How can I stop myself from eating something at a party? • I was recently asked this question, and it seems a simple one but, as you shall see, it's not. • This individual was particularly concerned about parties where finger foods are served. She felt she couldn't trust herself to avoid "bad" foods, so she avoided going to parties altogether. Her fear of losing control of her eating got in the way of what should be an enjoyable experience. Parties had become a source of anxiety and fear — a bad rather than a good time. • Despite all evidence to the contrary, many people still believe in willpower and panaceas. So when they ask a question like this, they're usually expecting words that will have magical powers, require little effort on their part, and/or will result in an immediate and perfect solution. • It's never that easy. But there are ways to become better at handling tricky eating situations. Take the time to go about it in the right way and you'll have solved the problem for good, rather than fearing parties. • Here are some suggestions for how to make parties fun again:
1 Do your homework. Make sure your eating life is in balance. If you still engage in on-and-off rigid dieting, stop. Nothing makes your mind feel more deprived than continually going on diets that are too restrictive. It leads to what I call psychological deprivation and this is what sets you up to lose control whenever you're faced with foods that your diets tell you to avoid.
2 Feed yourself properly. Your body needs to be fed well so it won't be compelling you to eat constantly. Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables to get the nutrition your body needs, and you will feel satisfied, healthy and calm.
3 Leave hunger at home. Next to psychological deprivation, your biggest enemy at a party is hunger, not food. Hunger is the body's signal to eat. The body has this mechanism for survival and it's a hard one to ignore, so don't try. Eat a well-balanced meal or snack at home so that, when you arrive at the party, you can focus more on socializing and having fun, and less on eating. If you're not ravenous, you're also better able to make healthier food choices.
4 Step away from the table. Remember that the mind and body are influenced by the sight and smell of food. So, get your food and get away from the signals to eat more.
5 Don't forget presentation. Choose the smallest plate available, and then arrange your food attractively on it. Attractive food helps the mind feel satisfied sooner.
6 Treat yourself well. Focus on making the best food choices you can, but don't forget that it's okay to give yourself a treat now and then. However, be choosy about the treat. If you consider the gourmet chocolates much more of a treat than the cake, make the chocolates your choice.
7 Use your head. Think things through. Take a deep breath, relax and remind yourself that if you take the time to make better choices, you'll feel better during the night and in the morning.
8 Remember — there's no law against not eating. Where is it written that you HAVE to eat at a party? If you choose to eat before the party and aren't hungry, or nothing appeals to you, you don't have to eat.
9 Move on. If you didn't eat exactly the way you hoped, move on. You can't change the past, but you can learn from it. Instead, take a look at what you can do the next time to make things better. Don't ruminate on the past.
Parties don't need to be associated with anxiety and guilt. Look at the larger picture so you'll be in balance before the party, develop the tools to better deal with the environment of the party, focus on the enjoyable aspects of the party, and continue your efforts for better health after the party.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at DrRod@FatMatters.com.