Auntie Matter on portion control and aloof friends
I have been struggling with maintaining a healthy diet. To clarify, I make sure I eat enough fruits, vegetables, carbs, and proteins every day. I also exercise regularly (4 times a week). The issue is that I sometimes overeat or eat more desserts and snacks than I should, given that college has lots of free food events. During some months, I had a food tracker recording the food's calories, added sugars, etc. While this forced me to not overeat or indulge in sweets, the behavior became too obsessive and mentally draining.
Other times, I ate a lot of foods high in sugar and fat because of how good they tasted while ignoring how bad the food was for my health in the long term. I do not have the exact reasons, but it probably has to do with stress, boredom, and using food to make myself happy. Now, I am conscious of how much junk food I am eating, though I worry I will go back to eating too many sugary and fatty foods. I feel like I am on some tipping point.
Is there a middle ground that I can reach instead of going back and forth between two opposite spectrums? My therapist said that the problem is that I don’t trust myself with food, but I don’t know how to trust myself with eating too much dessert.
Stuck in the Middle
Something that stands out to me a lot about your letter is that you seem to focus heavily on band-aid style solutions that, although sincere and disciplined, don’t seem to get to the root of the problem — your emotions surrounding these snacks and treats. You say thatg stress and boredom lead you to indulge more than you would like, but your relationship with these foods is also something that creates a lot of this stress and may exacerbate the issue.
The simple solutions you tried can help, like buying fruits and snack-friendly vegetables to eat whenever you get stressed or bored. For instance, berries and carrots seem to work for many people as an easy and healthy snacking option to have when bored. But you might find it more helpful to remove the negative feelings surrounding your eating habits by changing your thought patterns in small ways. MIT does have many free food events — even if you don’t indulge in desserts at one, you could still opt in at the next one. Instead of telling yourself “No, these foods are unhealthy and wrong to eat,” in your head, try to change the phrasing to “Hmm, maybe the next free food event will have a snack that I would enjoy more,” or “I’m not too hungry right now — but maybe next time.” Sometimes saying “maybe later” instead of “absolutely not” can sit better in a person’s head and make it easier to keep things in moderation.
You should try to be less hard on yourself, although that’s easier said than done — it’s not beneficial to see yourself on a tipping point where eating one dessert too many will push you into a spiral of overeating. Instead, try to be more patient with yourself. When you slip up, remember that even if you didn’t eat the way you wanted to for lunch, you can still reach your eating goals for dinner.
I feel like I'm not allowed to feel unhappy. Not that I want to feel bad, but sometimes things happen that make me stressed, or angry, or upset. And when that happens, I want to rely on my friends to at least listen to me, if not provide some comfort or second opinion. But any time I'm going through anything and they ask me if I'm fine, and I reply no, I just get pushed away and none of them talk to me about *anything* for a while. Obviously they're not my therapists and don't have to provide any useful guidance, but it feels like any time they check in on me when I'm obviously not feeling good it seems shallow and performative. The worst part is, any time someone else is going through a lot, I go out of my way to show them I care by sitting with them and listening, giving my opinion if they want it, and sometimes even baking for them. Why can I never get from my friends what I give to them? Do I have bad friends or am I expecting too much?
All Give, No Take
Dear All Give,
It’s true that your friends aren’t your therapists, but a big part of a friendship is being there for people in some way when they’re struggling! This can look different for different people, of course, but if your friends aren’t trying to make time for you, they aren’t doing their part. I’m a bit confused by what you mean by them appearing “shallow and performative” when they check in on you, though — people express concern in different ways. Even their actions might not seem like much, it’s possible that this is your friends’ way of showing you that they care. One way to resolve this issue may be talking to your friends directly, one-on-one: they might not know what your emotional needs are, and having a clear conversation with them about how you feel might help.
Sometimes, we also might feel like we should stay close friends with others because we have been friends with them for a long time, but sometimes you might need to take a step back and try to make new friends with other people, too. There are people out there who respond the same way to a friend who is struggling that you do! It might be a good idea to try to find new friends. Go to a new club or event on your own, sign up for a class you wouldn’t take otherwise, or see a show for an obscure band — you’ll meet new people soon enough.