How to Politely Decline Food

Steph Wagner

November 15, 2016

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How to Politely Decline Food

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Updated December 2021

How can you kindly say no to someone else’s dish?

The holidays are always the right time to revisit how to decline food without hurting someones feelings.

This is SUCH a delicate subject.

Truth be told….it’s not just bariatric surgery patients that deal with this. Many others are in a journey of realizing food intolerances, allergies and issues. More people than ever are aware of how food poorly interacts with them and the need to be in control of what’s on their plate.

Thus, the holidays and all the food we celebrate with bring up opportunity to hurt someone’s feelings. How do we handle this?

Let’s dive into some of the more *polite* ways to handle food issues going into a food-focused holiday.


If you can, talk with the family and/or your hostess in advance.


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A phone call is often in order for these types of conversations. Text messages are efficient but if you are worried about this conversations, call and catch up with the person first. Then direct the conversation to the meal plans.

Try to avoid using phrases like “I’m on a diet” or “I’m going low-carb” or “I’m trying to lose more weight.”

This tends to make others feel judged or put on the defense. Putting ourselves in their shoes, if we were about to host people  in our home and am shopping and cleaning and planning all the traditional dishes our family always celebrates, this can feel offensive. Instead, be as kind as you can by starting with a compliment.

Instead, try something like this…

Thank you so much for hosting!

I realize it is so much work and I would love to help how I can. I will bring some side dishes for myself and plenty to share. I know I have different food needs now, but the last thing I want is to put any more burden on you!

After you’ve broken the ice with compliments and talking about your food needs (instead of your diet) you can offer several different dishes for the hostess to pick from for you to bring.


quote block decline foods at holidays bariatric surgery blog


Avoid saying “what can I bring?” and instead say “I would be happy to bring something. Would you prefer I brought stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs or sautéed green beans?”

Check out my other holiday recipes here

This puts the hostess in the drivers seat (which I would appreciate if it were me) and is also polite of you to offer. You also gave options that you can definitely have so whichever she picks, you’ll be in great shape.

If you are hosting

Of course, if you’re the one hosting, you get to pick the menu and what items you’ll have for yourself!

Allow other family members to make the most tempting dishes. You might supply leftover containers so you can send them home with their own leftovers.

If this is hard for some family members, you can make it a special ‘handing down’ of the recipe moment. Give them the recipe card with an apron or spatula and let them know you are passing on the torch.

However, if you are making dishes you need to avoid, save parts of the recipe you know you can have like the broccoli or green beans in the casserole.

The day of the holiday meal

Your biggest hurdle of all comes on the big day. You likely have an idea of which aunt or which sister is going to make a scene of you not wanting to eat her _________(fill in the blank).

My best advice in staying polite?

Try to divert the attention away to something else.

It’s like I do with my young children. Oh, you’re fussy about something? Let’s distract you and re-direct your attention to something else! Blocks! Balls! Book! Dog!

Seriously. If your family member is so concerned about what you aren’t eating, they need to focus their attention on something else. Stay polite with compliments such as…

It looks delicious! Doesn’t baking this time of year get you excited for the holiday season! I always love the holiday soaps that smell amazing.

Distract. Re-direct.

Didn’t work?

I’ve already filled up which is such a shame because it smells wonderful! You’ve always been such a good cook. How did you learn to cook?

Stay attentive and interject with recipes you’ve tried lately or what you enjoy about cooking. Try to make it an engaging conversation that allows them to think past this short moment of what is on your plate.

If talking about food is still too risky, see if you can move it along to favorite holiday light displays or even stories of past holidays together.

Hopefully, this approach will help you dodge some “she’s on a diet” conversations {which are the worst}.

If your family is very unsupportive

If the family members that are giving you the hardest time are the ones closest to you (the ones that live in your house) you need to have honest, one-on-one conversations with them about how they can help love and support you through this process.

Extended family members need the “distract and re-direct” treatment but if it’s your spouse, mother or even grown child, I suggest a heart-to-heart talk to gain their support. Many patients would agree that working with a licensed therapist is in order if it’s impacting a key relationship.

Other resources from Bariatric Food Coach

If you’re a member to my site, videos like getting family on board and trashing the triggers will go a bit deeper how to handle these conversations.

Become a Member

I’m wishing you all the best this holiday season! May you enjoy the time of rest, family and merriment.

Check out other holiday resources! Mind Mapping can be a really helpful way to identify what matters to you about the holidays and what you can pass on (including food you will allow yourself to enjoy and foods you will pass on)

bariatric holiday tips handout

Cheering for you on the sidelines,

Steph :)

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