"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
July 23, 2015
Eating at Family Parties
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


As I have gotten older, I have been fighting a mostly losing battle against gaining weight. Unfortunately, my extended family eats at every gathering and on all occasions, usually consuming high-fat, low-nutrient snacks and meals. They are also food pushers who make it impossible to quietly pass up their offerings.

I have tried to arrange visits outside of normal eating hours, but this strategy has not solved the problem. Suggestions?


Let’s start with a question: What are some examples of high-fat, low-nutrient snacks and meals? I can think of some: Chocolate pie. Banana pudding. Ice cream. Bacon. Corn chips. Potato chips. Chocolate chips. Scrambled eggs and cheese cooked in bacon fat. French fries. Cake. Cookies. Brownies. Fluffernutter sandwiches. Peppermint bark. Orange Fanta. Cheesecake.

What do these foods have in common? Besides a generally low nutritive value?

That’s right. They are all delicious.

Cake is delicious. Cookies are delicious. Chocolate pie is delicious. So are fried chicken, hush puppies, onion rings, French fries and anything else fried that can be dipped in ranch dressing or fry sauce.

And do you know what is less delicious? Cauliflower. I mean, it has its place. I like cauliflower. You can put butter, cheese sauce or ranch dressing on it. You can eat it cooked or raw. But cauliflower cannot compare to a slice of French Silk pie. French Silk pie tastes better.

So let’s rethink your question. Your problem is not that your relatives make a fuss when you won’t eat the food they offer you, effectively forcing you to eat food that you don’t want to eat. Your problem is that your relatives offer you food that you do want to eat, because it is delicious. If the food were both non-nutritious and revolting, your resolve to make a healthier choice would be firm.

You are right, of course, to try and make a healthier choice. We should all try to eat a diet full of fresh, nutritious produce, grains and protein. Cake, however delicious, is a sometimes food for good reason. So, how can you resist this delicious food and make a healthier choice when visiting relatives? I have six ideas.

One, just say no. There is no substitute for repeating, “No, thank you,” as often as necessary at a family party. Whether Cousin Evangeline has offered you a slice of pie seventeen times already, or whether seventeen different people have offered you a slice of pie, you are always polite and correct if you respond, “No, thank you.”

You do not need to give any reason. Just say no as if it were the most boring thing in the world to turn down a slice of pie. For example, imagine you are talking to Cousin Jasper, and Cousin Evangeline approaches you with a slice of pie on a plate. She touches your arm and says, “Olivia, would you care for some of Grandma’s pie?”

You should meet her eyes with a smile and say, “No, thank you, Evangeline.” Then you return to your conversation.

Two, say no again. Once you have turned down a portion of whatever delicious thing has been offered to you, you might be pestered or heckled. This is where saying, “No, thank you,” gets more important. If you give in after saying, “No, thank you,” you are effectively teaching your extended family that they need to offer you food several times before you feel comfortable taking it.

If you want them to know that you really don’t want to eat the food, you must turn it down every time it is offered to you, no matter how the rib or tease you.

Here are some phrases that will, from this time hence, fail to move you: “I know you love pound cake.” “I made it myself.” “Are you sure?” “I made all this food.” “Just try a little bit.” “Are you dieting again?”

Three, eat something yummy before you go. It is easier to decline food if you have already eaten a tasty meal.

Four, bring your own food. It might be strange to arrive for a mid-morning visit bearing snacks, but if you are attending a cookout or a party where there is sure to be food, bring something to eat that will fit into the regimen you have set for yourself. Bring something tasty and bring enough to share.

Five, keep a glass of water in your hand. The glass will occupy your hands, leaving no room for a plate, and it will appear that you are participating (although lightly) in the general activity of eating. While everyone else is nibbling cheese cubes, sip your water. When people refill their plates, refill your glass.

Six, fill a plate of what you do want to eat, and eat it slowly. You will still have to leave off your plate anything you don’t want to eat, but having the plate in your possession will show that you are, in fact, eating.

Now, with regards to putting particularly delicious and calorie-laden foods on your plate: If you are a person who can limit himself to one portion, putting one portion on your plate may be a successful strategy. But if you are person for whom eating one portion is like opening the door to Willy Wonka’s edible wonderland, you should probably skip that food altogether.

You should also skip any foods that you don’t actually like. If the high-fat, low-nutrient food served at your family events is not, in fact, tasty, you need to stop eating it immediately on those grounds alone.

Finally, even though your relatives should not fuss at you when you decline to eat — and it is indeed rude of them to even notice what you are eating or not eating — I think it’s unfair to call them food pushers, as if they have a superhuman ability to make you eat, or nefarious purposes when they offer you food.

Yes, it is annoying. But they probably think they are being hospitable. They want you to feel at home and a part of things. They don’t mean to make you feel frustrated or put-upon.

And fortunately for you, no one can make you eat if you don’t want to.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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