Here’s How to Respond to Skeptical People When You Say You’re on a Diet

When you start a new eating program, people might question you or tempt you to revert back to your old ways. In “Food Freedom Forever,” Melissa Hartwig shares tips on dealing with skeptics.


Whether you’re starting a new eating plan for your health or for ethical reasons, most people will probably be supportive, but you’re also bound to run into some people who are skeptical or critical.

In Food Freedom Forever: Letting Go of Bad Habits, Guilt, and Anxiety Around Food, certified sports nutritionist Melissa Hartwig offers advice for some common jabs that might come your way. After all, once you start saying no to loved ones’ treats—and maybe even some of your own old favorites—you’ll probably draw a bit of attention.

Your healthy choices might make some people feel guilty about their own less-than-stellar habits, so they’re defending their own lifestyles. Others might be afraid that you won’t be able to hang out without your usual wine and ice cream nights. “Work extra-hard not to let your dietary changes get in the way of your friendship, because then your critics will be justified in resenting your new habits,” writes Hartwig. Keep going to happy hour with your friends, even if you just order water, but also see if they’d want to go for a hike, get pedicures, or get together for other activities without food in the future.

[pullquote] Your healthy choices might make some people feel guilty about their own less-than-stellar habits. [/pullquote]

When you first mention your eating plan to someone, keep your attitude light and expect the best from the conversation. If you assume everyone is going to react negatively, you might act defensively—but that combative behavior could draw legitimate criticism, even if no one is judging your eating choices. Briefly acknowledge any negative comments others make, and change the subject quickly. (Check out these magic phrases that can save an awkward conversation.)

Here’s how Hartwig recommends responding to a few common criticisms:

If someone says: “I could never do that—I love bread too much”
Respond: “This isn’t a direct criticism, but you do have to handle it carefully,” writes Hartwig. The person is probably just looking for an excuse to keep eating those guilty pleasures, so avoid saying anything that could be taken as critical, like talking about how easy your eating plan is. Relate to the other person by acknowledging that it’s going to be tough, or make a joking comment about the hamburger bun replacement you Googled.

If someone says: “But you don’t need to lose weight”
Respond: Regardless of why you’ve started your eating plan, this was probably a well-intentioned comment from someone hoping to boost your self-esteem. “People still equate eating healthier with the desire to slim down,” writes Hartwig. Explain the reasoning behind your new eating choices, like boosting your energy or identifying what’s causing your stomach issues. Assure the other person that you’ll still be eating enough calories, even if they’re coming from different sources than they used to.

If someone says: “There goes your social life.”
Respond: You’re probably worried enough about figuring out what to eat at restaurants or parties, but a little research will go a long way. Let the other person know that you won’t let your food choices turn you into a hermit, and that you’ll still enjoy socializing without eating everything available. “Social events are about getting together…it doesn’t matter what we’re actually eating,” writes Hartwig. If you’re having fun without eating every hors d’oeuvre, no one else should be bothered either.

Melissa Hartwig is co-creator of the Whole30 eating plan. If you want to learn more about how to regain control of your eating habits without feeling restricted, pick up a copy of her book Food Freedom Forever: Letting Go of Bad Habits, Guilt, and Anxiety Around Food.

MORE: 23 Tricks to Flatten Your Belly—Without a Lick of Exercise

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Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.