Navigating difficult conversations around food.
This Thanksgiving you will likely find yourself eating with others. Eating together is a cornerstone of our culture, its safe to guess we’ll be sharing thousands of meals over the course of our lives. When you eat with other people, your food choices may attract attention or commentary. Turning down somebody’s food offering can make them feel judged and you uncomfortable.
“Oh come on, it wont hurt to have a bite”
“You should enjoy yourself, don’t be so strict!”
“C’mon, live a little, it’s the holidays!”
“Your grandmother made this for you, do you really want to hurt her feelings?”
Any of these sound familiar?
Sticking to healthy habits can be hard, so it doesn’t help when your commitment is met with attacks and side-eyes. And while we all know sassy comebacks, responding to negativity with negativity is never a good idea, and could end up causing resentment or damaging relationships. However, you’re not doing anyone a favor by not standing by your values, stick to your guns with grace. In our relationships, food is love, acceptance, bonding, and comfort. Food is emotional. Changing the food on your plate can make others feel threatened, insulted, uncomfortable or rejected. In a lot of situations food is the only way we give and receive love from the people in our lives.
It is important to remember that most of these critiques are coming from people who are misinformed but well intentioned, or people who feel insecure or disappointed about their own health related decisions.
Identify whether the food pusher is doing it out of love. If it is out of love, communicate and reaffirm them that you DO feel loved by them and that you have a personal connection, no food necessary. Understand that we get immense pleasure out of giving other people treats. Grandparents are a great example; they love giving their grandchildren food their parents do not permit.
It’s tricky when you’re dealing with family members and don’t want to disrespect anyone. But you don’t need to give in either. Many people express love for people by cooking for them. There is no point in trying to change the way they think. The quickest way to end this interaction is to politely say thank you with a smile, and continue to eat what you originally planned on eating. You shouldn’t have to explain to others what you do or don’t put in your mouth. Don’t feel pressured to justify your choices. Simply stating “this is plenty for me, thank you for preparing all this!” generally works, but when the food pusher pushes harder, here are a few responses to keep in your tool belt, ready to go to fend off unwelcome flak.
A great tactic is to smile and redirect the conversation, gently steering the conversation away from you. The key is to be polite.
“It looks really good! I wish I could! Why don’t you tell me more about this dish…How did you develop the recipe?”
“I’m just pacing myself with this great spread! Hey, how was that vacation you just went on?”
Maybe you’re transitioning into eating less meat, and have chosen to stick with those values over thanksgiving dinner, you’re sure to be faced the question “but you need protein! Where will you get it?!”
Rather than spouting off “don’t ask me about my protein and I wont ask you about your cholesterol” I have found my best response goes along the lines of “Protein is not something I need to worry about with my food choices. I am just trying to do what is best for my body right now. We’ve all got different dietary needs, right? My body feels a lot better without meat right now.” Sometimes it is easier to have these conversations when you separate your body’s needs from your needs. People wont feel as defensive or feel like it’s a personal assault if you explain your decision in biological terms. Maybe sitting around the turkey on thanksgiving isn’t the best time to bring up animal rights and the environmental implications of eating meat. However if you are in the presence of people open to the idea, and are genuinely interested in your choice, it is always best to navigate this conversation without judgement, arrogance, superiority, condescension, egotism, snobbery, or contempt for their opinion. Hold a space for them, their opinion, and a beginners mindset.
Maybe you’re avoiding alcohol, and enjoying your sexy sobriety, or just trying to avoid an alcohol induced political argument at the family dinner table, where you know you are sitting with people you love who voted for the other party. My favorite trick is to pour myself a glass of kombucha, or fizzy water with lime and nobody knows the wiser. Both look like cocktails, help you hydrate, and may get people off your case. If you are faced with questions, a short answer is always best when discussing why you choose not to drink “I just don’t feel like drinking tonight” or “I feel really good not drinking right now”
Here are a few other responses you can use when faced with these remarks:
“Oh come on, it wont hurt to have one bite”
Response: “That’s true, but I can tell that is going to be so delicious I won’t be able to stop, its better if I don’t start”
“You should relax, enjoy yourself, and don’t be so strict!”
Response: “I am enjoying myself, I’m glad to be spending time with you, tell me more about…”
“But this is your favorite!”
Response: “Thanks for remembering that! However I overdosed on it, and need a break”
If simply laughing it off and changing the subject wont work, give them some insight on why you’re eating the way you are: “The grease upsets my stomach and I’d rather feel good instead of ending up in a food coma and having to go home early” Simple white lies don’t hurt either.
In the end, honor yourself and don’t do things to please other people. Don’t apologize; remember that this food choice is important to YOU. Take a breath, state your truth, and sit back and relax. You don’t need to explain yourself. Live in a space of what you know works and feel best for you and your body.