For those of us in the United States, this upcoming week will include Thanksgiving, a holiday typically celebrated with a meal with friends and/or family.
While the holiday season, in general, presents a challenge to those of making a conscious effort to align our eating habits with specific health and fitness goals, Thanksgiving is unique in that it’s nearly entirely centered around food.
Not only that, but our society has come to associate Thanksgiving with overindulgence, and a calling to eat much more than we normally would.
The combination of being around loved ones, having access to a variety of delicious foods, and societal conditioning for overindulgence, makes Thanksgiving a particularly tricky situation for those looking to navigate such a special occasion in the context of their goals.
While many of us will choose to just not worry about sticking to our normal eating habits for the day and just go with the flow, some of us might choose not to indulge for a variety of reasons.
If you’re thinking about how to go about sticking to your routine on a day that seems specifically intended to steer you astray, there are some steps you can take to assess just how diligent you might want to be and, should you choose not to indulge, how to say “no”.
Do you need to say “No, thank you”?
For some us, deviating from our eating habits can come along with more serious consequences than doing so would for others.
If, for example, your sole goal has been to lose a little bit of excess fat, and you don’t necessarily have any dietary restrictions in terms of food quality, then there may be no need for you to say “No, thank you” at all.
Stuffing, pie, booze, and marshmallow yams… they may have no real negative impact on your progress other than an acute caloric surplus that can easily be accounted for within a couple of days.
If this is you, then you might not really care about how to say “no, thank you” at Thanksgiving dinner.
If, on the other hand, you are celiac, struggling with an autoimmune disorder, or are managing digestive or skin health by giving up certain foods like grains or dairy, then the stakes might be a bit higher when it comes to deviating to your eating habits.
In this scenario, a minor deviation – even “just one bite” – might result in days of digestive distress, rashes, anxiety, or other adverse effects that you’d rather just not deal with, and somebody in this position might have stronger motivations for saying “no, thank you” than others.
Be honest with yourself about your eating habits affect how you feel.
If your only goal is to manage body composition and you’re otherwise pretty consistent with your eating habits, then you might not really need to practice much restraint over the holidays.
If, however, you’ve already observed that certain foods negatively affect how you feel, then you might want to be a bit more diligent about what you eat.
Once you’ve assessed whether you might “need” to pass on certain foods or not, you’ll have to ask yourself whether you “want” to.
Do you want to say “No, thank you”?
To say that we should base our decisions solely on logical, physiological need wouldn’t be accurate – especially when it comes to things like food and the holidays.
After all, food doesn’t only affect us physically.
It can also affect us psychologically and emotionally.
Food can bring us pleasure.
Food can serve as a medium for bonding.
Food can act as a hub for connection.
Food can represent our relationships to our loved ones.
Your aunt’s famous candied yams.
Grandma’s pumpkin pie (how cliché is that example?).
A beer (or six) with the boys (or girls).
Many of these things represent more than protein, carbs, fat, ethanol, and flavor.
They represent relationships, memories, and celebration of precious life.
Let’s circle back to our first example of somebody who doesn’t necessarily “need” to avoid any foods or practice restraint at the dinner table.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that this person should or should not deviate from their eating habits, and additional consideration may still need to be given to how to approach the holidays.
If you’ve been crushing your eating habits for months, have been making steady progress towards your goals, and have been looking forward to certain foods that you only have the opportunity to eat on occasion, or that hold a special place in your heart, then you might say, “Yeah, I’m going to enjoy those foods”.
If, on the other hand, you’re already struggling with consistency, or if you’ve just recently gotten started improving your eating habits, you might want to stick to your figurative guns over the holidays to build or maintain momentum.
Sure, you might not “need” to say “no, thank you”, but might still “want” to, because you’re driven to reach a specific goal or because they just don’t care about the intangibles that come along with holiday indulgences.
Additionally, some of us just don’t do well with moderation, and saying “no” is easier than saying “just a little bit”.
Likewise, even for those who might have more adverse physiological effects to worry about associated with certain foods, there’s still completely reasonable justification for acting out of “want” instead of “need”.
Some folks in this situation might still choose to indulge because, to them, it’s worth it to connect over certain foods or to show a loved one that they appreciate that special dish that only gets made once a year.
Hell, you might even choose to indulge in some things but not others.
Maybe some foods are worth the discomfort but others aren’t.
Maybe the pumpkin pie, which you really enjoy, is a “go” but the stuffing, which you’ve never really cared for, is a “no”.
The answer isn’t black and white, and there is no “one size fits all” solution.
Ultimately, we all need to evaluate our own wants and needs and determine just how consistent we’re going to be with our eating habits over the holidays.
Whatever decision you choose, own it.
Don’t second guess yourself.
Don’t let anybody else make you think or feel that you have to take one approach or the other.
If you’ve determined that you’re just not going to eat certain things, that’s totally cool – it’s your body.
If you’ve determined that you’re going to let loose and not worry about it, that’s totally cool, too – it’s your body.
You don’t owe anything to anybody but yourself.
One meal or one bite won’t make or break your progress towards whatever goal it is you’re trying to achieve (unless, of course, you’re allergic or something).
How to say “No, thank you.”
Now, let’s say that you’ve evaluated your situation and you’ve determined that you are, in fact, going to stick to certain eating habits over the holidays, and you’re going to choose to “pass” on certain dishes.
Some ways of going about this are better than others.
Below are a few tips that might help you navigate saying “no” to things you don’t want to eat.
While you’re going to have to probably use your own combination of these strategies based on your own situation (i.e. confidence, family dynamics, etc.), these are general principles that I’ve found have worked for me when turning down food in social and family situations.
1. Be polite.
For many of us, our friends and family don’t know that we’re watching what we’re eating in any specific way.
Even if they do, their offers of foods that might not align with your way of eating are more than like not malicious.
They’re not trying to sabotage us.
They’re not trying to coerce us.
They’re just offering us some stuffing.
There’s no need to be weird, short, or hostile towards them.
A genuine smile and a polite “no, thank you”, is often all that it takes.
For many of us, this will suffice.
You might be surprised just how little some people care about what we do or not eat.
Of course, you might get some push-back or some prodding.
There’s a chance you’ll be asked, “why not?” or “are you sure?”
Most of the time, this is just out of courtesy.
Again, there’s no need to get worked up or defensive.
Just reiterate with a polite, “Yes, I’m sure, thank you”.
And seriously, be sincerely polite.
If this isn’t enough, or if the conversation doesn’t stop there, there are a few additional considerations involved in how we justify our decisions.
2. Be discreet.
If, after a couple of polite “No, thank yous”, you’re asked why you don’t want to eat something, discretion is usually the best approach.
You might feel that we have to provide some sort of justification for why you are or are not eating a certain way.
However, most of the time, providing any details only creates the opportunity for more discussion over something that really isn’t as important as the myriad other things you could be discussing with your loved ones.
Don’t say you’re counting carbs.
Don’t say you’re avoiding grains.
Don’t say you’re implementing a “keto”, “paleo”, or other kind of diet.
Don’t say anything about losing weight.
Don’t say anything about being healthy.
Don’t say you “can’t” eat whatever it is you’ve been offered.
While these things may be true – except, perhaps, that last one, which is an entirely separate subject – they don’t really add any value to the discussion.
Offering specific reasons only invites further dialogue about the topic at hand.
“Oh, come on. You look great.”
“You’re plenty healthy”.
“One bite won’t hurt”.
Again, these statements aren’t malicious in nature, but they still bring unnecessary attention to a subject that’s better left not discussed.
There are so many more important things to spend your holiday discussing.
Rather than open the door for these kinds of responses, the simplest way to reiterate that you’d rather pass on a dish is to offer no explanation at all.
Smile, and repeat, “No, thank you”.
Don’t get flustered.
Don’t get embarrassed.
You’ve made a decision and you owe it to yourself to see it through.
Furthermore, to mention your weight, or your health, or any other similar justification based around self-improvement might alienate those around you.
Turning down a dish because of your weight or your health might imply to those who chose to enjoy it that they don’t value their own weight or their own health.
Just as you don’t want to feel alienated for your own eating habits, neither do those around you.
If you’d really like to offer some sort of reason, then you can say something like “I just don’t feel good when I eat…” or “I just don’t want any” or “maybe in a little bit”.
Another approach you might take is just to put some on your plate and not eat it.
Load up on plenty of foods you do want to eat, eat those foods, and leave the other stuff uneaten.
If you’re asked why you didn’t eat it, you can offer up a simple, “I’m stuffed” or “I just don’t think I could eat another bite”.
The key here is to keep your reasons either as vague as possible or based on how you feel.
Remember, life is short, and there are an infinite number of things more important to talk about than what you do or not eat – especially around a dinner table with people who you love and who love you.
If you really need to, you can just change the subject.
While this might not be the most inconspicuous approach, you can always just ignore the pressing questions, turn to somebody at the table, and ask them about their job, their kids, something else.
Discretion is best, but answering based on how you feel is a close second.
3. Be honest.
Sometimes, being discreet might not work, or you might feel it’s more appropriate to be straightforward.
If you’re comfortable enough with your friends and family, if you’re confident that they will understand and respect your decisions, or if you determine that the situation might best be handled with being open about your commitment to yourself, you can always just be honest.
In cases such as these, you can share your goals with those around you.
“I’ve been working really hard to reach a healthier weight, and I’d rather not fall back into old habits.”
“I’ve found that some foods make me feel really bad, and while I’d love to enjoy this with you, I’m going to have to pass.”
“While I’m sure this is delicious, I’m really proud of some of the changes I’ve made to my health, and I’m going to have to say, ‘no, thank you’.”
The honesty approach is a tricky one, as it opens up the door for further discussion, but for some of us this might be the best option.
4. Be confident.
The vibe we give off when we make decisions about what to eat confidently, and from a place of self-love, is completely different from the vibe we give off when we make decisions about what to eat indecisively, apprehensively, or from a place of self-hate.
Don’t act like a victim.
You’re not one.
Keep in mind that, regardless of whether you’re making the decision to pass on certain foods because you *need* to or because you *want* to, you’re making this decision.
Nobody is forcing you to eat or not eat anything.
You are in control.
You are the one calling the shots.
Playing the victim or giving the impression that you’re unnecessarily depriving yourself will only open the door for additional scrutiny.
The fact of the matter is that 99% of the time, it’s ultimately completely up to us what we do or do not eat.
Be confident in your decisions.
That all being said, if you are making these decisions for reasons other than self-love, or if you do actually feel like the victim or feel deprived – then you might want to re-evaluate what role your eating habits play in your life.
If that’s case, we’ve probably got a whole lot to talk about beyond how to say “no, thank you”, or whether to eat the stuffing or not.
That’s its own can of worms, though, and requires the exploration of a host of additional considerations beyond the scope of this post.
Remind yourself that you’re making a decision to eat a certain way because you love your body and you deserve nothing but the best.
If you don’t feel this way, that’s where you should probably be focusing your efforts – not on how to turn down the cranberry sauce.
5. Be firm.
I can’t stress this one enough.
You don’t owe anything to anybody but yourself.
If you don’t want to eat something, you absolutely do not have to.
Be cool, but be firm.
You’ve made a decision for yourself, and you owe it to yourself to stick to it.
Guilt, shame, and embarrassment have no place playing a role in your eating habits.
Just as we should never avoid certain foods or dishes due to these feelings, we should never force ourselves to eat certain foods due to these feelings.
Autonomy over our own bodies is the most sacred of rights, and it’s one that we should preserve at all times.
It may be hard at first, but if people see that you are confident and firm in your decision, they’ll be less likely to push or prod.
You’ve got this.
6. Be cool.
Finally, be cool.
Don’t be weird about things.
Don’t act superior to those around you.
Don’t let any emotions other than joy and gratitude present themselves.
You’re there first and foremost to enjoy the company of those around you.
Focus on the people, not the food.
The less attention you bring to yourself, the better.
Putting it all together
This post by no means covers all the nuances involved in what role special occasions such as Thanksgiving might play in your eating habits.
I hope, though, that it provides some questions and considerations for you to ponder as you plan ahead for how you personally are going to navigate not only Thanksgiving, but any situation in which you’re presented with tough decisions about how diligent you’re going to be about what you eat.
Remember, first determine whether even need or want to stick to your routine as diligently as you normally would.
Should you choose to stick to your habits, remember these six tips:
- Be polite.
- Be discreet.
- Be honest.
- Be confident.
- Be firm.
- Be cool.
Don’t forget what this holiday is all about, either.
Focus on your friends.
Focus on your family.
Focus on your time with those that you love.
I know this can be hard, especially if you’re like me and have a hard time with moderation or doing something less than perfectly (which isn’t possible anyway).
Even if you do end up eating something that will set you back or make you feel like crap, don’t stress over it.
Don’t beat yourself up over it.
Just move on.
The fact of the matter is that life isn’t perfect, you aren’t perfect, and you won’t always make the best decisions.
Be grateful that you’re even in a position to consider turning down food.
So many people on this earth would kill for that opportunity.
Remember to be grateful for this and the countless other blessings in your life.
Life is way too short to spend it stressing over food.
You’ve got this.