Don’t quit. 8 Nice ways to Say “No” To Food Pushers

Does any of this sound familiar?

"Oh come on, it won't hurt to have a bite."

"You should enjoy yourself - don't be so strict!"

"Live a little! It's the Holidays for crying out loud!"

"But your Grandmother made this for you, do you really want to hurt her feelings?"

Before we enter the combat zone, there needs to be a little clarification:

When we think about 'food pushers' we assume they are trying to sabotage us (and sometimes they definitely are) but that's not always 100% true, especially with family or friends.

Sometimes your loved one just wants to please you because they care about you. The ‘pushing’ is coming from a place of affection and they are wanting to build a connection with you on a personal level — all of which completely changes how to deal with the food pushing situation.

Here’s an example: When I was on vacation with my husband recently, I noticed a clearly marked "vegan chocolate muffin" for sale at the cafe I'd popped into for coffee.

I immediately thought of my husband who loves chocolate, and muffins, and vegan treats in general.

I started to imagine how excited and happy he would be when I surprised him with the muffin back in our hotel room. How he'd put his arm around me, kiss me on the forehead and say, "You're the best love!"

Point is, I wasn’t trying to ‘sabotage’ my husband with the muffin. I definitely don’t want him to gain weight (ask him, I’m more invested in his diet, weight, and overall health than he is) — I love him. I wanted to make him happy. Food/gifts are my love language. I frequently show my love by cooking for people or by buying food for them. (I even buy a surprising amount of food for my assistant's parents, which is a little odd when you consider I've never even met them--but I want them to know how much I value their daughter and sending a fruit basket feels less awkward than saying “you raised a good one” I suppose).

Circling back — when food pushing happens:

Identify whether the food pusher is doing it out of love.

If it IS out of love, your job is to communicate to them how they can make you happy (without food).

Remember these people WANT to make you happy and please you (that’s their motivation) they just don’t know how to do it.

If you haven’t expressly communicated to them what you want (or you have and they forgot), it will make them guess and no one likes to guess.

They don’t want to risk getting it wrong either, so they default to food because food a sure thing. Food is easy. Everybody likes food. Everybody needs to eat.

AND better still, they’ve personally observed you eating at one time or another so they KNOW what you like—NO guessing! Feeding you becomes the easy “guaranteed” way to please and show their love.

The solution is simple:

Give them an alternative.

It can also help to reaffirm that you DO feel loved by them and that you have a personal connection.

Here’s another example: I thought my assistant was doing an epic job at work, so I kept buying her all these little treats I knew she loved and left them on her desk. It was such a thrill to see her smile when she found them. I knew then that she knew I appreciated her...

But after the third bar of chocolate, she told me to stop buying her treats — she didn’t need any more sweets in her life and was trying to cut back.

Initially I was hurt until I realized I was being a food pusher -- one with love in my heart, sure, but I could have just as easily given her a gift card, an extra day off, or straight-up told her how much I valued her as an employee. You know, use my WORDS.

To put this in full perspective: My job is to help people eat healthy and lose weight for a living... the very last thing I should have been buying her was chocolate bars, but I became that disconnected.

I wanted to make her happy and please her and connect with her so much that I "forgot" or failed to see how ironic (hypocritical?) I was being in my please-you pursuit.

This next part is difficult to admit:

"Buying" people's love is something I know I try to do, and while that is a whole other can of worms I won't get into right now, I think this mentality and practice is something EVERYONE can relate to in some capacity…

There's also a selfish component with food giving.

We get immense pleasure out of giving other people treats... ("Simple Gifts" and "It's Better to Give than to Receive" are great Holiday songs that confirm this).

Grandparents are a great example. I've noticed grandparents in my family love giving their grandchildren food their parents do not permit. It's almost like a grandparent identity…

I’m not all that different, though, if I’m entirely honest. I do think some of my buying was to get a "contact high". I'm not only getting a jolt of pleasure by providing them pleasure, I often buy for them the very thing I desire for myself but won’t allow myself to have… very much that "Have one for me!" mentality.

How to Deal with MALICIOUS Food Pushers

This is the most important piece of advice in this entire post:

Whatever you do DO NOT BE A PLEASER AND TAKE/EAT IT.

Two reasons:

  1. If you keep taking food you're not eating they won't ever learn your habits.
  2. They will push harder next time you resist, looking for your new breaking point.

You're not doing ANYONE a favor by not standing by your values, most especially yourself.

That's not to say there can't be any compromise (and what "compromising" looks like is different for every family) but just make sure YOU are not the only one compromising.

Here are some of my favorite “comebacks” (that are nice)

"Oh come on, it won't hurt to have a bite."

Answer: “That’s true, but I can tell that is going to be so delicious I won’t be able to stop so it’s better if I don’t start.”

"You should enjoy yourself - don't be so strict!"

Answer: I am enjoying myself. I’m so glad we are getting to spend time together. I really missed you. Tell me more about [something in their life]

Or if that doesn’t fit the situation try, “I need to be more conscious of what I eat right now but you should go ahead, it looks amazing.”

“We have too much food left -- take more / take leftovers”

Answer: Thanks for the offer but I’ve already made all my meals for the week so it’ll go to waste, but now you won’t have to cook for a few days either.

"Live a little! It's the Holidays for crying out loud!"

Answer: “Trust me I have. I’ve already way overdone it this season and need to rein it back in”

Or if that doesn’t fit the situation try, “I’ll be able to celebrate more holidays with you in the future if I stick to this health plan I’m on. I really want to be around so we have many more years together.”

"But your Grandmother made this for you, do you really want to hurt her feelings?"

Answer: I’ll apologize to Grandmother and tell her how much I appreciate her thinking of me like this. I’ll explain I can’t have [specific item] doctors orders. It’s my fault I should have told her about my special dietary needs. I’ll take more care next time.”

“It’s your favorite!”

Answer: I’m so touched you remembered.That definitely was my favorite, but I overdosed on it and I can’t eat it anymore. I appreciate you thinking of me. You are so thoughtful.”

“You have an eating disorder”

Answer: I appreciate your concern. It makes me feel good to know you care about my health. My doctor is happy with my health and I’m pretty happy to. It can also help to reaffirm that you “really like eating this way” that you “love vegetables” and you definitely don’t feel like you’re missing out and that they should go ahead and enjoy themselves.

"But this is my speciality. I'm FAMOUS for this, you MUST try it"

Answer: It looks really good! I wish I could! Why don't you tell me more about this dish. How did you develop the recipe? When did it become your speciality?

Finally, for the half-compliments such as "you don't need to change, you look great as is" or the faux concern comments such as “you’re putting in too much effort”

Remember that you can work on yourself as much as you want and you are the sole judge of whether or not you want to change your health or your appearance.

Most likely they’re just jealous.

To summarize: Most food pushers are often coming from a place of love. They aren’t trying to sabotage you, they want to please you. Tell them how they can. Give that alternative. If they aren’t coming from a place of love, it’s best not to engage and shift the focus back on them by asking them a question or telling them to go ahead and enjoy, slipping in something that reminds them you appreciate them and that you have a personal connection, because even with malice in their heart, they probably are still looking for that connection to you -- otherwise they wouldn’t talk to you at all. It’s rare to be jealous of someone you truly hate or don’t care about (think about that).

Finally, above all:

Honor yourself and don’t do things to please other people, especially when they don’t return the favor.

Please share your thoughts—I’d love to hear your experience and opinions below!

Also check out this post of Thanksgiving FAQs—How to communicate your diet, deal w/ judgment, Get back on track & more. Read it here.

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