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Importance of Saying No When Living with Food Allergies

The Importance of NO: Learning to Say No When Living with Food Allergies

    Food, the reason we’re all here, right? It’s everywhere. There’s just no avoiding it since we live in a world that LOVES to eat. Food is rooted in tradition and culture and when you can’t have what everyone else can eat, not everyone will understand. There will be some pushy people in your life. Other times, there will be malicious people in your life. No matter what brings you to the point of NO, it’s important that you and your children be totally comfortable saying it.

    Confrontation is HARD. If you’re not sure how to say ‘no’ to friends, family, coworkers, and other people in your life, this is the article for you. If you have a child with food allergies, it will be imperative to instill this skill young. I’ve made sure to include tips that will help them as well.

    The Importance of Saying NO When Living With Food Allergies

    It all comes down to health and safety. I’ve found that about 30% of people living with food allergies self-report that they are unable to consume food made on shared equipment with what they’re allergic to. Both Kid Two and I fall into this category.

    Because of this, we decline food and beverages from people ALL the time. There’s so much we don’t know about the food since we didn’t make it ourselves. If it’s in a package from a brand we don’t already trust, the answer is still no. We like to call/email companies before consuming packaged foods.

    The key thing, however, is that neither Kid Two or myself ever say NO in a rude way. It’s always accompanied by gratitude.

    Examples of Saying No to Food When Living With Food Allergies

    Here are a few examples of phrases a child can use when saying no:

    • “No thanks! I have my own food here since I have food allergies.”
    • “No thank you, I’m only allowed to take food from [insert titles here] because I have food allergies.”
    • “Thank you for offering! I can’t have it because of my food allergies, but we can still sit together.”

    Here are a two examples of phrases an adult can use when saying no:

    “No thank you, I have my food here. With my food allergies, I can only eat food that’s been safely prepared in my kitchen. I really appreciate it though, looks fantastic.”

    “That is so kind of you and I really appreciate the thought! Because of my food allergies, I can only eat the food I make at home.”

    ‘NO’ Is a Complete Sentence

    On your journey, you’re going to encounter pushy people and maybe even pushy doctors as well. When people are making you uncomfortable and insisting on something after you’ve already politely declined, remember that “No” is a complete sentence.


    I need you to read that over a few times and let it sink in because that’s the mentality you’ll have to funnel your frustrations through at times. It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, family member, boss, or doctor. The word NO means no. It’s not an invitation to pester you, and it’s not the gateway to an interrogation. It means NO and you’ll have to learn to stand your ground.

    When People Won’t Take NO For an Answer

    As I’ve said before, some people are just pushy. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to learn how to engage with this type of person. It can be about food, health, or a completely different topic.

    When someone won’t take no for an answer, you have two solid options: remove yourself from the situation OR redirect.

    Removing yourself from the situation could be blunt “I don’t appreciate that you can’t seem to take no for an answer. I’m going to get back to work now”. Or, you could be a bit more subtle “Oh, the time got away from me. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to get going.”

    Either way, you’ve taken yourself out of the situation. Now, the ramifications of being blunt: people will think you’re rude. THAT IS NOT YOUR PROBLEM. Remember, they wouldn’t take no for an answer and you put up a firm boundary. You didn’t curse at them or give them a speech. Trust me, you weren’t rude, they just don’t like that you had a clear line and called them on it when they crossed it.

    Should you go the more subtle route, the person may not realize they’ve crossed a boundary. It means you’ll need to steer clear of those types of situations with that person in the future. Should it happen again though, maybe take the blunt road.

    When Doctors Won’t Take NO For an Answer

    If you’re dealing with a medical situation, there are a couple of options here as well. First, ask (and kind of insist) that they notate in your chart that you declined and they refused to respect your boundaries. That usually gets them to stop. This also work sometimes if they refuse to run a particular test.

    The next option is to be blunt. Pack up your things, let them know they’ve crossed a boundary, and that you’ll be requesting a new doctor. Either way, follow-up with the office manager and/or your insurance provider to let them know about the negative experience. That follow-up could save future patients some heartache.

    You are not legally required to see a doctor that makes you (or your child) uncomfortable. People often forget that doctors work for YOU. You literally pay them. Hire and fire as you see fit. On the flip side, if you have a good doctor, leave them a positive review online and tell others about them.

    What to Do When Friends and Relatives Are Pushy, Even If They Mean Well

    I’m not going to lie to you, for some of you reading, THIS will be the hardest thing you go through when dealing with a restricted diet. It’s usually because of your personality type plus the closeness of the family member. There’s a mixed bag of emotions including not wanting to be rude, not wanting to disappoint, and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings.

    First off, take the emotions out of the equation. This is your health and safety. It’s not your job to protect the feelings of others in these moments. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk either. There’s a balance there to be found.

    Next, always remember your manners. Please and thank you go a long way. Try to watch your tone as well. You don’t want to sound accusatory.

    Another thing to keep in mind, try to avoid using phrases that make people feel attacked. “YOU never remember my restrictions.” “YOU’RE always doing things like this.” By starting off with ‘you’, people go on the defense. Instead, try “Remember when I told you about my food allergies? I’m not able to eat that.” You could also try “Thank you, but I’ll have to decline. With my food allergies, it’s only safe for me to eat food I’ve made myself at home.”

    Both of the latter statements are about YOU, not THEM. There’s no reason for the to get defensive. Finally, avoid raising your voice and getting into arguments with people. It’s better to just walk away from stressful situations.

    If you find that this is too great of a struggle, your main two options are to either become the host of events so you control the food, or, arrange for food free events. Bike riding, movie nights, and LEGO building get togethers are three great ways to spend time together.

    Getting Over the Guilt of Food Waste

    Some people may try to tug at your heart strings to try whatever food it is that they’ve made for you. This could be inadvertently done, or maliciously to cross a boundary.

    Either way, first off, hold your ground. One of the “tricks” to getting through these situations is to remove your emotions from the encounters. Make sure your logic brain is in full control and is spitting facts at you. We don’t want the emotional brain turned on whispering things like “But they did all this work for me”.

    An easy way to get over the guilt is to simply remind yourself that there are plenty of other people around to eat the food. Additionally, the food can be shared with neighbors, or taken in to their place of work.

    In other words: the food won’t go to waste if they don’t want it to. Long before any of these situations ever happen, create a game-plan in your head. What will you say when scenario X comes up? If you know the person works from home, we can’t use that option, but if they live in an apartment building, the neighbor phrase is totally on the table.

    Be sure to practice these phrases so you’re comfortable saying them when the need arises.

    How to Teach a Child to Say NO to Food Politely

    First, it’s important that your child understand what yes and no really and truly mean. Let them know that when they say no, they shouldn’t do the opposite (in this case, take the food anyway). You’ll have to determine age appropriate language and lessons for your child.

    From there, teach them some of the phrases I’ve already shared. You’ll notice that good manners are front and center. Please and thank you can go a long way. Complimenting people and also showing gratitude are important in my opinion.

    Here’s the thing. The fact that the person offered is a BIG deal. Assuming they’re not a pushy person, it means that they care about you and want to be helpful. If responses are rude or short in nature, it can discourage the person from wanting to learn more or trying again in the future.

    You’re going to have to know your child’s personality type VERY well to help them in this area. Your advice should be tailored to make them feel good when walking away from the situation. Don’t forget to follow-up with your child from time to time and see if the phrases are working.

    If things are rough and all of your lessons are failing, give your child permission to throw you under the bus. I’ve had to do this with two of my kids because of their extreme aversion to confrontation. You tell your child something like this: if you get into a situation where you really can’t say no, tell them I said no. This way, I’m saying no and you don’t have to.

    For kids who struggle, this can be a huge point of relief for them. Now, you’ll still need to work on the skill, but for the time being, at least the child knows they have a get-out-of-jail-free type of card to rely on.

    How to Teach Your Child to Say Yes to Food

    Understanding how to say yes and no when food is involved is a form of self-advocacy all free-from kids will need to learn. Now, so far we’ve talked about NO, but there’s also space to say YES.

    The BIG tip: don’t breech the topic of yes until your child is old enough to handle the responsibility, understands how to read food labels, recognizes safe brands, and has mastered the art of NO.

    Your child should know all the names of their allergen (ex: paprika = bell pepper). Additionally, they should be well versed in the hidden sources of their allergens.

    Once you feel they’re ready, let them know what the guidelines are. It’s OK to say yes to these specific brands. Or, you can always say yes to a banana since it’s in a peel. Now, your child’s unique diagnosis will determine if YES is even an option. If I were my own child, YES wouldn’t be on the table. With the contact and airborne allergy plus the water issue, there are too many ways for YES to go wrong.

    In the case of Kid Two, he’s able to say yes to packaged snacks that are known to be safe, and specific food groups as long as he asks about how it was prepared.

    Should you be breeching YES, make sure you’re staying on top of safe options. Let other parents in your child’s life know about what’s safe so they can offer those safe items to your child when they visit. Finally, never forget to read labels because even free-from brands change their ingredients. Just recently, Made Good Foods made a change and it’s not been good for some of their customers.

    How to Say Yes at a Class Party

    In addition to the tips I shared above, there are a few extra things you’ll need to do to make sure your child can say YES at a class party (when you’re not there to supervise).

    If possible, find out in advance what other people are bringing. You can give your child a heads up on what should be safe. Contact other parents if you have questions, or in some cases, you’ll just need to make it a NO.

    Give your child clear rules about the basics. Can they always say YES to soda and water? Are there particular fruits and vegetables they can say yes to (think platters)?

    Now, this is probably the most important: make sure your child can always reach you. There will be times when they want to say yes but need your help. The should be able to call/text you and have a pretty quick response. Make sure something like this is written into their 504 plan if it’s not a food-free classroom. The plus side of being able to get in touch with you: this reduces the chance of risky behaviour.

    Some kids like to play fast and loose with their allergies, and you don’t want the peer pressure and/or excitement to lure your child into making poor decisions.

    If your child is in the 30% group where shared equipment isn’t an option, YES should be reserved for known safe packaged snacks and water only. You may be able to squeeze in a juice box and specific produce as well.

    Activities to Help You Say No When Living With Food Allergies

    Role Playing For Both Kids & Adults: Create age appropriate scenarios and act through them. If you’re managing a child, go through scenarios that include school, their best friend, other parents, and class parties. Make sure they have a robust set of scenarios to pull from. Don’t forget to keep it light and polite.

    For adults, you’ll want to make sure you’ve gone through scenarios that include restaurant staff, coworkers, your boss/upper level management, friends, family, parents, and grandparents. Those last two, whilst they count as family, let’s be real here. Most people will be OK saying no to a cousin but struggle to say no to a parent or grandparent. By practicing in advance, you increase your chances of success.

    Practice Saying NO in the Mirror: This one is pretty straight forward, but can give you the confidence needed. This can be done by kids and adults. Not only should you practice the basic ‘no thank you’ but also spend time working on longer phrases and scenarios.

    For people who struggle socially or verbally, practicing in the mirror is a critical exercise.

    Further Reading

    I hope you found this information helpful. If so, share this article with friends, family, online, and in person. We can all help pay it forward to those who may be struggling with the same topics.

    Here are links to more resources you may find helpful on social scenarios and food allergies.

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