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How to Handle Food Pushers and the Food Police

By Dana Babeu, R.D. | December 2, 2020

It goes without saying that the holiday season will be different this year due to the pandemic. Either way, food is a traditional part of  most celebrations, whether that’s in-person and socially-distanced or via zoom.  At some point after weight loss surgery, your changing relationship with food will not exist in the safety of a private bubble.  You will have to eat in front of others — with your new and improved eating habits on display.  While it would be nice to think family, friends and coworkers would be supportive of efforts to improve your health, it’s likely you will eventually be the focus of some unwanted attention about what is (or isn’t) on your plate. These often well-intentioned but still unwelcome comments tend to come from two categories of people:  the food pushers and the food police.  

Food Pushers

Food pushers generally mean well and their motivation may come from a place of genuine love and concern.  Perhaps Grandma always makes your favorite lasagna for Sunday dinner because she delights in watching you enjoy it.  Expressing love through food is a common behavior and one that may be difficult for some people to change.  Questioning your weight loss is another common refrain of the food pusher.  Especially for those who have only known the larger version of you, seeing you 40, 60, or even 100 pounds lighter can trigger genuine shock and concern.  When dealing with both these types of scenarios it may help to consider the pusher’s motives and respond with consideration, while still enforcing your own boundaries.

Food Police

Food police, on the other hand, often have stronger opinions about what you are or aren’t eating and their motives for sharing them with you may be less than benevolent.  Some may be general know-it-alls and feel it is their responsibility to share their knowledge with you.  Others may have their own struggles with weight and food, leading them to scrutinize your choices as closely as they do their own.  Hostile food police, however, may have no discernible motives other than to make you feel bad.  Regardless of which type you encounter, employing a direct approach is usually the best way to get food police off your case.   And having a stockpile of well-rehearsed responses allows you to remain calm and confident, knowing you’re prepared to handle almost any situation.  Sometimes a pleasant but firm “thanks but no thanks” will send the pushers and police on their way. 

When that’s just not enough, try one of the suggestions below:

The situation: Celebrating a birthday or milestone
You’re celebrating a birthday or another life milestone and Aunt Mary comes by with her famous chocolate cheesecake and insists you have a slice before she leaves.

The response: “Oh, Aunt Mary, I wish I could.  But it’s probably so delicious I won’t be able to stop at one so I’d better not even start! I’ll save it for my family/friends to enjoy. I appreciate the thought.”

The situation: Holiday dinner 
It’s the holidays and you help yourself to a slice of turkey and roasted or steamed veggies.  Grandma sees you haven’t served yourself any homemade rolls, so she graciously does it for you:

The response: “Thank you for remembering I love homemade rolls.”  (Then push it around on your plate or discreetly dispose of it to make it look like you had some. 

The situation: Takeout order from a restaurant
You’re trying a new local restaurant for takeout and your partner insists the two of you share a heavy dessert. Even though you politely decline they  get two spoons and say, “a little won’t kill you.”

The response: “No it won’t kill me, but I’ve become sensitive to ______ (fill in the ingredient) and just can’t eat it anymore.  I’ll spare you the details.”

The situation: Indoor dining     
You’re finally able to get an indoor dining reservation at your favorite restaurant.  Since they serve the world’s best bread, you’ve planned ahead to enjoy one slice.  Your dinner partner loudly asks, “Should you be eating that after weight loss surgery?”

The response: “Normally bread is not part of my food routine, but since it’s so good here I came with the intention to enjoy a small portion.”

The situation: Zoom or virtual party  
You’re on Zoom for your niece’s birthday party and you see a family member you haven’t seen in a long time.  During the course of the virtual party, they tell you repeatedly that “you’re practically wasting away!”

The response: “Thanks for your concern. My doctor and dietitian say my weight loss is progressing in a healthy way.  There’s no need to worry since I eat nutritious foods and take the right supplements every day.”

Sometimes, in spite of all your diplomacy, the pusher may not let up and the best option will be to simply walk away.  Always remember, you have the right to decide what goes on your fork and in your mouth.  Don’t let someone else’s agenda make you feel guilty for putting yourself and your health first.

Dana Babeu, RD, is a registered dietitian at New Jersey Bariatric Center, a medical & surgical weight loss center with offices in Springfield, Somerville, Hoboken, East Brunswick, Hackettstown and Sparta, New Jersey. She provides pre-operative and post-operative nutritional counseling to New Jersey Bariatric Center’s Gastric Bypass, Gastric Sleeve, LAP-BAND (gastric band) and revision patients, in addition to dietary counseling for patients in our Medical Weight Loss program.
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