A few weeks ago, my client Natalie’s friend, Lara, broke her leg and has been in rehab ever since. Lara is getting out of rehab in a few days, and Natalie is going to stay with her for a week to help her readjust. Over the past few months, Natalie has been doing very well putting her CBT diet skills in place. She has been feeling great about having a sense of control over her eating and seeing the scale go down.

This week, Natalie told me that she was concerned about maintaining healthy habits while at Lara’s house. Lara is a classic food pusher. She’s always urging Natalie to eat things that she is eating, even when she knows Natalie is trying to lose weight. Natalie said to me, “I just need Lara to not offer me food or push me to eat what she’s eating.” I told Natalie that in thinking this way, she was making the classic mistake that many dieters make: she’s putting the burden of change on someone else, not on herself. I said to Natalie, “It’s not Lara’s job to stop pushing food on you. After all, she’s a food pusher, that’s what she does! It is, however, your job to start saying no. The change has to come from you because you can’t control what Lara does or says; you can only control your reaction.”

Whenever people face food pushers, it’s important for them to recognize that it’s their responsibility to be firm and say no, and not wait for the food pusher to magically change and stop pushing food. Natalie said that she understood the concept, but she was still concerned about how Lara will feel if she says no. “If she’s eating pizza and wants me to eat it with her, how will she feel if I say no and have something healthier, instead? That’s going to make her feel bad about eating pizza.” I reminded Natalie and in no situation would she be asking Lara not to eat pizza, she would just tell her she wasn’t going to eat it also. “It’s not your responsibility to make Lara feel good about what she’s eating,” I said to Natalie. “It’s your responsibility to make choices that work for you and support your goals.”

Natalie made the following Response Card to read every day she was at Lara’s house:

It’s not Lara’s job to stop pushing food on me. She’s a food pusher! It’s my job to say NO when she does. And if Lara feels a little bad when I do say no, that’s okay. I’m not telling her not to eat something; I’m making choices that support my weight loss goals, which are incredibly important to me. My highest responsibility is to myself and to my goals, not to make Lara feel better about her own eating.

If you have food pushers in your life, stop waiting for them to stop pushing food! Instead, start saying no the next time you see them! The burden of change is on you, not on them. And remember: the more you say no and show them that you don’t cave to their pushing, the more they’ll learn to eventually stop pushing because they’ll know it’s a fruitless effort. You have control in this situation, so make sure you exercise it!