Do you overeat to make others happy? Try these 3 kind ways to respond to food pushers to stick to your healthy boundaries without hurting their feelings.

I have met a lot of food pushers over the years during my 100-pound weight loss journey and throughout my weight maintenance.

Some of the people have “pushed” so kindly that it made it incredibly difficult to say no because I knew they meant well. Some people were much more forceful and made it nearly impossible to say no.

This is an area where I struggled for a really long time. Partially because I was a people-pleaser and I wanted to make them happy. And partially because it was already difficult enough to say no to delicious foods when I was trying to lose weight! Adding peer pressure to it made it so easy to cave.

But learning to say no and set my own boundaries (instead of allowing other people to tell me when and how much to eat) was really empowering and led to me hitting my goal weight and maintaining that weight loss.

If you struggle with healthy boundaries in any area of your life, I highly recommend Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Boundaries. I’ve learned so much from him!

woman holding plate of muffins

What Is A Food Pusher?

A food pusher is someone who encourages you to overeat, eat off-plan, or eat something you really don’t want to eat at that moment.

Often times, they don’t accept your first “no” as a final response and will push you further.

Reasons People Push Food On You

Sometimes food pushers mean well.

I’ve been a food pusher before myself! Offering/giving food is one of my love languages, how I show you I care about you. I’ll pay attention to your likes and dislikes and try to cater to them, so if I surprise you with a plate of your favorite cookies or a bag of a candy you said you wanted to try, it truly is out of a place of care.

I’ve met a lot of people who express their love with food (grandmas seem to be notorious for this!).

  • They love you.
  • They use food as a way to show they care about you.
  • They make your favorite foods as a way to show they know you/are paying attention to your likes and dislikes.
  • They are nurturers and that way of showing love comes easily to them.
  • They want to make you happy by giving you/feeding you things they know you love.

Other times, their intentions aren’t as pure.

Sometimes food pushers push you to eat so that they can feel less guilty about their own unhealthy choices. They might want to feel like they are an influential person in your life and that their opinion “should” dictate your decisions.

More possible reasons:

  • They are insecure about their own eating and feel better about their poor choices if someone else joins in.
  • They don’t want their life to change. If you make healthy choices, they feel pressured to make healthy choices too and they aren’t ready/wanting to do that.
  • They want to keep you exactly as you are. They are afraid of the unknown and how their life might change if you lose weight.
  • They want to feel like their opinion matters in your choices (possibly to the point of wanting more control in your life).
  • They need your affirmation to feel good enough, so if you don’t eat enough, they feel unloved/unworthy of love.

No matter what their intentions are, you are the only one who gets to decide what you eat.

Things Food Pushers Might Say To You

This is just a few examples of things food pushers might say to you in an effort to try to convince you to eat outside of your boundaries. I’ve heard all of these and so many more!

  • “Just one more bite.”
  • “It’s okay to eat more. I used low-fat cream cheese in this cheesecake!”
  • “Calories don’t count on holidays/special occasions/Fridays!”
  • “You deserve it!”
  • “Don’t be a joy-kill…just eat with us!”
  • “Come on, it’s just one more piece. It’s no big deal!”
  • “You have to at least clean your plate, you know!”
  • “Don’t let your nephew out-eat you!”
  • “You’re not eating enough. That must mean you don’t like it.”
  • “You can’t be full yet! Come on!”
  • “We’re celebrating together. Don’t ruin it.”
  • “This can be your last hurrah. You can start your diet tomorrow.”
  • “I’ll have another piece if you do.”
  • “You don’t need to be dieting anyways.”
  • “You really want to live with those rigid eating rules? Loosen up! Just have some fun!”

This is just a short list, but you get the picture!

Food pushers will say just about anything to convince (or in some situations, manipulate) you into eating more than you know you should eat.

And, often, they won’t stop at one of these phrases! The most insistent food pushers won’t give up easily, making it even more important for you to know your own boundaries (and how to enforce them).

The Importance of Setting Your Healthy Boundaries in Eating

No matter how insistent the food pusher in your life is, you are the only person who decides what and how much you eat.

You get to draw that line yourself! Maybe one week, you decide to have dessert with everyone, but the next week you are full. You get to say no.

Everyone has their own definitions of what healthy means to them and everyone has a different way of eating.

Just because it’s right for someone else, doesn’t make it the right decision for you. (I had to tell myself that a LOT during my 100-pound weight loss journey).

If you have been giving in to the food pushers in your life up until now, it’s very likely that the first time you set a boundary, they will be shocked and they might not respond very well.

Don’t give up.

The more often you stick to your boundaries, the more readily they will accept your “no” to mean “no.”

You may choose to offer some kind of explanation, but you don’t owe it to them.

Remember that YOU are the one who ultimately has to deal with the consequences of overeating, not them, so you are the one with the authority to make the decision about what you eat or don’t eat.

3 Kind Ways To Respond to Food Pushers

Now, as passionate as I am about healthy boundaries, I’m just as passionate about people. Like I said earlier, I’m a people-pleaser!

I don’t want to be unkind, harsh, or hurt their feelings. The goal is not to shove your boundary down their throat! But you do want to lay your boundary firmly and kindly (yes, it’s possible to do both!).

Any time I respond to a food pusher, I try to remember that, even though they are trying to get me to eat, it’s really not about me at all.

If you look over the above list of reasons people push food on you again, you’ll see that most of the reasons food pushers push food is out of their own insecurities or fear. If you can say something to address that piece in them, it can be much more effective than just digging your heels in and refusing to eat what they want you to eat!

1. Firm Boundaries

If I don’t know the person well and I don’t know their motives for sure, this is often the approach I will use.

“No thanks!”

Sometimes that’s all you need to say.

This phrase is short, sweet, and to the point.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, food pushers rarely stop at your first no. When I am trying to lay firm boundaries with this approach, I try to give as little information as possible because often the person will run with whatever you tell them and create all different off-shoots to their argument.

For example, a co-worker offers you a donut they brought in and you respond with “no thanks.” They reply back with, “But I know you love donuts! Why don’t you want one?”

With food pushers, any answer here could lead to a full (and unnecessary) conversation. If you say you just had breakfast, they’ll counter back with something like, “Well, then just enjoy second breakfast! It’s no big deal!”

Keep your boundary short, clear, kind, but firm.

2. The Love Sandwich

Most of the time, I like to respond to food pushers with what I like to call the “love sandwich.” I feel like this is the most empathetic, caring approach to this. It allows me to address their deeper needs/insecurities/fears while still sticking to my boundaries.

So, let’s say a family member offers you a slice of their homemade cake, but you’ve already eaten and you’re full.

#1 – Affirm Them (“Wow, this cake really looks amazing!”)

I love this step because it acknowledges their kindness. Like I said, most of the food pushers in my life have good intentions. They are trying to show me they care and often they are craving some words of affirmation.

As a words of affirmation person myself (it’s my top love language), I can relate and I will throw encouragement around like confetti (and I genuinely mean it, too!).

I’ll tell you all day how beautiful those cookies look, how impressive that cake is, and how thoughtful you are for making it in the first place.

Now, remember to cater to your audience and to give them the affirmation they really need.

For example, my brother-in-law bakes to impress so he needs to hear how amazing his cakes look.

But my dad pushes food out of a fear that I will be wasteful if I don’t eat it, so I affirm him by saying, “This won’t go to waste! I’ll pack it up for later.”

And a friend of mine had a fear that I would judge her unhealthy choices if I made healthy choices, so I affirmed/assured her by saying, “It is totally fine for you to order the chili cheese fries! Enjoy every bite!”

#2 – Lay My Boundary Firmly (“I’m too full to eat any right now.”)

This step is still vitally important. You have to be clear.

In my ultra people-pleasing days, I would say things in such a wishy-washy way because I was so afraid of creating conflict or offending people that I never expressed my boundaries clearly.

Clarity matters in boundaries.

If they don’t understand your boundary, they can’t respect it. Say what you need to say without apology.

It’s okay to say things like, “No, thanks.” “I don’t want any right now.” “I’m just too full.” “I already ate my calories for the day.”

#3 – Express Gratitude (“But thank you so much for offering! That was so thoughtful of you!”)

And then, I like to add another layer of kindness after my boundary.

I want my boundary to sound firm, but my heart to sound soft.

I like to end with expressing thankfulness to them. That could be “Thanks for offering!” “I really appreciate you thinking of me.” “That sure was thoughtful of you to remember I liked that.” “I’m so grateful for your generosity.” Or all kinds of other things.

It can be as flowery or straight-forward as you want it to be, but I find it helps people accept your boundaries and still see your kind intentions.

3. Not Right Now, But Later!

So, this last way to respond is a great one that I used time and time again on my weight loss journey.

If you’ve read my post on the 3 steps to conquering cravings, you’ll know that I even use this response to myself sometimes!

If I really want a food but I know I’m not hungry at that moment or it doesn’t fit into my food plan for that day or it would make me go over my calories (if you’re wondering if I think calorie counting is necessary for weight loss, you can read about that here), then my answer is, “I’m not going to eat that right now, but I’d love to have some later!”

That ensures that you are sticking to the boundaries you need to keep your body healthy but you still get to try the food later on when it does fit into your plan.

You could say things like:

  • “That was some of the best cake I’ve ever tasted. I’m full now, but can I take a piece home to enjoy tomorrow?”
  • “Oh, this looks wonderful! I just ate, but I’d love to take some for later!”
  • “I just ate breakfast, but can I save a donut for tomorrow?”

This works so well with unexpected treats – coworkers bringing donuts to work, friends surprising you with cookies, or a family member wanting you to have a second slice of dessert at dinner.

Wrap it up, take it home, freeze it…whatever you need to do!

Just because food is offered to you at that moment does not mean you need to eat it then and there to enjoy it.

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