The thing about our species is that we are essentially very social, and with this comes an instinct towards conformity called “social proof”. Quite simply, we will look to the actions of others around us in society to decide on the appropriateness of our own actions, assuming that if others are doing something then that must be the right action to take. So say you’re at work and someone has brought in a cake, everyone else takes a piece and so despite logically knowing what our health or weight loss goals are, or despite not even actually being that fond of cake, we will also take a piece. Doing something that would make us stand out in a crowd as being different can be doubly intimidating if you suffer from any level of social anxiety, which is very commonly reported amongst those who perceive themselves as being overweight. The feeling that others are waiting for an opportunity to judge you, or worse, couldn’t help but judge you based on what you look like, can result in an even stronger instinct to camouflage yourself and not draw attention to any actions that could be viewed as out of the ordinary. What this results in is saying yes to foods or drinks that you wouldn’t normally, or using food- which you know gives you a feeling of pleasure- to offer a source of comfort or distraction in an environment where you might be feeling on edge or uncomfortable.
The solution? If it’s something like your workplace or a circle of friends, something as simple as having a quick discussion with them beforehand about your goals towards getting healthy and improving your energy levels can do the trick. There won’t be any surprise when you smile and say no thank you to the cake, because they are already expecting it, and already support your reasons for doing so. In the case of more uncomfortable social situations, perhaps being around those you aren’t familiar or comfortable with, avoiding caffeine leading up to the event can minimize some of those jitters, holding a beverage in your hand, even just an iced water, can be one way to both dodge those inquisitive looks as well as keep your hands occupied so you don’t unconsciously reach for any nibblies. Another strategy is to count what you eat at an event as a meal, so it all works in with your daily calorie goal. Just go for moderation and eat slowly.
In terms of the emotional stress/anxiety eating, strategies such as deep breathing techniques to calm yourself, practicing awareness of your surroundings such as sights, sounds, smells as a distraction, or alternatively a little preparation can help counteract anxiety. Rehearsing beforehand possible conversation topics or small talk so you aren’t caught in awkward silences, or having a list of questions you can ask people so you keep them talking if you uncomfortable being in the spotlight. A very simple and yet surprisingly effective technique to trick your brain into experiencing less anxiety is to have an exit strategy, tell yourself that if you start to feel too uncomfortable, that you have a plan in place so you can leave. Maybe you only have a babysitter until a certain time, maybe you have to start work early in the morning. Nine times out of ten you won’t even need to use your exit strategy, but somehow the knowledge that you can leave at any point helps you feel more in control, and therefore experience less anxiety.