Eating to Console a Needy Friend

What happens when your friends' problems start making you fat?

eating habits
(Image credit: Jesse Frohman)

My cell buzzed with a text from my pal Melissa: "Dinner 2nite?? Emergency!!!" We met up at an overstuffed chain restaurant, where she ordered trough-sized margaritas and a cheesy artichoke dip before dishing about the suspicious texts she had found on her boyfriend's phone. As Melissa described how she managed to jot down the texter's number, our waiter appeared with a tub of bacon-garnished potato skins. Melissa kept going, so I went with her, chewing and counseling, until we were down to the last bite. Once the plates were cleared, she felt better — and I felt fatter.

I'm no stranger to these food-and-whine binges. In fact, I'm my set's go-to gal when life's little tragedies strike. Thrashed by your boss in front of the whole office? Got a bad haircut? Misery loves my company. I've canceled dates, missed concerts, even ducked out of work early for friends in turmoil. Invariably, we meet up at a greasy, come-as-you-are venue where the only salad in sight is of the coleslaw variety. Some crises require a disregard of diets.

It's not as if I'm dispensing amazing advice. But I was raised with an unwavering faith in the curative powers of a meal. My Filipino mother marked all occasions — birthdays, funerals, even piano recitals — with elaborate homemade feasts prepared in our cramped New Jersey kitchen, where we would talk for hours between bites at an overflowing table. Her food healed. When I got my Princeton rejection letter, my mom tended my wounds with a plate of tocino (sweet, cured meat); when I broke up with The One, she restored my faith with batches of pancit (fried noodles) and ensaymada (cheese-and-sugar-topped bread). Food got us through whatever adversity came our way.

It's in my nature to respond to a friend's SOS by reaching for a menu. And I confess that a part of me likes to feel needed. Bailing out on a pal in need would disappoint us both. Problem is, as the designated binge buddy, empathy means packing on the pounds. Sometimes I resent the extra hours at the gym. But then I remind myself how my mother's meals always made me feel taken care of. I'm here to help — and I've got Pizza Hut on speed dial.

Did You Know? Your likelihood of becoming obese if a friend does is 57%. That jumps to 171% if it's a close friend.


Suspicious about that bestie who constantly coaxes you to swap out spinning class for vegging at a movie, or encourages you to upgrade your "boring" black coffee to a caramel-drizzled triple-mocha latte? Refer to this handy frenemy-to-English dictionary the next time your underhanded amiga meddles with your menu.

What she says: "Get the side of fries instead of the salad — you can just work out an extra half-hour tomorrow!"

Frenemy translation: "Who are you kidding? We all know your idea of weight lifting is lugging home four bottles of wine."

What she says: "Let's split the Grande Macho Nachos appetizer."

Frenemy translation: "I'll eat two dry chips, say I'm full, and spend the rest of the meal feeling superior as I watch you shovel in the remainder of the platter."

What she says: "Have another apple-tini! It's been a rough week at work — we've earned it."

Frenemy translation: "It's so much easier to get you to spill the beans about your annual review when you're sloshed."

What she says: "You have something on the corner of your mouth."

Frenemy translation: "Had you stopped to come up for air as you inhaled that powdered doughnut, Homer, you might have noticed it yourself."

What she says: "This Bloody Mary is nutritious — it's made with V8!"

Frenemy translation: "We won't talk about the bag of Cheetos, pineapple-and-pepperoni pizza, and entire sleeve of Chips Ahoy we'll consume when we're wasted by noon."

What she says: "Well, we can't leave without ordering the garlic mashed potatoes. It's what this place is known for!"

Frenemy translation: "Just like I'm known for being the skinny one."
—Jessica Henderson


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