Nutrition

Ask the Expert: How Can I Eat Better at Parties?

Yes, you can be social and eat healthfully.

Welcome to our Ask the Expert series, in which our panel of health experts answers your wellness questions. Here, registered dietitian Matt Priven discusses healthy eating at parties. Got a question of your own? Email jducharme@bostonmagazine.com.


Brunch

Photo via istock.com/LauriPatterson

Question:

I eat pretty well on my own, but I can’t resist junk food at parties and restaurants. How can I keep my willpower up?

Answer:

First, it may be valuable to reframe the way you think about healthy eating, Priven says. “Before using willpower, think about how you can make environmental changes,” he suggests. “Environmental changes are about making healthy eating easier, and unhealthful eating more difficult.” He suggests keeping your home stocked with nutritious snacks, for example, or cooking in advance. (Learn more about environment versus willpower here.)

Still, those tactics won’t help when the environment—whether it be a party or a meal out with friends—is the problem. When that’s the case, follow these recommendations from Priven:

1. Don’t get caught hungry. If you eat regular meals and snacks with plenty of protein, healthy fat, and fiber, you’ll stay full longer, naturally busting temptation. “If you’re already feeling satisfied when you encounter that doughnut, you’ll be less likely to reach for it,” Priven says.

2. Eat mindfully. It’s perfectly fine to indulge and enjoy yourself in social situations, but if you find yourself overeating or hanging out by the chip bowl all night, take a step back. “A phrase I use is, ‘Your mind should be in your mouth,'” Priven says. “Think about what you’re eating and enjoy it to the best of your ability, and try to notice when it’s not as enjoyable anymore.” As soon as that phase hits, it’s time to stop.

3. Tell your friends. We get it: It’s not fun to tuck into a salad while your friends split a pizza. But if you tell your social circle about your goals, you may find an unexpected benefit. “Maybe they’ll reveal they have similar goals. Then you’ll have the social support of doing it together, which is ideal,” Priven says. “That’s never going to happen unless you’re open and honest.”

4. Make a plan. If you know you’ll be tempted at a certain party or restaurant, set a reasonable goal before you leave home—something like, “I’ll make sure I have a good source of protein and eat some vegetables,” Priven suggests. Just keep your threshold for success attainable, and don’t deprive yourself.

5. Cut yourself some slack. Remember that food is just food. Eating “junk” is a normal, even healthy, part of life, so long as you do it within reason. “Restricting creates forbidden fruits, and certain less-than-healthy foods take on new significance in this forbidden fruit model,” Priven cautions. “It’s got all this weight to it, this psychic baggage, and that’s a downward spiral.” Be mindful, but let yourself have some fun.


Matt Priven

About the Expert: Matt Priven is a registered dietitian nutritionist and the founder of Oceanside Nutrition. As an RDN, Matt is an expert in the areas of food and nutrition. He holds a M.S. in nutrition and health promotion. Passionate about research, he is a published author in multiple scientific journals, including the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Having trained and worked at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Matt helped thousands of individuals before opening a private practice. At Oceanside Nutrition, Matt provides individual nutrition counseling in Boston and Newburyport for a variety of health concerns.

Got a question for our experts? Email jducharme@bostonmagazine.com.


Jamie Ducharme Jamie Ducharme, Contributor jducharme@bostonmagazine.com