3 tips to manage ‘all or nothing’ eating at summer barbecues

Following a year of ups and downs during pandemic isolation, possibilities for social eating gatherings are finally here. I’m thinking of crunchy, summer salads, succulent and tasty barbecue food, tantalising desserts with strawberries, cheesecake and chocolate cake, displayed as wonderful buffet spreads. 


You might have extremely mixed feelings about such gatherings, particularly if you have a difficult relationship with food. Just the thought of it may bring you a complex mix of excitement and dread.

The pandemic’s enforced isolation, although stifling, has offered relief from the anxiety of navigating social eating. You likely haven’t been exposed to lavish spreads of food, rather dealing with the Groundhog Day of eating again within the same four walls.

3 tips to enjoy summer eating

1. Over-hunger

A common trap that many fall into, is ‘saving’ yourself for the social eating event. Whilst you don’t want to arrive full to the brim with food, with no appetite to enjoy the tasty cuisine, at the same time, arriving with starvation-like hunger, following a day of black coffee and water consumption, is going to plunge you deep into a risk zone for losing control of eating.

Once you eat the first mouthful, the physiological ‘hit’ of blood sugar and endorphins on an under-fuelled body could activate an additive feeling of wanting to eat and eat.

Instead, eat regularly throughout the day to stabilise blood sugar. Then, you’ll arrive at the barbecue, less preoccupied and fascinated with the summer spread, and more able to make active choices about what you’d like to eat.

2. All or nothing 

If you struggle with binge eating or emotional eating, you probably relate acutely to the ‘all or nothing’ interpretation of eating events.

You either feel that you’re being ‘good’ and sticking to the rules, so selecting only a few choice, low-calorie items from the buffet table. Or, you throw the rule-book out the window with zealous abandon, after eating the first bread roll. You then consider that you’ve blown it completely and failed at your eating plan. You think, "Why not just devour everything in sight and start the plan again tomorrow?"

This dichotomous thinking places you in a destructive path of self-criticism and self-loathing. Life around food becomes an emotional rollercoaster, with fleeting celebratory highs but crashing lows when you haven’t adhered to your rules.

Instead, work to embrace a greyer mindset around food. If you eat a piece of cake, you haven’t blown it or failed as a human being. Maybe you can even allow yourself to appreciate it and gain pleasure and satisfaction. Rather than judging yourself harshly, in a tone more suitable for people committing horrendous crimes, consider:

"It’s safe to eat a range of foods. This is inoculation against binge eating, and allowing myself to eat the foods I love, helps lessen my unhealthy fixation with them."

3. Body image

Choose something to wear that is flattering and comfy. Squeezing into a dress that is too tight or trousers with a waistband that digs awkwardly into your stomach, are going to leave you feeling uncomfortable and criticising your body. If you go along to the event chastising and berating your poor body, you might well then self-sabotage and punish yourself by eating more.

Instead, be kind and compassionate to yourself, as you would be towards a good friend. You may wish to change your body, but no amount of self-bullying is going to motivate or inspire you to do this, rather leaving you hopeless, stuck and overwhelmed.

Focus on looking outside of yourself, by chatting with friends and enjoying the moment. No one else cares about your body in the way you do. And remember, that others have body hang-ups too, however perfect the exterior appears. You are not alone.

If you are struggling with disordered eating, you may wish to seek out further support through counselling.

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor specialising in eating disorders and body image. She has worked in the NHS and private practice since 2003, and is passionate about supporting and educating others through therapy, writing and social media.
Instagram: @the_eating_disorder_therapist; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist

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