August 18, 2015

I accidentally sabotage my friend’s diets

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This article first appeared on thedebrief.co.uk.

Here’s a fun little question for you: what’s the one thing worse than being on diet? Hanging out with a friend or even worse, a group of friends that are on a diet.

I feel the same amount of disappointment every time a friend turns down a hearty meal in favour of “just a starter-size salad for me, thanks” as I would were she to tell me she wasn’t going to drink any booze at my (hypothetical) wedding. Just JOIN IN, PLEASE, my inner child tantrums silently every time. Maybe it is slightly selfish, but I don’t like being made to feel guilty for wanting to unwind. And by unwind I mean eat lots of things that Dr Christian would tut at. I just my friends to be my partner in foody crime.

Let me break this down. I have a friend who used to diet, a lot. I have lots of other friends who have a very healthy lifestyle and solid exercise routine but would never push it on to me – they know it’s their choice, not mine and they live and let live. But when one friend got hooked on dieting she couldn’t help but share the love by trying to get me to join the diet too. It was a feeling similar to when you pass-by a street-pastor outside the tube stations who tries to covert you in to hardcore Christianity as you walk past with a Sainsbury’s bag trying to avoid eye contact. It’s a pointless exercise for both parties. Just not gonna happen.

There were the times when we’ll go for lunch and the whole conversation will be about a) food b) how many calories were in the food and c) how she planned to exercise off her (tiny) meal afterwards.  Every time it made me want to stab my salad fork in my eye (and hers).

Maybe I sound like the bad guy here, but the truth is, it’s made me miserable. I would feel insecure about wanting to eat what I liked around her. Should I be making a smoothie every night with 14 different pieces of fruit? Should I be calorie-counting? Should I have ordered that dessert? All she wants to talk about is her figure and it makes me feel like I should be scrutinising myself in the same way. Should I? The same conversations about recipes, supplements, health websites, that would go on for hours. And I find it boring. If I ever feel like I need vegetables, I’ll do it private quickly, I’m not going to spend an evening pinning vegetable recipes on Pinterest.

It’s not fair to be made to feel like you can’t eat what you want without getting a concerned look. It’s not like I’m putting a tub of Ben & Jerry’s in the microwave every night and downing it. It’s not a lack of education. I know that hamster food is a good snack and crisps are a bad snack. I know that I could have slim-line tonic instead. The point is, everyone has choices, and mine are not to focus on dieting right now.

There are countless threads on My Fitness Pal messaging boards with the topics ‘How To Avoid A Diet Saboteur’ – and maybe that’s me. I do try and sway my friends from dieting. But hear me out, social eating occasions can be really drab when you are surrounded by a bunch of dieters. Especially if those dieters are your mates who you used to down Snakebites with at university not all that long ago. Nothing makes you feel more alone than being the only one not counting calories on the back of a napkin.

As a diet saboteur, my friend has probably been told to avoid someone like me at all costs – but what if you are just someone’s mate, with good intentions, who genuinely finds it hard to let your friends stay on the straight and narrow? I like to think of it as being more the little devil on the shoulder waving a cupcake than someone with deep emotional issues around dieting. Ever heard over dinner “oh come on, you look so great, you can definitely have one little piece!” or “oh go on, you only live one. Have a little bite!’? That’s not someone who’s not on your side; it’s just the words of someone who just wants a friend to relax, have fun, live a little. And what’s wrong with that?

It becomes a bit difficult to host social gatherings for people who only drink Gwyneth green smoothies, or only eat rocket salad, or try to hide their “concerned face” at you while you sip on your third Diet Coke to wash down all your beige carbohydrates. I know it’s not good for me. But it’s the weekend. LET ME LIVE.

I don’t think there’s some deep psychological reason why I’m so anti diets. I’m not trying to take control, or have a battle of the bodies, or win or lose. It’s probably as simple as just wanting some company when the weekend rolls round to gorge, relax, not to be shunned for occasionally pigging out. Friends are for eating with. Going solo on an entire cheeseboard on a Friday night just isn’t fun. Same with ice cream. Or a family bag of Malteasers.

  • I think I tend to be one of those diet saboteurs, too. It’s not that I don’t want to be supportive of the endeavors my friends to be healthy, but I tend to find myself irritated quickly if all a dieting friend can talk about is food, how many calories are in the meal, how they’re going to burn it off, etc… Maybe it’s callous, but I tend to feel that you should own your decision to eat what you eat, and don’t sit there waffling on about it at great length.

  • I can agree with so much here. Friends ARE for eating with, and food is a joy of living. But I do wonder why you feel like playing devil with a cupcake? You shouldn’t feel bad about what you eat, just as your friend shouldn’t; and what’s the joy of knocking her off her balance beam? Similarly, dieters shouldn’t suck the joy out of those currently not on the wagon. Having lived through another aspect of this recently, I do feel it’s uncaring of my friends to push foods on me, when some of them (the foods, that is) give me gas and bloat. It’s just not fun anymore to pay for indulgence with pain, and somehow we’ve all wrapped up notions of fun with consumption of this or that. I say, live and let live, and toast your friend’s carrot with a cupcake…to each her own. 🙂

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