Now that national Dress Up Funny and Binge on Sugar Day is over, we’re headed into the real danger zone: The Holiday Season. Not just one night, not just a day or two, but a good six weeks of people trying to jolly you into eating things you know you shouldn’t because, “It’s the holidays!”
It’s not just Mom pushing candied sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner. There are going to be cookies in the break room at work, egg nog at the beauty salon, candy canes handed out at the dry cleaners. The barrage is constant. And if you say, “No, thanks, I’m on a diet,” they will chant the evil spell: “But it’s the holidays!”
No one who really cares would say to a sober alcoholic, “Oh, c’mon, you can have glass of wine! It’s the holidays!” No one ever asks an ex-smoker, “You should be able to have just one or two at a party, shouldn’t you?”
Because your friends and family, the clerk at the dry cleaner, the co-worker in the break room, most everyone doesn’t see carbs as a drug, they see pushing you to “treat yourself” as a kindness. This is what makes it so hard to say no: you feel like you’re rejecting their kindness along with the proffered “treat.”
You must first accept in your heart and your mind that this is not so, that you can turn down cookies and candy without turning down the love and fellowship they represent. If you were a sober alcoholic, you wouldn’t feel that you were rejecting your friends and family when you turned down a drink.
You need to learn to say, “No, thank you.” Note the omission of the words, “I’m on a diet.” Talking about your diet at a party is boring.
There are four identifiable groups to whom you will be saying, “No, thank you.”
- Those who don’t care, will accept your “No thank you,” and move on. Bless these people; they are the truly polite. The world needs more of them.
- People who don’t care much about you, but have a weird obsession with getting you to join in, much like the drunk at the bar who mutters, “Wha, you too good to drink wit’ me?” They see your passing up the sweets as a judgment upon their indulgence – ridiculous, of course, but there it is. For these, when they push past the second “No, thank you,” I recommend this: Look at them as if they have sprouted a second head, and say, “Wow. You seem really invested in this.” Bonus points if other people are listening. If they persist, put on your sociologist’s hat, and say, “This is fascinating. I can’t imagine why you care so much.” In short, point out that you are not the one behaving oddly, they are.
- There will be people who genuinely care about you, and think they are being hospitable by pressing you to eat carbs. If they persist past your second “No, thank you,” look them in the eye, and say gently, but in earnest, “Please don’t.” Let them know they are not being kind, but unintentionally hurtful. This is most likely to work with friends and possibly siblings – people with whom you have a close relationship of equals.
- Now for the hard one: Family members; usually female family members. For many women food is a language. Serving specific dishes is a way of saying “I love you.” Everyone eating the same traditional foods together says, “We are a happy family!” You can see why these feast days can be fraught. The usual exchange goes like this:
“No, thanks, I don’t need any banana bread.”
“But you always have banana bread! It’s your favorite!”
“None for me, thanks.”
“Oh, come on. It’s Thanksgiving!”
“No, thank you.”
“Just half a slice! Nobody diets on Thanksgiving.”
“No, thank you.”
You start to feel all eyes on you, judging you as rigid and joyless for not joining in. How can you hurt Mom’s feelings this way?
You don’t want to hurt your mother’s feelings, or your grandmother’s, or even your mother-in-law’s. Here is my best advice: Say “No, thank you,” and then immediately change the subject. How? Throw a question out to the group.
“I made the green bean casserole just for you!”
“No, thanks. Hey, does anyone know how long before Kevin gets deployed? Know where he’s going?”
“Here, have just a smidgen of my pumpkin pie. It’s a tradition!”
“None for me, thanks. Hey, anyone want to go Black Friday shopping in the morning? Where’s the nearest Best Buy, anyway?”
This neat bit of social ju-jitsu defuses the issue by shifting the focus off of you and your polite refusal. It makes it harder for the food-pusher to continue to pressure you. Once you’ve changed the subject, it will feel a little heavy-handed, even silly, if they keep pressing the issue. If you suffer from a pushy family member, I recommend you actually rehearse this, and come up with a list of questions ahead of time, anything from, “Has anyone seen (insert new movie here)? What did you think? Worth it?” to “How’d your semester go?”
So, there you go: techniques for saying “No, thank you.” Next up: shoring up your will power so you want to say “No, thank you!”