For those of us with ‘health’ in mind, family gathering, celebrations and catching up with friends can be a food-challenge. This challenge can stem from internal thoughts and emotions, the plethora of sights and smells, and all too often the people.

Yup, the people – your elderly grandparent with the extra serve of cake just for you, your well-meaning parents who dish you up a pile of potato ‘salad’ because they know you have been eating better, or you wine-bearing siblings who think you just need to relax every now and again. Before you know it, your carefully thought out plan for eating healthy is out the window, you are a couple of glasses of wine down, three mouthfuls into your second serving of dessert and regretting your choice to wear tight-fitting jeans!

Does this sound familiar?

Social Pressure

Individuals whose eating and drinking behaviours are heavily influenced by social situations will tend to overeat for a couple of reasons:

  • To avoid confrontation, albeit the awkwardness of explaining your new eating behaviours, or the threat of offending someone.
  • To avoid being the centre of attention when your cousin starts to interrogate you about the ins and outs of your weight-loss.
  • To avoid the anxiety and misery of ‘missing out’ on the fun, happiness and pleasure everyone else appears to be having by eating/drinking…

Saying “No”

So, how can you learn to say ‘no’ to peer pressure, food pushers and pleasure peddlers?

At the heart of the matter it is a lot about understanding the initial driver to eat, learning to be assertive of your right to eat healthily, and responding appropriately (and politely). I have compiled a list of easy, polite ways to say ‘no’ and stick to your plan…

  • “Oh, thank you for thinking of me Nan. That sweet looks amazing, but I am still feeling full from lunch so I will wait a little while before I take some.”
  • “I love your potato salad Mum, and I bet it tastes extra delicious today. Would you be able to save me a portion so I can eat it tomorrow when I am not as hungry and can truly savour it?”
  • “Oh thank-you for offering, but I’ve prepared some of my own dips and fruit salad that I would prefer to start with. You are welcome to have some.”
  • “No mate, I am right with my soda water and lime at the moment. Thank-you for offering. I will let you know if I’d like a drink later.”
  • “Thank you so much! Would you mind if I saved this for later?” Or, “would you mind if I saved this for my son? He loves these!”

Model A Perfect Response

If you would like to draft your own responses, the DESC model is a useful tool. This model provides a guide for assertive behaviour, specifically when asking another person to make changes. It is not a bad idea to confront the situation before it arises, that way you may be able to take more control of what is dished up at the table!

D          Describe the behaviour that is bothersome to you

E          What Effect is it having on you; mentally, emotionally and/or behaviourally?

S          Specify what you would like changed

C          What will the Consequences of this change be for you? How will you feel if the person does what you request?


An example of the D-E-S-C model is for a family lunch:

“Mum, I know you always like to serve potato salad at family lunches, and typically serve me up a large helping. I have been making changes to my diet to help improve my health, and feeling obliged to eat a large portion of potato salad will make it difficult for me to adhere to these changes. I would really appreciate it if you wouldn’t offer me potato salad tomorrow, or if we could have another, leafy salad option. If you made another salad, or simply didn’t offer me the potato salad, I would feel that you were supporting my effort to eat healthier, which is very important to me.”

So there you have it! Some very practical advice on how to handle to food pushers, no matter what the occasion.