I’m a little late with this week’s update because I was out of town for a coaching conference. I really wanted to take my time writing a quality blog post rather than churning one out quickly just to post it on time. I learned a lot while I was away, and I want to share those lessons with you so that when you find yourself in similar situations, you can have a plan.

The first lesson is: You don’t have to eat when other people are eating.

The day before the conference started, I was spending some time with two of my colleagues taking in the beauty of San Diego. It was lunchtime and one of my colleagues wanted to order food at this fish fry place at the end of the pier. I was not feeling it at all and chose not to order anything. The three of us sat together under an umbrella and enjoyed each other’s company while she ate her mahi-mahi plate and my other colleague sipped on a green juice she brought with her.

There were no thoughts of, “I should order something so she won’t be eating alone.” Why should I make myself uncomfortable trying to manage my worry of her being uncomfortable? For the record, I wasn’t worried about her feelings of eating alone, and she wasn’t uncomfortable—she was enjoying her lunch in the company of good friends. But even if she were feeling self-conscious or uncomfortable, it is not my job to change my actions to manage her feelings. She is in charge of her feelings and I am in charge of mine.

Later, as we walked around the little town of Imperial Beach, I came across a delightful taco place and now I was ready to order my lunch. I got my food to go and met my friends over at a coffee & cupcake place where they were ordering some lattes. I sat and ate my yummy tacos while they sipped on their coffee drinks. I felt no weirdness that I was eating and they were not. I was taking care of myself and enjoyed every bite.

The take-away here is that if your body is not hungry, or you’re not feeling the food options at the moment, you do not have to eat just because other people are eating. It’s also okay to eat when you are hungry, even if others aren’t eating. There is no shame in taking care of yourself and meeting your own needs.

The second lesson I learned on my travels is: If you’re going to choose fun food, savor the whole experience!

With a few exceptions, for the most part I stuck with my practice of no wheat, dairy, or sugar while on my trip… except when it came to a bacon-peanut butter-chocolate chip cookie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream that another colleague and I saw on the menu the first night at the hotel. Our eyes kind of popped out of our heads as we read the description. We didn’t order it that night, but we decided to split one on the last day of the conference. We planned for this treat well in advance so it was not an instant gratification choice to be regretted later. We got to enjoy the anticipation leading up to the day we got to enjoy it for real. Honestly, that was part of the fun!

Once it arrived and was placed on the table between us, I took in the smell of the freshly baked cookie before I even took a bite. It was heavenly! Once I actually tasted it though, I found it to be cloyingly sweet. Remember, I’ve been off processed sugar for 6 weeks, so my taste buds had adjusted. I continued to have a few more bites, but I abandoned it part way through and didn’t finish my half of the dessert. I had gotten all the joy out of it that I could, and I was done. Finishing it could not have given me more joy in this experience. In fact, it probably would have negated my joy because I would have felt physically awful afterwards.

The take-away here is that there’s more joy to be had than just the action of eating a treat. The delight in reading the menu description; the making a plan with my colleague to have it on the last day; the anticipation and excitement of sharing it with her; the delicious aroma right out of the oven. Now that I look back, actually eating the dessert was my least favorite part of the experience! Wow. That is profound. It’s making me think of fun foods in a whole new way. I love it when that happens!

Hopefully these take-aways will help you look at food and eating differently than you do now. Know that it’s okay to not eat when others are eating if you are not hungry, and it’s also okay to take care of yourself even if others aren’t eating. Know that there’s more to joy to be had when planning out a treat, and that there is not more joy to be had in finishing a treat than in stopping midway through when you are no longer enjoying the experience.

One last thing: It’s okay to leave food on your plate.

Many people eat all the food on their plates because they paid for it. As if eating it all somehow has more value.

Yes, I agree you paid for the food on the plate, but if your body is full, where is the value in stuffing your fat stores with food your body doesn’t need?

Sometimes the best value is letting the waiter take your unfinished plate away.

This is YOU valuing yourself and your body, which is something money can’t buy.