Stop fighting with your family’s most notorious food pushers and learn how to politely say “no” so you can reach your weight goals.
“No!” “I don’t wanna!” “You can’t MAKE me!”
If you have kids, you have probably heard one of these phrases at some point in your life. If you don’t have kids, you probably have said these things to your own mom (Sorry, mom). This article is all about learning to channel your inner child and politely say “no” to obnoxious food pushers at your next BBQ, summertime picnic or family get-together. Without sounding defiant, wishy-washy, or sabotaging your health goals.
Before we get into the techniques, here is a brief story about the food pushers in my life. I was born the baby of a family of 6. My siblings and I used to fight for THE BEST food at our table, and I was rather protective of the stash I did secure from the older ones. Plus, I cultivated the fine art of inhaling my food as if vultures were circling above to nab any wayward crumbs.
At extended family gatherings, the focus was almost always on food. What dish did she bring? How long did she spend preparing food? What new recipes are there? What favorite recipes did she feature? After all, food is love.
Some of the best cooks in my family wanted to share as much love as possible. I soaked it all up.
Then, I met my husband. My husband grew up in Calcutta, where the favorite pastime is to eat OR encourage others to eat. The Bengali word for eat is pronounced like “Cow”. Yes, that was one of the easiest words for me to understand when my relatives were visiting. Because, they said it at least 5 times in every sentence. Uh, that says just about everything.
Our romance began at a short-term contract job. Every morning, he would make sure to offer at least 10 of his co-workers the pastries he picked up at the local Panera before he even touched any himself. Did I mention that the chocolate chip muffie from Panera was my ABSOLUTE favorite, AND I was still working on losing another 15 pounds?
Hubby came by his food pushing honestly. Several years into our marriage, I realized that my father-in-law NEVER eats a single bite of food until every single guest in his house has already finished their fill of food. My in-laws frequently have up to 20 guests at their home every other week.
Some of this food obsessions stems from cultural roots. I will say that some Indian boys in Calcutta fondly remember having an aunt or mother lovingly shovel home-cooked food into their mouths while they stand next to their beloved boys’ chair during dinnertime. This is not just reserved for boys who haven’t mastered the use of flatware. This is for boys who are still in middle school.
You get the gist of my food pushing experiences. Not only have I dealt with the most expert food pushers, but I have done it in a way that was gracious and culturally sensitive. As a Minnesota resident, I also have learned the cultural importance of being “NICE” when it comes to rejecting folks.
If you don’t live in Minnesota, there is a weird term called Minnesota Nice. This is defined by Wikipedia as “the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered”. Though I wasn’t born in Minnesota, I have blended in quite nicely with this concept while still being able to stick to my health goals.
“Try my extra-special homemade dish that I only make once a year. I made it just for you.”
“Wonderful! Just let me finish my salad first”
Unless this food pusher is watching you like a hawk, they will most likely not confirm whether you have actually taken a serving of their special dish. Or, if you have an empty plate when they offer it to you, excuse yourself to go to the bathroom. Stalling really does work!
“One bite isn’t going to kill you”
“Your (insert dish name) is just like Lays. You can’t stop at just one bite! And, I am already so full from (insert dish#2 name).
This is a great technique, because it shows that you are not rejecting the person- only being very selective about which of their dishes you will enjoy. Plus, you are stroking their ego just a little bit, which everyone loves. Note: If they only make one dish, and you don’t like it, see #1 No.
“We meet just once a year! What’s the harm?”
“I love spending time with you. Tell me, what have you been up to since we last met?”
Turning the conversation back to the food pusher works great, because you are feeding their need to connect. While it takes only a second to accept food that you don’t want, it can take several minutes (or hours) to catch up when you haven’t seen each other in awhile. Once the person gets into the conversation, they will forget about the food. Just make sure they can’t reach your plate and spoon anything onto it while talking.
“You’re getting too thin. Live a little!”
“Do I look thin? Thank you! Have you tried the (insert name of your healthy dish here) that I made? It has your favorite ingredient and is really easy to make.”
Depending on the relative, you might want to use this technique sparingly. First of all, make sure you acknowledge the fact that they see the positive changes you are making in your life (even if they don’t see it as positive quite yet).
Second of all, try to share your love for healthy eating in a helpful way without becoming a food pusher yourself. If the relative is a bit more defensive, you could also try asking for the recipe to the dish they are throwing at you. Whether or not you have any intention of making the recipe, they can see your appreciation of their work in making it.
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“Your plate is empty. Let me give you (insert name of special dish)”
Keep away from the food table when you are done eating, and no one can heap more food onto it. Make sure to throw away your plate as soon as you have finished eating. Or, see #6 No if they heap the food before you have a chance to throw the plate away.
“Thank you. Will you share this with me?” (heap food back on their plate)
“You haven’t tried this yet! Eat!”
“No thanks, I’m trying to quit. It gives me (insert bad digestion issue here).”
Many people start eating different foods when they are on a healthy eating journey. However, not all relatives will know the ins and outs of the latest foods you DO eat. Being clear that you no longer eat certain ingredients and inserting a somewhat gross why will discourage discussion on the topic. For example, if you stopped eating gluten because it bloats you, then that is a simple reason to avoid the special dish.
“There are so many leftovers! I have packed (15) containers for you to take home”
“Thank you. I would love to take (insert your favorite one). I think (insert name of other attendee) might have wanted more of (insert name of other foods). She kept saying how delicious it was!”
I am not one to slave in a kitchen all day, which means I love taking home leftovers! Therefore, I would not turn away the offer of delicious food in a doggie bag. However, this way you are being clear on which dish you really enjoyed as well as shared the love with someone else who might enjoy leftovers.
If you didn’t hear anyone at the get-together sing praises for the particular leftovers you’re trying to ditch, you could always say blame it on the kids. For example, I might say that I can’t possibly take curry that was too spicy for my kid to eat, or had an ingredient that they couldn’t tolerate. Yes, you can channel your inner child while referring to your actual child 🙂
“Have another drink!”
“Great idea. I was just on my way to get some water.”
Most of the time, food parties involve some sort of alcohol. Alcohol can quickly spiral into excessive calories and slipping away from sobriety. Holding a cup of anything can prevent food pushers from encouraging you to drink one too many. If you are driving to and from the party, you can also say “I’m driving home”.
“This is your favorite!”
“No thank you.”
Sometimes the easiest and most effective way to say “no” is being direct. You don’t need to explain that you are eating healthier, you don’t need to justify your decision, and you certainly don’t need to make decisions based on what others think you need.
This is the best route when you are dealing with notorious food pushers who have gotten past your guard in the past, and are confident that they can do it again. Some people are persistent enough where they will literally ask you until you say “yes”. These types of people will not be fooled by the 9 “No’s” above.