How to Manage a Diet When Someone Else is Making Your Food Choices

Lifestyle choices and other household members can easily derail your diet.

  • The biggest obstacle a dieter faces is lack of control over the food being prepared. This can be the case in the workplace or at home.
  • Buying calorie-controlled meals from a weight-loss organization can help dieters stay on track, although lifestyle choices can still interfere.
  • Ideally, dieters should take the person whom they eat with at home to meet their dietician or weight-loss coach, so everyone’s on the same page.

All too often, weight-loss consultants offer meal plans that require preparation by the dieter. The list of foods is handed out, sample menus are included, and portion sizes reviewed along with cooking tips to reduce calories. Sometimes a lecture on healthy cooking is offered, or even a trip to the supermarket. It is assumed, of course, that the dieter will be taking charge of his or her food intake, and has the freedom to eat (or not eat) foods chosen and prepared by others.

Lifestyle influences on dieting

Rarely is the dieter’s lifestyle investigated as to how easy or difficult it will be to follow the diet. The dieter’s work or study schedules, travel obligations, household commitments, second jobs, evening classes, and even access to kitchen facilities are not usually assessed.

Does the dieter work at night, or have occasional overnight shifts? Must all meals be brought from home because if work hours are in the evening or early morning, restaurants and company cafeterias will be closed? Will there be time to eat lunch or the mandatory snack, or is the dieter forced to grab food in-between serving customers or dealing with an emergency in a hospital?

Conversely, does the dieter’s job involve being around food much of the time, such as overseeing social events where food is always available? A friend who volunteers at senior drop-in sites told me that she gained 30 pounds in a year because she was always offered cake, cookies, pizza, and soda at the community center where she volunteered. It was hard to refuse the offerings without insulting the giver.

Lack of Control of Food Choices is a Potential Obstacle

But perhaps the largest obstacle that a dieter faces is a lack of control over the food being prepared. Pre-pandemic, this was often the case at meetings where the attendees were in residence for a few days. Meals were provided by the hotel or meeting venue, and other than a choice of fish, meat, or vegetarian entrée, there were few options if the foods were incompatible with the diet. Unless the dieter-attendee had a car, time, and nearby grocery stores, he or she was stuck eating the foods provided by the meeting planners.

Living at a university or some other residential academic or training center may also restrict the variety of food, or that food is prepared according to weight-loss instructions. The absence of nearby food markets and kitchen facilities may make it difficult for the dieter to obtain the foods listed on a weight-loss food plan and/or prepare them.

The Most common Obstacle to Dieting May be at Home

However, the most common obstacle preventing the dieter from following a diet plan may be found in the home. Unless the dieter is living alone, meals are planned and prepared for at least one other person, and possibly for a multigenerational household. Changing the eating patterns of the other members of the household in order to accommodate the dieter is difficult and often resisted. In other words:

“Why should we be eating kale rather than peas just because your nutritionist said so?”

“Why should I have to hide the cookies just because you may overeat them?“

“I don’t want to spend time cooking every night so you can follow your diet.“

Cultural patterns that inform food choices in the home may be at odds with the foods on the plan. If a family eats meat every night or prefers pork to fish, fries rather than baked potatoes, and large amounts of cheese in the pasta sauce, the dieter will have trouble avoiding these extra calories. Mealtimes may also be incompatible with the weight-loss plan: The dieter is told not to eat dinner after a certain hour, but the family tends to eat late. Or perhaps meals are not cooked because members of the household graze rather than eat meals, or grab something whenever it is convenient for them to do so.

Solutions for Dieters

One solution to this potential problem is buying calorie-controlled meals from a commercial weight-loss organization. Finding a box of diet meals on your front step certainly takes the stress out of attempting to diet in a house full of non-dieters. No shopping, measuring, cooking, or cleaning is necessary. Pop the meal into the microwave or simply unwrap it. The meals may be expensive, however, and eventually transitioning to foods that come from the home kitchen, not a factory kitchen, may present the same obstacles that caused the dieter to rely on commercial diet food to begin with.

Ideally, the dieter and those with whom he or she will be eating at home should meet with the weight-loss specialist, or attend support groups, or at least talk (virtually?) with a dietician. Help and information should be offered to the person who is responsible for meal preparation, along with a discussion of how best to support the dieter without interfering with the lifestyle of others in the house.

The Diet Doesn’t Have to Be Followed Perfectly

Often the dieter believes that a food plan must be followed rigidly and any deviation will destroy success in losing weight. Since this compliance may be impossible when someone else is responsible for meal planning and preparation; the dieter must be assured that weight will be lost even when the food is not prepared exactly according to diet instructions, or the portion size is not precise.

Aim for As Good As Possible

On the other hand, the person(s) responsible for the meal preparation has to be instructed on how to prevent adding extra calories to the food, such as a large dollop of butter on a baked potato or a couple of tablespoons of blue cheese dressing on the salad greens. It might even be possible for the dieter to be encouraged to take over meal planning and preparation with instruction from the individual who usually manages the kitchen. However, this objective may take a while to be reached (if ever).

Others May Benefit From your Weight Loss Efforts

Those responsible for food preparation in the household may be in as much need of weight-loss counseling as the dieter. Often, other family members have the same eating habits that necessitated weight loss by the dieter. They may not be ready (or even interested) in losing weight, but a meeting with a weight-loss professional to help the dieter may motivate them to at least consider improving their food choices. The dietician or weight-loss specialist could review the potential medical problems associated with excess weight, e.g. diabetes, and how even small changes in food choices, preparation, and serving size can significantly improve health. If others, especially those involved in meal preparation, agree to follow the dieter’s weight-loss plan, then all will benefit.

If you’d like support and guidance around food choices or anything else that will help you be as successful as possible, we’re here for you!  We invite you to sign up for a consultation to learn more.

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