Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Social eating - the final frontier of overeating

I need to call my therapist. I need to discuss with her the bane of my weight loss journey - social eating.

After three months of small but consistent weight losses, I registered a gain of 3.6 pounds on Wednesday. To be honest, I'm not too concerned about this gain, as I've expelled (you know what I mean) 1.8 pounds and another pound can be attributed to switching to a new scale.

The primary factor in the weight gain was the Easter weekend that included a big family dinner (including appetizers and desserts), hot cross buns for breakfast on Easter Sunday, immediately followed by candy and chocolate during the Easter egg hunt. In addition, the night before the Wednesday weigh-in a tragic train accident  occurred on the train tracks west of my stop, leaving me and thousands of commuters stranded in Toronto.

My friend Tania and I went to a nearby sports pub for dinner waiting for the train to resume service. We ordered a quesadilla and split an order of French fries. Frankly, the quesadilla was terrible, way too spicy. The following day, we both commented that we should have sent it back to the kitchen. The fries were OK, a bit of an emotional choice, as it is stressful not knowing when you are going to get home.

Of course, eating at a restaurant meant more food sitting behind the Easter dinner, chocolate and hot cross buns and no quinoa to help push it all through. Therefore, the 3.6 pound gain the following morning.

After a relatively quiet winter, the social calendar is quickly filling up with family dinners, birthday parties and holidays that start with spring and goes right through the summer. This is great socially, but challenging when it comes to losing weight. 

Cognitive behaviour therapy has changed how I think about food. I'm not tempted by food in the normal course of a day. Two years ago it was a rare day when I could make it through a day without spending money on a snack. Now, I rarely spend money on snacks. But social eating is a different matter entirely.

At social functions I have to walk a thin line between eating and abstaining. I need to eat the right amount of food so that I don't feel like I'm on a diet, but not too much food that I derail weight loss. Thinking back on Easter weekend, I could have abstained a little more and sat with the anxiety of resisting temptation.

Since my weekly weight loss is typically small (on average ~0.8 pounds per week), it is safe to assume that the margin between weight loss and either gaining or staying the same is narrow. In other words, overeating at a social function can easily halt the already slow weight loss process.

My therapist is on mat leave, but I think she would suggest planning the food I'm going to eat before the event. My therapist instructed me to plan all my meals this way in our first session. If I am hosting, I will be specific, if not, I will be as specific as possible:

Sample social eating meal plan - menu particulars unknown
- Appetizers: two pieces of each type, to a maximum of six pieces. No limit on vegetables.
- Main meal: unlimited vegetables, reasonable serving size of bread/starchy and protein, if interested, one glass of wine.
- Dessert: one piece that is slightly smaller serving with respect to the other pieces being served.

For months I planned all the food I ate in this manner. Interestingly, the trick to eating less is to plan to eat more and in the end, I would choose to eat less. To be honest, the appetizer count above may be too restrictive, but I can give it a try and plan differently for the next party.

Changing behaviour doesn't happen overnight, it takes time and practice. Luckily (I think) I have frequent opportunities to practice coming up.


  1. I like the planning and I am thrilled you linked back to the food anxiety post. Thank you for sort of outlining your plan for party eating. Why all the appreciation and thrill? I was so glad to see you posted because I am going on a month long road trip and I have been having uncontrolled anxiety over what I THINK I might do. I need a plan even if it is a lose one that I tighten as time goes on. I need a boundary. I needed to know that the anxiety will pass.

    And as usual, you end right on the perfect high note. It takes time and practice and I am lucky to have the opportunity.

    Deep breath weirdo. (I said it for you).

    So sad about the girl meets train. Her poor parents. Tragic.

    1. I always like to post stuff that is timely :)

      Oh goodness, I'd be stressed with a month long road trip. Does this mean a month long Munchberry blogging hiatus as well?

      But I do think that planning and writing down what you are going to eat ahead of time will help. Set your menu for the day or just before you eat (the important part is to write it out first) and stick to it. Just don't be too restrictive, it will make you more hungry.

      I know, I feel awful for her parents.

      Hey - your progress pics are awesome! Will post comments tonight!

  2. Right on Kara. Social eating is so much fun but it's tough to stay on track. One thing I've found useful is to eat something healthy and filling (not until I'm stuffed) but just so that I don't overeat the appetizers. And, of course, even if I am partaking in alcohol have plenty of water!

    1. Hey Jen!

      Thanks for commenting!

      Drinking hot water is really nice too. Raises some eyebrows though I must admit...


  3. YES - me too! It is not the "social" part that gets me but rather the temptation of all the "off plan" food around. And I agree with trying to find that balance. This is a tough one.

    1. It is tough. I'm hoping with practice, we'll all get better... Speaking of which, you did well on your road trip!

  4. You're so right that it takes time and practice...and I love your (mostly) unemotional response. To me, that's a sign that CBT is effective. I find that certain social situations (especially if I am hungry to begin with) make me nervous and so eating becomes a way to have something to do.

    Unrelated: I have found that one of the reasons I don't crave junk food any more is because I am so mad at the food manufacturers for foisting that crap upon us and so I don't want to increase their bottom line!

    1. You know, I'm the same way. I see all the stuff from food manufacturers as junk now and I've lost the taste (and cravings) for it. The only purpose of that food is to satisfying your mind rather than our bodies. It has no nutritional value and when I do eat that food, it only makes me more hungry.

  5. It sounds like you have a good therapist. I find there are not too many out there who really get what overeaters are dealing with. I like the way you think too!

    1. She is great and I think I lucked with her too. I just called the clinic (I found via google), said that I needed help with my eating behaviours and they paired me with her. She studied eating disorders, so she very much understands eating behaviour.

      Thanks Holly!


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