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How to Stop Social Cues from Wrecking Your Healthy Food Choices

Sometimes I think losing weight is the most common topic of conversation and thought among Black and Hispanic women.  This conversation is especially common at this time of year with Spring just on the horizon. But, in reality, we talk about weight all year long. No matter what else is going on in our lives, somehow what eventually rolls off of our lips has something to do with what we are eating, what we cannot eat, what we just ate and ultimately, how it is affecting how much we weigh, should weigh or want to weigh.  And those women, who are not talking about losing weight, are usually talking about how to not gain back the weight they already lost.

Where did this all begin?  When did weight, weight loss and challenges with eating become so much of who we are as women of color?

Change Your Lifestyle. Change Your Life. participants learning about healthy eating.

We all have a story about our weight.  What we eat, when we eat, how we eat and why are all deeply rooted in our culture and tradition. Eating has historically been centered around special events, holidays, happy times, gatherings with people we love, and is full of rituals.  Many of our favorite memories and experiences include food.  Really good tasting food!  How the food is prepared, who prepares it and how much we eat are all viewed as expressions of love passed down through many generations.  Just as the preparer showed love for us by ‘putting her foot in it’ as my relatives used to say, those who ate the food showed their love for the preparer by eating as much as they could and then taking some home.

Even when we are attempting to make healthier food choices, we are consistently faced with so many “social cues”which are occasions that trigger us to behave in a certain way when we’re around other people.  How we respond to socials cues is usually based on old habits formed long ago and are they are difficult to change.

So, here are some things to try to help you make healthier food choices in the presence of social cues:

When possible, avoid the social cue altogether.

Since this is not always possible, we have to learn to either change the cue or respond to it differently. At family gatherings, this might mean moving to another room away from the food or away from people eating it. And when you are really really tempted, call a friend who can support you in “just saying no”.

Plan ahead.

To make sure you are not tempted to overeat or give in to the social cues when you are with family or friends do not go to a gathering or social event hungry. If you are attending a family event, take a healthy dish to share with others. If you are going to a restaurant, look at the menu before you go (most are online) and plan your meal in advance. Share a meal.  Split desert.  Ask the server to put half of the meal in a “to go” box for later.
Change the cue when possible.

Keep in mind that some social cues are positive.  For example, seeing someone else eat healthy food might trigger your taste buds for that same meal.  So think about who you eat with and where you eat.  Spend time with people that does not involve eating. Spend more time with people who are already making healthy food choices and are physically active.

Change Your Lifestyle. Change Your Life. participants dining together.

Ask others for support.

Tell your family and friends that you are trying hard to make some positive changes that include healthier eating. Ask them to praise you for your efforts and to not “call you out” on your slips.  Slips happen!

Practice how you respond to offers of unhealthy food.

Say “No, thank you,” responding in a gentle but firm manner. Suggest something they can do to help you. For example, “No, thanks. But I would love a glass of ice water.”  Or “Do you have any fruit?’

Let me know what works for you!

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