Relationships are Like Food: Rethink What Feeds You

Today’s post is written by Dillan DiGiovanni, a certified integrative nutrition health coach and teacher. He creates programs for healthier people and workplaces from his office in Union Square. Dillan regularly contributes his expertise on health and wellness to the Beat.

Dillan Headshot copyWhen I became a health coach in 2009, I learned that everything in our lives either feeds us or depletes us. Whether it’s our job, our food, our spirituality or our relationships, we need to pay attention to what we get (or don’t) from whatever surrounds us. Whether you live in the city or country and no matter who you are, it can sometimes be a challenge to make and keep friends and form healthy relationships with our families. When you get clearer about who you are, what you need and what makes you feel “fed,” it becomes a little bit easier to sort things out.

As we age and mature, our experience of forming relationships and existing within them changes in big ways.

In elementary school, we saw the same people every day and made it work with those folks the best we could. We had best friends and bullies and people who were somewhere in between.

For some of us, high school just increased the numbers of people within those groups. Not for me because I attended a high school with less than 100 students. There were 20 people in my class. With a group that small we still got along—despite our many differences. We weren’t all besties, but supported and accepted each other for the most part. We learned how to be different and unique and perhaps the small size of our group allowed for that more than in a larger one.

If we attended college, we had a smorgasbord of people around us every day. We sat next to them. We lived with them. We partied with them. If we wanted to shift or change or explore a new interest, there was a club for that. There was a room you could use for free with resources and you just hung up a flier or put an ad in the campus newspaper and POOF! people showed up.
Dillan flowers

Then adulthood happens and things get a bit trickier. As your life evolves and you become more aware of the world, your choices change. Your identities change. You change. And it becomes a bit of a challenge to find who “your people” are, because everyone else is trying to figure it out for themselves as they fit into a society that shapes who they are.

During my integrative health coach training, I learned this concept of friends, and all relationships, really, of being like food. And I came up with this analogy that most people fit into one of three categories: chips, carrots or granola bars. I began to put relationships into those categories. Eventually I got lazy and my life began to reflect my laziness. The relationships I had didn’t really feed me in ways I needed. Recently, I’ve been doing some more sorting to remind myself of what I need and how I’m feeding myself.

Instead of trying to fit into what other people like and do, think about what you need. Instead of thinking all people are the same, consider the relative capacity people have for relationships—what they need and want and what they’re willing to do to achieve it. Perhaps you can think of my three categories and use them to make assessments of what actually feels like a good fit for you.

CHIPS: Your chip friends are the ones who leave you feeling hungry, even after you’ve spent time with them. There’s very little substance to your interactions with them. You’re drawn to the temptation of what you might get from spending time with them but are often left feeling depleted and craving something more fulfilling. Chip friends are often focused on keeping up appearances and/or their own inner lives/drama and personal concerns. They can be negative or take from you more than they give. They don’t leave you feeling very good about yourself in some way or another. They might be the life of the party but don’t really deliver when you need it most.

GRANOLA BARS: Your granola bar friends are a combination of good and not-so-good things, much like actual granola bars. They’re a combination of whole nuts and seeds but they also usually have a ton of sugar in them. Granola bar friends have some aspects that make them attractive to you or others, but might have some qualities that leave you feeling a little uncomfortable or unsatisfied. Unlike chip friends, granola bar friends DO meet some of your needs in a relationship but might not fully fit the bill. Granola bar friends are fair-weather friends, doling out what they want when it’s convenient but might disappear when the going gets tough. Granola bar friends provide some of what you need and some of what you don’t.

CARROTS: Carrot friends feed you fully with no side effects. You crave connecting with them because you feel healthier after spending time together. You can be your true self and express what you need and want and they show up the same way, giving and taking and making adjustments as needed. You feel full from the density and completeness of their presence and support. Carrot friends are honest, authentic, reliable and willing to be responsible for their imperfections. When you are around your carrot pals, you feel centered, confident and calm. They inspire and encourage your health and growth as well as their own.

These are, of course, gross generalizations and perhaps even idealizations. People are imperfect beings and we are all works in progress, sometimes shifting in and out of all three of these categories on a daily basis. It’s important to remember, though, that some people are more aware of this than others and more willing or capable to evolve. Our time and our energy is precious. As adults, we get to choose how we fill our lives and our time. We can make space for people to be themselves, working through the challenges of life, just as we are. We can also choose to feed ourselves with relationships and surround ourselves with people who match who we are and what we need most.

P.S. As the founder of the Beat, I get a lot of questions about how to make friends in Somerville. My biggest advice is to get involved, whether it’s by volunteering at one of the city’s many nonprofits, attending events or joining a group run, there are so many ways to meet new people in Somerville.

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