Last week in our Weight Watchers meetings we leaders were talking about eating out – the challenges and how to overcome them while still sticking to our plan. Although the topic in the strictest sense of the word was refering to eating out in restaurants, at my meeting we soon veered onto the familiar territory of coping with simcha food – some of my members go to at least one wedding or bar mitzvah dinner a week – and shabbos meals, particularly those eaten out at other people’s homes.

I’ve been very lucky when it comes to eating out; having very supportive friends and family who tend to be on healthy eating kicks themselves I haven’t really run into difficulties at all. My members have often told me though that they feel uncomfortable to refuse food at people’s houses, and of course once it’s on your plate it’s much harder to resist. I think I always felt that because I was so single minded in my refusal to go off plan, people sensed that in me and didn’t push me to eat things I didn’t want to. But a couple of stories I heard this week have made me change my mind. One member quite openly and confidently asked her hostess if there was sugar in her salad dressing, and was told she was being very rude. When she asked if she would be considered rude if she was diabetic, the hostess dismissed her, saying it was different because that would affect her health. Another member, who has really struggled with her weight due to being on medication, asked her hostess – a friend – if she could bring her own food along for lunch, but the friend got really offended. I really sympathise with these members; eating out at someone’s home on Shabbat is vastly different and much harder than going to a restaurant, where as the paying customer you can easily ask for variations on the menu. At someone’s house you have no idea what they’ve put into the food, and no way of knowing what will be of the menu beforehand so you can plan for it.

Underlying these very strong reactions from hosts is, I think, the basic instinct that when we invite people for a meal, cook for them, and serve them, it’s a way of nurturing them and extending the hand of friendship. But we need to learn that a rejection of food is not a rejection of that friendship – it is, on all levels, simply a rejection of food!

With obesity on the rise and so many health issues stemming from it, I’d venture to say that the person refusing sugar for weight losses purposes is looking out for her health just as much as the person who can’t produce her own insulin. The implications for the diabetic are more immediate to be sure, but implications for the dieter are just as real and just as negative. And of course, the member wanting to bring her own food wouldn’t need to do that if she could be sure there were dishes on the menu that she is able to eat and enjoy (which, as it turned out happily, there were!).

So, for all the hosts and hostesses out there, can I humbly suggest a few things you can do to make the lives of your waistline-conscious guests a little easier?

1. If you know you will be hosting someone who is trying to lose weight, you don’t need to change your cooking plans. But it would be thoughtful if you could tell your guests what’s on the menu in advance
2. Leave your salads ‘naked’ and keep the dressings on the side. That way, everyone is happy!
3. When your guest says ‘no thank you’ to a dish on the menu, leave it at that. Don’t push them and don’t get offended. It’s nothing personal!
4. If it’s not too much work to offer an alternative, why not do so? Having a couple of pieces of fresh fruit on offer will make your guest feel so much more comfortable when everyone else is chowing down on ice cream and apple pie – even a cup of herbal tea is better than nothing.
5. Make sure there is always a jug of water on the table. Worse than having nothing to eat is when there is nothing to drink but sweetened fruit juices and sugary fizzy drinks.

Ultimately, the guest who is trying to lose weight must do so in the context of the real world and has to get used to the fact that temptations abound.

But it does strike me that people tend to feel most threatened by those who are attempting to fix deficiencies which they also recognise in themselves.

Perhaps that’s what underpins the sabotage in the end – self-defensiveness masked as righteous indignation? Yes, we could eat everything on our plate and not make a fuss about it- but isn’t that what got us into the situation in the first place? Food for thought…