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Understanding and Defeating the Food Pusher

written by: Melanie Greenwood • edited by: DaniellaNicole • updated: 5/17/2010

Food Pushers (people who try to get you to go off your diet) seem to be everywhere. Learn about common food pusher types, and how to deal with them.

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    Food Pushers are Everywhere

    If you've ever tried to lose weight, you know that as soon as you start a diet, food pushers (people who pressure you eat high-calorie foods) seem to come out of the woodwork.

    Fortunately, with a little information about their motives, it is possible to stay on track and defeat the food pusher without causing rifts in your family, friendships, or work relationships. Here are the three main motives of food pushers, and some tips on how you can deal with them.

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    Food Pusher Motive # 1: Old Fashioned Concern that You're Not Eating Enough

    Though it often doesn't feel like it, sometimes a friend or loved one is pressing that pie, cake, or fried chicken on you because she cares about you. During the Great Depression and some subsequent periods, it was important (and healthy) to "clean your plate", because most people worked on farms, needed calories, and couldn't afford to waste food.

    Though most of us are no longer at risk for hunger, ideas die hard. Aunt Bea or Uncle Harold may still think it's healthy to eat as much as possible. These folks are likely to say things like "you need to eat more honey, you're getting too skinny!" The best way to respond is either a simple "thanks, I hear skinny is in" or "I'm stuffed already, Uncle Harold, I promise I won't starve!"

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    Food Pusher Motive # 2: Food as an Expression of Love

    The second common motivation of the food pusher is a belief that food = love. These food pushers are likely to be family members, many of whom work hard on complicated dishes, and are likely to feel extremely rejected if you don't eat what they offer you.

    Because this food pusher's motive is love, it helps if you express how appreciative you are of his or her efforts. Weight Watcher's Weekly recommends this response to a relative who urges you to take a second slice of pie: “it was wonderful, but I'm so full now I won't enjoy a second slice like I did the first one. Can I take it home for later?” (Thompson, 2010).

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    Food Pusher Motive # 3: Weight Loss as Competition

    The third (and most difficult to deal with) food pusher is the one who is competing with you. There are people who, out of insecurity or natural competitiveness, feel a need to be the “best” at something. If you are losing weight, and they are not, this food pusher may try to sabotage you to stay “on top”.

    Competitive food pushers act in several ways. Sometimes they use unhelpful jokes, such as (upon seeing you order a salad at a work lunch) “you eat so much rabbit food, you're going to turn into a bunny! Wouldn't you rather have the fried chicken?” Other more aggressive food pushers may even use cut-downs, such as “oh-ho, little miss healthy is too good for the office ice cream party.”

    How you respond to this food pusher depends on the situation. Sometimes it works to play into the jokes. For example, if you heard the “turning into a rabbit” joke, you might lightly touch your ears and say “wow, you're right, my ears are getting longer, but this salad is good for me so I guess I'll have to get used to long ears.”

    If you are subjected to cut-downs, you need a more assertive stance. Miss Manners recommends a cold “thank you for your interest in my food choices”, (Martin, 1995), but a calm, direct statement such as “that was hurtful, please don't say things like that again” can also work. For timid individuals, practicing these responses in front of a mirror can help (Scott, 2008).

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    Martin, J. (1995). Miss Manners Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say. New York, NY: Crown Publishers Inc.

    Scott, J. (15 November, 2008). 6 Ways to Say No to Food Pushers. Retrieved 12 May, 2010 from

    Thompson, M. (15 May, 2010). "I wish I'd said"...How to Respond to Less-Than-Helpful Comments. Weight Watchers Weekly. Woodbury, NY: Weight Watchers International.