Let them eat cake

by Jennifer Bowden / 30 October, 2010
How do you resist the pressure to eat food you'd rather avoid?

'What am I supposed to do when she keeps bringing home baking to work and insists I eat it?" asked a frustrated nutrition client, desperate to get to a healthy weight. This goal was being continually undermined by a colleague in her office, who arrived each week laden with home-baked cakes and muffins, and insisted everyone ­partake in her delect­able wares.

Many of us face subtle - and not so subtle - pressure at work or friends' homes to eat high-fat and/or sugary treats we'd rather decline. So why do cake-baking colleagues and friends insist on feeding us food we don't want?

Clinical psychologist Karen Nimmo thinks alleviating guilt is a possible reason. "Often it's just a matter of people liking and wanting to eat the food themselves, and perhaps by sharing it they may lessen the guilt around that or it may make it seem okay," says Nimmo, author of My Bum Looks Brilliant in This, a psycho­logist's advice on long-lasting weight loss. Or maybe the baker is expressing care or love by giving home-made gifts, or simply seeking approval from peers by doing something they're good at, she says.

One of the great pleasures in life is sharing food with family and friends. The problem is we eat more when we're with other people - if you're with one person, you'll tend to eat 35% more; in a group of four it's 75% more; and with seven or more people you're likely to double your normal intake.

Talking and socialising in group situations distract us from how much we're eating, and we end up eating for longer than we otherwise would. Plus good manners dictate we must stay until everyone is finished - so invariably we keep on nibbling. And when we're in a group we let others set the pace for how fast and how much we eat - that is, we tend to mimic their behaviour. In several snacking experiments, people were invited to eat biscuits with someone who was actually an undercover "pacesetter". The pacesetter was secretly instructed to eat either one, three or six biscuits. Researchers found the unsuspecting snacker ate more when the pacesetter ate more.

So, it's easy to see how the office morning tea or Friday night drinks can result in unintended overeating - indulgences that leave us feeling guilty, frustrated and regretful. So what should we do? If you plan to join the party, try these tips:

Decide how much to eat before you start - "I will have only one cupcake."

Be the last person to start eating - it'll shorten your eating time and therefore the total energy you consume.

Model the behaviour of the slowest eater at the gathering - to slow down your eating.

Sit down while eating - don't stand beside the food table as it encourages grazing.

Obviously you're entitled to decline home-baked foods if eating them is at odds with your long-term health goals. Simply say "no thanks" to your insistent cake-baking colleague, and don't offer a reason "because then people always try to find a way around it", says Nimmo. But if you hate saying no, she suggests trying a distraction tactic: "No thanks, I've got something I need to do at the moment - perhaps later."

If your cake-baking colleague is a tad over-insistent, simply avoiding the situation may be the easiest option. Don't visit the office lunchroom if it's overflowing with home-baked goodies you can't resist.

Instead, make a plan to be elsewhere - book a meeting, get out of the office for an appointment, make a phone call at your desk or get out your own healthy snacks to enjoy. Not seeing those home-baked goodies will reduce the risk of over-indulgence.

Of course, if your colleague ambushes you in the hallway and demands you try her cake, some brutal honesty may be required.

"You have responsibility for everything that goes in your mouth," says Nimmo. "That's the important point." It won't have any impact on the cake-maker if you're piling on the pounds, which means ultimately the decision is yours.


Why Witi Ihimaera wants New Zealand to bring its war dead home
89883 2018-04-24 00:00:00Z Profiles

Why Witi Ihimaera wants New Zealand to bring its w…

by Clare de Lore

Witi Ihimaera's journey to Commonwealth war graves for a new documentary, In Foreign Fields, is both personal and political.

Read more
A Wrinkle in Time – movie review
90000 2018-04-24 00:00:00Z Movies

A Wrinkle in Time – movie review

by James Robins

Reese was in a toga; Oprah 6m tall. No idea what happened.

Read more
The challenges of running a pub in one of NZ's most isolated locations
86834 2018-04-24 00:00:00Z Small business

The challenges of running a pub in one of NZ's mos…

by Rob O'Neill

What drove Catherine Olsson to take over the local pub on Great Barrier Island, and how does she cope with the tyranny of distance?

Read more
Good gut health practices to boost your immunity this winter
89932 2018-04-24 00:00:00Z Health

Good gut health practices to boost your immunity t…

by Noted

It's important in winter to consume foods that enhance the immune system and help reduce the risk of contracting the office lurgy.

Read more
Reversing fast fashion: The slow revolution of ethical clothing
89989 2018-04-23 15:06:33Z Style

Reversing fast fashion: The slow revolution of eth…

by Vomle Springford

It's Fashion Revolution Week and while NZ fashion brands are slowly making the move to more ethically made clothing, there's still work to do.

Read more
The Labour Party's spin doctors are doing a cracking job
89858 2018-04-23 00:00:00Z Politics

The Labour Party's spin doctors are doing a cracki…

by Bill Ralston

Perhaps Labour's PR outfit should next turn their talents to Washington, where Donald Trump is turning the White House into a cesspit.

Read more
Are confidentiality agreements letting sexual harassers off the hook?
89729 2018-04-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

Are confidentiality agreements letting sexual hara…

by Donna Chisholm

Some experts are calling for confidentiality agreements in sexual harassment cases to be scrapped as the #MeToo movement gathers pace.

Read more
How to know if you are being sexually harassed at work
89757 2018-04-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

How to know if you are being sexually harassed at …

by The Listener

The Employment Relations Act is very clear about what constitutes sexual harassment in New Zealand.

Read more