When I attended the CrossFit Level 1 Certificate Course, one of the Seminar Staff members asked attendees raise their hands to indicate how long they had been doing CrossFit.

When he got to the few who had been doing CrossFit for less than six months, he cracked a joke: “Oh, you still have friends outside the box!”

We all laughed.

Then we began to mentally tally the friendships that have fallen by the wayside since we dramatically changed our lifestyles.

Not long ago, I happened upon a couple of friends who were discussing a recent party.

“We didn’t invite you guys because you don’t eat. I mean you don’t eat like regular people.”

I chuckled, but it reminded me how much we link social interaction to food and drink—family traditions, special meals as a couple, happy hour with your buddies. Food and drink are often so strongly entwined with events that most people cannot separate the former from the latter.

It’s almost like we are programmed: This is when we eat that thing.

Mom always makes biscuits and gravy on Sundays. Friday lunch is Mexican food. Buttered buckets of popcorn and Milk Duds at the movies on Friday night.

We celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and holidays with copious amounts of food because that’s what we have always done. It’s familiar and comfortable.

But then you want to be healthier, and you make a change. You’re doing CrossFit, and you’ve learned that you need to eat better to accomplish your goal. This can be very challenging because the changes affect your entire social circle. You know this, and so do I.

When you decide your nutrition needs a major overhaul, it will affect those closest to you even if you aren’t asking them to change a single thing. While they might respect and ultimately admire your desire to be healthier, they are unprepared for you to change when, how and where you eat. They have come to terms with the hour a day you spend at the box, but when you turn down pizza and beer with the gang, you’ve crossed a line.

Too often, we’ll stick to our commitment for a few weeks, only to be derailed by something we just couldn’t decline. It’s a pattern you’ve likely repeated. I know I’ve been down that road. Maybe you start to feel like it’s hopeless unless you become a hermit.

So it’s time to be realistic: You aren’t going to avoid restaurants, parties and family events forever. They are all part of life. But with the right strategies in place, you can continue to spend time with your friends and still move toward your goals. It’s all about a battle plan.

At my heaviest, I was over 300 lb., but I was trying desperately to make a change, and I had to overcome the feeling that my family and friends were inadvertently working against me. In the beginning, the box of fresh doughnuts a co-worker left on the front desk felt like a personal assault on my crumbling willpower. When my husband suggested dinner at a steakhouse, I wondered why he wanted to put me through that. And so on.

If your current circle of friends spends every night at the bar and then hits the drive-thru on the way home, it might be hard to find common ground. But there’s quite a range between habits like that and a monthly girls’ night out or family dinner.

On days when I knew I didn’t have the mental fortitude to resist my old favorites, I would simply turn down an invite. As I became more comfortable managing my food choices, that happened less and less. I devised a set of go-to plans to help me navigate the junk-food jungle. I know you’re trying to change your habits, so I’ll share them with you.

ALT TEXTIf you’re tracking your food intake, you’ll know how to make adjustments for the occasional dinner at a restaurant.

Dining Out

The time to determine your plan is not when you are already at Taco Del Fiesta staring down tortilla chips and queso dip.

If you plan to dine in a restaurant, check out the menu beforehand. Decide before you walk in the door what you are ordering—and stick to the plan.

Remember how I told you to track everything you eat? You know how quickly a few bites add up. Now use that info to make the best decisions you can.

If it’s a chain restaurant, its nutrition information is online, and you can make educated choices. Sometimes that means eating really lightly the rest of the day so you can “save up” for the meal you have selected. Other times, it might mean eating a healthy meal beforehand and ordering a small appetizer or salad. You might even find that a few choices fit perfectly into your plan as is.

In a strange but wonderful twist, you’ll be amazed at the freedom that comes from predetermined choices. Never again will you have to stare at a menu, willing yourself to stick to water before giving up and diving head first into the bread bowl.

Plus, when you order with confidence and obviously enjoy your meal, your friends won’t feel like you are on yet another crazy diet. They probably won’t even notice what you do and don’t eat or drink.

You’ll be there with them, and that’s the most important thing.

Family Dinners and Potlucks

If you’re going to dinner at someone’s house, bring a sharable dish that fits your plan. Make it something you really like so you’ll be satisfied even if it’s the only thing you can consume with confidence. Stay away from the all-or-nothing mentality. If you have a few bites of lasagna, you aren’t going to lose your progress, but if you have a few plates of lasagna, you are going to feel it.

As in restaurants, have a strategy in place. If you know you want a piece of Aunt Sally’s carrot cake, plan for it. Make it fit in your day. Don’t swear off it and then punish your “failure” by using artichoke dip to test Doritos for structural integrity.

With a buffet of choices, I try to stick to food I can identify. Fruits and veggies are obviously better choices than anything covered in chocolate or cheese, anything deep fried and anything poured from a plastic package.

Lastly, stop hanging out by the food table. Situate yourself on the far side of the room and enjoy the company.

Your New Lifestyle

As you apply these strategies—and others you devise for yourself—the situations that used to loom as giant tests will evolve into what they actually are: everyday life.

Life includes good food and drink, family and friends, but it also includes a new and improved you.

This article is Part 5 of 6.

Part 1: “An Open Letter to Those Who Need to Lose Weight”

Part 2: “Change Your Life in 24 Hours”

Part 3: “I’m Working out but Can’t Lose Weight”

Part 4: “When You Never Rx Anything”

About the Author: Kai Rainey lives with her husband of 21 years in Tucson, Arizona. At 42, she was over 300 lb., with a BMI of 49.9. She lost over half her body weight through CrossFit and healthy eating. In November 2017, she earned a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Certificate. She hopes to reach others who are battling obesity and help them take steps to reclaim their lives.