If you're a people pleaser or an introvert who struggles with overeating at parties because of social anxiety or wanting to make others happy by eating what they want you to eat, read on.
Research shows that people pleasers have a tendency to overindulge at social events because they are more likely to mirror the behaviors of others (this goes for drinking, too). So if everyone takes a big slice of cake, it's likely that you will do the same, even if you don't feel like eating it. Also, because we don't want to offend our hosts by refusing food, we take more than we want to eat or eat things that we don't really like. This can lead to some serious post-party self-flagellation as you lament the number of calories you consumed just for the sake of making others feel better (while you end up feeling like garbage).
This is also true for those of us who suffer some degree of social anxiety where we self-soothe with food and drinking to cope with the overwhelm of being around lots of people and conversations. I know both of these tendencies from first-hand experience and while I haven't found the magic pill to cure social anxiety or people pleasing (hit me up if you know), I do have some behaviors that I rely on to keep me from overeating in these situations.
How NOT to overeat at parties and social events:
- Always have a seltzer or water in your hand. You can have a glass of wine with you in the other hand or positioned close by, but know that the thing that’s in your hand is the thing that will end up in your mouth most often. Make sure that’s water. Plus, if your two hands are full of water and an adult beverage, you won’t have any hands left for nibbles.
- Veggies before treats. Sure, you can have the chips and dip but have a few carrots first. Before you eat the burger on your plate, finish the salad first. If you want more food, that’s fine, but if you’re going for a second helping of potato salad, make sure you eat more garden salad first. This is a simple habit that will help you load up on the good stuff, but not give you a sense of deprivation that you can’t have something you really do want. It’s just prioritizing your eating. By the way, if you’re worried that there won’t be veggies at the party, bring some! I'm sure the host wouldn't mind if you bought an extra veggie platter or salad.
- Be choosy and don't go past the first bite if it's not awesome. When the appetizers get passed around, or as you approach the food table, take stock of what's there and consider what's actually worth the calories! My husband often uses that term when he reaches for a treat food that doesn't taste as good as it looks. He just says "meh, not worth the calories" and doesn't continue to eat it. If you're a big fan of ice cream and you know it's being served after dinner, then remind yourself that you're saving your splurge for later and go easy on the dinner food. Remember, we're never aiming for deprivation, just prioritization, and optimization. It's nerdy, but it works.
- Don’t eat out of boredom. If you’ve found yourself getting bored with a conversation so you start picking at the food left on your plate or if things are dying down and now you’re just nibbling because it’s keeping you entertained, then it’s time to leave. Also, if you want to help clean up, but you’re someone who picks at food, focus on bringing dishes to the kitchen rather than being the one who transfers food to containers.
- Physically situate yourself as far away from food as you can. So often we pick at food or continue to eat past the point of satiety because we’re just sitting in front of an unfinished plate. If that's the case, just clear your plate (and anyone else who appears to be done). It's gracious and helpful and it will keep you from picking at your plate. Also, steer clear of the food table at cocktail parties. The less you linger by the cheese plate, the less of it you'll eat.
The key takeaway here is to just enjoy the event you're at and the company around you instead of focusing on food and drinks, but let’s be honest - we have all overindulged and felt terrible afterward. If you promise yourself to remember these few behavioral tricks, rest assured that over-indulgence won’t happen!