C’mon, just have a bite!
You look like you’ve lost weight — you need to eat something!
I brought you those cookies you love. Why don’t you have one right now?
That’s all you ate? Here, let me give you more.
People who get into your business about what you’re eating, how much, and why can be called “food pushers.” And regardless of whether it’s subtle or obvious, food pushing is bad manners. It can also be bad for your health.
Food pushers can affect your relationship with food and prompt you to overeat, diminishing your weight loss success.
Read on to learn more about what food pushers are, how to handle them, and whether you might be one, too.
What Is a Food Pusher?
“Food pusher” isn’t a clinical term, but rather a casual phrase describing someone who inserts themselves into your diet and pressures you to eat something.
“I hear about this all the time,” says Christine Tenekjian, RDN, a health and well-being coach at Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center in Durham, North Carolina. Common food pushers might be a parent, in-law, grandparent, spouse, coworker, or friend who asks or suggests that you eat something specific, whether that’s at home, in the office, while you’re out to dinner, or during a holiday meal.
Also, groups of people can be food pushers without realizing it. “Sometimes there’s a social or work situation revolving around food or drink where a person feels compelled to participate,” says Tenekjian. After all, eating can be a big part of social bonding and networking. Even if someone doesn’t outright tell you to have a slice of pizza, the vibe of the event is you should be eating this … we all are! And if you don’t, you’re not like us.
Why Do People Become Food Pushers?
In many family cultures, food pushing is common, says Rachel Goldman, PhD, a licensed psychologist in private practice and clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City. “It’s almost ‘normal’ for certain generations to push food to make sure we’re eating and being ‘healthy,’” she says.
Some of your relatives or friends might think you’re not eating enough or restricting too much, says Goldman, and they feel like it’s their place to say something about it or make a suggestion. But they may not have the words to tell you they’re worried in some way about your eating habits.
Even though their food pushing doesn’t feel good, know that they usually don’t intend any harm. “Many times, this is coming from a good place,” says Goldman. That doesn’t mean you have to accept it — you get to choose what you eat! — but it’s good to keep in mind.
On the other hand, certain food pushers may have more insidious reasons for their behavior. For example, Goldman has clients who claim food pushers seem jealous of others’ weight loss. Some of Tenekjian’s clients report that the food pushers in their lives are often loved ones struggling with their own food-related issues.
Ultimately, says Goldman, “we don’t know what people’s reasons are for food pushing, but these comments can be triggering for the person receiving them.”
5 Ways to Shut Down a Food Pusher
You can respond in different ways to food pushers, depending on the situation. Below are five strategies. (And if you’re worried about coming off as rude or ungrateful, breathe easy. None of these strategies require getting into arguments or defending your food choices or weight.)
1. Brush Them Off
If you aren’t close with the person — such as a colleague who brought cookies into the office — feel free to say, “Oh this looks great!” Then, take a piece and bring it to your desk. “It’s up to you to decide what you do with it,” says Goldman. You can eat none, some, or all of it if you’d like.
Other phrases you can use: “Thanks so much, but I’m full” or “Thanks, but I’m good.” Then change the subject. While this isn’t a direct approach, it’s a good first step toward putting your needs first.
2. Set a Boundary
If you anticipate that your family will comment on the food on your plate or your weight at an upcoming event, then “have a conversation ahead of time where you can talk in a nonstressful, nonemotional state,” says Goldman. Then, simply state your comments as fact. For example: “I know the holiday is coming up and we’ll all be together. I’d appreciate it if you don’t comment on XYZ.” Or “I’m not going to eat XYZ, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t ask me to eat more of that.” The key is not to give any room for discussion or negotiation.
3. Practice Speaking Up With a Friend
Would you rather crawl under the dinner table than have a food-based convo with your parents? Understandably, advocating for yourself can be tough if you have a deep history with someone.
To help with this, Goldman suggests practicing in safer spaces first. You can start small by making your eating goals clear to an understanding friend — even when it’s as simple as not wanting to share a dessert or have any chips and salsa. Speaking up where you are comfortable can give you the confidence later to tackle tough conversations, says Goldman.
4. Strengthen Your Resolve Using Self-Care
Stress can lower your ability to resist outside influences. “I see a lot of people start a health or weight loss journey with a lot of resolve, but as things start to happen throughout the week, [they] become more vulnerable to external pressures,” says Tenekjian. Things like an especially packed schedule can make it more difficult to set boundaries, especially around food — and food pushers. Reducing your stressors can help relieve this.
Also, getting better sleep can improve your ability to resist. According to one study, sleep deprivation affects hormones that regulate your appetite, resulting in increased hunger and vulnerability to cravings for sweet and fatty foods. It also triggers greater activity in your olfactory system, making the delicious smell of your aunt’s mashed potatoes or lasagna even more tempting — and her food pushing harder to say no to. (1)
5. Plan Ahead Before the Pressure Gets to You
Have an event coming up where you know there will be pressure to eat something? “Decide for yourself what your desired intention is for the gathering,” says Tenekjian. “For example, maybe this is a meal when you’re going to be a little looser in your diet, and you decide to partake.”
Or maybe you want to have a serving of a special dish, but you also bring a healthy vegetable side that you can use to fill up much of your plate. This can help keep food pushers at bay because you’re participating, but in ways you enjoy and that align with your diet, so you can leave feeling confident and in control.
How to Know if You’re a Food Pusher
If you find yourself commenting on what’s on someone’s plate, suggesting that they eat something (even if you’re trying to be helpful), or talking about what type of food they should or shouldn’t eat, then you may be a food pusher, too.
Remember, if you bring food to an event — even if it’s a beloved family recipe or the best of its kind — no one has to eat it. That choice is theirs alone. All you can do is respect it.