Learning to be Assertive with Food

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What do you do, after eight perfect days of tournament dieting, you’re offered a delicious-looking piece of semi-sweet chocolate cake by your well-meaning mother-in-law who does not take “NO” for an answer? Does your tenacity, will and strength of character crumble or do you rise up
and in a firm, direct voice calmly state, “No, thank you, Mrs. Harris,” or whomever your mother-in-law to be.

Most of us who have a tough time dealing with food control find it difficult to remain in control because we have never learned to be assertive. “Oh, Erin, try just a little piece of my rum raisin souffle, I made it for your birthday!” Or, you walk into the local pizza shop and while ordering a medium pizza the counter person says, “Well today you can have two medium pizzas for the price of one. Don’t you want two?” Sure I want two; I want three, but I only need to eat one and that’s even sharing it with my vacuum mouthed brother who can consume pizza for breakfast.

Learning to be assertive when ordering a meal, or requesting only a portion of whatever someone else wants you to eat can be a kind of self-actualization. Get what you need and not what someone else wants you to eat.

You’re at the restaurant. You recall the last time you ate at this wonderful restaurant you overdid it. Twas not fun feeling ill. Due to that experience you knew less was best. So now was your new opportunity. You’re ordering: “I would like the salad along with the shrimp cocktail (appetizer) and a plain baked potato, but a small one with Worchestershire sauce instead of butter. Bring me the salad first and the appetizer and potato as my main dish (entrée). Thank you.” Meanwhile the wallet asks, “Is that all, sir?” (You’re thinking his real meaning is “OK, cheapo can’t come up with the bucks for a complete dinner, huh!”) But you’re steadfast, “Yes, that is all I care for, thanks. (Whew, got through that.)” I did not want a repeat of my last visit, you’re thinking. Good for you. Otherwise when the waiter asks, “Is that all, sir,” you might have replied, “Well, I would like an entrée to go with that. Lemme (stands for let me) see.” Forget it. You’ve made your decision, stand by it. You’re at an after-hours office party for an employee who is retiring. Most everyone is having a drink while you’re trying to keep the calories minimal. Your buddy John says, “Come on, have a beer.” You know you love beer, having one is no fun and after the beer comes the nachos, the sour cream and then more. SO you need to think ahead, analyze what could happen, turn to your buddy, “John, I’ll just have a no-alcohol brew, that’s all I want for now, thanks.” Be assertive! Stand by your conviction, your true needs.

Recently in an issue of American Health Magazine the head chef of Commander’s Palace, a five star, New Orleans restaurant, stated, “If a customer doesn’t quite want what we offer on the menu, he/she can ask for something specific and we’ll try to accommodate him.” A real surprise comment from a busy chef, yet people need to learn to ask, nicely, firmly, but ask, and say, “Thank you.” Be appreciative, be firm, don’t accept what you really don’t want (because you’ll probably never going to like it).

I remember one incident at a very nice local restaurant whereas there were not possibilities of pasta dish while all the entrees were heavily meat based, i.e., Filets, Chicken Dijon, Veal and all of the entrees came with varied vegetables and starches such as: rice pilaf, double baked potato, queen corn. So, not wanting a meat dish I waited for everyone else to order then I asked the waiter if it were possible to ask the chef if he/she could create a vegetable platter for me along with potato, rice and corn. And I would appreciate a sample of the sauces on the side for the taste. The waiter said he thought the chef could do that but, the waiter helpfully added, “Was I sure I wanted all those starches?”

Ask and you’ll probably receive.

– Freddy Kaye, Ph. D. is a clinical nutritionist in private practice and the faculty nutritionist at Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center teaching resident physicians diet therapy.

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