Opting Out of the Food Competition

Living in a small (but lovely) town of about 400 people means there can be limited opportunities for activities to do. Because one can only go to so many movies, and I’m past the point of hanging out in the Walmart parking lot (thank God), I’ve gone out to eat a lot in my 20 years on this earth. Like a lot. Back when I was obsessed with eating “healthy” 24/7, I unconsciously turned going out to eat into a competition between me and whoever I was eating with. “Who can eat less?” or “who can order the healthiest thing on the menu?”. Honestly, it was freakin’ exhausting.

I recently saw a post on Instagram from a “Non-Diet Dietitian” that I follow that made me realize that maybe I wasn’t alone in this. It was something along the lines of “Just a friendly reminder that you can opt out of the ‘who can eat less?’ competition when eating with friends”. For the longest time I thought that I was the only one who had struggled with this, but it now seems like others do too, or have in the past. 

Forcing myself to order a salad because that’s what my friend ordered put a huge damper on what was supposed to be fulfilling conversation with them. Going out to eat with friends and keeping tabs on the amount of chips and queso I was eating compared to everyone else didn’t allow me to just be present in the moment. 

There’s no time for competition when I’m eating shrimp tacos.

If you know what I’m talking about, then you know how draining it can be. It can be difficult to let go of this self-constructed “competition”, but I’ve figured out a few ways that can help this thought pattern subside. 

First, do some role reversal. If your friend ordered a steak with mashed potatoes and you ordered a Caesar salad, would you judge them? Would you even think about it at all? Probably not. If you don’t care what your friend orders, why would they care what you order? (And if they do care or comment on what you order? Then that’s nonsense and I’ll eat with you.)

Before you meet with your friend, think of topics you can talk about that don’t revolve around the food. This can help steer your thought patterns away from food in general, and allow you to focus on the moment. This may take a while to put into practice, but after a while you’ll find yourself immersed in conversation, rather than how much either of you is eating.

This is more strategy-based, but before you get to the restaurant, look up the menu on your phone and browse over your options. Pick something that you genuinely want to eat. Make a commitment to yourself that you will order it when you get to the restaurant. If you stick with it, reward yourself! Watch your favorite Netflix show, buy a new book, or my personal favorite, an iced coffee!

 Lastly, think about what will happen if you “win” this competition. What will you get from it? You get no trophy, money, or praise. You don’t get anything positive at all, only negative. When I created this competition, every time I “won”, I felt a minute of self-satisfaction, and then it was over. Soon after, I was onto stressing more about my diet, or I was fighting off feelings of hunger because I didn’t eat enough, or wasn’t satisfied by what I ordered. The outcome was always negative, even if I did “win” for a moment. 

The biggest win of all? This sushi that I’m going to devour tomorrow night.

Opting out of the “competition” when eating with others can take some time, but it’s so rewarding when you free yourself from that burden. This world is already a pretty competitive place, so let’s not make it harder on ourselves by ordering a crappy side salad, okay? 

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