I like buying vodka tonics for my alcoholic friend.
Before he stopped drinking, it was his favorite cocktail. Mine too.
For him, the vodka tonics cause cascades of problems in his life, both physical and emotional. One day, he turned a corner. He acknowledged that he has a problem with alcohol, and announced that he was going to stop drinking and work on getting healthy.
I am super proud of him. I cheered him on that first week, then 2, and was ecstatic when he got his 30 day chip from AA.
I took him out for dinner to celebrate, and got him a vodka tonic. Just one, of course, because I didn’t want him to go overboard. I just wanted to reward him a little bit. He *loves* vodka tonics.
Ridiculous, right? No decent person would sabotage a friend that way.
So why do we do it with food for our friends who are struggling with healthy eating?
Not the friend who’s swearing off dairy for a month because she’s bloated, or the one who wants to be down 5 lbs. for an upcoming social engagement. No, not the vanity dieters.
The ones who have struggled with food addictions, with weight issues, with emotional dependency on food for years, decades, even an entire lifetime. The ones whose quality of life, and quite possibly length of life, is being destroyed by food. The yo-yo dieters, the ones who hate having their pictures taken, the ones who feel so self conscious when they’re out in public they develop anxiety, the ones on multiple prescriptions before they’re 40.
They struggle greatly. If they’re lucky, something clicks one day, and they commit to making a change. Just like our friend the alcoholic, they decide to take back their life. You encourage them. You cheer them on.
Then you set them up for failure.
You have great excuses:
“It’s a birthday, for heaven’s sake!”
“Christmas only comes once a year!”
“One teeeeeeny tiny slice of cake is not going to kill you!”
“Ohmigosh, it’s not like you can go FOREVER without mashed potatoes!”
“Everything in moderation! Just don’t overdo it!”
It’s like buying an alcoholic a vodka tonic. Do you know that research shows sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine? EIGHT TIMES. ( Seriously, the research is right here. )
Imagine, you’re addicted to cocaine. You want to stop, you really do. It’s ruining your life. It’s ruining your health. It’s ruining your self esteem. Yet, 90% of what you ingest everyday to survive has some cocaine in it. You find out that all the “healthy” food you’ve been eating has all sorts of cocaine in it! OMG! You tiptoe around to find food that won’t trigger your cravings and the inevitable spiral that happens once you give in. Then your friends keep offering you cocaine! Just a little, of course. Can you imagine?
Not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic. Not everyone who eats a cupcake has a food addiction. But if your friend has a serious battle with food or weight and is trying to get control of their health and their life, please don’t sabotage them. Don’t encourage them to “cheat a little”. Don’t bake them a cake for their birthday, or encourage them to splurge one night at dinner because they “deserve it”. I know you mean well, but you’re hurting them. Respect their boundaries. It may be that they hit a spot where they can have that teeny tiny slice of cake once in awhile, but only they know when they’re ready for that.
Take food out of their celebrations and personal rewards. Pile up some strawberries, or some other favorite treat that works in their eating plan. Want to reward a milestone? A gift card for some smaller clothes. Get a photo frame for a “before and after” reminder of how far they’ve come. Join them on a walk or bike ride.
Most importantly, love them through the process. There will be setbacks, there will be failures, but keep pushing and supporting and cheering them on. Just don’t give them a break with a Kit Kat bar.