Food for Thought | Challenges of Eating Together

We Are Social Animals

Since it’s Thanksgiving, this seemed like a relevant post to write. Even from an early time, humans have evolved to eat together. We cooperated with each other in other to hunt and gather and share our resources. To this day, we continue to enjoy the company of other people when we eat.

The majority (if not all) of the cultures around the world could agree that eating together is essential. It starts with family, and from there we grow up learning that food is meant to be accompanied by others. So much so that some people have trouble eating by themselves. It’s like the expectation of company is a given, and without it, it’s strange.

Perhaps your culture respects food differently, or maybe there are different rules about how to eat. It’s also possible that one may grow up in a special circumstance. Maybe your diet only consisted of junk food, or you ate out all the time. In all events, food means something, whether negative or positive.

On this issue of Food for Thought, we’ll think about some ways eating with other people can help or hurt our own mindful eating processes. I hope that it can start a discussion within ourselves to pay attention to what our bodies need from us.

Growing Up With Food

For many of us, we have been trained to be very sensitive when it comes to eating with others. Here are some things that might affect us as we grow up:

  1. Being told what to eat when we’re very young made us understand what foods to eat and at what time
  2. Not eating food that others give or make us can make them feel sad, or we look disrespectful
  3. We feel pressure from our peers to restrict (or increase) and moderate what we eat in a social setting
  4. We use eating as an excuse for another means (i.e. having dinner, but we’re not there to eat, we’re there to chat on a date)

You may not realize it at first, but there are a lot of events in our lives that have lead up to how we view food in a social setting. And that all ties in to emotions, too.

Eating & Emotion

I think that many can agree that they might feel different emotions when eating with someone vs. alone. Although eating food is a comfort, and could also connect us with other people when we eat with them. Having lunch dates with friends or grabbing drinks with coworkers are ways we can create a space to listen and learn.

In another issue of FFT , I discussed the principles of mindful eating. It can actually be a little more difficult to be mindful when eating with others. Perhaps you’re trying to…

  • Make friendships, so eating out becomes a very intimate part of that process
  • Show someone you care, so cooking food for them is a way you want to express it
  • Solidify business relations to grow your company, so taking coworkers and partners out is essential

Food And Its Reflection

Where we go to eat and what that food looks like can affect how others perceive us too. If you take them out to a fancy restaurant, their impression of you might be more positive. And if you take them through a drive-thru you might be perceived as sloppy and unhealthy.

As such, we might spend hours searching for the right place to take our loved ones, poring over Yelp. We wonder if our choice will affect the way they perceive us. And when we get there, we pay little to no attention to how the food affects us. We simply give it a silent “Yes, you pass” if it meets our expectations. If the place sucks, then it’s hard not to feel like you have also failed the other person.

We could also feel pressure when we want to eat things we like but feel like the other person will judge us. Or feel pressured to try something new just because your friend told you to.

Overcoming Pressure

I suppose it can be hard to completely relinquish social pressure’s hold on some of our food gatherings. Especially if it’s cultural. You can be expected to eat certain things or feel like you need to stop.

However, regardless of what these pressures hold on us, I think the first step is to be aware of what we’re eating. When we can listen to our bodies and understand what our preferences are in tandem with what we need, we can begin to break down the social barriers.

Then we can start building a habit of not being influenced by our peers. No one is forcing food down your throat. The threat of alienation and condemnation from friends and family based on food will be there. If we can rise above those threats, we can become more in control of ourselves, and become more mindful and respectful of our food.

What kinds of social food pressures do you face?

Are there ways you successfully handled them?

Comment below!