We’re coming up on the weekend. After that, we’re coming up on the holidays. It’s time to talk about nervous food.
Nervous food is my name for appetizers. It’s my word for anything people eat when they’re in social situations, and they’re grabbing at food unconsciously. Especially at the beginning of parties when there’s that slightest bit of tension in the air, and everyone is making small talk. No one admits to feeling nervous or out of place. Rarely does anyone say, “Oh God, Laura, who cares about the new car your ex-husband got? Tell me what really brings you joy and what you’re thankful for!” More likely, they pipe in about how much the ex-husband’s car had to cost. Then they eat a few more mushroom caps stuffed with something that looks like Alpo followed by a gulp of wine.
But we’re not here to talk about everyone else and their relationship to nervous food. Let’s talk about you and your relationship to nervous food.
First, let’s be clear: this post is not about diets, or the ludicrous idea of “breaking” them. (If you’re on a diet, then that’s an issue in and of itself. Read some Geneen Roth.)
This post is about unconscious behavior and the social settings where we unwittingly go rampant. It’s about the choice you have to step outside of that behavior.
So, why is this even an issue? Who cares about nervous food and unconscious behavior?
Well, it’s my theory that the more consciousness you bring into every situation – especially the “harmless” settings, like parties or appetizers – then the more awareness you have of yourself and your behaviors in your whole life. The rewards in this are endless.
For instance, years ago at parties, I would watch myself stuff my face with nervous food, drink a little bit of wine, and then blurt out something completely inappropriate or something I wished I’d kept to myself. Or I talked too much. Or any number of unconscious behaviors. Then I’d leave the party thinking, “Who was that?”
Once I began to recognize that I had this tendency to avoid my own anxiety in social situations by covering it up (with food, talking too much, not listening well), I started to observe myself. I treated myself with compassion. And my relationship to these settings has completely shifted. For the most part, I feel peaceful, and I find myself genuinely interested in listening to people. And I gravitate to the smaller groups of folks who are talking about meaningful things.
I had a conversation with a friend yesterday about parties and drinking and nervous food. Both of us admitted to feeling discomfort at big parties, and wanting to have deeper connections with people. I let her know a few techniques I use around these situations, and I’d like to share them with you.
Get clear before parties and nervous food
Know yourself. Are you uncomfortable at parties? Do you stuff food in your face without even tasting it? Just start taking your “temperature” about social settings. Are you someone who loves to laugh and talk about anything with anyone? Or do you like to find one or two people and get a little more intense? Do you feel odd or left out? Do you find yourself bragging about things, or getting puffed up, or trying to be “in the know” on the latest gossip? There’s no right answer here. The point of this is to simply get clear and to honor that clarity.
If It’s Not an Absolute Yes, It’s a NO
This is the key phrase in Cheryl Richardson’s excellent book Take Time for Your Life (A must-read. It’s also a great listen.) Most of us say a knee-jerk “yes” to any party or social invitation that comes along without asking ourselves if we really want to go. Saying no doesn’t always mean you’re saying no to the party or the people. It can mean that you are saying “yes” to yourself. Maybe you need to go to bed early. Maybe you need to take a bath and be quiet. Maybe you’ve decided to do some writing over the weekend or you need to confront your own FMS. I’ve said “no” to more social invitations in the past few years than I ever imagined I would. It has made the “yes” parties much more fun and meaningful.
Prior to any social situation, do some segment intending. (This technique is from the book Ask and It Is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks.) Before you walk in, simply intend who you will BE and what you will DO during this time, i.e. “I find the people who aren’t drinking heavily. I am a great listener. I don’t eat out of nervousness. I delight in other people’s passions and interests. I have lots of fun without overindulging, etc.”
My husband and I have been doing this for years without knowing we were segment intending. Lots of times before entering social situations, we’ll pause in the car for a second. We hold hands and one of us will remind both of us that we’re here to be present to other people and to be with each other, and to be a “light” for others. We don’t get all mamby-pamby about it and act like we’re there to rescue anyone. We just pause and connect and know. That one moment of pausing can shift everything as we walk to the door of someone’s house or business.
Attract, Don’t Push
I started this little ritual back when I began to attend big music conferences. The energy among artists at music conferences is often one of desperation. (“Pick me! Pick me!”) The exhibit hall is highly charged and the “important” people get inundated with CD’s and requests. I saw this, and I felt that charge in my body the first time I walked into one of those halls. I immediately shifted. I said silently, “Okay. Just send me who I need to meet. I don’t care if it’s for business purposes or just someone who needs a little kindness. Let me attract who I need to attract.” And I had a great time. I saw promoters I’ve worked with and talked about their kids or their lives. I got a distribution deal. I had deep conversations with people and was able to listen to them without looking at their name tag to see if they were important enough to spend time with.
Then I started doing the same thing at parties. Instead of trying to run around and be the perfect social butterfly daughter I was groomed to be, I got still. I now allow conversations to come to me. What tends to happen is that the people who want more intimate conversations are drawn to that part of the room.
Note: If you do this, make sure you don’t do it with a self-righteous attitude: “Look at all these morons at this party. I’m going to just stand here in the corner and see if there’s any evidence of intelligent life in this room.” That’s not it at all. Attracting and allowing are about non-judgment. It’s about keeping yourself in a place of peace.
Try this. When someone is talking to you, really listen. Make it an activity unto itself. Lots of us get into social settings and we’re so busy thinking of what to say next as this person is talking, that we don’t even really listen to them. We think we’re listening, but we’re not. Try listening deeply and watching as you listen. Watch their expressions. People love to be heard. Conversations, even light conversations, move up a notch when you’re able to listen well.
In one of Marianne Williamson’s lectures, she talked about people walking out of movie theaters and launching right into all of their opinions about the movie. And she said something like, “Who cares what you think?!” It really struck me. Why does my opinion matter so much? At parties especially, it’s so easy to add your opinion to every last thing. Do you really need to toss more opinions and energy into every conversation? Why do you feel that your opinions matter so much anyway? Can you simply just listen to the opinions of others?
Recently I was at a dinner party, and I opted out of drinking wine. I rarely drink anyway, and when I do it’s always in social settings. I wanted to just see how it felt. I had a great time. I observed. I was able to stay present and actively listen and not chomp down the nervous food. I observed the conversations all around me. Not in an aloof way, but in a deep way. I didn’t get triggered by things that typically trigger me. I could just breathe deeply and watch.
Try becoming the observer of yourself. Quietly and non-judgmentally witness yourself grabbing for the nervous food. Watch as you want to blurt, “You liked that movie!?? I hated that movie!” Take a breath instead. Feel all of your own opinions come up without having to make them be known by all who are present. Just observe. It’s kind of fun.
Wake Up and Taste the Nervous Food
Make nervous food less nervous. Actively taste it. It’s the same principle as actively listening. Try to actually taste your food. You’ll probably find that you are drawn to food that’s better for you. And you’ll be able to sense if you are full, and you’ll know when to stop.
Last week, I went to a party and it was my job to bring the nervous food. (The host called it “appetizers.”) I was stumped. I called a friend of mine and said, “I can’t bring the nervous food! I’m opposed to it! It’s like asking Karl Rove to bring the condoms!” But bring it I did. Guacamole. No Alpo and mushrooms. I didn’t tell the hostess about my thoughts on nervous food. You don’t have to either. You can still participate. But just bring a little consciousness to it all so that you can enjoy the parties, the holidays, and yes, even Andy Williams shouting about how, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”