Guest post written by: John Fawkes
So you’ve adopted a paleo diet. Grains, milk and legumes are out, meat, vegetables and nuts are in. You’re starting to lose weight, feel better, sleep better, and your digestion is notably improved. But then something happens…you have to go out to eat with friends.
Like a good paleo dieter, you order a steak and salad…but your friends also get some appetizers for the table. At first you don’t intend to have any, but they talk you into trying some of the nachos…and the crab cakes…and the pizza. When it’s time to order drinks, you stay strong and limit yourself to one NorCal margarita…but you do have a few sips of a friend’s beer, at his insistence.
Then it’s time for dessert. There’s nothing on the dessert menu that fits your diet, so you resolve not to have anything…but your friends insist that you just have to try the chocolate cake. So finally you relent, and consume another few hundred calories of sugar and gluten. Afterwards you feel tired, bloated, and angry at yourself for breaking your diet. Yet at the same time, you have no idea how you could have said no to your friends.
People like these are called food pushers- people who try to push unhealthy foods onto friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances who are trying to follow a diet. For many people- particularly people whose social circles consist largely of folks who are out of shape and overweight- the social pressure exerted by food pushers is the number one thing keeping them from getting fit and healthy. And today, you’re going to learn why food pushers sabotage your diet, and exactly what you can say to get them to stop.
What motivates food pushers
They feel shamed by your progress.
Most food pushers want to be in better shape, but aren’t willing to put in the work to make it happen. Often, they’ll console themselves by telling themselves that it isn’t really possible; that we’re all stuck with whatever body type we’re born with. This feels good…until somebody comes along and shows them it just isn’t true.
Related to this is the defensiveness many people feel over the topic of sexual attractiveness. Overweight people tend to get very angry at any suggestion that healthy people are more attractive than unhealthy people. The fact is that most people get into fitness first and foremost because they want to be sexier…but you’re better off avoiding this topic around food pushers, or anyone who gets defensive around the subject of fitness.
They worry that your diet will impact your friendship
Suppose you have a close friend who you’ve always hung out with- and suppose that when hanging out, you’ve always had pizza, or ice cream, or beer, together. Or, suppose you two have the exact same body type- but with your new diet, you’ll soon be in better shape than they are.
Food pushers are often worried that your diet will create a distance between the two of you, either because you won’t be able to eat together, or because you’ll be “too cool” for them once you’re in better shape. It is imperative that a) you show that you can still eat at most of the same places you used to eat, and b) that you soothe your friend’s ego so they stop worrying that you’re becoming better than they are.
They simply don’t believe in dieting
This comes in two forms: people who believe it’s impossible to change your body type, and people who think it’s inadvisable. The first group will usually point out that 95% of overweight people fail to lose weight and use this to justify not trying, while ignoring the fact that most don’t try hard enough, if at all. The second will usually spout off some talking points from the Health At Any Size movement.
It’s hard to argue with these people- generally the best thing to do is avoid having that debate, and eventually let your results speak for themselves. Either they’ll come around, or they’ll agree to disagree, or you’ll just have to distance yourself from them.
They want to feel superior to you
This is the rarest form of food pusher, but also the most malicious. Some people simply don’t want friends who are their equals. Instead, they want friends who are in worse shape, make less money, are less socially popular, and less happy than they are.
This group can be hard to identify. Take a good look at your food-pushing friend- are they similar to you, or are they in better shape, or more successful in other areas of life? If they are more successful than you, they shouldn’t feel threatened by your own success- and if they do, you might just have to cut them out of your life.
Conversational scripts for deflecting food pushers
Sugar gives me a headache.
This simple excuse works by downplaying your effort. Instead of “dieting,” you’re avoiding sugar because you simply can’t enjoy it. This works great on food pushers who hate the idea of dieting, feel shamed by the effort you’re putting in, or keep trying to get you to eat junk food by insisting that you’ll enjoy it.
My doctor ran some blood tests, and it turns out I’ve been feeling sick because I have a bunch of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. So I really need to eat more meats and vegetables.
By putting the emphasis on your immediate health problems, this accomplishes a few things. First off, it drives home the urgent necessity of your diet- your health is seriously suffering from the bad diet you were on. Second, it precludes any talk of attractiveness, since you’ve firmly established a different motive for your diet. And third, it makes it harder for people to try to argue with your diet, as food pushers risk looking like they don’t care about your health.
My husband and I are doing this together. We promised each other we’d stick with it, and I can’t break that promise.
Here we have a very, very effective tactic: emphasizing your obligation to other people. It’s not unlike when a customer service rep deflects an angry customer by saying that rules are rules, and she simply can’t do anything about it. By presenting your diet as something that you’re obligated to stick to by an agreement with someone else, you present a situation in which your diet simply can’t be debated with you.
My doctor said I need to cut back on the sugars and starches and eat more whole foods, or I’ll have diabetes and heart problems within a few years. So this is something I really need to do.
Again, this works by keeping the focus on your health rather than attractiveness, but it has the added bonus of adding some urgency- this is something you need to do now, rather than later. While you may still take some flak from the Health At Any Size crowd, most people will get the hint that you really need to eat healthier.
Some will still try to get you to have “just this one slice of pizza,” because “just this one time couldn’t hurt.” If they do, just re-emphasize the health risks of not following your diet until they understand that their behavior makes it seem like they don’t care about you.
Eating all of these vegetables was tough at first, but I’ve come to enjoy them. Since I started eating differently, I notice I’ve become more sensitive to sweetness- so now veggies actually taste sweet to me.
This does a couple of things- it acknowledges that you’e on a diet, but downplays your effort in order to avoid making anybody feel defensive about the lack of effort they’re putting into their own health. It suggests that you’ve started to enjoy your diet, which helps to deflect any suggestion that you should cheat on your diet just for fun. And notice the use of “eating differently,” rather than “better” or “healthy,” which avoids making a value judgement which might cause people who don’t diet to get defensive.
My doctor said if I didn’t start eating better and losing weight, I’d be bedridden within five years, and dead within fifteen. I owe it to my family to be around when my kids graduate, and when my grandchildren are born.
Here we combine two of the techniques seen earlier- illustrating a near-term health risk if you don’t clean up your diet, and framing your health as a duty to your family. This leaves people very little to argue with- after all, this is something you absolutely have to do if you want to live, and the decision isn’t entirely yours to make anyway.
Honestly, I haven’t really been dieting that hard. I’ve just made an effort to eat more meat and vegetables, and I notice I just don’t crave sweets like I used to.
This is a simple line that works by downplaying your effort. Notice that it puts the focus on what you’ve added into your diet rather than what you’ve cut out, so that your diet doesn’t seem like a grueling exercise in self-denial.
The paleo diet isn’t as hard as I thought. It includes a lot of foods that I love, and I can still find something that fits my diet almost anywhere I go.
This again downplays your effort- and implies that dieting isn’t as hard as your friend thinks either. The last part reassures them that you’ll still be able to eat out with them almost anywhere. This is also a good line to use on a friend who you hope to convince to join you in your diet, since it addresses two of the misgivings they’re likely to have.
I know a few people who have lost thirty or forty pounds on this diet, and kept it off. So far I’m down five pounds- it’s been easier than I expected, and I notice I’m starting to feel happier and have more energy.
This script provides evidence that dieting actually works, making it a great one for use against people who like to pull out the “95% of people fail to lose weight” statistic. It also downplays your effort to mollify defensive friends, and presents your diet as something you enjoy rather than an unpleasant challenge.
I need to do this to for my health. I know you care about me and want me to be healthy, and I know I can count on your support.
While this one sounds positive, it’s drawing a line in the sand- you’re implying that if they keep pushing you, they’ll be making it clear that they don’t care about you or your health. Use this if you’ve expressed how important your diet is to your health, and the food pusher keeps pushing.
This stir fry is amazing. You have to try some. I’m serious, it’s way better than the pasta- come on, try it!
This is a last-ditch line to use with food pushers who just won’t stop, after everything else has failed. By turning that game around on them, you hope to accomplish one of two things: either they actually do try some of your healthy food and realize it tastes just fine, or they realize how annoying food pushing is and cut it out. Either way you win. If they refuse and keep trying to badger you into breaking your diet, this is the point at which you need to consider distancing yourself from that person.
It sucks to think about, but cutting your friends loose has to be considered as an absolute last resort. However, by understanding the motives of food pushers and saying the right things to them, you can almost always get the people in your life to stop undercutting your diet and start supporting you in your health and fitness goals. If you’re having trouble with food pushers, try out a few of these scripts, and share your results in the comments.
About the Author
John Fawkes is a fitness coach, body hacker, and self-experimentation enthusiast. He helps people to get lean, sexy and healthy, while enjoying their lives and eating food they love. He publishes a free five-day fitness jumpstart course, and can be followed on Twitter. John is also known to sing a mean cover of Rebel Yell.