Living in a Food Focused World

Some of you know I have a cockapoo named Remy. He’s a little black curly mop about 12 lbs and almost 3 years old now.  Before him, I had a succession of Yorkies (very different dogs, physically and personality-wise!)  Where Henry (my last Yorkie) was independent and bossy, Remy is more mellow and focused on me.  One of Henry’s most adorable (eye roll) traits was to cock his ear when we were out in the yard to acknowledge, yes, I hear you calling me, and now I’m ignoring you, and he’d go off doing his own thing. Remy, while not exactly clingy, keeps his eye on me so if I head to the other side of the house, he keeps me in sight.

Probably Remy’s most distinctive trait is his lack of focus on food.  I had a Queensland mix (Sarah) who’s nickname was the “Shark.” I had heard it said of sharks that they will eat anything and if it doesn’t come back up, it’s food!  Sarah was like that: she ate all kinds of things that should have made her deadly ill (like an entire pound of Oreos in one night!) but she lived to a ripe old age.  My friend’s dog Watson is a lot like Sarah: there is no five second rule at her house because nothing edible is on the floor that long!  In my house, it’s closer to a five day rule. I fill Remy’s kibble bowl about once a week; he likes to eat when we go to bed and when we get up in the morning.  I give him dog cookies (loves peanut butter) and dog treats and people food, but most of them stick around in his various  beds or on my bed or in his bowl or on the floor until he either eats them days later, the cats   eat them (sometimes) or I finally throw them away because they look dirty.  Even the people food.  I come home in the afternoon and see last night’s leftover people food treat on his paper plate and as I’m throwing it out, I make the comment that there are starving dogs in South Modesto who would eat this in a heartbeat.  (This is after my cats have had a crack at it too!) I’ve finally reached the conclusion (yeah, I’m a little dense) that giving him people food treats are a waste of food, and it’s not like it’s broccoli or salad (although he does like iceberg lettuce, the weirdo!) or even bread or rice: this is chicken, pork, beef and eggs he’s snubbing with that curly schnozz!  Watson would snarf it in a heartbeat!

That’s because Watson is food focused and Remy is not.  If my friend wants Watson’s attention, she gets it with a treat: his motto is anything for a cookie!  Remy’s motto is anything for the toy!  Offering him a cookie is a waste of time: he’ll sniff it, and maybe take it politely and set it down somewhere (Watson has eaten a lot of Rem’s treats that way!)  Show him the ball or his stuffed animal, totally different story! Remy has scolded me for not noticing that he tossed the ball at my feet an entire minute ago and I still haven’t thrown it for him!  I’ve often thought about attaching one of my Fitbits to his collar so I can cheat at the Weekend Warrior challenge- I’m sure he’d beat anyone when he’s chasing his toys up and down the hallways and all around the yard!

So blah blah blah, why’s she babbling about the dogs?! Because WE are not that different! Most of us are either a lot like Watson and focused on food, or we are like Remy and totally unconcerned about it.  I’ve commented to my MFP friends that I need to be more like Remy because “who cares if there’s chicken thighs on  my paper plate! Throw the ball, Mom!” When I was in college, the most effective method for getting anyone to attend your function was to put “refreshments will be served” on your flyers.  It works pretty well in the business world too!  People will flock to wherever there is free food (and even if it is  not so free). As a society, we are focused on what we’re eating, what other people are eating, what’s better to eat, what’s bad for us and what we love to eat!  Our holidays revolve around food: Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, Christmas cookies and candy, New Year’s drinks and appetizers, and that’s just what’s in store for us in the coming months!  There’s still the rest of the year’s food focused holidays to deal with: Valentine’s, St. Paddy’s, Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth, Labor Day, not to mention birthdays and anniversaries, graduations and other celebrations.  They usually involve some kind of food and a lot of times, some kind of cake or pastry.

I’m not condemning our food focus, because for most of our history as a species, food was hard to come by (and in some places, it still is!) Sharing food is sign of community and belonging: it’s how we reinforce our societal bonds. We gather with friends and family and share food and drink and comraderie. It’s an important part of our genetic make up; while other animals, my cats for example, will groom each other, we tend to bond over food.

So what happens when food is our Achilles heel? Do we choose not to attend these food oriented functions and miss out on most of our holidays and gatherings?  Do we just give up and subject ourselves to the enormous struggle of saying no to things like pumpkin pie, stuffing, mashed potatoes and endless cookies or do we strategically arrive after the table has been cleared and join the gathering late? All of these are viable options, and only you can decide which of these is easiest and/ or more convenient to you.  Of course, there are some other considerations involved with each choice depending on you and your goals.

Choosing not to attend: this is the probably the most effective as well as the harshest if your goal is simply to avoid the food.  It’s easier if you just don’t come face to face with all of the food, especially if they are things you really enjoyed eating, but there’s a hefty price to be paid with the isolation involved.  It means cutting yourself off from your community and family which for most of us is our support system.  This is not a good thing as it means you have no one to turn to when you need help or support of any kind.  For many people, not attending is also not an option because of FOMO (fear of missing out) on the food.  You skip the Halloween parties and miss out on the “special” cookies, candies, treats, etc.  (Is a pumpkin shaped Reese’s peanut butter cup really a treat?) For me, there are some things that I don’t like to miss out on, but the biggest “treat” for me is not the food- it’s the family and friends (yeah, I know it’s corny!)  I have a large extended family that gets together for the holidays and there is always an over-abundance of all kinds of food.  For me, not attending is not an option.  I don’t see my family enough in my opinion and so, each holiday, I come face to face with a table overflowing with all of the yummy stuff I grew up eating.  Is it hard saying no to all these things? You better believe it! If it gets to be too much, I make a habit of joining family in another room away from the food, and there have been times when I gave in and “tasted” -eye roll- some of it.  For me, the hazards of over-indulging at a family holiday are worth it for the shared family time.  Missing out on the food isn’t the issue for me; it’s not worth it to miss out on the family time.

Attending the gathering and facing the temptation: this one is the hardest when it comes to testing your resolve! As I said above, my family has a table full of temptations before, during and even after the meal.  There’s always the finger foods and appetizers followed by the yummy dinner full of all kinds of entrees and side dishes, then there’s the table full of desserts.  Seriously, we have enough food for at least two complete meals apiece for everyone!  We get there around noon and leave around six for most holidays and it’s nothing but eating in between: during the game, during the gifts, during the cooking itself- there’s always food readily available sitting there saying “I’m yummy!” One of the strategies I’ve employed (to moderate success, I admit) is sitting in another room away from the kitchen and dining room, but everyone has a plate full of food, so even there, it’s tempting me.  I serve myself the stuff that I think is healthiest (and a lot of times it’s something I brought) and I make a point to eat as slowly as I can.  As I said, I’ve had moderate success with this but it’s only one option.  Other options include planning your eating before you go to the gathering (another strategy I’ve used).  If you know you’re going to be eating more than usual for lunch/ dinner, then carefully plan what you eat beforehand.  This can include skipping breakfast or eating less breakfast so you can eat more at the gathering.  Another plan includes filling up before you go on healthy options, like having a large salad or meal full of veggies before you go to the gathering, so the food you are trying to avoid is less tempting to you.  You’re full and not so tempted (hopefully) to eat out of boredom or habit.  The biggest temptation (for me anyway) is to “graze” and eat a handful of this and a spoonful of that all day long.  I know for office workers during the holidays, subjected to endless trays of cookies and boxes of candies, one trick is to put whatever you were going to eat into a Ziploc bag and at the end of the day, you see how much you really would have eaten- usually way more than you thought it was! That’ll put the damper on grazing!

Strategically planning your arrival: I’m just going to come out and admit I think this is lame, but it works for some people.  For me, a big part of my socialization with my family actually involves preparing the meal.  I get to hang out in the kitchen with my aunts and uncles and cousins and make the food.  The added benefit is by the time the meal is ready and everyone else descends on the loaded table like a cloud of locusts, I and the rest of the kitchen crew are so tired of the food, we wait until everyone else has gone through and then we choose from what’s left, if we don’t have to refill the platters first.  It kind of puts a damper on the appetite for us. Arriving after the meal is done is not always possible, since for our family, about an hour after the meal, we serve dessert and after lingering over dessert, we start cleaning up and heading home. Waiting until the food is “gone” means missing out on most of the gathering for our family.  For my friends, it’s a better option.  They have the meal and dessert followed by several hours of games and chatting and socialization.  I can show up later, miss the food and still enjoy time with my friends.  These are also the friends who make holiday cookie trays for everyone full of the home-made cookies the recipient likes best, like lemon bars, mint chocolate chip cookies, chocolate dipped marshmallows and candied walnuts. (Some of my favorites!) After I started eating Paleo, they asked if I still wanted a cookie tray, and let me know they would not be offended if I said no, so I thanked them and declined.  Did I miss some really great once a year treats? Yes.  For about five minutes, which is about how long it takes to eat them. Did I still spend time with them during the holidays? Yes.  We just didn’t make the cookie tray a part of it.

Keeping it Low Key

I am blessed with family and friends who respect that I’m eating differently than I used to and, for the most part, differently than they do.  Most of them, like most of the world, eat a lot of processed foods and refined carbs, which I really avoid. If they offer something and I decline, they respect my “no thank you” and don’t keep pushing it at me.  In turn, I respect what they choose to eat.  When I was at their Super Bowl party last February, they had a table full of chips, dips, crackers, and some crudite (veggies). I didn’t criticize their choices.  It’s not my business what they want to eat.  If they’d asked my opinion, I would have given it, but I still wouldn’t have said “it’s all unhealthy processed junk!” (That’s not my opinion of their choices, btw!) Unfortunately, this is what a lot of people do when they start making healthier food choices: like any new convert, they feel the need to push their new point of view on everyone around them!  As a result, no one wants to spend time with them or eat with them.  Who wants to eat with someone who keeps trashing what you are trying to enjoy? Sadly, I have way too much experience with this one. My mom (the Constant Dieter) was always telling me whatever I was eating was full of fat, full of sugar, full of “empty calories.”  Even today, if I decide to put Splenda in my drink, she lets me know that “Splenda is the worst artificial sweetener there is! It’s full of chemicals that cause cancer!” (She has been known to say this to total strangers at Starbucks!)  I don’t know how true this is and frankly, it’s none of her business if I choose the Splenda or not.  At least she didn’t try to put her choice of sweetener in my beverage.  She’s tried stuff like that before and ended up spilling my glass all over the table.  It was annoying, but she felt really bad about it and hasn’t done it since.  But the point is that what you or I eat is no one else’s business.  No one needs to justify why they are or aren’t eating the tortilla chips, the sugar cookies, or whatever else is available.  What we decide to eat is extremely personal, in my opinion anyway, and the idea of someone trashing what anyone is eating is beyond rude.  It’s one thing to comment on not eating the cookies because they have coconut and you can’t stand it, or that they have peanuts and you’re allergic- that’s a matter of taste and safety.  It’s not a comment on how healthy/ unhealthy they are.  My best advice for handling people like my mom is to make an offhand comment like “we all gotta die of something!”

Adjusting your Focus

The plain truth of the matter is that most of the world is focused on what they are eating and what everyone else is eating.  There’s always some report on how something is bad for you, better for you or  what food is “guaranteed to give you cancer” (eye roll), and it’s hard not to focus on what you are eating for dinner, ate for breakfast or are eating right now.  Food is fuel for the body but it’s also a physical and social enjoyment as well, and it’s hard to be the loner at the table who’s not having the same thing as everyone else, or even just eating something different.  It draws attention in a way we might not like, but unless someone is rude about it, there’s no need to worry about it.  If anyone does ask, “you’re not having anything?” just tell them you aren’t hungry or it doesn’t appeal to you- something polite and noncommital and move on from the topic.  There is a lot going on in the coming months, and yes, there will be food everywhere, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the focus of your social life.  Choose the friends and family and leave the food for everyone else. You might be getting together to have lunch or Thanksgiving dinner or watch the Super Bowl, but is the food really the point of the gathering?  Even when you go to lunch with someone, yes, the meal is important but after making your healthier food choices, focus on the company and not the giant cheesesteak sandwich they ordered. I remind myself that my cockapoo would rather have a hug from me than a cookie and the point of hanging out with my friends has everything to do with them and nothing to do with whatever snacks are on the table!





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