Updated: Dec 19, 2019
“Food pushers” are a special breed of humans, that tend to “push” food onto others for various reasons. Either it’s to show love, cover their insecurities about eating, low self worth or purely due to learnt habitual patterns.
Whether it’s aunt Janet insisting that you have that last piece of her special lemon drizzle cake or your friends rooting for you to finish your entire Christmas roast in a party to “save room for dessert,'' I'm sure you had plenty of encounters with food pushers before. However, if you often struggle to say no and succumb to peer pressure, it can be useful to come up with some coping strategies to respond to food pushers with assertiveness.
These strategies can be helpful to anyone at all, who struggles with food relationship and habits.
Whether it’s simply overeating and having a few too many, looking after health and sensibly managing weight or suffering with bulimia or binge eating disorder, it’s important to assert your boundaries to have an enjoyable time.
When these situations are handled with transparency, clarity and kindness, it is very unlikely that the person on the other end will get upset or you declining food may cause drama. And if it does, always remember that you have the right to say NO.
Here are a few of my favourite techniques to help respond to food pushers when you truly had enough.
For some people offering food and especially treats serves as a way to show deep love, care and appreciation. Although this is very common with older generation people, especially those who survived wars or poverty, it can also depend on the person’s habits and upbringing.
Be kind, understanding and considerate, as rudely rejecting the food may hurt their feelings and self-esteem. Accept the gesture of love, but turn down the food in a gentle way: “thank you so much, this looks incredible”, “Wow, everyone will love this” and “Thank you so much, I will certainly have it later.” Focus on replacing “no” with “thank you’ and certainly complement their efforts and care.
“I am not hungry”
This may only work when you are being offered food that’s unplanned and unexpected. The approach of kindness still applies, but you can always explain: “I have just eaten” or “I had enough for now, thank you” or “I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as it deserves as I am full.”
This is hands down my favourite technique as it demonstrates certainty and communicates your needs clearly, yet still is polite and considerate. “Broken record” is a technique to handle any objections and it stops the likelihood of any justification, explanations and continuation on the topic.
Simply say “No, thank you” with a big smile on your face and if the person insists you have more, just keep saying “no, thank you”. There is great power in simplicity.
Humour is a good way to make things light- hearted and diffuse the tension. Say thank you first and if appropriate make a joke that feels right to the situation. Perhaps turn it towards them and ask: “Sounds like you would like more? Go for it.” This way you will take the pressure off yourself and reassure them it is OK to have some more. Remember, that some people may want you to eat so they have the permission to do so as well.
“I will take leftovers/ have it later”
If you are unsuccessful with other strategies or you simply know that the person will not stop asking until you agree, you can always delay the consumption of the food. Just say “Although I am not hungry right now, I would love to have it later” or “I will certainly take some leftovers with me as I have no space left now”.
Avoid food talk at the table
Do you know that you are having dinner with a definite food-pusher? Then make sure you prepare. Give compliments for food and be kind, but avoid getting stuck around the subject of food and keep changing topics. Diffuse the importance of food as the centre of the gathering.
Sometimes in the case of food pushers, honesty is the best policy. However, you may only know who this will work with and who may not react well or be understanding and compassionate. Explain where you are at with your health goals and where your challenges lie. In some situations, it is even a good idea to talk to the person before the dinner and explain, especially if it is a bigger gathering.
Share your journey if you feel it’s the right thing for you and ask for the support you need.