We’ve all been there. You’re on the way to a relative’s house and you just KNOW you’re going to be offered a plethora of unhealthy fare. From Aunt Tilly’s prize-winning meatloaf to Uncle Morty’s homemade brats, you’re already figuring out what kind of cleanse/workout/diet you’re going to need to shed the family-induced bloat. You feel you can’t avoid these tasty morsels even if you tried. Aunt Tilly doesn’t understand your healthy lifestyle and will inevitably take your refusal of her rhubarb pie as a personal attack.
This scenario is all too familiar to me. I recently returned from a visit to my hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, where I had the pleasure of staying with my spunky, 89 year-old Grandmother. My Grandma is wonderful, but is also the queen of German-inspired Wisconsin fare and processed foods. An active lifestyle and the ability to moderate her food intake has kept her healthy over the years. (My Grandfather was not so fortunate. He passed away in 2012 from the complications of diabetes. I miss him every day, but his story inspires me to help others from suffering the same fate). Grandma does not understand my healthy lifestyle or career choices. Studying food probably sounds silly to a woman who survived the Depression. In her words, my job is “helping the ladies with their exercises”, which, in all honesty, is pretty accurate. Furthermore, I know that when I visit, I will be expected to fervently consume my childhood favorites, much to my hips’ chagrin.
I know my conundrum is a common one, so here are some tips for avoiding “relative-induced” weight gain:
- Plan Ahead: If you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight (or have any special dietary restrictions) contact your relative well in advance and politely inform them of your needs. For example, if Aunt Tilly’s famous sugar cookies will spike your blood sugar, let her know long before you appear on her doorstep. I made this mistake. My Aunt called my Mother one week before my arrival to say she had “bought lots of cheese for Meg”. Oops.
- Rehearse: Relatives can be scary. My 89 year-old Grandma likes to slap my leg and shout, “Nooo! You’re too thin!” when I refuse dessert. I have learned that being proactive is helpful. When I know I’m going to decline the Pepperidge farm birthday cake, I mentally rehearse ways to politely refuse. I may even warn her before the cake comes out, thus avoiding the dreaded “Grandma slap”.
- Mix Healthy and Unhealthy: If you’re going to indulge in Aunt Tilly’s meatloaf, try loading up on vegetables and sticking with one small slice of Auntie’s signature entrée. I utilized this tactic frequently during my trip. My Grandma likes to put out summer sausage, cheese, and Ritz crackers for lunch every day. Instead of loading up on this salty fare, I loaded my plate with strawberries or bananas and only indulged in a couple of sausage slices.
- Offer to Cook: My Mother and I made Grandma a spaghetti dinner one night. I made the meal healthier by using ground turkey in the meat sauce and serving it over whole grain noodles. I also tossed a big salad to make the meal more nutritious.
- Exercise: If you’re out of town, working out can be difficult. Fortunately, most hotels come equipped with exercise rooms and local gyms will typically let you work out with the purchase of a day pass. If equipment is unavailable, try investing in some rubber tubing or taking a brisk walk after heavy meals. Even if your workouts aren’t as intense as usual, taking this time for yourself can save your sanity and your thighs.
- Pick and Choose: Stick with your favorites and avoid any foods that are just not worth the calories. My visit home just HAD to include some Culver’s custard (which is unavailable here in VA)!
- Use the Best Excuse Ever: “(Fill in the blank) just doesn’t agree with me.” NO ONE wants to know exactly what that means.
When all else fails, remember that a few days of less-than-perfect eating is not the end of the world. While no one can force you to indulge, many people cook with their hearts and get great pleasure out of serving others. Refusing their efforts may even hurt their feelings. If this is the case, try to moderate your intake, but most importantly, eat and be thankful. 🙂