Ever find yourself staring at someone else’s plate and feeling bad about what you’ve chosen to put on your own? Thinking they’re being “good” and you’re being “bad”? Or has someone else’s food issues ever rubbed off on you? That’s exactly what HealthyGirl.org reader Lizzie, 20, is dealing with right now. Her note and my answer below. As always, please feel free to weigh in.
Q: You answered a question of mine a couple of months ago about whether it was possible to lose weight in a healthy way while trying to recover from binge eating and other emotional issues with food. Well, I’m working on taking your advice and your blog has kind of become a lifeline for me, so I felt like you might be helpful with another problem that I’ve been having.
I recently started work at a summer internship, and it’s kind of stressful. Fortunately, I don’t work long hours, but from 9-5 it’s pretty go, go, go. It doesn’t help that I tend to overly invest myself in my work and take criticism too personally. So it’s in this environment of stress that my relationship with my coworkers is developing. This might sound weird, but the eating habits of one of my coworkers is serving as a trigger for my own unhealthy habits. One of the other girls that I work with barely eats anything at lunch; occasionally it’s a salad, but it’s usually just a small non-fat Greek yogurt. For some reason, I end up eating almost nothing around my coworkers and then the stress of the job takes hold of me and by the time I get home around 6, I’m starving and stressed out and sometimes I manage to eat a healthy snack before dinner, but sometimes I just get a little crazy and eat a bunch of junk food. I felt like I was making progress before this, and I don’t want to end up back where I started again.
What can I do to deal with this problem in a healthy and sane way? —Lizzie
A: Hi again, Lizzie! First, let’s just make it clear that a little bit of comparison is normal. I still look at my husband’s plate sometime just to see what portion a normal eater like him has taken. I know in my gut what the right amounts of food are, but because of my years of binge-eating history, sometimes it helps to seek a little outside input or assurance. It’s normal, too, to want to fit in—just on a basic human level—with other people in your environment, or at your table. Why do you think we always ask, “What are you gonna get?” before ordering? Part of it is to help us decide. Well, if they think the chicken will be good, maybe I’ll try that. Or, if they’re having an all-out indulgence, maybe I will too!
I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that, but like many urges and behaviors that “normal” eaters can safely employ, those of us with issues can get overly wrapped up in them and end up being harmed.
There’s a phrase I’ve repeated to myself a lot over the years any time I’m tempted to compare myself to someone else in a way that is making me feel bad or causing me to behave in an unhealthy way (like being resentful or jealous, or in your case, Lizzie, skipping lunch!): “Her body/career/diet/issues/life has NOTHING to do with my own.” This mantra has saved me from all manner of difficulties. Because it’s simple and it’s 100 percent true. What your coworker eats has nothing to do with what is best for YOU to eat.
How late your coworker stays at the office has nothing to do with how late you need to stay. Someone you’re competitive with at work getting kudos has nothing to do with the good job that YOU are also doing. The size of someone else’s jeans has nothing to do with the ones you’re wearing.
You know the deal, Lizzie: No matter how “together,” confident, or perhaps thin?, this coworker is, the action of skipping lunch on purpose, or eating a 100-calorie yogurt as a meal is not healthy, normal, positive behavior. And it’s not something you want to model yourself after. What torture to deprive our bodies of the energy they need! It’s unhealthy, and, as you know, counterproductive in terms of recovery (and even weight loss).
One last thing: Do you have any other ways to manage your stressful times? Do you exercise, journal, meditate, go for daily walks, have quiet time or something else? I’ve found that using stress-managing tools of some sort several days a week is keyfor keeping me sane in daily life—and especially when things get stressful.
Ladies: Have you ever felt influenced by someone else’s food issues? What did you do? xo…Sunny
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