Ever get the cold shoulder for not parktaing in cupcakes brought to the office? Teased for waking up early on vacation to fit in a run? Or maybe you've "ruined it for everyone" by saying no to another round of drinks?
Yeah. We've been there.
Sticking to healthy habits can be hard, so it doesn't help when your commitment is met with jabs and side-eyes. And while we all know sassy comebacks, responding to negativity with negativity is never a good idea. Not only will it get you and your naysayers nowhere, but it could end up causing resentment or damaging relationships. And it’ll definitely kill the vibe at brunch.
It's important to remember that most of these critiques are the result of people who are misinformed but well-intentioned or people who feel insecure or disappointed about their own health-related decisions.
First, pause to consider if they have a point. All healthy lifestyles need balance. But assuming your choices are sound, stick to your guns with grace. With that in mind, here are several productive ways to fend off unwelcome flak.
1. Thanksgiving Dinner
The situation: Although your family is aware of your healthy-eating style, they remain hell-bent on pushing food:
“Just eat it, it’s not going to kill you!”
“You could afford to have some.”
“But I made this just for you!”
What you’re tempted to say: "You made this just for me? Really? Clearly you don't know me as well as I thought you did."
Do this instead: It’s tricky when you’re dealing with family members and don’t want to disrespect anyone. But you don’t need to give in either, says Sherry Pagoto, Ph.D., a psychologist and associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “Your aunt [or another older family member] is of a different generation, where expressing love for people meant cooking for them,” Pagoto says. “There’s no point in trying to change the way she thinks.”
The quickest way to end this interaction is to say thank you with a smile and eat what you originally planned. If anyone insists on seeing you finish the portion, make an excuse about feeling uncomfortably full and ask if you can take it home. Later, you’re free to do with the food what you wish. (Read: Chuck it.)
2. The BBQ
The situation: You’re the only non-carnivore at your friend’s annual bash. While he is thoughtful enough to grill you a veggie burger, fellow guests aren’t as considerate:
“I feel bad for you—how can you live without bacon?”
“Isn’t fake meat gross?”
“How do you get protein if you don’t eat meat?”
What you’re tempted to say: "Here’s an idea: How about you don’t ask me about my protein, and I won’t ask you about your cholesterol?"
Do this instead: While trainer and dietitian Erica Giovinazzo keeps an animal-protein focused diet, she understands the frustration of her vegetarian clients. Her advice: Remember that you make your own choices. “Pressure is likely to come from everyone telling us what we should do, and sometimes we forget we’re in charge of our lives,” she says. “Once we remember that, we’re able to better deal in situations that challenges those decisions."
Giovinazzo says the trick is to stay positive rather than defensive. Try: “My veggie burger is superb! You should try one! You’d be surprised how good it tastes!” They may or may not take you up on it, but they’ll know not to argue further with someone so confident.
3. The Visit Home
The situation: Seeing family means you’re instantly fair game for unsolicited commentary on everything from love life to career choices. But today's hot topic is your body:
“You must work out all the time—you've lost so much weight!"
“You’re so thin! How much do you weigh?”
“Looks like someone could stand to eat a cheeseburger!”
What you’re tempted to say: "I weigh somewhere between 'buzz off' and 'mind your own business!'"
Do this instead: Often people become judgmental of others’ healthy habits when they feel threatened. “The criticism can really be a veiled expression of jealousy,” Pagoto says. Rather than biting back, diffuse the situation: “Thanks for being concerned about my health, but there is nothing to worry about. My doctor said that my weight is healthy and to keep up my good eating and exercise habits.”
Giovinazzo also suggests taking the focus off your appearance and enthusiastically sharing how your habits have helped you in other ways: “I feel better and more energetic than ever since I started working out regularly! Can you believe I can do pull-ups now?”
4. The Dinner Party
The situation: The spread is butter-laden, deep-fried, and carb-dense. Eating this meal equals a massive food hangover. You help yourself to what you can, but when others see your plate, they exclaim:
“Why are you barely eating?!”
"What? You don't like any of this food?!"
What you’re tempted to say: "I don’t feel like committing gustatory assault on my system, ’kaythanks."
Do this instead: “You shouldn’t have to explain to others what you do or don’t put into your mouth,” says Lindsey Joe, R.D. Don’t feel pressured to justify your choices. Joe suggests simply stating, "This is plenty for me. Thank you for preparing all this!”
Another tactic, recommended by Tina Gowin, R.D., is to smile and redirect the conversation. Try: “I’m just pacing myself with this great spread! Hey, how was that vacation you just went on?” It's bound to get your host chatting and gently steer the focus away from food. No matter what you say, both Joe and Gowin stress the key is to be polite.
5. Lunch at the Office
The situation: Everyone wants the fast-food chain you can’t stand. You don’t want to be disagreeable and go along with the order, but then your coworker passes you a box of sugary churros:
“Come on, you can be unhealthy for a day!”
“If we split dessert, we can split the calories!”
What you’re tempted to say: "Hey, you can make poor choices all by yourself. Look at that haircut, for example."
Do this instead: You don’t have to feel hesitant to pass on something you genuinely don’t want, but remember, you work with these people five days a week, so keep it civil. Joe uses a simple, “Thanks for offering, but no thanks. I’m stuffed from lunch!”
One of Gowin’s go-to responses is, “I’m going out for a nice dinner later and want wiggle room for a juicy steak!” White lies are OK, Gowin says, as long as they aren’t too complicated and won't get you in trouble later (i.e.—Don’t say you’re going gluten-free and then get caught eating pita chips). To avoid awkward moments in the future, she also suggests making a game plan. “Keep paper menus of the restaurants you and your coworkers order from and highlight your best options,” she says. “This way, you know what to get no matter what.”
6. The Workout Buddy Who Bails
The situation: You text your friend to confirm tomorrow’s post-work running date and she bails for the third time in a row:
“Let’s play hookie! Netflix and takeout beat pounding the pavement!”
“I've been slammed at work. Can't you take a break too?”
“What’s the big deal? We’ll just reschedule.”
What you’re tempted to say: "Sure. First I’ll just remind your S.O. what you think of commitment."
Say this instead: While it can be frustrating to have a friend cancel on you repeatedly, there’s no need to blacklist someone for flaking, says Justin Robinson, a sports dietitian and strength and conditioning coach.
Acknowledge the fact that balance and rest days are a part of any fitness plan, but stick to your guns: “Thai food sounds awesome, but I took a day off earlier this week and I'm booked tomorrow. So I really need to get this workout in today. Let me know what your weekend plans are and we’ll meet up.” Moving forward, Robinson suggests shopping for a new fitness buddy who shares your dedication.
7. The Mexican Food Truck
The situation: When your burrito arrives, you pull off the tortilla (rice and beans are enough for you) and dig in with a fork. You're then hit with comments from your fellow diners:
“That is so weird.”
“Can’t you just eat it the way it is?”
What you’re tempted to say: "I’m sorry, food police! I didn’t realize I was over the limit in the no-tortilla zone."
Do this instead: The comments may have nothing to do with you, Pagoto says. Watching your healthy habits may remind your fellow diners of their own struggles to do the same and bring up feelings of resentment. Keeping that in mind, she recommends responding with a light comment: “You guys have known me for years and only now realize I’m weird?! I just don’t want to fill up on tortilla when it’s the filling I really like.”
Giovanizzo’s tactic of returning their question also works: “I always get too full if I eat it with the tortilla. Don’t you hate feeling stuffed?”
8. Post-Work Happy Hour
The situation: You’re out with coworkers, but you’d rather just enjoy their company and skip the booze. When you pass on alcohol, your colleagues start in:
“You’re so boring!”
“Oh, come on, just have one drink!"
"Are you anti-alcohol now too?"
What you’re tempted to say: "Well, no, but this interrogation is going to drive me to drink!"
Do this instead: Over the years, Robinson’s experience has revealed that the more you talk and make excuses, the more your friends will pry. His advice? “A short answer is best when discussing why you choose not to drink: ‘I just don’t feel like drinking tonight.’”
Limiting your behavior to that moment (versus a lifestyle choice) deflects any larger debate. If that doesn’t do the trick, humor is another great option: “Now you have a sober driver to make sure a lightweight like you makes it home!” To appear social, Robinson suggests ordering a club soda and lime or even an iced tea with lemon. Both look like cocktails, help you hydrate, and may get people off your case. Win-win.
9. The Unhealthy Restaurant
The situation: While the rest of the table starts with fries and mozzarella sticks, you opt for a salad. Your friends are immediately annoyed:
“Of course, you always get the rabbit food."
"Are you on a diet or something?”
“Ugh, I can’t imagine eating just a salad for dinner.”
What you’re tempted to say: "Don’t worry. I’ll ask the waiter to batter and deep-fry the lettuce so we can match. Twinsies!"
Do this instead: It’s frustrating to feel attacked by your fellow diners, and as tempting as it may be to criticize their choices, it’s better not to be judgmental, Gowin and Joe say.
If simply laughing it off and changing the subject won’t work, give them some insight on why you’re eating the way you are: “The grease upsets my stomach and I’d rather feel good instead of ending up in a food coma and having to go home early.” If you’re with true friends, Gowin says, you can honestly talk to them about your lifestyle preferences and ask for their support.
Originally published November 2014. Updated November 2015.