“I brought you a cupcake, honey. I know you love chocolate.”
Who knew such a beautiful gesture could also be lethal? For someone who with heart disease, it can be. Biting into that sugar bomb can have uncomfortable, if not dangerous, results.
Food is a way of making a connection when the words don’t come so easily. Demonstrating how much you care. Celebrating. Making up. Sometimes, food is a ritual to help pass the time.
But if your family members know you have heart disease, why are they encouraging — or pushing — you to eat food that isn’t on your diet?
For one, they may be in denial of your health risks. Or they may also be clinging to an eating ritual, a way of bonding with you, that needs to be replaced with one that is more healthy. And let’s face it. Nobody likes to eat alone. Especially stuff we shouldn’t be eating.
But any way you look at it, that offer of a chocolate cupcake can be a mental game, and one that you give in to at your own risk.
So what to do? Here are five steps toward standing up to the mental game of eating:
1. Just say no. Keep your own eating priorities — and your self-care — front and center. Lead off with something like, “This is so nice. You know how I’ve always loved eating ______, but it’s just not on my diet anymore. I am going to pass.”
2. Make this a teachable moment. While you have been educating yourself on how to change your eating habits for the better, your partner may not have been paying attention, or may need some reinforcement. “The best way for me to stay healthy is by staying on top of my diet. The better I eat, the better I am going to feel.”
3. Suggest an alternative. Use this as an opportunity to suggest a healthier snack, maybe something you can enjoy together. “But I have been craving _____. Now, that’s on my diet. And I know you like it too.”
4. Repeat as necessary. Family members may not really “get” that heart disease is serious and that you have to watch your diet 24/7. So you may need to say no more than once before it sinks in. “No, really. I appreciate the thought. But it’s not on my diet. I do this for me and I do this for us.” Be gentle, but firm.
5. Be a game-changer. If food is a way of making emotional connections in your family, then try setting an example by taking the lead. Choose a healthy snack, dress it up a little bit, and surprise everybody. Make it fun. And also consider introducing some new ways of connecting, activities you can share. And if you’ve been using food as a substitute for words, how about saying those words? “You are so important to me. Life is always good when you’re around.”
Put food in its place. Recognize the mental games around food in your relationships, and take the direct approach in communicating with your loved ones.