10 "Food Pushers" and How to Respond
What to say to someone who makes your food their business
The holidays bring out the best and the worst behaviors around the dinner table. And while snarky, knee-jerk reactions to comments like "You sure can put it away can't you?" can be tough to resist, they also fuel the drama that can make your holidays anything but happy. We went one-on-one with Dr. Susan Albers, author of Eating Mindfully and 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, to find out the perfectly polite response for when someone makes your food their business.
"You're so skinny! Take more. You don't eat enough!"
What you wish you could say: "I'm not 12 anymore, mom! You don't have to babysit me."
Try this instead: Turn it into a lighthearted teaching opportunity, Dr. Albers says. "Make a fist, hold up your hand, and say, 'Did you know this is the actual size of your stomach?' It's amazing to think about how much we try to put in there!"
"You sure can put it away can't you? Girls don't normally eat that much."
What you wish you could say: "And boys don't normally cry through Steel Magnolias, so I guess we're both unique."
Try this instead: A simple "ouch" will often suffice, Dr. Albers says. But when it doesn't, a little humor can go a long way. "Eating like a bird went out of style with the corsets and hoop skirts. I'm going for a run this afternoon (or fill in the blank with whatever activity you do-lug around a 20-pound child, play tennis, hike half a mile to the subway, etc.)."
"But I made these treats especially for you!"
What you wish you could say: "If you really knew me, you'd know that I hate cooked raisins."
Try this instead: No thanks. It can be as simple as that, Dr. Albers says. "The key is how you say it. Say it with force and conviction." And don't forget to be extra generous with the compliments. "Food is a connector. It can be an expression of love. When someone uses food to strengthen the bond, try other ways to let them know you care. Verbal 'I love yous!' and compliments can reaffirm these connections without calories."
"It's a holiday! You can let loose for one day, can't you?"
What you wish you could say: "Between Columbus Day, Valentine's Day, and Take Your Pet to Work Day, there will always be a holiday to justify a treat if that's what you're looking for."
Try this instead: Remember that food isn't the only way to celebrate. Show people that you can enjoy the holidays in other ways by telling them about the fun things you've done. "Can you believe I went sledding today for the first time in ten years? You should have seen me flying down the hill!"
"Should you really be eating that?"
What you wish you could say: "Delicious food? I'd hate to live in a world where I shouldn't be eating homemade truffles!"
Try this instead: Turn the question around to redirect the focus back on them, Dr Albers suggests. "Wow, it seems like you're really worried about what other people eat." It might lead to a short, uncomfortable silence, but they'll understand they were out of line and it won't happen again.
"Vegetarians are just slow carnivores."
What you wish you could say: "And yet I could still run circles around you."
Try this instead: "First, decode the word," Dr. Albers says. "Sometimes people can get stuck on the word or stereotypes of vegetarians or vegans, and they really don't understand why you eat the way you do." If ignorance isn't the issue, own the title and don't be ashamed. "You caught me... I'm a veggie lover!"
"Eat some cake! You're making me feel guilty for eating it!"
What you wish you could say: "And now you're making me feel guilty for making you feel guilty! Stop the madness and eat the cake!"
Try this instead: "This comment is a good example of the way people project their own feelings onto you," Dr. Albers says. When someone makes a hurtful or controlling comment, it's often more of a reflection of how they feel. Rather than give, try to offer some reassurance and then use it as a teaching moment about how you cope with food guilt, saying something like, "You don't have to feel guilty. I find that eating food mindfully-savoring each bite-is the best way to make my inner critic be quiet."
"You're tiny. You can eat whatever you want! I gain 10 pounds just looking at food."
What you wish you could say: "It's not luck. I work really freaking hard for this body!"
Try this instead: Empathy is your best strategy in this scenario. "This is likely to be someone who really struggles with their eating," Dr. Albers says. "You probably know exactly how they feel. Try something that evens the playing field like, 'Yes! It is so hard to be around good food. I know it was really hard for me at first, but thankfully it got easier over time. I couldn't imagine that I could get a handle on my eating, but I did it!'"
"Why bother with rabbit food? Life is for having fun! Stop being such a health nut."
What you wish you could say: "What makes you think I'm not having fun? Watching you try to pick the kale out of a smoothie is hilarious!"
Try this instead: Challenge them to try it your way, Dr. Albers suggests. "I can teach you some really amazing recipes that are so good, I bet you wouldn't even know they're healthy!" And emphasize the fact that eating healthy makes you feel good! It's much harder to have fun when you're uncomfortable in your clothes.
"You must be anorexic/bulimic/a binge eater."
What you wish you could say: "I didn't know you went back to school and got a medical degree! When did that happen?"
Try this instead: Make it clear that you don't think eating disorders are a joke, Dr. Albers says. "We often see celebrities and skinny people called 'anorexic' or a 'binge eater,' but those are serious medical and emotional problems not about just being thin." To avoid sounding like a lecture, you can add in your own experience, saying something like, "Thankfully, I enjoy eating food and will definitely keep it that way!"