Dealing with Family (Probably a Part 1)

In part to apologize for the large-ish hiatus and in part because it is currently relevant, I’m going to talk about a topic that I have really struggled with, and if the questions that people ask on weightloss forums are reflective of their concerns, many others struggle with as well.

How on earth does one keep up with healthy eating habits around family – especially when the family does not support you?

I am lucky in that most of my family is supportive and that I don’t have to spend a lot of time with them (in terms of eating only – I do not generally consider it a good thing that I live hundreds of miles from them!). My husband is particularly easy to deal with, which I know is not true for others – he simply eats whatever I make or at whatever restaurant I want to eat at with little complaint. If he wants to go for ice cream or something he always checks that it would fit into my calories or helps me find something there that will fit in, rather than encouraging me to “cheat just this once.” My mom is also trying to lose weight, so she obviously understands and is supportive.

Despite their general support, though, I still have a few main issues I have to deal with when I go back to visit:

  • My favorite restaurants in my home town include a pizza place, a Mexican place, and a sub place. Now, for this wouldn’t be an issue, but pizza is pretty much my only binge food, and the subs are also known as “mayonnaise sandwiches.” I don’t know why I love them. I don’t even normally like mayo. These are just super addicting  I handle myself pretty well at the Mexican place, but still, it is a lot of eating at a local restaurants, where calories are harder to track and I am tempted to lie (of course this chimichanga is the 150 calorie one someone entered into MFP!). 
  • Different eating schedules. I am a person who likes to eat a lot at night and not very much in the morning. I always stay at my grandpa’s house (he is the only one with a spare room set up) and he is the complete opposite. He gets really confused about what I am going to eat if all he has in his house for breakfast is toast and yogurt. I like to eat breakfast, but honestly, if there is coffee, I’m good to go. It doesn’t help that he always buys really high quality, often local, foods. Breakfast usually consists of some sort of bread/jelly (not local, but still often fancier than what I buy), some sort of really expensive bacon I never buy but love, local farm fresh eggs, and half and half from a local dairy (I usually drink my coffee black). On top of this food quality, he is also a really good cook so I find it hard to resist.
  • Special occasions tend to coincide with my visits. When we aren’t going out to my favorite local restaurants, we are often celebrating a holiday or someone’s birthday. There are usually really good (and huge) meals with desserts and on certain holidays there are snacks that I have trouble resisting (I have an unreasonable love of cheese and crackers). Worse are the events/holidays where other family members come with side dishes in tow – even if I have a portion (or even just a half portion) my urge to “just try” them all often leads to overeating because of the sheer number of foods.

So what is the point of listing out all of the things I struggle with? I am just trying to point out my particular issues with this problem to show how they may be similar to or different from others. Others may also have to deal with family members who have different eating schedules and seem to have no comprehension of eating differently (my grandpa means well, he just literally cannot comprehend eating nothing but yogurt for breakfast). But others may have problems unique to mine – I know many people have spouses that do not support them, trouble preparing healthy meals that their kids will enjoy, or even relatives that try to directly sabotage them (i.e. instead of just tempting them with the prospect of pizza they buy you large amounts of pizza and provide you with no other food). So any solutions/reflections I provide here might apply more to my situations than to others, but I hope I can be somewhat general in my scope.

So, how exactly do I deal with all of this?

The short answer is that I’m still working on it. This is not something that I have perfected, though I have improved by leaps and bounds. When I first started losing weight, I saw my family infrequently enough that I would just eat whatever when I went there and write off the prospect of losing weight that week. As time progressed, though, my husband pointed out that this model was not sustainable. If I couldn’t deal with eating healthfully at my parents because it was too difficult, what would I do in other difficult situations? A big reason I gained weight was declaring everything a “special occasion,” which implied that I did not need to be concerned about what I was eating. Leaving this giant set of occasions in my set of special occasions (now pretty much just confined to Christmas and Thanksgiving) on which I could binge was not going to help me maintain healthy habits in the long run – I would probably inch back towards every Tuesday being special again.

So I started paying more attention when I went to visit (and at other special occasions, like parties). I started trying to only eat serving sizes of what was prepared (I finally convinced my grandpa to at least give me smaller serving sizes of the awesome breakfast foods, but he is still really confused about how someone can eat only one egg. To remind myself that even if I didn’t get a serving of pretzel salad at this cookout, it would be there at the next one and honestly I know what it tastes like and I don’t need to “try” it anyway. To not always order pizza at the pizza place so that I wouldn’t binge on it. Yes, I often eat too much on these trips, still (especially now that I am in maintenance and I can “eat more” and “don’t have to worry about it as much). This is still something I need to work on, and I’m making slow progress. As you can see from my posts about the party, I have trouble dealing with special occasions in general, so these two issues are tied together. Here are the things that I have found help me the most so far, though, so hopefully summarizing them here will help me to stick to them in the future and may help others who struggle with this issue:

  • If you must take the food, or are really tempted, only eat a serving size.
  • Try not to eat extra snacks beyond what you are offered (i.e. I don’t eat my normal things like rice cakes and trail mix in addition to my meals like I would at home.)
  • Remember that this will probably not be the last time you get to eat whatever it is that is tempting you. Yes, you might really want your aunt’s pie, but if you know you are going to get it at the next holiday anyway, perhaps you should wait to eat it until then if you are already in bad shape for the day.
  • If family members are not supportive, remember not to say things like “This won’t fit into my diet.” That just won’t help. I’ve found explaining that I’m “full” because I already ate XYZ or need to save room for something that I’d rather eat later makes more sense to them (for example, “oh, no thanks, I don’t want any chips, if I eat now I won’t be hungry enough to enjoy the cheeseburgers at dinner,” not “Oh no on this diet I couldn’t possibly eat burgers and chips today.”)
  • Be honest with yourself. I often eat too much when I visit my family. But I account for it. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t just choose the lowest calorie count available for foods at restaurants. I don’t ignore counting for the day because it’s going to be bad. Instead, I enter in everything as honestly as I can (I mean, I’m not measuring or anything but as honest of guesses as I can). This reminds me of what the real damage is (often not that bad) and perhaps what changes I could make in the future to avoid the damages.

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