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What to Say When People Push Food on You

“Just have one.”

“But it’s the holidays!”

“You can have a little.”

Staying true to your nutrition plan is hard. But with all the parties, feasts, and indulgence, staying on plan during the holidays is Rubik’s Cube hard. And to make matters worse, a lot of us face pressure, both subtle and overt, from our friends and family to toss the Rubik’s Cube out the window and eat cake for breakfast.

This can feel like sabotage, even when it’s innocent. The collected opinions of friends and family, and the opinions of complete strangers and coworkers can feel like a lot of pressure. So when I work with clients, we brainstorm ways to handle it. Everything from what to do to what to say. Here are some of the best lessons I have learned from my clients about how to handle “food pushers.”

1. REMEMBER THAT CHANGE IS HARD FOR EVERYONE

When we were discussing food pushers, a client of mine who had lost a lot of weight let me in on her very unique strategy: “I remember that I’m not the only one dealing with change.” She recognized that as scared as she was of people pressuring her, a lot of the people pushing food on her were doing it because they were scared. They didn’t want their friend to change because it meant they might have to change. They didn’t want their friend to turn down a drink because it meant that they might have to reflect on why they needed that drink. “So I started thinking of them like bears. You know, more scared of me than I am of them?” That change in mindset was enough to take some of the power back and more easily say “no” to an extra helping of pie.

2. ROLE-PLAY SCENARIOS YOU KNOW ARE COMING

My clients and I actually plan and act out situations that they know are coming. Someone is going to ask “why are you on a diet?” Someone is going to offer you a drink. You know these situations are going to happen so you can plan for them and act them out in your head.

3. LET PEOPLE BE HOSPITABLE IN OTHER WAYS

If your fear is looking ungrateful, plan and role-play saying things that show how grateful you are. A lot of food pushing at the holidays is hospitality with calories. People want us to feel welcome and comfortable, and that usually means food. And on the flip side of that relationship, we don’t want to appear ungrateful so we feel obliged to accept. So, accept people’s hospitality in other ways. If they offer you a muffin, politely decline but ask “who made that delicious salad?” If they ask if they can get you a beer, you can politely decline but let them know you’ll take a bottled water.

4. RESPOND WITH VALUES, NOT OUTCOMES

When people push food, a lot of what they say falls into the “one little one won’t hurt you” category. You can choose to ignore it, but if some people are really pushy you can respond in unexpected ways that turn the conversation. If the idea of saying, “but I might not stop at just one” is scary, try practicing “I’m trying to do this for myself.” Or, “I’m trying to practice a little willpower.” Or, “No thanks, I’m trying to be a better me.” Responding with the values you are trying to embody rather than the outcomes you want is a great way not only to shut down a pushy person, but to remind yourself about what this journey is really about.

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