Ever catch yourself feeling hungry but you avoid reaching for a snack because no one else around you is doing so? Or you look around at the restaurant and notice everyone stopped eating so you decide you’re “full” and leave the rest of your food on the plate? You are not alone. In a society that tells us being small is the ultimate prize, it can feel like a reward to eat less than your peers or on the other hand an embarrassment when you eat more.
We are often told that comparison is the thief of joy. When it comes to food, comparison not only steals your joy but also your ability to be present and meet your needs. It can cause you to order the salad when you really wanted a burger. And mostly, it keeps you trapped in an endless cycle of trying to live up to some external, impossible standard. The next time you’re eating with others – whether it’s brunch with friends, family dinner or date night with a partner – try to incorporate these tips to avoid falling into the comparison trap:
1. Put it in perspective
When eating with other people, you are typically with them for just a snapshot of their day. Sometimes you don’t know what they’ve done or eaten earlier in the day or their plans for later. You don’t necessarily know the emotions, thoughts, stresses, anxieties or even illnesses they may be dealing with that impact their eating habits and choices. All to say, you don’t see the full picture. This meal is a single point in time. What the person next to you needs in this moment will likely not be the exact same as what you need. And that is okay.
2. Tune into your needs
While deciding what to eat or eating with other people some find it helpful to intentionally ask themselves questions such as: on a scale of 1-10 what is my hunger level right now? What sounds good to me in this moment? This doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process, just a quick internal check-in to see how you’re feeling and whether your needs are being met, focusing the answer to that question inwardly rather than toward the others sitting around the table.
3. Be kind to yourself
Comparison happens. But try not to beat yourself up about it in the moment – that just adds unhelpful judgment to already tough feelings. Instead, try to ask yourself some questions that may help get to the root of comparison – why am I feeling this way? Where in my life may I be feeling unsettled right now or desire more control? You can have thoughts rooted in comparison run through your mind and still take the action that best serves you.
At the end of the day basing your hunger and fullness cues off the people around you leaves you out of touch with your own body and indicates a lack of trust in listening to your body’s needs. Each of us is incredibly unique from our personality traits to our physical characteristics and nutrient needs. We all move, eat and live differently, so just because one person consumes a certain number of calories a day, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what works and feels good for you. You know you best. And try not to let the Tik Tok “What I Eat in A Day” influencers or people across the table convince you otherwise. Your body, your choices. Eyes on your own plate.
By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image