Grace Under (Food) Pressure: 5 Effective Strategies for Handling Food Pushers

By Jen Comas

“Have some! Just a little bit. C’monnnn. Loosen up! A few bites won’t hurt!”

Sound familiar? We’ve all probably dealt with comments like this at some point from someone at a party or social gathering where food is present.

I lovingly refer to these people as “Food Pushers.” Even though they may be wonderful people who sincerely care about you and have nothing but the best intentions, their persistence can stir up an uncomfortable situation. What's more, if you know before you even get there that this is probably going to happen (maybe even more than once!), you're less likely to have a good time since you're already bracing yourself mentally for those inevitable interactions.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that even if you’re striving to live a healthy lifestyle and tend to be very thoughtful about your food choices, it’s fine to indulge when it’s worth it, in whatever context is appropriate for your individual needs and goals. Always own that decision and enjoy every tasty morsel.

In social situations where the available eats include foods that you don’t want—or foods that don't align with your current goals—you should be able to feel comfortable and confident honoring your choices.

dinner-party-kitchen-island-450x338Maybe you recently indulged in something, and you prefer to enjoy a particular type of food less frequently. Perhaps the food simply doesn’t seem appealing. Or maybe it’s something that upsets your stomach, or it isn’t in your best interest to eat due to allergies or a health condition.

Whatever your reason, you can navigate the situation gracefully, without stressing yourself out, hurting anyone’s feelings, or making anyone feel uncomfortable about their own food choices.

I’m pretty picky about what I choose to eat, and when and how I choose to indulge. If something isn’t totally worth it, I have no qualms about politely saying “No, thank you.”

It’s my body, after all, and peer pressure will not determine what I feed it.

As a result, over the years I’ve turned down plenty of food offers. I have figured out a few things that work and others that don’t in these situations, and I want to share with you my tried-and-true tactics to help you handle a Food Pusher with confidence.

Before we dive in, we need to talk about one very important thing, and that is ….

The “D” Word

If there’s one word you’d be wise to avoid when turning down food, it’s the dirty, four-letter word: D-I-E-T.

Even though your "diet" is simply the food that you eat each day (i.e. eating McDonald's four times a day is still a person's "diet"), if you mention that word, you’ll come under fire. Well-meaning friends and family, and even strangers, may passionately try to convince you that you don’t need to worry about your diet, that one treat won’t hurt, or that you need to “live a little.” Whether or not any of that is true, it’s going to intensify the interaction and shine the spotlight even brighter on you and the thing you aren’t eating. Aaaawwwwkward.

Some people can become a bit defensive at the mention of the word. As a social consideration, it’s probably best to avoid talk about your current eating strategy when other people are indulging in foods that you’ve declined.

The Strategy

Below are the most successful ways to exit situations where you have declined whatever food is being offered. I will never encourage you to lie, so consider which one best applies to you and the specific circumstances and modify as you see fit.

Keep your response polite but firm, and then—this is important—immediately change the subject by asking the person a specific question about them that requires a fairly in-depth response.

People love to share their opinions and talk about what they’ve been up to. Now is your time to either find out what’s going on in your friend’s life, or get to know an acquaintance better. Winning all around!

“I’m Not Hungry”

Assuming that you aren’t at something like a dinner party where the entire point of getting together was to eat, this is a great strategy.

friend-with-muffins-450x338Maybe you stopped by a friend’s house where they’re offering you dessert, or you’re hanging out at a bar and somebody ordered appetizers.

“Thanks, but I’m not hungry. I already ate.”

Smile, say it nicely, and don’t skip a beat before you employ the next step we just discussed above, changing the subject to ask a question about them.

“So, you just got back from Italy! I’ve always wanted to go! Tell me about your favorite part of the trip!”

It’s nearly impossible for anyone to argue with this, because you can’t badger somebody into being hungry.

“It Doesn’t Agree With Me”

friends-looking-at-smart-phone-450x338“Thank you, but [dairy, pizza, lots of sugar, etc.] doesn’t really agree with my stomach, so I’m going to pass.

And then? You got it—change the subject by asking them a question about something that you know they’ll be excited to talk about.

“I always see the pictures you post of your baby! How is she doing?”

For me, this is probably the second most common response, and it’s always true. Gobs of cheese, or piles of icing, or deep-fried-whatever does upset my stomach. This strategy is bulletproof, because people who care about you will not want you to do something that will make you feel sick or uncomfortable.

The Heart-to-Heart

The hardest people to get through to are often our family members. It’s usually fairly easy to give a polite, but firm, “No, thank you” to friends or acquaintances. But relatives! Ha! They seem to always push a little harder because they're more comfortable giving us their opinions.

jen-comas-grandmother-450x338My grandma raised me, and we were incredibly close. She is truly the most precious person in the entire world to me. Words can't even begin to explain how much that woman means to me. Buuuuut, her Love Language was surely the sixth one that didn’t make the cut for the book: Food.

Cooking for our family was how she showed us that she cared. Sushi, tempura, egg rolls, mochi, teriyaki everything. And desserts galore!

When I was prepping for my first figure competition, she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to eat off my plan, and it hurt her feelings.

I eventually had to have a heart-to-heart talk with her. I told her that I had set a goal for myself, and in order to get there I had to stick to my meal plan. I told her how important her support was to me, and that this regimented diet wasn’t going to last forever, but that I really needed her in my corner.

This conversation made a world of difference. Later that same day, she was happily cooking some chicken and salmon for me.

When dealing with family (or friends) to whom you’re having a hard time getting through, ask if you can speak with them privately. Avoid being defensive about your food choices. Instead, tell them how much you care about them and how much their support means to you. Let them know how happy it would make you to have them in your corner. If you need to, gently remind them that it makes things much harder on you when they persist.

Bring Your Own Food… to Share

jen-comas-famous-meatballs-450x338When it’s appropriate, bring food to share. Take one or two things that you love to eat and that make you feel like a million bucks. Make sure it’s something everybody else will enjoy, too. This ensures you have a couple of options.

My staples are amazing dairy/grain-free meatballs that are to die for, as well as a humongous tossed salad. If you’ve ever invited me to a dinner party, you already know the meatballs I’m talking about, you’ve eaten them and loved them. Yes, the meatballs in this picture are the real deal—Jen's Famous Meatballs.

Don’t Talk Food Over a Meal

Food is often a hot topic when I’m around. Most of my friends, and friends of friends, know that I’m in the health and fitness industry. Discussing diet and different nutritional approaches inevitably comes up.

dinner-party-table-450x306Considering that this is a passion of mine, I am always open to talking about it, but I have one cold, hard rule: I will not discuss food over a meal.

If somebody really wants to further discuss nutrition with you, and you feel like elaborating, do so, but do it after eating time.

“I’m more than happy to talk about this. Let’s pick it up again after dinner!”

People pressure others into eating certain things for different reasons. It could be because the food is so delicious that they want you to enjoy it too. Or it may help them feel better about their choices to see other people indulging as well.

Ultimately, it’s your body, and you decide when and what you feed it.

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About the author:  Jen Comas

Jen Comas is a Girls Gone Strong co-founder and GGS Coaching Head Coach, as well as a NASM Personal Trainer and USAW Level One Weightlifting coach. She has competed in figure and trained as a powerlifter, teaches and practices yoga, and is obsessed with motorcycles, dirt biking, and downhill mountain biking. Learn about Jen on her website and follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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