Dealing With Friends, Co-workers, Dates and Parents When You've Got Food Issues

"Want some?" How do you deal with food pushers in your life?

I’ve always been fairly open about my eating issues. Even though I did find binge eating disorder shameful, I was still able somehow to get over that enough to tell my parents, therapist and even talk about it with boyfriends in my 20s. My husband, of course, knows everything, and well, so do all of you!

Whether you keep your food issues on the down low or not, we all have to deal with other people when it comes to food. Still, I’ve had to negotiate truces about foods my husband and I keep in the house, and come up with strategies to stay away from types of foods or eating that might trigger strange feelings or a binge at work.

That’s what I wanted to talk about today, how we deal with the issues of eating with our friends, our sig-Os, our parents. I’ll share a bit of my story, but I want to hear yours, too!

My therapist and my mom knew that I was binge eating when I was in my teens, but there was no way in hell I was going to tell my friends about it. I was way too ashamed at that age and felt like only grown ups would understand.

In my mid-20s, after I’d started healing and wasn’t so active in my disorder, I remember telling a roommate about it. For one, I needed to explain to her why I’d basically stolen her cereal and finished it off, and I wanted to apologize. Two, it felt freeing to discuss it with someone my own age. She was forgiving, supportive and wasn’t shaming.

But what about friends who try to push food on you? Morgan has written about this issue before—and I agree with her that it helps to sort of have a couple of canned responses ready for when someone is being pushy about offering you food that you don’t want, or that makes you uncomfortable. That used to happen to me at work quite a bit—the office has quite a sweet tooth, and there are often cupcakes and candies at meetings and for birthdays. “Free” food and midday grazing used to be a bingeing issue for me, so I prefer not to nibble much at work (outside of my usual afternoon snack). My response whenever I was offered something was simply, “No thanks, I don’t eat sugar in the afternoons.” If anyone wanted to know why I said, “It makes me feel weird.” That seems to placate most people—either that, or it confuses them and they simply decide to give up.

There is so much I could say on this topic! My husband has known about my history of binge eating disorder since before we started dating (we were friends first), so I never felt the need to lie to him. But he’s a normal eater with a big appetite and a pretty hearty sweet tooth, so there have been plenty of times when we’ve been discussing which restaurant to go to or what to order when my particular nutritional needs have caused friction. For a while last year, I wasn’t comfortable eating pizza, and he hated the fact that I didn’t want to order it in anymore. My fix: “You can order a pizza if you like, but I will make something else for myself. If there are leftovers, can you please be sure to eat them tomorrow for lunch? I don’t want it to be around the house for too long and tempt me to binge.” That way he felt like he could still eat whatever he wanted, but I didn’t have to participate.

There have been other times when I’ve had to talk to him about keeping certain items out of the house, like peanut butter, or crackers. I went through a period of a few months a couple of years ago when I felt very vulnerable to those foods. He stopped buying them for a while, but then we compromised and he just kept them in his home office—out of sight, out of mind (usually!).

Thankfully, I’m at a point now where he can keep whatever he likes in the house, including Cocoa Puffs, p.b. and crackers—and pizza is back on the menu for me.

I’ve written in the past about my mother and my relationship and dealings with food and body image. When I was in my late teens, she used to try the best way she knew how to help me with my weight and binge eating—but that way was dieting, and it wasn’t right for me. Eventually, I had to ask her to please not offer advice anymore, even if I asked for it.

What about you? How have you dealt with food issues when it came to friends, people you were dating or with your parents? Please share!


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8 Responses to Dealing With Friends, Co-workers, Dates and Parents When You've Got Food Issues

  1. love2eatinpa says:

    whew, this is a big one for me! i have been a binger/compulsive overeater since i was about 9 or 10. i didn’t realize my crazy obsession and pigging out was actually an eating disorder until i was just about 40, a little over two years ago. i went to therapy and OA. i learned via therapy that the disorder came from my parents, so because i didn’t want to hurt them, i did not tell them. i don’t think they have any idea (because they live out of state) but i don’t know for sure.

    i have been binge-free for 2+ years now, have maintained my weight loss for 18 months, and have just recently made the huge leap to intuitive eating about 4 weeks ago.

    like you though, i still feel some shame and remain ‘closeted’ about my ED to most of my friends. even my blog about my recovery is written anonoymously.

    my husband of course knows, and i could totally relate to what you were saying about being married to a ‘normal’ eater and telling him what i need him to do with certain foods or that we can’t eat at certain places.

  2. Elisa ZIED says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post, Sunny!

    My dad, though well meaning and a true lover of food and someone who loves to share with others, has always been a bit of a food pusher. I have always politely refused, and to this day simply say “thanks, but I’m full.” I was overweight as a teen and young adult and have learned over time that most who push food don’t do it to sabotage you, but do it unknowingly because they equate food with love. I accept and understand that, but know that when I overdo it I do not feel comfortable, and won’t eat something just because someone begs me or because it’s the polite thing to do (especially when the pusher a relative, close family friend etc).

    As Jewish mother, I thoroughly enjoy feeding my family (including two sons, almost 12 and almost 8), especially when they gobble down the food I make them….but food push I will never do, because I know and have learned over the years that force feeding anyone-weather well intentioned or not-is not good thing for anyone. Especially when raising kids, it’s important to respect others’ food preferences, and allow them to stop eating when they’re comfortable-allow them to trust their own internal cues that say they’ve had enough to eat. That empowers them to eat enough but not too much to meet their needs and keeps meal times pleasant.

    Thanks again….and to all of those who have to deal with food pushers, polite refusal and standing your ground in a respectful way is your best defense-and your body wil thank you!

  3. Heather says:

    So, it was my birthday on Friday. Thursday I was so stressed that I had a full on binge. I had been doing so well, and had been in a completely happy place for weeks, and then all of a sudden, the oh-my-god-I-am-going-to-be-33-tomorrow-and-I-haven’t-accomplished-any-of-the-things-I-had-planned-on-accomplishing feelings completely enveloped me. I woke up Friday morning with a huge carbohydrate hangover. I decided that there was nothing that I could do, save invent a time machine and go back and not binge. I decided instead to just ignore it. I knew my reasons, I knew what triggered it, and other than making a mental note of what I was feeling, I couldn’t do anything about it.
    But about the post…and the understanding of friends etc…On Friday, my boyfriend brought me balloons and a couple of records (by the band we went to see on our first date….awww) and didn’t mention cake or anything of the sort. He scoped out restaurants ahead of time to make sure that it wasn’t a place where I would be tempted by fresh baked breads or fancy desserts…and he told me that he did this, which shows me that he gets it. The next day, my best friend brought me cheesecake cupcakes, that she made without sugar or flour…of course, she covered them in icing…but the thought was there. I accepted them graciously with a hug and thank you, and then waited until she left, put them in the garbage disposal and ground them into microscopic mulch. It felt good to do. I sent her an email telling her that I had loved them and she was happy. Anyway, my point is that despite the fact that our friends and family don’t always get in entirely, they do listen if we really want them to.

    (As an aside, loves2eatinpa, congratulations on being binge free for 2 years!! I love hearing about successes like that…it fills me with hope!!)

    • love2eatinpa says:

      thanks so much, heather! do you have a blog? duh, i guess i could maybe click on your name?
      sorry about your b-day binge. been there, done that! in the past, my b-days have totally revolved around food. not stressing over getting older, just feeling like a b-day was a perfect day to all out binge. *sigh* sounds like you handled yours quite well. you have a great boyfriend and a great well-intentioned friend. very impressive that you pulverized the cupcakes!!!
      i hate to pimp myself, but if you feel like reading about my recovery i’m at maybe you get to that by clicking on my name too? forgive me, i’m clueless!!!!

  4. Tabby says:

    One of the biggest things that has helped me with my binge eating was sharing the secret. Now the secret doesn’t have power over me, and lately neither does food. I just take this one day at a time. Forgive myself, and when I get anxious and upset I don’t hold it in. I find a way to put it into words before reaching for food. I keep triggering things out of the house.

    Next step - I need to assert myself with others. ie: my mom in law was away on vacation on easter, so she thought she should bring by a huge easter basket to my daughter the other day. When I opened the door and saw it, my heart went thud! It was completely full of candy, that was even too much for an adult. I wanted to say, “Thanks but….we don’t really need that”.

    When she left we let our daughter have a couple pieces, and then it was taken out to the trash bin.

    I think the progress I have made here is….. in my binging days I would have been thankful that the basket showed up at my house! And then I would have made a date with it and the tv when everyone went to sleep.

    I think binging is not some sin on your birthday :) be good to yourself, love yourself, and let it go.

  5. shannajb33 says:

    This is a HUGE issue for me. The only person who knows I have BED is my mom. I am sometimes afraid to even be in a relationship because I have never told a boyfriend or feel like I can tell a guy that I have eating issues. Especially binge eating! I feel like I will immediately be rejected if I admit this information.
    Whenever a vacation or invite comes up from friends to do stuff that will take me outside my comfort eating habits that help me feel “safe” I instantly get anxious and worried about eating all the “bad” foods that could cause me to binge or feel like I will gain weight. So many times i decline offers from friends just because of this reason. It’s really sad I know, that I allow this to effect my social life.

    As you can see, I still haven’t reached that point where I am healed although I have gone from binging a few days a week to once a week on the average. I have talked to a couple of therapists but I don’t feel like it helped. I try to read as much as I can (I have become obsessed with it actually) about Binging and self help books but I am still struggling. I am afraid I will never have a serious relationship because I am afraid of what it will do to my eating issues. I am going to be 30 very soon so getting married and having kids is crossing my mind a lot more often.

    • Sunny says:

      Shanna, don’t give up. :) This process takes a long time for some of us. I was kind of right where you were when I was 29, too. I was bingeing probably every other week or so-more when I was stressed out or lonely. I started thinking I was never going to find someone I loved and would never have kids. That’s when I decided to go to a support group. The reading, therapy and self-help had gotten me pretty far, but the support group sort of put me over the top. I consider myself completely recovered now and believe me, if I can do it, you CAN TOO. Here’s how to find a free group in your area if you feel like trying it out.

  6. Breanne says:

    I told my mom a few years ago about my eating issues. She didn’t believe me. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with during this disorder. For a long time, I didn’t realize that binge eating was a real problem, a real disorder, a real addiction. I just thought I was crazy, and I couldn’t talk about it because I thought no one would believe me and everyone would think I was crazy. When I told my mom, she, for a time, confirmed that fear with her disbelief. After I started going to a support group, I told her about it again. She has seemed supportive since then, hoping that it will be a help because she knew the issue had concerned me.

    I told my best friend a while back. His only reference point with eating disorders was when his sister was anorexic. So, for a while, he was very concerned that I would eat every meal healthily (which was important), and would generally be concerned when I turned down food. This was difficult because he was always making sure I was eating regularly, but refraining from food was not the problem. Now that I’ve entered recovery, if he tries to push food, I generally just look him in the eye and tell him no. If he persists, I’ll outright tell him to stop. He knows I have eating issues, and he knows I’m working on them, so he generally gets the hint.

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.