Content by Sara Dalrymple, RSW MSW BA Psych., BANA Registered Social Worker


Summer is upon us. You know that that means: BBQ’s, backyard feasts, and tables filled with your favorite summer snacks. If you feel nervous around food, or find yourself feeling out of control around buffets, this can be a difficult time of year. Aside from popular holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, summer presents with a lot of nerve-wracking, food-focused events. And navigating tables filled with barbequed meat, cold salads, corn on the cob, chips and dip, and loads of other fun foods can be about as horrifying as your favorite scary movie. Despite these concerns, there are lots of tips we can suggest for feeling more comfortable in these triggering eating environments.


That’s right, you heard it here first. Overeating can be a relatively normal occurrence when fun meets feast. If your overeating is occasional, and tends to be isolated to the rare social event, it may just be normative. Many people – including “normal” eaters – have instances of overeating. Accepting this fact may give you a sigh of relief; just remember to get back to your normal eating routine the next day.


There will likely be loads of foods that you enjoy eating, so start by scanning the table for what is available. Make a mental note of what foods appeal and stand out to you. Tune into which foods make your mouth water, or that you can picture satisfying you. Don’t feel rushed – if you have to wait in line or check things out from a distance, that is perfectly okay! Once you’re ready, try starting with small amounts of your top 3-4 favourites – remember, if you’re not satisfied and want more, you can always go back for seconds. When you’re finished your first plate, give yourself a breather to tap into your hunger and fullness cues. Try mingling for a bit, people-watching, taking a few sips of water, going for a walk around the yard, or playing one of the party games. If you find that you are still hungry, head back to the food table and sample a few more food options or grab seconds of your initial favorites.


Mindfulness includes two main things: being aware and being non-judgemental. While eating, make sure to focus on the experience of eating – multitasking can make an already overwhelming situation more difficult to navigate. Try to not eat with too many distractions like TV, cell phones, or intense conversations. Think about your five senses: what does the food smell like, taste like, or sound like when you’re chewing it? Are there certain temperatures or textures that the food has? What words would you use to describe how the food looks to someone who has never seen it before? Also check in with yourself; are there are physical sensations happening while you’re eating, or moods that are present? Are you eating foods that trigger you, or that you feel guilty about? If so, try taking a non-judgemental stance over these foods. Food is not inherently good or bad – we, as people, apply the values, opinions, and labels attached to food. How do you think you might feel if you strip all the opinions and values away from the food choices you have made?


Sometimes at food-related gatherings, you may feel nervous about judgements and comments from others. It is important to remember that most of these people will be eating the same foods at this event as you are. It is also worth noting that you know your body best. Others may tell you to eat more or less, but only you can know when you are still hungry or already full. Let them know that you appreciate their concern, but that you’re trying to just listen to your body. If someone is pushing you to keep eating, practice saying no. A good way to say no to food offers is by letting them know you think it looks delicious and you appreciate the offer, but that you may be too full to enjoy it right now.


If interested, you can read more about triggering eating environments in one of our favorite books, “The Rules of Normal Eating: A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters, Undereaters, Emotional Eaters, and Everyone in Between!” by Karen R Koenig, LICSW, M.Ed. This topic is covered in chapter nine, titled “Daunting Eating Situations”.  You can find this book for sale on Amazon!