How to Turn Down Non-Paleo Food

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When she said, ‘I hope you didn’t eat that because you felt pressured to,’ immediately after I’d eaten it, I realized I’d been played.

When I first went paleo I visited with someone who’d made something she knew I’d liked to eat in the past. I explained I didn’t eat that kind of thing anymore but to mollify her and not sound too extreme, I added ‘except on occasion.’

For the rest of the time I spent with her, that fat, oozing summer pudding (for that’s what it was) lay between us like a big purple bruise – something you don’t want to touch because it hurts, but you do anyway just to check that it still does.

‘Would you like some?’ she asked. ‘No, not at the moment, thank you.’ I replied. A little later, ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t you like some? I just made it, picked the fruit from the lot specially.’ ‘No, no thanks, I’m not really hungry.’ My words hung in the air…

Memories are better

We carried on chatting but just before the end of the visit, ‘You haven’t had any of my summer pudding yet…?’ (Note the words ‘my summer pudding‘ – she was personalizing it very clearly, making sure I knew the effort she’d gone to on my behalf.) She left the sentence trailing, eyebrows up near her hairline. ‘Oh, alright’ I finally gave in, sighing. And down it went. It wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered. But too late now.

Later, after she’d made the comment about pressuring me, I realized we hadn’t been having a conversation about eating a summer pudding at all, we’d been in a power struggle. And I’d lost.

Dancing the tango

Because this type of situation is always a dance with two partners, I realized I’d allowed myself to be played. There was enough passive-aggressive behavior going on around that table to quietly launch a hot-air balloon. However, I could have turned my behavior around, and in so doing influenced hers resulting in a completely different outcome. But I didn’t.

I’d kept equivocating, qualifying and modifying my statements and had so signaled to my host and my own unconscious that there was some wiggle room. And that got exploited.

Growing up

For those of us who grew up in families where we had to join ‘The Clean Plate Club’ at dinner, or where preparation of food was wielded as a weapon or as an expression of love, we can, in these types of paleo/non-paleo situations, resort to a child-like state that belies the mature, strong people we are in the rest of life. Avoiding causing offense can lead us to twist ourselves into the pretzels we won’t allow ourselves to eat.

You are in control of you

When going into these types of situations, you have to be a warrior: determined, practiced and prepared with a winning mindset. On this occasion, I’d pushed back, but weakly, and she’d pushed harder. And because secretly I really wanted some pudding, the little paleo voice talking in my ear got quieter and quieter. Until it was extinguished.

I’m not saying you should do this every time – there are occasions where it may be appropriate to eat non-paleo food that has been prepared for you and you do so with your ownclear and active permission. But if you are being manipulated into eating food you’d rather you didn’t, you need to assume control of the situation or it will assume control of you.

Here’s how you do it:

Stay calm. Overstimulation is the cause of many a broken resolution, and especially if you are an introvert. Crazed by all that is going on, we throw caution to the wind because thinking is the last thing we feel capable of doing or, frankly, we need comfort. We need precisely what this non-paleo food promises and as soon as possible. So when someone starts to apply some pressure over what we eat, we can get snippy, say the wrong thing or otherwise signal our displeasure. We literally lose our minds.

If this is the case for you and you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with all the chatter, the concentration that making conversation requires, the general hubbub, then take a break. Hide out in the bathroom, go for a walk, take some deep breaths. I have a very understanding family who let me sit in a corner and read a book around 4pm on Thanksgiving. This keeps me calm for dealing with the six types of pie to come. And honestly if they weren’t understanding, I’d still find a way to check out for a while; I do not eat six types of pie any longer.

Be first. We are herd animals (often lemmings! :-)) Have you noticed how that instinct takes over when dessert is offered? My personal observation is that often, when a host asks a group who wants dessert, if the first person says ‘Yes,’ the next person says ‘Yes.’ Anyone wavering will fall in behind. And so will you, if you’re not careful! On the other hand, if someone declines, those after them are more likely decline too (often relieved, no doubt, that someone has done the hard job of being the first to turn down the food!) So gather your energy and be first to refuse; you’ll get it over with and can watch from a strong position as others succumb. And you may influence other waverers into eating less or none.

Be last. Alternatively, give your decision last. By then there should be enough nays and yays to make your negative response insignificant to your host.

Take charge. When someone tries to press non-paleo food on you, there are three steps to take if you are susceptible to accepting.

  • First, smile and look them in the eye confidently. Make sure you are standing or sitting straight with both feet planted firmly on the floor, if you find this kind of thing difficult.
  • Second, say ‘No, thank you’ in a sure, clear voice. That’s it. No explanations, no qualifying statements.
  • And finally, (and this is key) break eye contact and change the subject. Stop the show and move on.

You can send your ‘No, thank you,’ message ahead of time if you like, letting your hosts know of your eating preferences before you get there, but if they are determined opponents or even wind-up merchants, you might find they ignore it so be prepared to repeat it. Over and over if necessary. Make sure there’s no wiggle room.

Rinse and repeat. When someone continually tries to press non-paleo food on you, steel yourself and repeat the above process until they give up. And watch out for those last-minute attacks on your defenses. You know, when things are nearly over and you’re starting to relax, thinking you got away with it. That’s a dangerous time, beware.

Pay attention. When someone else turns down food graciously watch what they say and do. Men are often good at it – they’re simply straightforward and to the point. My husband is fantastic at it – great eye contact, firm voice, three words only, never seems to cause offence. Model these people.

Accept bad days and bad moods. You’re not always going to get it right. Make it a learning experience, be gracious in defeat and come back better prepared next time to fight another day.

Script it for next time. Use your bad prior experience to inform your next experience. Learn from it. Break it down and work out what went wrong, why and when. Often it is before you’ve even arrived – you’re not prepared enough, you haven’t anticipated the scenarios. Or perhaps you just aren’t sure enough you want to turn the food down. If this is the case, question your commitment level and check whether you need to up the ante.

——

I nearly called this post ‘Preventing Paleo Power Struggles Over Pudding At Parties’ for this is what can happen. Going into battle (or tea) without a warrior outlook is a defeat waiting to happen. Be strong. Be proud. Hold your head high. Say those three little words and have them flow from your confident body language and your emotional state. Chin up, voice strong, words plain and definite. ‘No, thank you.’ The end.

How do you go about declining food and avoiding power struggles? What words and actions work for you. And how do people respond? Tell us in the comments – we’re all ears!

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Written by 

Alison Golden writes on the topic of paleo over at Paleo/NonPaleo. She aims to share ideas, inspire and motivate readers by teaching them how to live paleo in a non-paleo world. She is also the author of the bestselling book, The Modern, No-Nonsense Guide to Paleo, a unique tool that gives the reader hundreds of strategies to navigate the learning process to successful paleo living.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

William September 11, 2012 at 7:30 am

be happy, don’t worry. ( stress is more detrimental ) the lymphatic system has your back. provided your give your cells the essential nutrients needed to remain healthy. …and fat for the strongest heart beat in order to deliver the nutrients. enjoy life!

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NJ Paleo September 11, 2012 at 7:38 am

Hi Alison, this is a great post! I’m sure everyone can relate to situations in which someone keeps offering food even after we politely decline (on multiple occasions). Honestly, I find that most of my friends are respectful of my food choices now — generally, relatives are the bigger problem! Recently we were invited to a holiday barbecue, and my friend expressly stated that she made sure she provided food selections that I could eat (large-leaf lettuce instead of hamburber buns, for example). It was very thoughtful of her.

Some of my relatives, on the other hand, think I’m weird for not just eating the pasta or tortilla or whatever is available. I have already explained why I make the choices I do. Now, whenever they make a comment, I just say “no thank you” and select whatever I can eat. I don’t make a scene, and I just keep politely saying, “no thank you” if anyone persists. They usually get tired of it and give up, or they move on to a weaker target.

Thank you for the post — it’s great to be reminded that it’s OK to “just say no” in a polite yet firm manner.

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cyndidee September 11, 2012 at 8:22 am

When you said “move on to a weaker target” – isn’t that the truth! I’m wondering if other people insisting that we eat their “bad” food isn’t a sign of their own issues. There seems to be a battle between those who try to eat healthy and those who don’t even though they know they should. They want to bring us down so that they don’t feel so bad about what they’re doing. What a mess.

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Felicia September 11, 2012 at 7:42 am

Thank you so much for echoing my counselor’s advice so clearly! I will only add that using Emotional Freeing Technique is the only way I’ve been able to begin to get past my own issues with food and drink. Still a work in progress but I’m doing better all the time.

Looking forward to your next post…

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Mathew Freeman September 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

This is a very difficult challenge but I knew if I wanted to get through my trip to see my best friend and foodie in Texas I would need
To be the first to act. I got off the plane and said hello and immediately said, “hey there are going to be some things I turn down this weekend and it is not to offend you. I simply choose not to put certain things in my body for my health. I need you to support this as it is very important to me. In fact if your open I like to cook a few items for you and your wife and share what I’ve been eating.” it went well. He tried some stuff and checked with me before he made stuff.

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cyndidee September 11, 2012 at 8:09 am

Good stuff! I needed to read this. I get angry at my friends for not paying attention to my paleo eating, or paying too much attention and teasing me for it. I’m blaming them for when I mess up and honestly it’s only my fault. I need to own my mistakes and (like you said) learn from them. From now on I’m just saying No and not giving an excuse. Giving them an excuse gives them something to try to overcome. If I just say No Thank You there’s nothing more for them to say. The last two weekends with friends have been distastrous! I need to get my brain back and fast! The good thing is that my friends are noticing how scatter-brained I’ve been lately. Hopefully they’re realizing that I’m paleo for my health overall (mostly my ADD), not just to lose weight.

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Clark September 11, 2012 at 8:13 am

I like your alternate title. Alliteration ftw!

Also thanks for the post! Got my first paleo Thanksgiving. I’m already lamenting my lost 6 types of pie when I think about it. Thanks for the encouragement.

Got any pie alternatives we can make? Especially of the pumpkin variety?
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cyndidee September 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm

There’s this one, though I haven’t tried it yet. It’s been pinned for this year’s Thanksgiving. (pinned on pinterest)
http://www.marksdailyapple.com/primal-paleo-pie-crust/

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Linda Sand September 11, 2012 at 4:38 pm

It’s my husband’s task to bring the homemade pumpkin pie that is “just like Mom made.” Last year I ate the filling but left the crust. My niece complemented me on that choice.

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Clark September 12, 2012 at 7:29 am

Thanks for the ideas. Any ideas on a substitue for sugar in the pie? Or should I just put the sugar in there, enjoy it, and then not worry about eating pumpkin pie until next November rolls around? It sounds like that’s what you do Linda.

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AustinGirl September 17, 2012 at 9:10 am

I have made the Marks Daily Apple, pumpkin pie for two Thanksgivings now. It is AWESOME. I even make it in ramekins, so I don’t have to bother with crust. Yum.
Also, check out PaleOMG’s Sticky Apple Bars, for an apple pie sub. Also fantastic. Health-Bent might also have some good ideas. Joyful Abode has the BEST pumpkin bread recipe, I’ve made.
Finally, I don’t sweat 1/4 cup of sugar (or good maple sugar or good honey) when I make a treat. I might make those once a month (if that) and 1/4 cup of sugar in an entire recipe is so very little…esp when you consider that 1 cup, or more, of sugar is the standard in most traditional desert recipes. I also find that more than 1/4 cup of sweetener makes things too sweet for me, now.

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Julie September 11, 2012 at 8:31 am

Great post! Probably a good one to re-read every now and then. I find that for the most part when I follow those steps it works. There are some people who won’t let it drop. I have to mentally prepare myself ahead of time and have a plan. Like a quick bathroom trip right at dessert time. Or I even offer to help serve it and then somehow it can get forgotten that I did not have any!

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Paul September 11, 2012 at 8:37 am

Nice post Alison and so apposite! Relatives can be a challenge, but mine have become used to my ‘strange’ ways! Not however the uni refectory – It’s new, so I thought I’d try it and among the piles of carbs I spotted meatballs and tomato, which I ordered, ‘Spaghetti?’, ‘No thanks.’ ‘Chips?’ (That’s French fries to you lot!) ‘No thanks’. He was determined for me to have some carbs though ‘Garlic bread, then?’ ‘No thanks, just the meatballs and chopped tomatoes.’ He gave me a look of pure disgust and handed it over. It was delicious and no pasta, no bread, no grains, no starch! Incidentally the member of staff before me ordered pizza with chips and garlic bread, so he more than made up for me!

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Alison Golden September 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Ugh, even in my carb-aholic days pizza, chips and garlic bread would have been too much. In fact, I find the chips in the UK now to be too big and dense – like yellow, rectangular potatoes. Must be my changing tastes. Amazing once you step out of that carb/grain world how weird and unappetizing it seems.
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connie curtis September 11, 2012 at 9:25 am

I started out just with no wheat and then took out other foods because I am also allergic to them. Its the best thing that has happened to me and my husband. most people dont get it and they think taking out grains is so bad. I have had to deal with this from a good friend. I just look them in the eye and say I like how i eat. I feel good. They dont mess with me after this because I am clear and confident. Its my body so I dont care how others think I should eat. Its all about choice like everything else. Its one reason I am healthy and am getting my gut healthy again. I am also a stand for the gmo labeling. It gives everyone a choice. I think that is why the companies are fighting it. Look what happened in Europe people wouldnt buy the crap so they had to change how they produced it. Shouldnt be hard to do for us they are already doing it.

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Paula September 11, 2012 at 9:52 am

I decline and then before they can speak, I immediately beat them to the punch: “Oh, no thanks. Yeah, I know, I’m no fun. No fun at all.”

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Maria September 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Great post!
One thing that I have found helpful is just to be brutally honest when people ask/offer the bread/cake/non-paleo item the second time (After you said no thank you the first time). I often say: “I wish I could because it tastes wonderful (/i love bread /looks yummy/etc.) but the grains/sugar/milk make me sooo sick and i will feel awful for days if i eat it”. I have never had anyone object to this. I think it works because you give the praise of the food, and that shows that you recognize the work the host put into it, and therefore the person doesn’t feel like you are rejecting them along with their food.

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Leslie September 11, 2012 at 4:50 pm

You know, it is only since eating paleo (18 months now) that I get this pressure. When I declined something because of watching calories or feeling unwell or full, there was no sense of “weirdo” in the air. There’s something perceived as particularly different and anarchistic about eating what paleo defines as healthy.

I just did what you did, today, at lunch … and oh, your reference to liking the memory of how good you used to think it was, yet not enjoying it now–took the thought right out of my mind. I don’t know these people very well but she was aware I don’t eat bread; they’ve been to our home for lunch. I could’ve refused and essentially not eaten half the lunch … and she had prepared a lovely lunch. Plus my non-paleo husband would’ve been angry (his friends). If it were a close friend or my family, I likely would have declined <= they are beginning to realize after all this time: I'm not kidding; this is how I eat now. However, they don't get it–I don't need to lose weight so why deprive myself of bread, pasta and ice cream, etc. Explaining it's not something I care for anymore is inconceivable. Reading this will give me more resolve for next time. Thanks!

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Alison Golden September 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm

I think you touch on what is so important, especially to women – the fact that it isn’t about food at all, it is about power and relationships and using food to fight those battles. We eat food we don’t want when it is offered to us because we’re frightened of damaging our relationships.
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Jane McIntyre September 11, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Thank you Alison! Sage advice.
I, too am an introvert (read your post just then, I’m a recently diagnosed ISFP, but apparently a “confident introvert” which it sounds like you are too) and I could relate to so much that you were saying. Apparently the prayer of the ISFP is “Lord, help me to stand up for my rights (if you don’t mind my asking)” and I often have trouble turning down offerings not wanting to offend anyone.
Keep the great posts coming, I love your blog!
Jane

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Alison Golden September 23, 2012 at 6:26 pm

I am an INTJ, Jane, despite my several attempts to beat the test. :-) Yes a confident introvert who spends a lot of time on my own so that I can appear extrovert for the few minutes life demands that of me. :-) I have the burden of being British and being brought up to believe refusing food is terribly impolite so add that to the introversion and turning food down has been quite a challenge in the past – but getting easier with lots of practice.
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Brad September 11, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Great article. The key is to have your “rules” before you start.

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Lynn September 12, 2012 at 10:17 am

Having just returned from a visit from family, first one since changing to a paleo/primal lifestyle, I can tell you that it is not easy. I did choose to indulge in a couple of things but I did so knowingly and decisively. I did not give in simply because of pressure and that made me feel good. There is nothing better than a lifestyle that makes you feel like you can succeed in anything!
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Meredith @ DareYouTo September 18, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Excellent recommendations. It can be SO hard! I don’t want to be rude, or offend, or hurt feelings when I don’t want to try a prized homemade treat, but.. ah. If I have the ability to say no for myself (rather than cave to temptation), then I’d better be able to say no to others. I really like your tip to turn away and/or change the subject.

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Alison Golden September 19, 2012 at 10:40 am

I hear ya! It takes practice, Meredith.
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kimmy September 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I have got coeliac disease so people seem to not pressure me or maybe its just my very clear “no thank you” lol

I cannot even go past the bread isles in the supermarket, it smells so terrible and also looks just like cardboard to me…eugh…

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jennifer October 18, 2012 at 1:24 am

Dont you find that people often emotionally invest in the food they prepare and offer, especially at social gatherings with a symbolic underpinning. Such as, the weekly Sunday lunch, birthdays and other celebrations.
It fascinates me how desserts, puddings and especially cakes hold a powerful symbolic value and I feel that this has been a factor in my previous disordered eating; sugar = love.
And I have experienced friends getting upset when I decline their sweet food, as perhaps they feel personally rejected. The question is for me, to what extent do I take responsibility for their upset?
My health and emotional honesty comes first, I prefer to decline with grace and love and offer some explanation without appearing defensive, giving positive reasons.
Rehearsing a set line is a great idea, it avoids a panic reaction while at the scene and helps me remain calm and peaceful.
Such as, ‘ I wish I could share this lovely ___________ with you, right now I’m eating grain/sugar free to support my health, so I’m going to have to pass’

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Chloe's Mom October 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm

This was a great post! I have this issue at work. I work in a tiny office with all women, and we constantly have people bringing in all kinds of junk food. I’ve worked here for 3 years, and I still get food pushed on me, even though I’ve explained that I’m “not on a diet, but it’s a lifestyle.” They are personally offended and interpret it as being rude for not eating any of the dozens of baked goods, etc brought into our office on a weekly basis. I’m not sure how to handle it…It’s not a big deal, but they make it a HUGE deal. So frustrating!

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Kristy Hansen January 17, 2013 at 12:12 pm

A nice reminder that we should all be tolerant of everyone’s food choices. My husband has to deal with this constantly in reference to being a vegetarian. He doesn’t harass others for choosing to eat meat but everyone feels fine with harassing him for choosing not to eat it.

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