How to Politely Refuse Food

If you’re a people-pleaser, you may have a hard time trying to refuse food.

I was just talking with a client recently. Sadly, his brother passed away unexpectedly. Friends and relatives brought “at least 500 pounds” of food to my client’s home. The food was piled up all over the kitchen and dining room and threatening to take over the rest of the house, too. One kind-hearted lady even brought a gallon jug of gravy!

My client’s blood sugars had been in good control, but things got messy in the week after his brother’s death. He was tempted by the treats coming into his house. Even if he had just finished eating, he felt obligated to try a little bit of every dish that was brought in so that the person who brought it would know how much he appreciated their efforts.

My client’s situation was temporary. After a couple of weeks, friends and neighbors stopped bringing so many goodies. His food supply returned to normal, and so did his blood sugars.

Food pushers and food police

Some of us have long-term struggles with feeling obligated to eat even when we’re not hungry. We live or work with what I call “food pushers”. These are people who think they know our appetites better than we do. They like to tell us when and what to eat, and they’re certain we can’t possibly be full yet.

The opposite of the “food pushers” are the “food police”. These are the people who like to tell us when we’ve had enough to eat, that we need to stop, and that surely we must be full by now. These kinds of comments make some of us want to eat more just to prove the food police wrong. Ha! I’ll show you…I can eat more food, a lot more food!

The truth is, I can’t look at you and know whether or not you’re hungry. Likewise, you can’t look at me and know whether or not I’m full. We can make an educated guess if we know how long it’s been since the other person’s last meal, but we really don’t know anything for sure because we don’t live inside anyone else’s body.

Only you can decide how much food you need

You’re the only one who can decide when you’re hungry or full, so don’t let anyone else dictate that for you.  Giving someone else control over your appetite is a recipe for an unhappy gut, a weight management problem, and a potential eating disorder.

How to refuse food politely

You don’t need to argue with food pushers or food police.  When you do, you invite them to believe that they have a say-so in your eating choices.  No, you just need to acknowledge their comment in the most non-committal way possible.

Some words to use to politely refuse food:

  • “You might be right”.  You’re not saying the food pusher is right, just that they might be right.  Then, you can carry on with your business as if nothing was said.  For example, if your sister says, “You need to have some of this triple marshmallow fudge sauce.”  You can say, “You might be right” and keep eating what’s on your plate without making a move toward the fudge sauce.   (“You might be right” is a magic phrase that works in a lot of situations, food-wise and otherwise.)

  • “I might come back for that”.  You might come back for that, and then again you might not.  Only you will determine what you’ll come back for, and that’s as it should be.

  • “I think I’m satisfied”.  Repeat as many times as needed.

Notice that neither of these phrases has anything to do with your blood sugar or your weight.  You may not always want to share that you have diabetes, and your weight is really nobody’s business but your own.  To bring up a health condition invites discussion (and more advice) about it, and I think to bring up weight is unnecessary.  People come in all shapes and sizes and should be able to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full without judgment from others.

It takes practice to politely refuse food

The next time someone tries to push food on you, try using one or all of the phrases above.  The point is not to argue with the food pusher or food police, but to acknowledge their statement without fully agreeing with it and without changing your eating behavior.  You may not feel like your efforts are successful at first, but over time, you’ll become more and more comfortable with the idea that you, and only you, are in charge of what you eat.

Julie Cunningham is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist. She believes food is the foundation of good health, and that our culture of obsession about body size is damaging to health, happiness, and productivity in far too many people. When not talking or writing about food and health, she can be found in the the mountains of western NC, where she lives with her family and four legged friends.

Julie Cunningham

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