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.
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.
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 own clear 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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