Socializing and eating have been closely linked throughout much of history, down through the ages from one generation to another. The beginnings of food-related social gatherings probably started with families eating together and evolved into what we see today.
This tight relationship between socializing and eating is associated with fun, comfort and other positive emotions. There's certainly nothing wrong with that picture. However, today there's a downside to too much socialization paired with eating. If you want to be healthy and fit, yet tend to socialize only in ways that involve eating, it's going to be difficult.
Generations gone by could afford to be mindless about socialization that involved eating. For one thing, the lives of our ancestors were significantly more physically demanding than ours today. Being able to have food to eat, clean clothes and shelter required a huge amount of energy and an inordinate amount of time, so socializing with friends and relatives didn't happen frequently. Eating and socializing together had little to no impact on our ancestors' health and weight and was a psychologically healthy activity.
Today, people still enjoy socializing and eating together. We have friends over to watch sports and snack on munchies, go out to dinner or lunch with friends, conduct club meetings over lunch. If there are plans to socialize, the assumption is that eating should or will be involved.
The problem is that modern-day living requires little energy expenditure, and we often socialize more than we used to. Consider that the foods we buy, cook and order at restaurants are more fattening than the foods our ancestors ate, and you see how socializing without being mindful about your eating can sabotage efforts to manage health and weight.
Take Virginia, for example. A social butterfly who was an extrovert by nature, Virginia had many friends and liked to get together with them and family members. She was always planning the next family outing or ladies night out. She also was concerned about her weight. She was smart about her food shopping and went to the gym regularly to try to get those extra pounds off. However, she became impatient when, after a year, her attempts to lose weight weren't paying off. Virginia didn't realize that her socializing was making her fat. It wasn't the socializing that was the problem, but the fact that it always involved eating.
To manage your weight effectively, it's important to break the association between socializing and eating, and to acknowledge that the most important reason to socialize has nothing to do with food. You don't need food to interact and bond with people you like. There are endless ways to do that without feeding yourself.
Socializing can involve eating, but it shouldn't always involve eating. When you do socialize while eating, do it in a mindful manner that is compatible with your health goals.
Here are a few tips, just in time for the upcoming holidays:
• The weather is beautiful now. Get outside and do things with friends and loved ones. I suggested this to my garden club members recently when they were planning the typical lunch get-together at a restaurant.
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• If you're going to socialize around a meal, think about how to make it healthier. Suggest a healthier restaurant alternative or meeting at someone's home, where there will be nutritious dishes. The meal doesn't have to be complicated or fancy, and neither does the restaurant.
• Plan your socializing around your exercise time. I often invite friends to join me for my daily walk. My husband and I like to invite others to hike with us when the weather is nice. We get to connect and do something healthy at the same time.
• Invite someone over just to chat — after you've both had lunch or dinner. That way, you can give each other your full attention.
And remember this: It's okay to be daring and suggest something new. Many people welcome new ideas. Don't be afraid to suggest a very different plan than the one being discussed. You may be surprised at how many takers there are, and you may be helping others make a change in their lives, too.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters." Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.