5 Ways to Socialize Without Derailing Your Weight-Loss Goals

You want to go to your neighbor's pool party—you really, really do—but the thought of cheeseburgers, chips and cocktails has you adding imaginary calories up so quickly you can't handle the pressure. So you cancel (again), too scared that you won't be able to resist the temptation to derail your weight-loss goals.
If you've ever turned down a social invitation for fear of wrecking your efforts, rest easy knowing that you are not alone.
I have coached many individuals who confided in me that there were times they skipped a party or social event because they did not want to be tempted by the indulgent foods they knew would be available. I understand the thought process—most social gatherings include an abundance of goodies we would never bring into our own homes, especially while trying to lose weight. And if we’ve successfully taken off pounds, there is the worry that we’ll slip up and regain the weight. The challenge of resisting what we know if not good for us is often too great when we socialize outside of our own homes.
Understandable as it may be, the logic is flawed. Denying ourselves the enjoyable aspects of social gatherings is not a good strategy for permanent weight loss. If anything, missing out on the fun might very well make us feel resentful, sad or deprived, emotions that will eventually drive us straight to the kitchen searching for comfort foods.
Why not shift focus, change your mindset and discover ways to enjoy social occasions without excessive worry about overeating? It could be as simple as reminding yourself that the purpose of these events is to reconnect with friends and family and appreciate our relationships, rather than fixating on the food.
When faced with these social situations, it is possible to avert the potential problem of overeating. You just need to plan and become proactive, rather than reactive, when surrounded by tempting foods and drinks.

1. Don’t Show Up Hungry

First and foremost, make sure that you don’t show up to a gathering famished. Typical behavior is assuming that you will "save up" your calories for the party or event—meaning you will forego lunch or eat very light meals or snacks throughout the day—and rationalize that that behavior will "balance out" your total caloric intake. This plan backfires, though, when you walk into the get-together nearly ravenous, see all of the temptations and end up consuming far more calories than you "saved up" during the day.
Often at social events, the choices available are higher in calories, sugar and fat than the foods you usually consume. Arriving hungry leaves you in a state where it is nearly impossible to curb your appetite, no matter how many unhealthy items you consume.
Rather than let your stomach do the decision making after not eating all day, aim to consume regular meals throughout the day and have a healthy snack before leaving for the event. By doing so, you will feel much more in control and make wiser choices.

2. Focus on Socializing, Not Eating

Once you arrive at the affair, spend your time greeting other guests, getting involved in lively conversations and simply enjoying the company of your friends and family. With your focus on the people rather than the food, you may even meet someone new and exciting.

3. Be Strategic About Where You Gather

Whenever possible, avoid standing or sitting near a display of food. While it may be where the majority of guests gather, consider suggesting to whomever you are chatting with that moving to a different spot will allow you to hear one another better. If you still find yourself situated near food scattered throughout the party or event, then it is time to tap into your mindfulness skills. Tell yourself, "Just because that food is there, doesn’t mean I need to eat it." Successful weight losers learn to eat when hungry, not just because food is available. Practice this skill at all social gatherings, and you will get better and better at managing your consumption no matter if you're at a birthday party, happy hour or wedding.

4. When It Is Time to Eat, Choose and Act Judiciously

When it is time to eat or you are truly feeling hungry, take a quick perusal of the available fare. Choose the foods you eat based on what you love or what you know are your host’s specialties. No rule states that you must sample every single dish offered. Donna from down the street will not be offended if you skip her triple chocolate brownies, we promise. Research shows that the greater the variety of food, the greater the number of calories we consume. Employing awareness of yourself, your environment and your current circumstances will make for better self-control.
If possible, sit down to eat. Continue your practice of mindfulness by shifting your attention to the food on your plate. Taste, appreciate and savor each bite. Put your fork down in between bites. Take a short break from eating and look at your companion rather than the food, and try not to converse while you chew. By slowing down, you not only take pleasure in the socialization and the cuisine, but you will also notice when you’ve had enough.
With a buffet-style meal, excuse yourself and discard your plate and utensils after eating to signal to your brain that the meal is over. If seated at a dining table, slightly push your plate away from you and put your napkin on top of it; an indication to both yourself and your host that you are sated.

5. Decide How to Handle Drinking in Advance

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the concern many have regarding the flow of alcohol that usually occurs at social gatherings. Worrying about the excessive calories from alcoholic drinks or the discomfort of not partaking may be enough to tempt you to forgo the event. Rather than taking that approach, strategize in advance on how you will handle drinking (or not).
There are two drawbacks to drinking alcoholic beverages when attempting weight loss. For starters, many mixed drinks include high-sugar, calorie-laden juices or syrups. Even if you choose wine, beer or a shot worth of liquor with club soda, you very well may end up drinking excessive calories above your food calories. Also, alcohol tends to lower our inhibitions, which could lead to a slip in motivation and your focus on weight loss.
Thus, planning how you manage this dilemma is important. If you opt not to drink at all, then stick to your guns and don't apologize if asked why you are not imbibing. Just state you prefer not to drink alcohol at this time. Or, if that is too uncomfortable for you, carry a glass of club soda with a lime or lemon. No one will know the difference.
If you do decide you would like to partake in a few drinks, stick to lower-calorie fare, as mentioned above, and balance those extra calories with your food intake. For example, if you want a few drinks, decide you will skip dessert. Try a full glass of water or seltzer in between each alcoholic drink to stay hydrated, keep feeling satiated and slow down the number of drinks you have over the course of the event.
The process of losing weight does not have to bring about feelings of deprivation. You’re not "on a diet"—you are just changing your habits, and the more you practice, the easier it gets. So, the next time you are invited to a social event you would like to attend, say yes! Show up with confidence knowing you have the tools and mindfulness needed to enjoy everything about the event, including the food. Return home knowing that you can have fun socializing without sabotaging your weight-loss efforts along the way.