Are You Eating to Please?

flourless chocolate cake

Last April I gave up sugar for a stretch. It started in solidarity with one of my girls who had elected to participate in the tradition of giving up something for Lent, the weeks leading up to Easter. A few positives came out of skipping the sugar shaker: my afternoon sweet cravings diminished and everyone in the house was eating less sugar (probably because I wasn’t keeping the pantry stocked in chocolate or tinkering with baked goods). Most interesting, though, was something I noticed on a more emotional level: It wasn’t always easy to say no to sweets. Not because I wanted them (more often than not, I didn’t), but because someone else wanted me to have them.

Motivated by Manners

Whoa! It was an “AHA” moment, as Oprah would say, and made me wonder how long and how often I’d been accepting food for no other reason than good manners.

I first realized it over tea in a friend’s kitchen when she set a plate of cookies in front of me and suggested I have one. I declined and immediately felt bad. “She’d gone to the trouble of cookies and here I was saying no,” I thought. The fact was, having just eaten breakfast, I didn’t want a cookie.  But this wasn’t about my appetite, it was about my desire to buffer the people around me from disappointment.

Socialized to Please

On another occasion a girlfriend leaned in after dinner at a restaurant and asked in a conspiratorial tone, “should we get dessert?” Again, I found myself feeling guilty. How would I break the news that she would be all alone in her pursuit of an after dinner sweet?

Reflecting back on these scenarios got me thinking how deeply socialized we are to please, right down to how we please others by what we put on our plate. Sure there is place for good manners, but the truth is, a true friend or loving family member shouldn’t care or take it personally if you opt out of a piece of pie. I look to my friend Lori as a role model. While I’ve never seen her turn down an offer of chips and salsa, she doesn’t appear to have a single sweet tooth in her pretty mouth. She very politely and without issue says no to dessert nearly without fail.

Tune in

My takeaway in all of this is to pay attention to what I want rather than what someone else might want for me. I’m quite convinced that as long as it’s accompanied by a big smile, a “that looks delicious”, and a generous “no thank you”, turning down a slice of cake can be just as polite as accepting one…that is, unless you really want that cake. In that case, by all means.

How about you? Do you grapple with a need to please at the table?

 

Comments

05.15.2015 at 5:15 AM #

andrea

I’m the chips and salsa girl. So, since I don’t like sweets I have no problem saying no. People around me are used to it. Since I have been trying to lose weight I have found that when I am in a restaurant I will still order or eat similarly to the others at the table. I’ll eat a little more of my sandwich just to be polite. Although becoming aware of it has helped.

05.15.2015 at 5:15 AM #

katiemorford

Research does show that we are indeed influenced by who is at the table and what they are eating. Good for you for even being aware of it.

05.15.2015 at 5:57 AM #

Starla

Well written! It’s a shame that all I could think about is how long it has been since I made those cookies of yours in the picture!

05.15.2015 at 5:57 AM #

katiemorford

Too funny, Starla. No problem with that, as long as you are eating them because it’s what YOU want. 🙂

05.15.2015 at 6:25 AM #

Sally @ Real Mom Nutrition

This is so true. And I’ve been on both ends of this–felt bad for refusing something and felt disappointed when a guest didn’t want a dessert I’d worked hard on. Food is so wrapped up in emotions. This is a good reminder that eating is not about pleasing others.

05.15.2015 at 6:25 AM #

katiemorford

I know, Sally. I’ve been the dessert maker too. You make a good point that when I’m the one offering the treats, not to tie up any emotion into it beyond simple hospitality.

05.15.2015 at 6:39 AM #

Elana

You are so right. In fact, I was just at a dinner at a splurge-worthy french bistro, celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday when the waiter brought an extra dessert (we had already splurged and ordered two when we really only wanted one. Now we had three desserts for the three of us). We each took bites of each then stopped eating because we were full. The maitre-d kept badgering us to finish the creme brulee since that one couldn’t be wrapped up to take home. He even pushed it in front of the birthday girl. We were polite but stood our ground. It was getting obnoxious. The waiter, bless his heart, kept trying to intervene since he knew we were getting uncomfortable. We gave him a good tip but left feeling really annoyed by the interaction.

05.15.2015 at 6:39 AM #

katiemorford

That sounds really uncomfortable and unfortunate that the experience put a little damper on your evening.

05.15.2015 at 5:06 PM #

Jessica @ Nutritioulicious

This is an issue many people face. I grew up with the Jewish guilt about eating or not eating something. “Oh, c’mon, just have a slice” was commonly heard in my house. I have a major sweet tooth, but thankfully good genes. It’s so important for people to recognize when they are full and had enough and stand their ground. I think social support is a huge part of maintaining health-related goals and friends and family should be on the side of helping you achieve it!

05.15.2015 at 5:06 PM #

katiemorford

I couldn’t agree more!

05.18.2015 at 7:12 AM #

Bettina at The Lunch Tray

I so appreciated this post, Katie! You point out an important issue that many of us don’t even think about.

Another aspect of this issue of social pressure is how MUCH we eat. In this post — http://bit.ly/1HcqZei — I describe how, for about two weeks, I was unable to eat or drink without pain due to a medical issue. And the experience made me realize that my hunger is satisfied long (long!!) before I finish a usual restaurant portion, but that it’s also really socially awkward to eat just a few bites and put down your fork when others have barely made a dent in their meal. And, sure enough, as soon as that pain receded, I found myself going back to eating longer, bigger meals just to keep pace with dining companions!

05.18.2015 at 7:12 AM #

katiemorford

Hi Bettina

Good point. I read your post…so interesting. It comes down to being really mindful, I think. But nevertheless, it’s hard not to be influenced by what is going on around us. Thanks for sharing.

05.20.2015 at 10:38 AM #

Ashley @ A Lady Goes West

Hi Katie! Yes, I would agree that many times we eat to please others. And there are definitely occasions when it’s better just to have the dessert (for instance, at your in-laws?? hahah) even when you don’t want to. But your post brings up a great point that sometimes we want to eat like those around us. I guess that can be good or bad. If you surround yourself with healthy people heading out to get salads, you’re more likely to get one. Right? Nonetheless, happy Wednesday to you! 🙂

05.20.2015 at 10:38 AM #

katiemorford

Thanks Ashley. Yes, in-laws are tricky, but if you can listen to what you want more often than not, it’s a great start!

10.18.2018 at 4:39 AM #

Kit Broihier

Great post Katie!
This happens for sure. And I must admit that, at times, I’m the one “pushing” someone to try something I’ve baked/cooked. I don’t want to be a sugar pusher! Since I’m more aware of this dynamic as a dietitian, I know it’s not personal if someone says “no.” I also don’t press it–one “no thanks” is all that’s needed–I don’t want people to feel guilty about making wise food choices for themselves.
Thanks for reminding people that group mentality and peer pressure applies to food choices, too.

10.18.2018 at 4:39 AM #

katiemorford

Thanks for your insight, Kitty. Yes, it’s worth looking at our tendency to please AND to be a sugar pusher, too. I’m sure I’ve done it myself!

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