TIME health

How Dieting Changes Friendships

Dinner table illustration
Illustrated by Sydney Hass

Diet, whether we like it or not, plays a role in our social lives. Think about the culture of your office lunch — there’s the gluten-free faction, the microwave Easy Mac-ers, and those February Fridays when everyone just goes crazy and orders burgers because it’s snowing again?? Remember that one group dinner when no one could tell if anyone else wanted dessert, so you all just stared each other in silence while the waiter stood, clutching menus, hating you harder by the second? And, how about the dietetic minefield that is brunch?

Food has a way of drawing lines between friends, and it sucks. How many times have you started a diet with a friend in the hopes that you’d support each other and keep each other honest? Sometimes it works, and you spend a few weeks hitting the gym together, reporting every froyo skipped and every cocktail made “skinny.” And then, someone starts to deviate. Here’s a semi-true text I’ve both sent and received on more than one occasion: “My back is really bugging me. I think I need to skip yoga tonight. I’m so, so sorry! Are you mad?!” (Side note: My 30th birthday present to myself and all my friends was to quit it with the “are you mad” stuff.) Sometimes their response is “Thank God, I WANT WINE NOW PLEASE,” and then you just bring your mats to the wine bar and everyone is happy. Other times, you’re not on the same page. That’s when you’re no longer cheating on the diet, you’re cheating on your friend. At least, that’s what it feels like. And, it feels like that because that’s how you set it up.

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Okay, that’s not entirely fair. (Man, is anything fair with this food stuff?) Even when we’re not doing the buddy-diet thing, the way we eat always seems to be a part of the conversation. It’s a natural social inclination to discuss this kind of stuff, but it’s certainly been perverted by the diet-centric culture in which we live. Our great-great-grandparents might have sat around each other’s kitchens discussing food in different terms — the best recipes, the nutritional content, the economic value — and we might as well, to a degree. Goodness knows I get pretty excited when I find an avocado for less than $3. But, I’m pretty sure my great-great-grandmother never boated ‘cross the fjords to tell her bestie she’d found a sick recipe for low-carb smørrebrød.

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People often say that it’s hard to have a social life when you’re on a diet: You can’t go out for cocktails because of the cals, you go home early so you can hit the gym early, you opt out of your own birthday cake. It sucks. The rude awakening I’ve had over the last six months is that giving up dieting is the opposite side of the same sucky coin. Have another cocktail, sure. Have a mudslide, if that’s what you really want! But, be prepared for raised eyebrows — even if you’re only imagining them.

 

Dinner table illustration
Illustrated by Sydney Hass
Illustrated by Sydney Hass

Food-related socializing can be challenging now. Even trickier? I’m finally realizing just how many of my social interactions are food-related. In the old days, I had friends with whom I was “bad” — those friends I’d associate with cheeseburgers and a back-up bottle of wine in the fridge. Then, I had friends that spoke the language of food-fear, and together we made guilt-free soups and counted out portions of baked chips. In all these relationships, we had more in common than food, thankfully. Though, because food was the axis I spun on, it became the center of these interactions, too.

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But, the more I become an intuitive eater, the less food is my anchor. I don’t “cheat” anymore, and so gone is the thrill of the “cheat night.” I don’t constantly crawl the internet for low-point guacamole recipes, and now guacamole is just the thing we eat while we hang out, not the entire reason for hanging out (spoiler: that’s kind of the goal). Sometimes it’s as simple as not being hungry at the same time as my friend. I know, call Dr. Phil, how will we ever get through a crisis of this magnitude?

When you go against the grain, you will be challenged. Your usual support system might take a while to adjust. The one in your own head is what you really need to focus on. Because there will always be naysayers. There will always be moments when a friend might set you off on a diet-minded tailspin with her no-cheese, no-yolk omelet, accompanied by salad with the dressing firmly on the side. Faced with your perfectly acceptable pancakes in those moments, there’s no other back-up but you. And, you, if you’re me, is the toughest nut to crack.

My friends have been there for me from day one, but some of them didn’t necessarily get it. If I’m honest, I think some of them still don’t. But, what a relief to discover that that’s okay. My friends, my coworkers, my boyfriend and I don’t necessarily need to be on the same track about absolutely everything. Just because I’ve jumped off the bridge doesn’t mean my friends have to, too. This feels like something I should have learned in middle school, but I’m glad I’m getting it now.

This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

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