BY ANISHA JHAVERI
Sticking to healthy habits can be hard, so it definitely doesn’t help when your commitment is met with jabs. Responding to negativity with negativity is not the smartest tactic.
It’s important to remember that most of these critiques are a result of people who are misinformed but well intentioned.
First, pause to consider whether they could have a point. All healthy lifestyles need balance. But assuming your choices are sound, you should stick to your guns with grace.
With the help of our trusty network of experts, we’re offering up some alternative, sensible, and much more productive ways to fend off that unwelcome flak in almost any situation.
The family holiday dinner
The situation: Although your family is well aware of your healthy-eating style, they remain hell-bent on pushing food: “Just eat it, it’s not going to kill you!” “You could afford to have some.” “But I made this just for you!” The final straw is when Aunt Agnes simply plops a generous heap of her congealed sausage stuffing onto your plate without asking.
It’s tricky when you’re dealing with an older family member you don’t want to disrespect, but you don’t need to just give in either, says Sherry Pagoto, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “Aunt Agnes is of a different generation, where expressing love for people means cooking for them,” Pagoto says. “There’s no point in trying to change the way she thinks.”
The quickest way to end this interaction is to say ‘thank you” with a smile and eat what you originally planned to. If Aunt Agnes (or anyone) actually insists on seeing you finish the portion, make an excuse about feeling uncomfortably full and ask if you can take it home. You’re free to do with the food what you wish later. (Read: chuck it.) Auntie feels appreciated; you eat what you like—everyone’s happy.
The dinner party
The situation: You’re at a dinner party, and while the spread is lavish, it’s also a butter-laden, deep-fried, meat-tastic, carb-dense hail of nutritional bullets—whatever your digestive system’s kryptonite. In short, it’s something that’ll leave you with a massive food hangover. You help yourself to what you can, but when the host looks at your plate, he insists on calling you out: “Why are you barely eating?!”
“You really shouldn’t have to explain to others what you do or don’t put into your mouth,” says Lindsey Joe, RD. So don’t feel pressured to justify your choices. Joe suggests simply stating, “Oh, this is plenty for me. Thank you for preparing all this!”
Another tactic, recommended by registered dietician and certified nutritionist Tina Gowin, is to smile, but then redirect the conversation. A question like, “I’m just pacing myself with this great spread! Hey, how was that vacation you just went on?” is bound to get the host chatting and gently steer the focus away from the food that is or isn’t on your plate. No matter what you say, both Joe and Gowin stress that the key is to be polite.
Lunch at the office
The situation: It’s lunchtime in the office, and everyone wants to order from the fast-food chain you can’t stand. You don’t want to be disagreeable, but also hate having to pay for an unhealthy, unsatisfying meal. You decide not to make a fuss, but then your coworker shows up with your portion of the bill and a box of the sugary churros you didn’t order: “Come on, you can be unhealthy for a day!” “If we split dessert, we can split the calories!”
You don’t have to feel hesitant to pass on something you genuinely don’t want, but remember, you’re working with these people five days a week, so it’s key to keep it civil. Joe uses a simple, “Thanks for offering, but no thanks. I’m stuffed from lunch!”
One of Gowin’s go-to responses is “I’m going out for a nice dinner later and want to have wiggle room for a juicy steak!” White lies are OK, Gowin says, as long as they aren’t too complicated or could get you into trouble later (e.g. don’t say you’re going gluten-free and then get caught eating pita chips). To avoid awkward moments in the future, she also suggests having a game plan ahead of time. “Keep paper menus of the restaurants you and your coworkers order from most often and highlight your best options,” she says. “This way, you know what to get no matter what.”
Post-work happy hour
The situation: Its happy hour on Thursday evening and you’re out with your co-workers, but you’d rather just enjoy their company and skip the booze. When you pass on the alcohol, your colleagues start in with a mixture of disbelief and disgust: “You’re so boring!” “Oh, come on, just have one drink!” “Are you anti-alcohol now too?”
Over the years, Robinson’s experience in this situation has revealed that the more you talk about it and make excuses, the more your friends will pry. His advice? “A short answer is best when discussing why you choose not to drink on a particular night: ‘No, I just don’t feel like drinking tonight.’”
Limiting your behaviour to that moment (versus a lifestyle choice) deflects any larger debate. If that doesn’t do the trick, humour is another great option: “Hey, now you have a sober driver to make sure a lightweight like you makes it home OK!” To appear social, Robinson suggests ordering a club soda and lime or even an iced tea with lemon. Both look like cocktails, help you hydrate, and may get people off your case. Win win win.