allow yourself to get overly-hungry).
Eat a healthy meal and/or snack before the family event.
Make sure to drink plenty of water before eating, and then sip small amounts continuously during the meal and thereafter.
Don’t bring home leftovers (no matter what Aunt Betty says).
If the gathering is at your home, be sure to send leftovers home with other family members.
If the gathering is at a restaurant call ahead to scope out healthy options.
If the meal is served buffet style, seek out the veggies and salads first and fill up your plate just once (all-you-can-eat doesn’t have to be a personal challenge).
Focus your time and attention on your family conversations rather than on the food. And if possible, remove yourself from the table as soon as you’re finished eating.
At work, suggest the candy dish be removed, or if that’s not met with support, offer to provide an opaque (non-see-through) covered candy dish. There’s merit to the “out-of-sight / out-of-mind” philosophy.
Enlist a meal-buddy to go with you to the event (one who supports you and your personal nutritional plans).
I’d like to point out that voicing your nutritional intentions — especially at family events — can feel confrontational at first. But there’s a flip side of that feeling, too. It feels a lot like freedom.
Here’s to liberating your holiday celebrations from the tyranny of family and co-worker unhealthy food pressures. When it comes to what’s on the end of your fork — it’s your choice!
1. Rognlin, Briana. “Friends, Family Are the Biggest Influences on Our Health: Study.” Huffington Post. October 7, 2011.
2. Tarlin, Ellen. “The Fourth Obstacle to Sensible Eating: Outside Influences.” Slate.com. January 24, 2011.
Sue Ingebretson (www.RebuildingWellness.com) is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.
Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™– a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.