Sitting at home at my kitchen table, before a meal I can know if I’m hungry, how hungry, when I’ve had enough, and actually stop when I get there. Yet, put me in a party, at a restaurant with a big group of people, or any other scenario where the food is different, the people numerous, and the noise high and my good eating habits completely go out the window.

Have you experienced something similar? Maybe you have with holiday parties, weddings, or the annual company banquet.

It’s frustrating, to say the least, and sometimes downright maddening.

You try to tell yourself you’re there for the company, to engage, connect, and celebrate, and that the food doesn’t matter. Yet, all you can think about is that dessert you’ve been craving since you walked in or why is everyone leaving that one last piece of amazing creamy rich cheese on the tray.

So, to try to understand these scenarios and get a better hold on them, I’ve done some research and came up with a few ideas for action plans. Feel free to try any or all of these to help you eat more mindfully and intuitively during the next gathering around food. Successfully using just one or 2 of these will help you to feel better in your body, with your digestion and your emotions, and help you be more able to connect with the people around you.

Strategies for Smart Eating in Crowds, at Parties, and on Holidays

Going to a place you know rarely offers healthy items? If the situation allows it, bring something healthy that you can (and want to!) eat. This way you won’t be starving and resentful until you finally give in and eat more of the junk food than your system can handle. Having something homemade (by you) that’s healthy, nourishing, and delicious will help keep you satisfied so you’re not hungry and taunted by the unhealthy offerings.

Know how you want to feel. Before you head to the event, think about, visualize, practice how what you want to feel at the event. The more you visualize and practice, the more you build the ‘smart eating in groups’ muscle, and over time that visualization becomes your reality. This is more than just how you want to feel in your body (light, relaxed, not bloated, settled stomach), but also how you want to feel mentally and emotionally (proud of yourself, grounded in your body, connected to yourself and others; and not full of guilt, shame, or blame).

When you feel anxious and alone, try just being OK with that nervous feeling. You don’t need to stuff it with food; instead just feel it for a few moments. And then find someone who is standing alone and go talk to them. Engaging in conversation will keep you occupied and not thinking about food.

“This is the last time you’ll get this seasonal treat” your brain keeps telling you as its excuse why you should finish some favorite item. Push back on that voice and know that you can ask for the recipe, or probably even take home leftovers. When you know there’s always more available, you don’t feel compelled to get your fill of it on this one occasion.

Address the stress before you go. If you’re wound up from a tough day at work or an emotional conversation, work through it for a few minutes for heading to the event. Some deep breathing, a short walk, a few yoga poses, call a friend and vent, do whatever it takes to clear out some of that stress before you get to the party and your mood sends you straight to your comfort food. The more you can relieve the stress ahead of time, the more present you can be in your body to know if it’s hungry, for what, and how much.

With sugar, being forewarned is being forearmed. Eating sugar leads to cravings, often days of cravings. Knowing this may not stop you from having something sweet (though it might), but at least you’ll know why you crave sugar for the next few days afterward (it’s not because you are a willpower weakling, it’s because of the blood sugar roller coaster and the instantaneous change in gut bacteria who immediately crave sugar).

Use a plate and sit down. Whether you’re eating at home alone or at an hors d’oeuvre party, this is good advice. Put what you want to eat on a plate, sit down, then look at it, smell it, and feel it before taking a single bite. Then, when you go to eat, actually taste every single bite and chew. Enjoy every last bite or if you don’t enjoy it, just stop eating and throw it away. Don’t stand or snack–you won’t taste the food nearly as well, your digestion won’t be primed to receive and process food, and it’s hard to know how much you’re eating or whether you’re actually enjoying it or how full you’re getting.

Love yourself. Make an unbreakable pinky swear with yourself that no matter what actually happens at the event, you release all shame, guilt, judgment, or critique around your body, your eating, and the food. The less that food has a moral or judgemental association, the more we can love and nourish ourselves in all scenarios.

Try this and let me know how you go at the next challenging event. I’d love to know what worked for you.

To your health and happiness!

Comment: If you’ve found success eating smart at events or parties, where it used to be challenging for you, please share what you did and what worked. We’d love to know in the comments below.

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