How to cope when friends pressurise you to eat

We are a competitive species
Human beings are very social animals with a keen sense of social hierarchy. We constantly gauge our own status in relation to other people during social interactions, often unconsciously. We like to feel similar enough to other people to know we are playing the game correctly, but also like to feel better than others to know we are higher in the pecking order. We dislike situations in which we feel inferior.
In the modern Western world, being thin and eating less are attributes associated with higher status while being overweight and eating more are associated with lower status. It is easy to feel that by eating food when someone else is declining food, you are sliding down the social scale bite by bite. It therefore reassures people to have company eating as it puts the two of you on a level at that moment. If one of you changes the script and eats less, it can feel threatening to the other person. If you don’t change the script, neither of you will lose weight.

I feel under pressure from other people to stay overweight
Pressure from other people not to lose weight can occur. For example if your partner doesn’t want you to lose weight or you feel that you have to stay overweight to fit in to your family or social circle or that others will envy you if you lose weight. If people who are important to you are going to be upset by you losing weight, then losing weight is a potential minefield. In advance of starting to lose weight, work out why they don’t want you to lose weight. Then decide what to do about that issue.

The likely reasons for others not wanting you to lose weight are

a) They fear something else changing
Eg you’ll leave them or the group identity will be threatened.
If you think this is the issue, then take your weight loss in gradual steps and see how it goes. Those close to you may need to see that other things don’t change as the weight falls. They need time to adjust to your new weight, just as you do.

b) They have feelings of inadequacy in comparison to you.
The other people will have to do their own work on this. They could use Appetite Retraining and take their own steps to changing their unhelpful eating patterns for good.

c) They have feelings of envy
Envy is the feeling we get when someone else has something we want but don’t have. Envy makes us want to destroy that thing for the other person as it is too painful to see them with it. Fear of others’ envy can prevent us reaching our potential in life. Notice that launching into trying to lose weight while you are afraid of provoking envy means that as you are successful, you will get scared. You may want to recruit help with this, either by confiding in a non-envious friend or relative to help you with these feelings as they emerge or by finding a therapist. If someone can help you with those fearful feelings as you successfully lose weight, you can work out how your relationship with the person who envies you can change. If it can’t change, you need to decide whether weight loss is worth the impact on your relationships with them.

Other people put pressure on me to have more food and drink than I want either when I eat with them or at a social occasion
When you find yourself under pressure from others to eat more, the issue you are confronted with is separateness and autonomy. Others may want you to put food into your mouth to help them feel better. If you don’t respond to this pressure by eating, their own lack of self-control may be exposed.
If this is happening to you, to lose weight you will need to move beyond merging with the crowd. You will need to use your own judgement about your own hunger/ fullness based on the Appetite Pendulum. Losing weight will involve shifting from using external triggers for eating, including other people’s pressure, towards using internal signals. You can still eat with people, go out for meals and so on. But you won’t eat as much as you used to and you won’t eat when you’re not hungry, usually. On the other hand, there may be times when you choose to eat dessert and they don’t.

If you want help with learning how to eat in tune with your body, see the Work With Me page

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