How to Say 'No' to Food Pushers

Tips for turning would-be diet sabotage into diet support.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 23, 2008
5 min read

When you're trying to lose weight, it can feel like temptation is everywhere. Sometimes, it comes in the form of friends and family members: Aunt Sally won't stop until you accept a piece of pie; your work friends insist you share their Buffalo wings during happy hour; your spouse complains about the lack of junk food in the house. Instead of providing diet support, it seems like your well-meaning loved ones are trying to commit diet sabotage.

What is it about dieting that can prompt this kind of reaction?

Experts say some may not want you to change because they're uncertain how losing weight will affect you. Or your efforts may make them feel guilty about their own weight or eating habits.

Not only that, says Tara Gidus, RD, but food often helps to define relationships.

"Sunday night dinners at Grandma's, happy hour with your colleagues, coffee with your friends -- these are rituals that are associated with foods and drinks and can impact the relationship," she says.

So how do you keep "food pushers" from ruining your diet?

When you're offered a food that's not on your diet, the best response is a firm "no, thank you" without any explanation, because excuses open the door for arguments, says John Foreyt, PhD, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

If that doesn't work, he says, try, "Thank you, but I'm on a special diet," or simply, "Thank you, but I'm trying to lose a few pounds."

However, some people just won't take no for an answer. And saying no to loved ones can be especially hard. That's when it's important to seek support from the would-be saboteurs, experts say. Be honest about what you're going through, and ask them for their understanding and help.

"Food pushers are not bad people. They simply think they know more than you do about how much you should eat," says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Jeannie Moloo, PhD, RD.

Here are some more tips from the experts for keeping your diet intact when you're faced with food pushers in several common situations.

When treats are served at the office, ask that they be kept in a place that is not central to the working environment (or put them there yourself).

"If you keep those doughnuts in the break room, you have to take a special trip to go in there to get one, whereas if they are sitting on a counter that you pass often, you are much more likely to indulge," says Moloo.

If there's a party at work, you don't have to miss out on the camaraderie. Instead, bring a healthy dish to share. Or eat before the party so you can say: "No, thank you; I just ate and I'm full."

You could also follow the "take and toss" rule: Take a small piece of cake, enjoy a few bites, and then toss it. (If necessary, do the tossing in the privacy of your office or in some other discreet location.)

Chances are, you have a pretty good idea of what's likely to be served at your mother's or grandmother's for those Sunday dinners. So why not offer to bring a salad, vegetable, or healthy dessert?

"Who can resist an offer to help with the meal?" says Gidus. "And this way, you know there will be some food that you can eat and [you can] just take small portions of the other offerings."

If they insist you take that piece of pie, it doesn't mean you have to devour a huge slab. Just accept a small portion, eat it slowly, and enjoy it. Or even just take a single bite.

Another option: "You can always graciously accept the food, saying something like, 'I'm full right now, but I'd love to take it home and have it later," says Foreyt. (Then you can ditch the decadent item at the first opportunity.)

Coping with your diet and changing size may be difficult for your partner, especially if he or she also could stand to lose some weight. Some may fear that if you get thinner, you may draw more romantic attention from others, or develop a wandering eye yourself.

"Feeling threatened can cause partners to react negatively and not be supportive," says Gidus.

To prevent this, make sure to reassure your partner that you love him or her, and ask for support for your weight loss efforts.

If having the house stocked with tempting goodies makes it harder on you, ask your partner to please enjoy these treats outside the house when you are not around.

And what if your partner loves to cook? In particular, says Gidus, "many women show their love through food just like mom did, and cooking is their way of making their partner happy."

She suggests asking these nurturing types to find ways to show their love other than through food. And let them know that preparing healthy foods - even healthier versions of the family's favorite comfort foods - is a great way to show their love while supporting your health goals.

If you're headed out to the bar with your friends, make a plan in advance for how you will navigate the alcohol, snacks, and pressure to consume both.

"Knowing your temptations and being prepared with a strategy will help you enjoy the happy hour without feeling guilty afterwards," says Moloo.

Her advice: Drink one or two light beers or wine spritzers, then spend the rest of happy hour sipping club soda with lime (it looks like a cocktail). If you eat high-calorie appetizers, consider them dinner.

Don't let friends pressure you into making bad decisions. Stick to your drink limit, and order some healthy appetizers for the table for everyone to enjoy.

"Be careful when you are drinking alcohol, because you can let your guard down and before you know it, you have devoured the appetizer loaded with fat and calories," says Moloo.

When you're eating out with family or friends, experts advise, try to keep the attention on the conversation and away from what you are eating (or not eating).

"If you don't make a big deal about it, you are less likely to hear any comments from friends," says Moloo.

It's also a good idea to plan ahead of time what you'll order, if you have an idea of what is on the menu. You might want to have a lighter lunch or a more intense workout that day so you can splurge a little at the restaurant.

"You know you will be tempted by the menu and what everyone else is eating, so strategize your day so you can eat a little more than usual," Gidus says.

Show Sources


Jeanne Moloo, PhD, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association.

Tara Gidus, MS, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; "Diet Diva" for The Daily Buzz television show.

John Foreyt, PhD, director, Behavioral Medicine Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.

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