That diet dilemma and food celebrations

Celebrating New Year’s eve with friends

“Let’s go get a doughnut!” My friend had a gleam in her eye. Three of us had just enjoyed a really nice, long lunch celebrating a birthday. We had laughed, giggled, and snorted for nearly two hours. We caught up on each other’s family members and talked of what we wanted for our futures. We took photos together and had simply enjoyed each other’s company. Now, they were calling for doughnuts to extend the celebration.

“It’s your birthday! We will walk it off later. If you haven’t been to the new doughnut place, you’ll have to try this. Those doughnuts are so good!” My friend’s enthusiasm was difficult to ignore. The friend with the birthday hesitated. They both looked at me for approval, so I said, “You should get one if you want.” I was caught in a difficult place. I do not eat high-carb doughnuts. Since I went keto over four years ago, I simply made the decision that I don’t eat them. I can if I want, which keeps me from bingeing on a dozen, but I choose not to.

As their enthusiasm for doughnuts grew, I struggled. I could not eat a donut. No way, but I could not ruin the fun. They both were looking at me for approval, so I said, “If you want a doughnut, you should get one!” Intellectually, I knew all of the reasons why I should not and would not eat a doughnut—high blood glucose, inflammation, out of ketosis, cravings. Emotionally, I struggled. Somehow not eating a doughnut was not bonding. It was being a killjoy, a stick in the mud, a wet blanket. They needed me to be “fun” with them so that they could have fun. I could NOT eat a doughnut, but I did not want to withdraw emotionally.

Even after having successfully stayed on a strict ketogenic diet since June 2013, this was one of the biggest social/emotional struggles I remember. I did not even WANT the darn doughnut; it had no taste appeal to me at all, but I felt the need to belong. I wanted to be part of our trio.

My brain was spinning between “You cannot and will not eat a donut!” and “Holy crap! I can’t let them down. I can’t disappoint them. I can’t kill the fun”. Then reason would intrude and say “The fun is not in the doughnut, dummy! You know that. Use your skills.” As I considered my ‘skills’, those coping strategies that helped me handle similar situations before, I worried whether they would be sufficient. I was being pressured to eat a doughnut to show solidarity, and the last thing I wanted was to leave my small tribe over a doughnut, but I could not eat the dang doughnut!

As I searched for a happy compromise, I considered, “I’ll just order one, take a few bites, and then throw it away when no one is looking.” That thought was ridiculous. Why would I even take a few bites if I didn’t want to eat it? At one point, I even thought, “Well, I’m pretty much maintaining my weight loss. I could just eat a stinkin’ doughnut.” That thought got strangled pretty quickly as I became immediately mortified that the thought even occurred to me at all. Why on earth would I compromise what I know to be right for me?! I did not want a doughnut! What I wanted was to be part of our threesome. We had enjoyed each other’s company, and one of our trio was suggesting a splurge on a doughnut. How could I be a killjoy? A wet blanket? A stick in the mud? Somehow my not participating seemed to threaten that bond.

When we arrived at the doughnut shop, I finally found my voice. I went in smiling, commenting on all of the flavors, and very clearly supporting my friends’ decisions to have a doughnut. I decided that I would not judge, discourage, nor encourage, but rather support them just as I wanted, and needed, their support. My goal was that none of us would leave there feeling badly.

When we approached the counter to order, I waited to order last. When it was my turn, I said firmly and happily, “Oh that coffee smells amazing! I haven’t had an Americano in months. I think I’ll have that. It will be perfect since it’s so cold outside.” My enthusiasm for the coffee and my interest in, and support for, their decisions was sufficient. They ordered doughnuts. We continued laughing. I stopped sweating. It was okay.

Why is it so hard to stick with your diet in social situations?

In spite of successfully following keto for years and considering myself pretty hard core, I struggled. I struggled not because I was hungry or because the doughnut appealed to me, but because of the emotional connection that I was afraid of damaging. The need to belong is incredibly powerful. I spent much of my life not fitting in with others and feeling somewhat lonely. I didn’t want to make them feel bad about their decisions, and somehow when one person in a group makes the “healthier” decision, then it makes the others feel bad about their own “unhealthy” decisions. They needed and wanted my approval to eat a doughnut as much as I needed and wanted their approval not to.

Somehow it worked. I was determined to not kill their joy, so I never once commented about how the doughnuts were unhealthy or not part of my “diet”. I didn’t even say that I was afraid that the sugar or wheat would make me sick. I expressed very clear enthusiasm for what I wanted. I wanted an Americano coffee, and I was very clear that it was delicious. In no way did I come across as deprived, which is important. Had I verbalized my struggle, they would have been in the role of coaxing me to just “enjoy” myself and have a doughnut. Moreover, it was important in this context that I withhold judgement of their decisions. By marveling at the flavors (which was sincere), and taking an interest in their orders, I supported them. My decision didn’t cast a shadow of doubt or superiority over their decision.

Holiday parties are not unlike my experience in the donut shop. We use food to connect with others. Somehow eating unhealthy foods together bonds us. Even when we aren’t attracted to poor food choice. If you’re walking through similar situations now, I encourage you to use some of the strategies I’ve used.

  1. Figure out how you can be part of the celebration without eating foods that are unhealthy for you.
  2. Don’t voice disappointment that you “can’t have” something, but rather voice joy or enthusiasm about an alternative food, beverage, or simply the joy of spending time together.
  3. If pressed, place the emphasis not on diet and deprivation, but on health (those doughnuts make me sick).
  4. Make your decision and articulate it without passing judgement. Support the decisions of others even when you don’t agree – in this context it is temporary, and they will be more likely to come to you later because you have been an example and they feel safe and not judged.

Intellectually, this is easy. Emotionally, it often is not. Thinking ahead to what foods you will (or won’t eat) can help you to have the happiest, and healthiest, holiday season yet!

Kristie Sullivan

Do you want to read more by Kristie Sullivan? Here are her three most popular posts:

  • The ultimate guide to low-carb or keto kitchen essentials
  • The ultimate low-carb and keto cookie collection
  • Festive low-carb and keto Christmas cookies


A keto diet for beginners

Weight loss


  1. Donna
    Kristie, I've watched you on YouTube for a while, and I LOVE your recipes. I bought your cookbook on Kindle too. It has helped me a lot. This account of staying keto in the doughnut shop is very inspiring. Thanks for writing it. I respectfully ask that you consider not using the word "Holy" unless you are putting it in a good light. Pairing it with words like "Cr*p" prevent me from sharing this post with others, even though I think they could benefit from the message you're making here. I realize not everyone will agree with me, and if I knew how to send you a private message I would! As a Christian I look forward to the day I will be giving thanks around the great throne where "Day and night they never stop saying: "'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,' who was, and is, and is to come." Thanks for considering my request. I look forward to seeing more videos and blog posts from you!
  2. Francoise
    To Donna: I would appreciate it if you were to keep your religious beliefs private. Have you ever considered for a moment that your lecturing may offend people? What right do you have to thrust your religious views on others? It has no place in a worldwide public forum that focuses on healthy diet and lifestyle. Thank you, and Happy Holidays tou you.
  3. LowCarb Finn
    This is the third post from this writer I have read. The first described a dysfunctional relationship, stealing husbands threadbare favourite shirt, and presented that as an example of how it would be okay to interfere with the free will of another adult. Purely dysfunctional, whether it is about a shirt or a diet. We do not have the right to interfere with the free will of others, we only have the right to choose our company. If you have chosen your spouse yourself, you have no right to complain. If consensus discussion doesn't work, then ponder on changing company.

    These other two texts, this and the one 'Do you miss bread' have nothing to do with diet or LCHF, or eating. They describe a problem with self-esteem which needs to be solved. If you gage your own worth by the opinions of others, your self-worth and self-esteem are externally directed and thus can never be stable, as one adverse opinion or your spouse glancing at someone else shakes them and decrease them.

    When self-worth and self-esteem are internally directed - means that you have the inner feeing of being lovable and worth good treatment etc. - NOTHING outside you can shake it. Then you just don't care whether your spouse glances at someone else or flirts with them (though a discussion on good manners might be required, it's just bad manners to do that when your spouse is present) or if someone disapproves with your skipping a donut.

    With externally directed self-worth/self-esteem you are always a slave to other peoples opinions and other external things. That is a surefire way of feeling very bad about yourself very often, as there is no way of affecting the behaviour of others. The only thing you can change is yourself.

    I am wondering what these writings describing dysfunctional relationship and externally-driven self-worth do in this blog news which should be about nutrition, not making treatable personal problems normal behaviour. Why is such behaviour presented as normal at all?

    With both these issues, been there and done that. I worked on them myself and got rid of them with cognitive-behavioural means, someone else might need a therapist as a 'personal trainer' to help with it, but the work can also be done yourself. The fine Finnish library system also provided all the litterature required for the work, so stopping trying to change other people and getting my self-worth/self-esteem internally driven only cost me time and effort, nothing else. And it's really rewarding, because 80/20 rule applies: 80% of the work was done in the first 20% of time used, now I am only fine-tuning what little is left.

  4. Annette
    If you don‘t like it, don‘t read it!
    There are so many better things to waste your time on than reading something you don‘t like and writing an extra Long negative comment on it, which I didn‘t read completely! So take a breath everybody and relax! Be tolerant.
    Happy Holidays to everyone
  5. Janine K Johnson
    LowCarb Finn writes "so stopping trying to change other people " while the previous 5 paragraphs are all about wanting to change someone else, written with an air of superiority. It must be wonderful to be in a place where you don't care what others think, but you think others care about what you think.

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