[Download video or download audio]

Perhaps the most difficult challenge for many people when it comes to mindful, healthy eating is eating in social situations.

When you’re at a party, a work lunch meeting, eating with friends or family … it’s hard to be mindful of your eating, because you’re paying attention to people talking to you. How do you pay attention to two things at once? And because of this difficulty, we often overeat or drink too much.

In addition, we’re usually surrounded by tempting, unhealthy choices, and I know I’m not alone in giving in to all the temptations despite my best intentions.

So there are three approaches to this challenge, and all are valid and can even be used at different times:

  1. Plan to indulge — and just let this social situation be an isolated giving in to temptations. After all, it’s healthy to eat unhealthy food, in moderation. Don’t overdo it, but allow yourself to eat whatever you want, and just try to be mindful of not overeating. This approach works if you only do it once every week or two, but if you’re eating out every day at lunch or dinner, then you should not use this strategy all the time.
  2. Use various strategies to eat mindfully and healthily at the social occasion. I’m going to name some of these below … but the idea is that you’re not going to overdo it, you’re going to be mindful and healthy while in the middle of the battlefield, so to speak. This approach is necessary, I think, if you have lots of social eating and you want to be healthy.
  3. Change the social environment. By this I mean, get others around you to change how you guys socialize. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible, but you might be surprised at how willing your family or group of friends or even coworkers might be to try a healthier approach. I would at least initiate the conversation, with the idea that you’re not going to force anything on anyone, and be willing to let it go if people are very resistant. More on this below.

Being Mindful & Healthy in Social Gatherings

Let’s talk more about Option 2 – strategies for being mindful and healthy in social gatherings …

  1. Use the social gathering as a lesson in mindfulness. This is an advanced meditation session. As you talk, be aware of your urges to put things in your mouth. As you eat or drink, be mindful of the sensations. Be mindful of your fullness level.
  2. Have cues. While you might not be able to pay close attention to your eating as you eat, you can remind yourself to notice when you’re done eating a small dose and are about to get more. So each time you’re about to get more food or drink, pause and think, “Why am I getting more? Am I actually hungry? Or am I eating/drinking to have something to do while I socialize?” Each refill becomes your mindfulness cue.
  3. Eat ahead. Sometimes it’s smart to eat something healthy before you go, so that you have gotten your dose of veggies and protein, and won’t be lacking in nutrients at the social gathering, nor will you be incredibly hungry and tempted to stuff your face.
  4. Eat in small doses. Some people tend to load up their plates or order lots of food at once, but this means that if you’re not paying attention to your eating, you’ll likely eat it all even if you’re already full. So take only small servings if possible, and then if you’re not mindful of your eating, you won’t do much damage by eating the entire serving.
  5. Aim for healthier choices. While you might be surrounded by a huge amount of junk food or rich, heavy food, there will usually be some healthy options — veggie sides, salad, water or tea instead of alcohol. You don’t need to only eat the healthy stuff, but you’re better off if you choose the healthy stuff most of the time.
  6. Indulge in small bites. There’s no need to completely stay away from the treats, but you don’t need a ton of treats in order to satisfy a craving. If you feel like eating fried clams, fine, but just have one or two, and eat them slowly and fully savor them. Same thing with that molten chocolate cake — just take 2-3 bites, and savor them slowly.

Changing Social Eating

What about changing social eating? In the video above, I talk about some ideas:


Do you have any social eating occasions coming up? Try one or more of the strategies above, and discuss how it goes in Slack. Or try one of the ideas for changing social eating above.