Dear Mark: Family Dinner

Dear Mark,

I come from a big family that loves food. It’s a cultural thing, in part, but it’s also just the way we’ve always celebrated together. In the last couple years, I’ve really gotten myself on track with healthier eating and working out, but I feel a lot of pressure when I’m with the family. I also worry about their health, especially my parents’.

As personal as a commitment to health is, there’s always a social dimension. Whether you’re more health conscious than your family and friends or simply have a noticeably different approach to healthy living, it’s common to find yourself in some uncomfortable situations and conversations.

Having had some personal experience along these lines, I know it can be awkward. You’re not looking to become a representative for your choices at every get-together. By the same token, you don’t want to come off as picky, ungrateful or “too good” for the way things have always been done. Nonetheless, you have a right to be true to yourself and your health goals.

My own experiences have taught me that if you don’t make a big deal about it, over time they won’t either. Maybe it will become old news. Maybe everyone will just get tired of talking about. Maybe they’ll even get used to it! In the meantime, play up your part in elements of the family life and celebration that don’t revolve around food.

If dinners become a source of tension or division, perhaps you should talk to your parents or any sympathizers in the bunch and let them know how you’re feeling. Let them know that you aren’t trying to tell anyone else what to do. With that said, don’t feel the need to apologize for the changes you’ve made. In fact, because they love you, they’ll likely feel better when they’re convinced that you’re truly happy and feeling good about your health. While you’re at it, make sure they know you made these changes purely for yourself (and not for the sake of anyone else, like a new significant other).

The issue of their health is an even stickier subject. You might want to wait until things die down a bit before broaching that subject. It may not be a bad idea to keep it low key at first. How about inviting your parents over for a casual lunch (simultaneously giving them the opportunity to see that healthy tastes great too)? Once they have a sense that you’re still wholeheartedly a part of the family and its traditions, maybe they’ll feel more comfortable learning more about what’s new in your life. Give them the sense that you enjoy sharing this part of your life with them.

From there, take advantage of opportune moments, supporting any interest in healthy changes they might share. Offer your help, enthusiasm and interest in blending their goals with the traditions and dishes they cherish. Your will can’t stand in for their commitment, but your support and excitement can offer a big motivation boost. Making it a family endeavor might be the best incentive.

What are your thoughts, readers?

basykes Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Pondering Protein

Dear Mark: Pregnancy Diet Tips

WebMD: Family Meals Curb Teen Eating Disorders

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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7 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Family Dinner”

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  1. It’s tricky, indeed.

    I went through a vegan phase recently and tried some new recipes, one of which was for zucchini bread. The recipe made two loaves, so I shared one with my sister-in-law for her and my brother and their kids. The first thing out of her mouth when I handed it to her was, “Don’t try to convert me.”

    Nevermind that it might be taste good and also be good for them; she just didn’t want anyone invading her comfort zone.

    That was a lesson learned.

    At family gatherings now, I try to make the best of the available offerings. I don’t take things I don’t want just to be polite. Because I won’t eat them in the end, and it’s rude leave someone’s dish on my plate and worse to be seen throwing it away.

    There’s always a little something I can have (even if I load up on the baby carrots that are left next to the dip) and then I eat something else when I get home.

  2. I find that eating a small meal before these big events (i.e. spoiling my dinner) helps. It’s much easier for me to resist the peer pressure to eat their food.

    As for not offending them, having a full stomach lets me better control just having a couple of bites of their food. Most people who pressure you to eat their junk buy into “eat everything, but in moderation” theory. Say you are eating moderately, and they can better accept it. It is especially good if you can put a pious, Puritanical spin on it.

  3. Bring a healthy dish to share — a big salad or relish plate of great veggies, or vegetable dish.

  4. You could also bring your own dish. When ever we have people over, or go somewhere we bring a dish, or offer to make dinner for the family. Our favorite to start with is, Pizza. Everyone loves pizza, so when they eat it, they’ll wonder who made it, and want to recipe. If they ask why you want to bring a dish, you could say, it’s a new dish (I’d really like to try out: if it’s new), and get your opinion on. Then when they ask what’s in it, you can tell them, and it might be easier to break the ice. They not only know you’re eating healthier, but also they get to try out how wonderful it tastes, and maybe ask you for the recipe and try this too. Hope this helps.

  5. Hi mark,
    Sometimes I don’t think it’s as easy as that. I come from a family that pressure you to eat their food and if you don’t then the finger is pointed at you for having an “eating disorder,” and to prove you don’t have one, you feel forced to eat what they offer.

    I struggle constantly with my family and find that I am much healthier when I don’t attend family meals. It’s hard to catch up and suggest going for a walk in the park instead because they don’t like that, they just like to eat, and if I don’t have ice cream at the end of my meal I’m “anorexic.” There was even a time I refused so hard to eat their food, that they thought I had a seriousy obsession and thought that I was suffering bulimia, so wouldn’t let me use the bathroom after the meal. Let me tell you though, I’ve never been bulimic or anorexic. I’m 165cm tall and the skinniest I’ve ever been is 65kg, and I was muscley and toned, just to my family who has no idea about health and nutrition this was obviously a sign of not treating your body right, rather than being fit and healthy…sigh…

  6. “You might want to wait until things die … [down a bit]”

    Oh dear. I misread it that way the first time.