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A blog about all things allergen-free and delicious

Entries in saying no (1)



As seen in Women's Lifestyle Magazine's June, 2012 edition.


Too Much "No" in Your Life?

I don’t know about you, but there has been a little too much “no” in my life, lately. Of course, for Tender Foodies, “no” is a word we use a great deal, and we need to learn to say it well. But the issue of turning something away, something that we normally would love to accept, transcends the narrow world of food allergies. “No” is not an easy word.  

Over the last few months, I’ve listened to more than a few women say, “yes” when perhaps a little (or a lot) more self-protection might be in order.  My heart was disquieted as these pretty amazing chicks described their choices. A couple of friends were getting mixed up with people who were not treating them with even a modicum of respect.  They stood up and said, “Hey, that’s out of line.  If you want me to trust you, knock it off,” but then felt guilty and apologized. Or they manipulated the situation to a perceived advantage.  I’ve also listened to stories from people with Celiac Disease who had trouble turning away a dish that their well meaning, but untrained friends made “just” for them, even though that dish contained ingredients that would harm them and make them suffer horribly.  

But as I listen to myself become the dreaded voice of reason, I wondered if the many “no’s” that I’ve had to say lately have given me a more negative outlook on life. “No” is a gift.  So, why is it so hard to say, and when do we get to say, “yes”?

Maybe it’s simply physics. Since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, perhaps too many “no’s” build up like needy vagrants begging at our doorstep unless we find that shy “yes” hiding just around the corner.  These “yes’s” are the gifts of “no” but we must go through the work to look for them.  

Here are a few of the "Gifts of No" that I've found.


“No” Creates Safety

I asked Joan Hofman, MA, LPC for some guidance with this one.  Joan is a licensed professional counselor, who uses a variety of progressive (and super interesting) energy therapies in her practice.  

“For most people, “no” creates a sense of boundary so you can stay safe and secure, but there are additional challenges for someone with food allergies.  “No” keeps you safe from a potential allergic reaction, but you also need to find a way to keep from implicating to another that their level of caring is not enough. It’s an incredibly awkward moment to say, “Thank you for loving me but the way you’re showing it could kill me.” “

When we reject a friend’s offer of food, or anything well-meaning, it can feel like we are accusing them of not caring. In reality, they don’t have the knowledge, the tools, or the power to create a dish that is safe enough for us to eat.  It’s not their fault.  It feels wrong to put them in that position, and in a sense, it is. But it isn’t wrong to say “no” and we certainly don’t need to put ourselves at risk. It’s not our fault either.

So how do we handle it?  Realize that it’s not just about the food.  Since everyone responds differently to rejection, address each host’s natural need to feel good about themselves as care givers via the food.  Let them know that you are fine and that you appreciate them without eating a bite.

“No” Helps Us Be Authentic

My secret crush, Anthony Bourdain, would probably hate me.  Anthony is a chef, author, and the star of Travel Channel’s “No Reservations”.  He is a true believer in eating whatever is put in front of you because if someone went through the trouble of making it, you should be gracious enough to eat it. As I watched him swallow an unwashed warthog rectum in Namibia, knowing full well that powerful antibiotics were in his future, I knew he meant what he said. This is the guy who calls vegetarians, “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit” for, I believe, this very reason.  Obviously, I don’t share his disdain of my vegetarian friends but I am terribly amused by his Agatha Christie-like mistrust of them. On the flipside, I also believe that food is a gift to be graciously accepted, and as a Tender Foodie, I am in constant conflict because of this belief.

I imagine standing in front of Anthony in his kitchen, with my little allergy card, squeaking.  “Uh, Chef, I have to go over the ingredients with you.  I can’t eat this, this, this…oh and this…and this…by the way, were those nuts processed in a gluten-free facility and can we sautee the ingredients for that foi gras without dairy?”

But if I had to, I would do it, for two reasons:

1.    If I don’t question my hosts about ingredients (or simply withdraw from the meal and opt for strictly social interaction), I would be worthless to society.  I couldn’t function.  Maybe right then and there, and maybe for the next 5 days starting tomorrow.  Either way, life is too important to let myself be incapacitated or incur long term damage. Health is freedom and I’ve got shit to do.

2.    For better or for worse, this is who I am.  If I can’t embrace it, how can I expect anyone else to?  

One of the many things I admire about Anthony Bourdain is that he is true to himself. He is authentic. I trust that he would at least respect me for being the same.

“No” Offers Possibilities

When I lived in New York City, one of my yoga teachers (Amy Ippoliti at Elena Brower's Vira Yoga) said something that forever changed me.

“Make the sweeter choice.”  

This statement was so profoundly different than my own learned system of veiled self-sacrifice that it struck a bell in my head. Ding! Choices fly by at every moment, so why take the distasteful one, the “should” that limits you to only one option?  (Uh… sacrifice is pretty final, eh?)  

A “yes” to that second brownie is enjoyable, but a “no” to a 3rd might leave us open for a healthier tomorrow.  That’s not so hard.  But even if life itself presents a series of very harsh realities, there is a choice that is sweeter than the other.  The options may not be “what we want”, but if we look for the possibilities and choose the sweetest of the lot, we can get ourselves out of some pretty serious jams.  Let go of the toxic and make space for healthier interactions that offer an increasing number of sweet possibilities.

“No” Builds Trust

I am a pleaser, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to please, and receiving pleasure from pleasing. Plus, saying “no” is risky. People don’t like hearing it and sometimes they become angry or disappointed.

Still, the biggest mistakes in my life (so far) have come from saying “yes” when the core of my being was telling me “no.” Hard lessons have taught me that if I’m feeling stressed in a relationship, it’s time to immediately dive down to the center of my being and become honest with myself. Life will change for the better, however unpredictably, if I can find those two little letters, purse my lips, and say them as truthfully and as kindly as I can.  

I don’t know Mike Robbins but I love what he has to say about this:

“Our ability and capacity to say "no" with confidence is one of the most important aspects of creating peace and power in our lives. This is about creating healthy boundaries, honoring ourselves, and being real -- it's not about being closed, cynical, or unwilling.”  

~Mike Robbins, Author, Motivational Speaker

When we choose to focus solely on external qualities like being a nice gal or a faithful friend, and ignore our priceless, internal intuition, trust is more easily broken. People don’t feel that we mean what we say. Communication disappears. But if we balance those external values with the gifts of honoring our “Yes’s” and “No’s”, others can tell when and how they can count on us.  If we receive the same in return, we know when and how we can count on them.  Eventually, we simply trust each other.

This balancing the gift of “no” with our quest for “yes” takes lifelong practice. But like a muscle, perhaps the more we work it out, the stronger and more beautiful we become.  Like returning daily to the piano to practice our scales, listening to our intuition is the most humbling of work that builds a foundation for an effortless and magnificent life.

About Elisabeth

Elisabeth VeltmanWriter, owner of Blue Pearl Strategies, and lover of all culinary delights, Elisabeth is a Tender Foodie. She started The Tender Palate, a website for foodies with food allergies where she consults with experts from every area of the Tender Foodie life. She believes that everyone should live deliciously and have a healthy seat at the table. Find her at