Family events can bring their own special set of struggles when it comes to eating healthfully or intuitively. Learn my strategies for how to eat healthy at family events.
Phew! It’s been a whirlwind of a month for me with a schedule packed full of family events. I honestly can’t remember the last time we spent a weekend at home! Not complaining – we’ve got to spend a weekend on Lake Gaston with Scott’s extended family, last weekend in Virginia celebrating my stepmom’s 50th birthday, a weekend with my mom here in town and more than a few days on the lake with Scott’s parents. Not a bad life indeed.
The one hard thing about family time? Well, besides hearing the same embarrassing stories from your childhood again and again. Trying to eat healthfully.
If your family is like mine, time together often centers around food. Certainly, family get togethers are as good of a time as any to splurge, but when it’s week after week of events, it can get to be a bit much. Plus, I’ve found many of the typical summer family cookout foods aren’t things I necessarily love.
To me, navigating healthy eating during family events is trickier than other social events. There’s the added pressure of not hurting anyone’s feelings or coming off as judging of others food choices. Sometimes family will pressure you to overeat or eat not so healthy foods if they feel your healthy habits highlight their not so healthy eating habits.
Here’s some of the strategies I use to navigate healthy eating with family:
1. Be open about your motivations. Family members love and want to support you. If they understand why you’re wanting to make healthier choices, they’ll feel more connected and want to support you. If you’re trying to lose weight, explain why you want to lose weight. I had a client who was nervous about spending a weekend with her brother’s family, who cooks a lot of big, heavy meals. She explained to him that she was trying to lose weight after finding her blood sugar was running high and she was really scared about developing diabetes as their parents had. Turns out, he had many of the same fears, invited her in the kitchen that weekend and she showed him some of her new, healthier cooking skills.
If you want to eat healthy, but aren’t trying to lose weight, it can be a bit trickier, since unfortunately most people still think the only reason to eat healthy is to lose weight. I explain to my family members how eating well makes me feel so much better energetically, that I have a big week coming up and want to feel my best. Sometimes people get it – one family member responded “I think if we would all say the same if we were honest with ourselves.” Others don’t. But that’s okay – it’s the truth!
2. Avoid an all or nothing approach. The all or nothing approach can be even harder to avoid when you’re around family. Just because you’re trying to make healthier choices doesn’t mean you have to eat “perfectly.” Remember, it’s a special occasion and that’s a perfect reason to indulge a bit. That said, don’t purposely overdo it, especially with foods you don’t love, just because.
Pick the foods you absolutely love and eat as much as you truly desire. When we were at the lake a few weeks ago, Scott’s great-aunt make an incredible mac and cheese. And guess what the secret ingredient was? Cheez whiz! I went back for seconds and it would have been thirds if my stomach allowed! It was seriously incredible. Along with that, we were having brisket, and since I’m not huge on red meat, I passed on that and ate the salad and fruit instead.
3. Bring food to the table. If you can, try and find out what’s being prepared and bring some dishes yourself. Bring dishes that taste amazing so you can be an example of how eating healthy doesn’t mean tasteless deprivation. I often bring my banana sweetened oatmeal cookies and dark chocolate and pear baked oatmeal to weekend getaways or dairy free mac and cheese to cookouts. If I don’t have time to cook, I’ll swing by Trader Joes and pick up their Southwest veggie burgers (perfect over a salad or in lieu of a burger), dark chocolate almonds (amazing!) and tortilla chips with salsa for snacking.
4. Crowd out. If you really struggle to say no to family, don’t. Have smaller portions of more indulgent food and crowd it out with larger portions of whole food sides, like salad, vegetables and fruit.
So, now I turn it over to you. Have you had a lot of family events this summer? If so, what are your strategies for navigating healthy eating? What do you struggle with during family events?