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Stand Your Ground: Strategies for Saying No to Food Pushers

Updated: Oct 8, 2023

Medically reviewed by Serena Benali, Registered Dietitian. Published September 1, 2023.


wooden kitchen table with dinner food spread and hands grabbing and serving food

We've all been there—sitting at a family gathering, work event, or social outing, faced with the pressure of someone insisting we eat just a little bit more. "One more slice won't hurt!" they say, or, "Come on, I made it just for you!" This person, whether they know it or not, is what's commonly referred to as a "food pusher."


Food pushers encourage or even insist that you eat more than you want or need, often dismissing your polite declines or ignoring your cues of satiety. While their intentions may vary—some may genuinely believe that they're showing love or being good hosts—the outcome is the same: you're left struggling between your own nutritional boundaries and social politeness.


In this blog post, we'll explore strategies to say no to food, understanding the psychology behind food pushing, and ways to protect your dietary choices without compromising relationships.


The psychology behind food pushing

Understanding why people push food can help you better navigate these tricky situations. Here are some key reasons:


Showing love or care

A food pusher's motives can come from a genuine interest to express their love and care for you. Whether it's your favourite dessert or a special night out with friends; their goal is to make you happy and help you enjoy the occasion.


These food pushers are easily dealt with because their intention comes with wanting you to feel good and enjoy yourself. Often a simple and polite acknowledgement of their efforts can go a long way! This lets them know you appreciate their kindness; it’s just the extra food you’re declining, not their love and care.


Social norms or traditions

In many cultures, offering food is more than just a gesture; it's an integral part of being a good host. If you say no, the host might feel like they're not doing a good job of hosting you. In some cultures finishing your plate means that your host didn’t give you enough food, so you bet they’re going to be encouraging you to eat more!


Reflect on a time when you hosted an event, did you check with your guests often to ensure they had enough to eat and drink? Most of us do this as a way to show we care and want our guests to be comfortable and satisfied. Understanding this can help provide context and make it easier to navigate these situations delicately.


Insecurity or validation

Some people might push food on you because it makes them feel better about what they’re eating. If you’re also eating, it can help them feel justified or less “guilty” about their own eating choices.


This can be a little tricky to handle because it's not just about the food; it's also about how they're feeling. A good way to deal with this is to be clear about what you want to eat, while letting them know it's okay for them to make their own choices too.


How to say no to food pushers

Here's a list of phrases you can use to politely but firmly say "no" to food in various situations. Let's dive in!


General phrases for saying no

  • "No, thank you, I'm good for now."

  • "I appreciate the offer, but I'll have to pass this time."

  • "I'm actually quite full, but thank you."

  • “I cannot eat another drop of food or I’m going to feel uncomfortable.”

  • “I am already full, but I would love to take some home!”

  • "I’d love to but I'm trying to listen to my body, and it's telling me I'm full!"

  • "I'm full but I would love to save these for leftovers so I don't have to cook/have lunch for work tomorrow!"


How to say no when facing social pressure

  • "I'd rather not, but thanks for offering!"

  • "It looks delicious, I feel content with what I ate."

  • "Thanks, but I don't want to overdo it."

  • "I'm taking it easy on food right now, but thank you."

  • "I'm being mindful of what I eat, so I'll pass."


How to say no at family gatherings

  • "You know I love your cooking, but I'm full."

  • “I would love to put this in my freezer for later”

  • "I've had plenty, thank you."

  • "I need to save room for later!"

  • "It was a big meal, I can't eat another bite!"


How to say no when the food pusher needs validation

  • "It looks delicious, you should definitely enjoy it!"

  • "You're such a good cook, but I can't eat any more right now."

  • "I wish I could, but I'm sticking to what's right for me."

  • "You go ahead, I'm sure it's great. I've just had enough."

  • "I'm sure it's tasty, but I'm completely satisfied."


For those of you who find it hard to decline food offers directly, sometimes citing dietary restrictions can be an easy way out. Feel free to jokingly throw your dietitian under the bus—trust me, we won't mind!


How to say no due to dietary restrictions

  • "Thanks for the offer, but I have some dietary restrictions."

  • "I appreciate it, but my diet doesn't allow that right now."

  • "I can't eat that, but it looks great."

  • "I'm sticking to a specific meal plan, so I'll have to decline."

  • "I can't have that, but don't let me stop you."

  • "My dietitian says that's off-limits for me at the moment."


Of course, it's perfectly okay to simply say "no" when someone is pushing food your way. You don't owe anyone an explanation for your choices. However, if you're not comfortable with a straightforward 'no,' use the effective options we've shared to help you navigate these situations.


Setting New Boundaries with Food Pushers


If you've previously said no to food when but you ended saying yes when pressed again, it might take some time for people to adjust to your new boundaries. It's natural for people to rely on past interactions as a guide for future behaviour. So, don't be discouraged if it takes a few tries for your friends and family to fully respect your new choices. Consistency is key; the more you assert your boundaries, the easier it will become for those around you to understand and respect your decisions.



Key Takeaways: Strategies for Saying No to Food Pushers

Food pushers often have good intentions at heart, wanting you to enjoy yourself. Using these strategies to say no can help put you at ease in social settings, allowing you to graciously decline without creating awkwardness.


Remember that over time, as you consistently assert your boundaries, people will come to understand and respect your new limits. This will make you feel more confident and comfortable at social events, while still staying true to your own food choices.


For more inspiration on eating in-tune with your body's needs, check out our blog on the best intuitive eating books! And if you haven't yet, check out our library of free resources for a healthier relationship with food and meal planning!

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