Setting up Food Boundaries

how to advocate for your food needs

Food Boundaries

I recently read an amazing book by Rachel Herz called “Why You eat What You eat.”  It’s all about the science and psychology behind why we choose certain foods, enjoy and crave others and how our food culture, our senses and our sociability plays a role in our eating relationship.

One chapter in particular struck me as particularly interesting and that is how other people in our world and eating environments affect our own decisions around food.  In particular, because human beings have “mirror neurons” we often mimic, subconsciously, what our conversation (or dining) partner is doing. Put into application with respect to eating, we may find that we indulge more when our dining partners do and hold back when others are dieting.  We can’t help it. Our instincts are to recalibrate our behaviors based on what others are doing around us.

This can be tough, however, when we’re in situations when we really want to advocate for ourselves in some way around food but feel like we’re burdening others while doing so.

Case in point:  When I gave up gluten and dairy for a year, I sheepishly ordered at restaurants, worried all the while that my When Harry Met Sally ordering style would be met with disdain or at the very least annoyance by the waiter and my dining partners, I simply went out to eat less.

Other times people experience this when they go to other people’s homes for a meal.  We want to honor the host by eating the meal they planned and cooked and might feel less inclined to let the host know ahead of time our food proclivities, allergies or preferences.  In my experience, most of the time the host is more than happy to accommodate my requests but it still feels uncomfortable nonetheless. As a vegetarian for 30 years, I’ve learned never to just assume there will be food for me to eat and I’ve had to learn to get uncomfortable by asking and advocating.

This used to be particularly uncomfortable to me because I felt that my weight was a scarlet letter in the first place.  That I’d be requesting healthy or special food only invited a spotlight onto my physical body and questions about my diet.  As someone who lives with Hashimoto’s disease, and always struggled with maintaining a smaller body (even when I was putting forth my most herculean efforts) I often felt the judgement and disbelief from others when I shared I was vegan and that I wanted lots of veggies.  I could almost hear their inner voices saying “yeah right, and then you are binging on ho-ho’s when you get home.”

That was the story I believed. Whether or not it was true is another story altogether.

The truth is, however, that we all need to create boundaries around our own eating experiences.  It’s easy to feel shamed by others about what you eat or don’t eat, what type of dietary protocol you follow, and which foods light up your taste buds and which don’t.  

I learned the hard way that I must always advocate for myself at special events, parties and restaurants or else I’ve gone home hungry or majorly disappointed.  When I was a chronic dieter, one food disappointment after I had given myself permission to actually eat one day often led to a “screw it, it’s not worth it” binge on random things when I got home.

Creating boundaries around food does not prevent you from intuitive eating, mindful eating or an abundance mindset around food.  It merely is a recognition that our food culture and often even our friends and family won’t necessarily advocate for you and if you want to be sure you are honoring both your appetite and your palate, its 100% ok to plan things for yourself.

Here are 5 ways to creates such food boundaries in your life

1. Notice when you tend to get hungry and prepare snack packs for the car and to put into your bag for situations when you don’t know if there will be something you like or can eat.

2. Check menus ahead of time, especially if you are not the one who chose the restaurant.  Call ahead if you don’t see anything and ask the maitre’d if the chef can prepare something special for you to accommodate your needs.

3. >>> my favorite – If you are plant-based or follow a certain protocol of eating due to sensitivities or allergies and find yourself at “family style” restaurant, be sure to order your own dish which is just for you and the rest you can take home.  I’ve been burned too many times when a lot of meat dishes are ordered and only 1 or 2 vegetarian dishes (which also get eaten by the meat eaters) and then I get only a few bites of it.

4. When going to a picnic, BBQ or pot luck – always bring extra dishes or meals that you can eat.  Tell your host you’ll be happy to bring x, y, z which will be a crowd-pleaser but also something you will eat and enjoy.

5. Remember that it’s your body and you have sovereignty over it.  You don’t need to eat (or not eat) for anyone else or to save someone else’s feelings.  There are ways to be respectful, yet firm in going to bat for your nutritional needs. After all, if you don’t do it, who will?

Check out my free video training on Eating Empowerment on the go.

What ways do you advocate for yourself around your own eating and food needs? 

Where do you create your own food boundaries? 

I'd love to know.