Tips for Enjoying Social Gatherings with Nutrition Goals

Family gatherings, office lunches, weddings, holiday parties, birthdays… and staying on track?

Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1

Do you want to know a secret? July is my favorite month. First, it’s my birthday month. Second, it contains the second best holiday: Independence Day.

This means gatherings with family and friends…and a lot of really good food. So what happens when you make new nutrition goals and then you are faced with these events where the menu is not under your control or temptation is so high?

How do you strike a balance between enjoying yourself and staying on track?

Here are some tips I have used over the years that help prepare me for the season of parties.

#1: Decide how you are going to treat this event.

Are you going to enjoy yourself and get back to normal eating tomorrow? Are you going to stay on track all the way? Are you going to stick mostly to normal, but enjoy one treat?

None of these are wrong or right. Make this decision based in the context of your week, how special the occasion is to you, etc. If you’ve gone to seven graduation open houses this year, maybe try to stay on track for those. If it’s your birthday, maybe you just enjoy yourself and get back on track the next day.

Either way, make a conscious decision about what you will be doing and prepare to deliver on that decision.

The rest of these tips will be applicable if you are choosing to stay on track for this particular occasion.

#2: Can you eat ahead of time?

When most people have a big event coming up later in the day, they will “save calories” by not eating anything all day. This doesn’t come from a bad place, but we all know how well grocery shopping goes on an empty stomach.

Social gatherings are the same way. Make sure you aren’t starving when you show up. Eating normally until the event will help you make more thoughtful and careful decisions. You are also less likely to overeat.

#3: Can you bring a healthy dish to pass?

This trick works great for holidays and family dinners. Offer to bring a dish and make something you enjoy that is in line with your current goals. Usually any type of salad, roasted veggies, veggie tray, fruit salad, etc. works really well here.

Bringing a dish to pass ensures that there is at least one healthy option for you. If you have food allergies, this is also a great option.

#4: Look at the menu ahead of time.

If you are going out to eat at a restaurant, look up the menu ahead of time. This will give you an idea of what is offered and give you time to find nutritional information online if available.

Make your decision before you go and don’t look at a menu once you are at the restaurant. Avoid appetizers, alcohol, soft drinks, and dessert. Drink plenty of water before and during your meal to help feel fuller and stay hydrated.

#5: Learn how to side-step force feeders and food critics.

We all have the relatives or friends that insist you MUST eat something or those that will tell you to “just live a little” or tell you your salad or protein shake looks or smells gross.

Here’s the thing: you are an adult (I’m assuming). You are in full control of what you eat, when you eat it, and how much of it you eat. Do not give this power to your second cousin twice removed that you see once per year.

Learn to respond in a direct, yet graceful way to keep your relationships in tact.

If Aunt Sylvia just won’t let you leave until you try her apple pie, tell her you want a piece to take home. She’ll be delighted and she will never know you threw it away or let your husband eat it.

If Uncle Doug thinks you just need to live a little and lay off the rabbit food, let him know you are enjoying your rabbit food very much and if he opens his mouth to protest, stick a carrot in his wide-open trap. He will be so busy chewing and absorbing micronutrients that you will be able to finish your meal in peace.

(Ok maybe don’t do that one.)

Learning how to stand up for yourself takes time, but you will get there. If you have identified which friends and family members are more apt to share snide remarks, select a seat away from them.

Now you are ready for all the gatherings ahead!

Next Steps

If tackling your nutrition on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Level 1 Certified Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition, one of the most reputable nutrition companies in the world.

I will coach you through individualized action steps to meet your goals and help you formulate a plan for change that fits your life, instead of trying to make your life fit a plan. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, and guidance to make lasting nutritional change.

Send me an email at and let’s chat about your goals!

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