How to Keep Saying No When Food is Everywhere

 How to Say No When Food Is Everywhere

The other day I walked into the apartment with a soft pretzel in my hand. When Daniel saw me, he said, “I thought you didn’t like those?” I paused for a second and laughed because, yes, he was right. On a list of snacks I’d ordinarily choose, a soft pretzel would fall somewhere between unsalted sunflower seeds and stale rice cakes. Still, I had devoured that pretzel. And when he asked me why I’d buy something I didn’t like, all I could come up with was…“I couldn’t say no anymore.”

Walking through the streets of Manhattan is like navigating one endless buffet. There’s a corner grocer, a restaurant or cafe every 10 steps, and then there are food carts serving every kind of food imaginable: pizza, burgers, Chinese, Thai, Indian, kebabs, hotdogs, doughnuts, candy, ice cream, and of course, pretzels. You can’t step outside without smelling some type of food (or pee, but that’s only in the dead of summer). After passing a food truck a few blocks from home, I caught a whiff of my favorite street meat and started salivating. After passing several more carts, I noticed I was slowing down…looking over the options I knew so well. I finally stopped a block from home and bought a pretzel. I’d been tempted by too many things to say no one more time.

You don’t have to be in Manhattan to feel bombarded with delicious foods (have you seen the candy options at Best Buy?). All of us face a million little temptations throughout our days–from the moment we wake up to the time our heads hit the pillow.

Ego depletion is the idea that willpower is a finite resource that can be exhausted. The more times you have to actively use it, the less you have in reserve, and eventually you make a choice you probably wish you avoided. We have all experienced this feeling of just being too exhausted to make the right decision. It’s why stopping for pizza seems more appealing after a stressful week of work on a Friday evening than it does on a leisurely Sunday afternoon. Your willpower has been all used up.

This is the part of the post where I’m supposed to offer my magical cure-all tip. Unfortunately, for most of us, there isn’t one. We’re going to have cravings…we’re going to face temptations. And sometimes we’re going to succumb to the ones we might have wanted to avoid. That’s OK. Here’s what I think we can do to help ourselves: When possible, make sure to eat before leaving the house so temptation isn’t made worse by hunger. Carry a water bottle or a cup of tea/coffee so you have something to sip on when out of the house. Plan when you’re going to stop for a treat before you leave so that you can avoid making on-the-spot decisions. And if all else fails, remember that complete abstinence isn’t the goal–being mindful and conscious enough to feel able to choose what we want when we want it is.

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71 thoughts on “How to Keep Saying No When Food is Everywhere

  1. Cristina @ I Say Nomato

    You are so right, New York is so full of food temptations! It is seriously simultaneously the best and worst smelling city I have ever lived in! Every food truck, every restaurant has the most amazing smell you’ve ever smelled in your entire life. My little trick is to not carry cash, or at least only the amount of cash already earmarked for use. Otherwise every halal truck in the city would be in danger! Mmmmm gyros….

    Reply
  2. Betsy

    The same appetite enhancer comes from watching cooking or food shows on TV or perusing recipes in a magazine. I now try only to watch these shows on TV (which I record) if i am eating a meal or have just eaten. The more you THINK about food, esp a particular food item, much less see it and smell it, the more you want it. I think it’s as much physical as psychological.

    Reply
  3. Tracie

    I love your blog and I LOVED your book! I love your “Daniel” story. Have I missed something? Are you two back together? I hope so :).

    Reply
    1. Cadi

      I was wondering the same thing about Daniel after seeing his name! :) Love all of the recent posts Andie, I’ve truly missed your presence in my life!!

      Reply
    2. Meredith

      I loved your book too! It really hit home for me and I am so happy to see all your recent posts as well. Please fill us in about Daniel. I too was surprised to see his name.

      Reply
      1. Mandy

        Great news Andie. Just finished your book. It is awesome. Looking forward to following your blog. All the way from New Zealand : )

        Reply
      2. Elizabeth

        I just finished reading your book, too. It took me all of two days to read, it was THAT good. Glad to see you and Daniel are back together. :)

        Reply
  4. Leslie

    Love this! Today in my WW meeting we are talking about what “Superpowers” we have and I think we can all agree that will power is the hardest power out there. The more aware we our of our “powers” the more we can try and handle the things that can sometime overpower us. I love the comment about not having cash on you, or making sure you have something (tea, water) for you to sip on.

    I love food… however, I think one of my superpowers I have developed in my 7 years at goal is understanding that food doesn’t love me back, in fact, at times it can do the opposite to my sometimes fragile state. It is just hard to remember when walking by my favorite food stand on a bad day.

    Reply
    1. Vickie

      I definitely agree with that…food doesn’t love me either. Went to the grocery store today and bought lots of fruit and yogurt, but what do I eat for a snack… Fritos. I also have no willpower as was mentioned above.

      Reply
    2. Andie Mitchell Post author

      I think what you said about recognizing when we’re in those fragile states is the key, isn’t it? Knowing the moments when we’re least able to make the healthy choices we’d like to make is when we need to have some plans in place (like healthy available snacks, or making sure we don’t walk the route of the pastry shop, or not letting ourselves get tooooo hungry, etc..). Great comment!

      Reply
    1. Andie Mitchell Post author

      Breakfast is a toughie because so many of us are rushed. I hear you. Maybe planning would not only make you feel better about your choice, but feel better in general. I know for me I always do that thing where I set the alarm for the last possible minute, but then I always end up feeling panicked. Sloooowly I’m starting to learn how long it REALLY takes me to do the things I want and need to do in the morning in order to feel like I’m going to have a good/productive day–and trying to adjust the clock accordingly :)

      Reply
  5. Cinnamon Vogue

    If our very existence did not depend on food so much, we could just ignore it. Our stomach has a mission to secure enough suppliers and over ride the rational thinking brain. If necessary with the hated Pretzels :-) Plus the social pressure to eat from family to friends.

    Andie you know the only way to bring sanity and rational thinking to the stomach is with Ceylon Cinnamon. Because it will delay gastric emptying which will make you feel fuller. Plus the ability to modulate your blood sugar levels, and stop that light headed feeling and grab everything on the street buffet. We could send free cinnamon tea for you and Daniel. Give us a shout.

    Reply
    1. Andie Mitchell Post author

      Thanks CV! You bring up a good point about social pressure, too!

      I love cinnamon and I’ve heard so much about how many benefits there are to using it. I tried your wonderful tea back in 2012 and thought it was fantastic!! xo

      Reply
  6. [email protected]

    I was just thinking about this the other day, after a particular hard day of saying “no” to too many things for too many days. It was one thing after another! I finally relented and got something I normally wouldn’t have had a problem turning down… but I was exhausted. Fortunately, I’ve learned much over the last year and it did not turn into an all-out binge, and I was subsequently reminded why I stay away from Taco Bell after my third trip to the toilet that evening (sorrynotsorry if that’s TMI).

    I agree that it’s not abstinence, but mindfulness that we need to focus on. It’s not that I can’t have Taco Bell, it’s just that I need to remember how crappy (ha. ha.) I feel afterward.

    Reply
  7. Maria

    Andie — I realize this is wildly off-topic, but I am wondering how your mom is keeping? I so enjoyed reading your posts about her and cheering for her at her check-ins. Do you have any plans for a follow-up of any kind? Sorry to pry… just miss her lively spirit around these parts. x

    Reply
    1. Andie Mitchell Post author

      Hi Maria! Oh that’s nice of you to ask! She was just here in NYC actually, on Friday! She’s doing well! I’ll see if she feels like writing a post sometime in the next few months :)

      Reply
  8. La Gorda

    I totally feel this. There are days when it is so hard to remember that I love food, but it doesn’t love me.
    Thanks for the reminder to be mindful.

    Reply
    1. Betsy

      I’ve been advised a couple of things: Try to find a substitute that is a little bit healthier. Or, try to find something else to occupy your mind; sometimes, the craving will go away with a bit of time. And, of course, if you “give in,” just take a bit or two. I’ve heard that those are the most important for a craving. (Of course, tell that to my brain.)

      Reply
    2. Andie Mitchell Post author

      Thanks :) I think it helps to remember that food is a neutral entity, and we give it the meaning. So, we choose every day how we use the food, ya know? Some days are harder than others, but if we’re mindful and we stay present, we find that food isn’t in control…we are.

      Reply
  9. Martha

    I feel for you, Andie…I don’t know if I could survive in Manhattan with all the yummy food carts you describe =)

    I also kinda agree that willpower is a finite resource, especially when a pizza ad hits me and the last thing I want to do is cook!

    Reply
      1. Martha

        Oh, yeah, for sure! Pizza is definitely a weak spot of mine. To make it a little healthier, you can always make the crust out of different ingredients. For example, I heard that you can make crust by adding a little flax seed meal and Italian seasoning to leftover rice. Anybody tried that or any other healthy crust recipes?

        Reply
  10. Alicia

    One of the things I will miss most and least in New York City is all the food. I love that you can be so adventurous here. There are foods from all over the world and not enough days (or calories) in the week to try them all. Sometimes the choices can become a little overwhelming. I love this post.
    It’s a shame, the soft pretzels when I was a kid were amazing. Now they seem to all be coated in plastic, not the soft, salty, mustard drenched marvels of my childhood.

    Reply
  11. heidi

    Thank you so much for talking about this. I feel like I’m alone in the struggle of avoiding food in NYC. I feel like people moved to NYC and lost weight b/c of all the walking, but I just gained. Sure you’re walking everywhere, but you’re also passing by hundreds of incredibly tasty restaurants, carts, and bodegas as you go. It wears you down.

    Reply
    1. Andie Mitchell Post author

      Oh yes! The first few months that I lived in NYC (before my Ted Talk where you can really see the difference), I gained maybe 15 to 20 pounds immediately. Not only were the streets a challenge, but Seamless was so.much.fun. I was just walking up the UWS and saw a new Rice Krispie shop. I mean…everything is here :)

      Reply
  12. Victoria

    I’m an expert on willpower or the lack thereof.
    22 years ago I lost 115 lbs after carrying it through 8 years of an impossible marriage.
    Recently I’ve lost my job and my home. Along with that. .my “willpower”. I’ve gained almost all of the 115 lbs back and am presently regaining my “will” to carry on.
    The one thing I know without a doubt is that white sugar is by far my worst enemy. Ha, a few other things are on that list as well however, that’s my worst! I do so much better if I stay away from “refined” anything. At least then, my poor willpower has a chance to rise from the dead!
    Traveling down this road again is daunting. I keep in mind daily that I am only overweight and at my age..that’s a problem I can fix. Thanks for posting honestly ladies! Yes, what about Daniel??

    Reply
    1. Andie Mitchell Post author

      Ah Victoria, we’re all pulling for you. It sounds like you’ve been through the wringer. I agree with you that sugar can tend to make me crave more sugar…and on and on with the cravings. Take it one day at a time, friend. That’s all we can do :) xo

      Reply
      1. Victoria

        Yes, one day at a time is all we get! I’m now my mother’s caregiver. .long story..but I can feel myself emerging. It’s nice reading your blog as well as everyone’s comments. Life is challenging but around every turn is another road. No time for giving up. Side note : It nice to see a blog that’s current! I just read your book about 4 weeks ago. It was definitely a piece to putting this humpty dumpty back together! Thanks again!

        Reply
  13. tK

    All great advice! I’ve recently started on WW, and I’ve found that the idea of planning your treats like you mentioned is working so well for me. If I know that I’m going to have a treat later and it’s accounted for point-wise, it’s so much easier to say no to all of the little temptations that crop up over the course of the day.

    Reply
  14. Roxanne

    Great tip! I give in to my cravings! But the best thing to that is I didn’t feel any guilt about it! It’s because I am aware that most of the time I am eating healthy, so giving in to my cravings won’t hurt me or ruins my weight loss goals. I also found out that if you felt depressed or guilty of giving in to your cravings, it will most likely contribute to weight gain, since you are rising up the stress levels in your body.

    Reply
  15. Betty

    Just found this site and want to share an idea. Today, I will meet friends at Cracker Barrel, so I will check out their menu online for something healthy. I can even check out nutrition on my choice, so when I get there, I know what to order and that it is within my food plan for today.

    Reply
  16. Lauri

    I love reading these comments and am glad to see you are writing more often!! You are an awesome source of knowledge. I too, have lost over 100 lbs and am in my 7th year of keeping it off. The bouncing up and down of 10 to 15 lbs is very annoying and I haven’t been able to shake those lbs I have put on for about 2 yrs now. The binging has been getting to me….and after a VERY rough week….it has crossed my mind a few times that about 6 Little Debbie’s would be very tasty…..BUT, using positive internal dialogue and thinking of my goal of getting these 10 lbs off that I REALLY want to happen…..made me change my mind. I am taking your advice “Can I get through today? Just today. And not worry about tomorrow”…..so it has been a successful week! Thanks so much for sharing your life, internal thoughts and wisdom from your experience. You are helping more people than you can ever imagine!

    Reply
  17. Carolyn Arnett

    Andie, I found your book yesterday morning and finished reading it late last night. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It jogged my memories about early experiences with food and I really think the insight will help me with my current struggle to change some life long habits. My goal is to embrace healthy habits that I can live with, not just a diet to drop some excess weight.

    Reply
  18. judee@ Gluten Free A-Z Blog

    I am retired and get together with different groups to play bridge or mah jong 3 times a week. They put snacks out all over the place like chocolate covered this and that, pop corn, chips, etc. etc. I fell like a kid in a candy store and enjoy indulging until I get home and then I feel filled with regret. The only way I have handled it in the past is to make up my mind before I go that I will not eat any of the snacks. Who really needs them,.

    Reply
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  20. EDWL

    Dieting is hard, and when we tell ourselves we can’t have a treat once in a while, or if we do succumb to temptation we have failed, is makes it harder. You have a very practical approach and that resonates with your readers.

    Reply
  21. Jan P.

    I also never buy food scented candles, body lotions, bubble baths, etc. – even vanilla makes me want to eat a sugar cookie! I always go for woodsy, patchouli,lavendar etc. scents.

    Reply
  22. Juliana @ Urban Simplicity

    Yes! So true, all of it! I read a book earlier this year called The World Beyond Your Head by Matthew B. Crawford, and in it, he notes that people have attention and self-control, but that the two things work in tandem, but have finite limits. So if you are having to do something that requires a lot of attention, then your self-control will be compromised, and if you are having to be very self-controlled, your ability to attend is less than stellar. I’ve found just being aware of that dynamic has been very helpful to me, as we live in a culture that places almost constant demands on our attention because of the constant presence of screens, and drains our self-control bank without our realizing it.

    I also read your first book and enjoyed it immensely. Thanks for another great post!!

    Reply
  23. Krista

    Beating the cravings can be really difficult sometimes when it feels like everything’s working against you. I drive past a Cookout, Chik Fil A, Panera, and Dunkin just to get home every day, and when I’m hungry, there’s nothing I’d rather do than inhale a “milkshake” from Cookout (you can get literally anything in it.. freeze it a little longer and it’s over a pint of ice cream). I’ve learned to carry a snack on me– usually a Larabar. The “hanger” is so real, lol.

    Reply
  24. Jessica Alley

    This post is right on time for me! I have been feeling so hungry all day and went out to run some errands. That was a big mistake as fast food is everywhere. I stayed strong though! I kept saying, “Just for Today” and then I eventually yelled to myself in the car “No! No! No!” haha! Whatever works, right? Thanks for your posts and loved your book!

    Reply
  25. Ericka Fleming

    I have really enjoyed your blog and book. It hit so close to home, as I have lost over 140 lbs in the last year. It’s nice to know that others out there understand the weight loss journey and everything that comes with it physically, emotionally, and mentally. Thank you for sharing your story along with your advice. I look forward to reading your blog, when I get home from work at night. I love your recipes!

    Reply
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