Food has such a fascinating cultural impact on us no matter where we’re from, and during the holidays, this fact is made even more obvious as we spend time with friends and family we may not see the rest of the year.  So why are the holidays so wrapped up in food? I believe it’s because food binds us. Food is a shared experience and creates a bond between us. It’s breaking bread with others. Have you ever been to a party where you don’t know anyone, but sharing a good meal, you feel closer to the people around you, even though they were strangers when you sat down?

So many of our holiday festivities revolve around food, and if you’re on a weight loss program, trying to navigate the holidays can be a real struggle.  So how do we set boundaries with ourselves and with others in regards to holiday festivities to stay on your weight loss path?  

First of all, we need to recognize how much influence our friends and family have over our lives and our choices.  Unfortunately, for many different reasons, though our friends and family love us, they may unwittingly try to sabotage our weight loss efforts.  It’s not because they want us to fail exactly – I believe it’s because they recognize that when we are losing weight and getting results, we remind them that they’re not.  They become jealous – not jealous of you exactly, but jealous of your dedication to your goals. And to make themselves feel better, they try to talk you into eating a slice of cake or having that glass of whiskey “to celebrate.”  They’ll say things like, ‘You’ve been doing so well – you deserve a treat!” And then we’re faced with a dilemma – either we accept, eat the cake, and feel guilty later, or we say no firmly and risk upsetting them. It’s a lose-lose for us no matter what.

We’re also faced with the implications of offending our host or hostess if we decline food.  When you are invited to someone’s house, eating what they serve is a sign of respect – and refusing what they serve can be seen as disrespectful!  you must eat because it’s the respectful thing to do! Let me give you an example. I love to eat mandazis, the most delicious fried African donuts, so when I visit family in Kenya, they love to prepare mandazis for me, since I can’t get proper mandazis here in the States.  But if I back to Kenya saying, “Oh, no, I can’t have mandazis because I’m living this healthy lifestyle,” I may hurt their feelings. Not only am I declining something they made especially for me, but I’m doing so in my own self-interest instead of thinking of them. And from my perspective, of course I’m just trying to stay true to myself and my weight loss goals – not to offend my family!  Again – it’s a lose-lose.

So my best advice for setting boundaries with your family and friends?  Do not advertise to your family and friends about your weight loss journey.  When you go visit friends or family, simply say something like, ‘There are certain things I can eat.”  Don’t use the words, “I’m trying to lose weight,” because they’ll put you on the defense. They’ll think you’re going to be high maintenance.  They’ll think you’re trying to be better than them.  

I’ve actually used the excuse that I haven’t been feeling well and the doctor told me that I can eat certain things and should avoid other things.  I actually did this with my grandmother because she loves to feed me. Yes, it’s a white lie, but it allowed me to eat what I needed to without hurting her feelings. If you visit the buffet, pick what you know is healthy, and when people ask you, “Oh, you’re not having this?” just say, “No, thanks, I’m just not feeling that today. I’ve really been craving that.”  And then keep the conversation going on another topic. It reduces resistance. It makes your life easier.

And in some ways, refusing alcohol elicits an even bigger response from others.  Sometimes you just have to be very firm with them and say, “No, I’m not having wine today.”  You don’t have to explain yourself to people because the moment you give them a reason, they’ll try everything they can to convince you why that reason is a bad one.  And they’ll keep coming at you! You’ll have to keep defending yourself and your reason for not wanting to drink wine. Remember, no is a complete sentence. You don’t have to give a reason.  Politely decline and change the subject.  

Navigating the holiday season and staying true to your weight loss goals can be a thin tightrope to walk, and managing family and friend relationships makes it even more of a challenge.  Just remember that you can set and stick to your boundaries without hurting your family’s feelings or having to deal with peer pressure from your friends – by telling them what they need to hear.