Five Ways to Sabotage Your Friend’s Diet

I’m grouchy. I’ve been re-evaluating my relationship with food since October 3, 2012. So far, I can give you a list of things that taste a LOT better than slimming down feels. That list can be alphabetical (comes in six volumes). Or ,it can be by date I decided not to eat it anymore, and be on four, tear-stained pages. Some of the pages may have a tiny bite out of them.  I was hungry.

Giving up what you love is always hard.

Giving up what you love is always hard.

What I learned quickly is that I am addicted to sugar. I love sugar. It’s yummy. My blood glucose levels do not like sugar. It also makes me cranky, sweaty, shaky, confused, unable to speak clearly and sleepy. But that does not mean I love it less. Certainly not.

So the only decision for me was to quit eating it and everything that came with added sugar. Which, if you start to read labels is everything. Canned fruits, sure, I get it. But canned vegetables? Ketchup? Bread? Peanut Butter? Yes, and not as the last ingredient, either. There are some foods that convert to sugar quickly too–wine, beer and vodka, do, too. So no more of those. Ever.

21024962_funny-diet-dieting-sucks-i-want-ice-cream-print-by-The short list of never again food: ice cream, donuts, cookies, chocolate less than 80 percent dark, pancakes, french fries, rice, pasta, breads, crackers, chips.  Mashed, baked, and new potatoes. Muffins, cupcakes, cake, pie, cobblers, jams, preserves, jellies–the list is long and contains every single thing I love to eat, from apple pie  to zabaglione. And while I’m giving up sweet stuff, no artificial sweeteners, not even “natural” ones, because they all have either sugar alcohols (which fight with my GI tract) or they make me crave sugar worse than before.

Lucky for me, Cooking Man got behind my need to change the relationship with food and helped me by cooking meals that were delicious and low in carbs. Alas, when he asks me what I’d like for dinner, I am still likely to say, “A chicken. Stuffed with eclairs. And a side of fries.” Sigh. Sometimes I say, “I’d take back the 40 pounds I’ve lost for three perfect tamales. I know that’s not true. But it sometimes feels like it.

Diet is DIE with a T at the end.

Diet is DIE with a T at the end.

My biggest shock was what people said when they noticed I was losing weight. They mean well, I know that. But they say things that are not helpful. So if you have a friend who is dieting for any reason at all, here are some things you might want to reconsider and alternatives that you can safely say.

1. Don’t say: “You’ve lost X pounds? Great.  I lost X + 10 pounds in the last year and kept it off. ” Losing weight is not a competitive sport. It is not helpful to turn your friend’s weight loss into your winning number. There seems to be some magic number in our recent popular culture, a number between 50 and 90 pounds that makes the effort heroic, and if you’ve done less, it needs to be pointed out. Trust me, I know exactly how much I’ve lost.

Instead, say: “How are you feeling?” Some weight loss comes from difficult diseases and people don’t want to talk about it. Please let them not talk about it. Telling them they look wonderful when they are very sick does not make them feel happy to be sick.

Danger comes on every plate a well-meaning friend brings you. (Bet I could grab that plate and run.)

Danger comes on every plate a well-meaning friend brings you. (Bet I could grab that plate and run.)

2. Don’t say: “You have to treat yourself some time. That will help you keep going.” It’s not true. If I “treat” myself to a bowl of ice cream I’ll end up in the emergency room. Sugar addiction is a tough as tobacco addiction. You have to stay away from it all, or the next day I’ll be found slumped at the table with an empty bag of Oreos and crumbs scattered around my body.

Instead, say: “That must be hard. I’m proud of you.” Re-tooling your meals is hard. Being acknowledged for doing the work feels wonderful and makes me want to keep doing it. Particularly is there is no added advice given.

3. Don’t say: “You’ve lost X pounds? You must have a lot more to go.” I own a mirror and a scale. I know I have a lot to go. One of the very hardest thing about having lost 40 pounds is that it is not enough and I have to lose more. Please don’t make that “more” seem unlikely.

Instead, say: “That’s great. How are you feeling?” Then comment on the improvements.

images4. Don’t say, EVER: “So you are off sugar? That’s not as bad as being gluten-free. That’s what I’m doing, and it’s really hard. You shouldn’t be eating gluten, either. Gluten is in more things than sugar.” Every diet is hard for the person doing it. Don’t compare. Don’t offer advice. Not one tiny bit, unless the dieter specifically asks you for advice. If they ask for advice, double check. Your hearing may be faulty. Do not suggest they try green smoothies, or the Paleo diet or vegan food. Do not recommend tests for thyroid problems or tell them horror stories about your diet or someone you know, or made up because you like drama.  We don’t want to hear it. Really.

Instead, say: “How are you managing it?” And listen. Listening is excellent, as it will tell you how much your friends wants to reveal.  Go with that.

Borrowed from

Borrowed from

5. Don’t say, “Have you tried X. . .?” or “You should go to my doctor, he has this great diet. . . ” or “What you are doing won’t last, so. . . “ In other words, unless you are a doctor and I’m in your office, do not give me medical advice. Because someone, somewhere is going to believe you, take your advice, and it will be harmful because she quit doing what her doctor advised and followed your well-meaning and very harmful fix-it tip.

Instead say, “How can I support you in this?” Maybe your friend wants to talk, maybe not. Listen. Don’t fix. If you listen, you’ll hear what you need to hear.

Bonus. Don’t ask “What’s your secret?” There is no secret to weight loss. It takes an enormous amount of self control, and for most people it means taking in fewer calories than we expend. Maybe with medical intervention. And not everyone wants to talk about their medical intervention. Worse, if we had aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas who endlessly bored us with the organ recitals and every ache and pain, we have taken a vow not to do that. Don’t lead us into temptation. Please. And if you ask, and we answer, listen. To it all. Then say, “You are brave. This must be so hard for you.” Say it like you mean it. Then turn the conversation to a nicer topic. Which is never about your illness, weight loss or tragedy.

—Quinn McDonald is still changing the way she eats. Don’t offer to bake her a cake. She’s weak.



60 thoughts on “Five Ways to Sabotage Your Friend’s Diet

  1. OMG You’re so brave and disciplined! My Dad was a diabetic and I admired his ability to stick to it despite all the temptations around him every single day. I asked him one time how he did it and his reply was that any cheat he managed only punished him in the end; no one else, but that it still was hard. You go girl!
    Now, see if Mr Chef will allow you to share some of his advice on a good tasting meal that doesn’t have all those carbs in it. Sigh. Hang in there and we’re proud of you and your willingness to be honest and share this challenge.

    • Your Dad was right, every word. And I’m still wishing I could have stuff I can’t have. No matter. I’m not eating it. Cooking Man made a wicked good eggplant Parmesan the other night. Lucky for me, I am not a picky eater. He posts great diabetic recipes at Here’s a yummy snack with a great dipping sauce:

    • Be gentle is fine, but “cave in every once in a while” is dangerous for diabetics, and deadly for sugar addicts. Like telling an alcoholic that a drink every now and then will help steel their resolve.

  2. This post has stayed with me for the last few days. My husband follows a very restricted diet both for medical (absolutely no salt in any form) and personal reasons (he feels better if he avoids all sugars, wheat, eggs, dairy, and spices). He follows it quietly, bringing his own food everywhere, and without complaint (I’d be kvetching loudly if it was me!). He’s followed this for several years now and feels better. We have abundant fresh organic meats and vegetables and have learned a lot about being creative.

    What continually amazes me is the hostility he receives from “friends”–mostly other guys, but sometimes in groups. Like he’s not a “real guy” if he doesn’t eat brats or birthday cake or whatever is the food of the moment. You’ve mentioned a bit about that hostility here and it was good for me to look more closely at that (and the fairly common urge to want to “fix” others or “help” them). My family copes pretty well with it, but I think it’s because we have a history of coping with things like this.

    As I’ve said, it’s helped me to think these things over a bit more. It also made me review my behavior with a nurse I see weekly–she’s lost about 80 pounds in the last year. I felt good to realize I hadn’t done any of your “don’t”s.

    And congratulations to sticking with it and doing what is right for you. I know how very hard it is.

    • That hostility is exactly what I was talking about. It’s a kind of passive-aggressive reaction to success or to determination. I think the “friends” hate the idea that your husband is changing and they will have to change to accept him in his new way. They don’t want to change. And they don’t want HIM to change. It pushes their buttons about food, diet, and how we eat. The easiest way to get someone not to change is to tease or bully them, or try to get them to be the old way. And it doesn’t matter if it is choice or doctor prescribed diet, it’s a choice he has made. Period. I’m realizing a lot about this now, and it makes it a bit easier. It’s less about “fixing” (although there is a lot of that) and quite a bit about feeling left our or left behind by someone who is changing.

      • Today when everyone went upstairs on a donut hunt, I stayed at my desk. I work with two very small women, and have talked a bit with them recently about my food issues–and what I’ve learned over the last year just by watching how they eat. They gave me the “award” for the day and moved a lit votive to my cubicle wall for my resistance. It felt really sweet.

  3. Congratulations, what a great accomplishment and the rewards will be many.
    There is so much emotion involved with food – what a roller coaster ride!!

  4. Quinn, you are my hero! For what you’re doing, how you’re handling it and speaking so eloquently about it. I know it’s been a really difficult journey and you should be proud of all the hard work you’ve already accomplished! I’m definitely proud of you!

    One of my huge pet peeves is someone who’s doing something in particular, e.g. Paleo, gluten-free, some sort of exercise, any sort of fanatical religion, etc. and they feel that they must convince me to jump on board. Hey, I can be all kinds of supportive of someone else’s journey; just don’t try to convince me that it should be MY journey. We are all walking in different shoes, on different paths and one set plan doesn’t work for everyone.

    Stay true to what you know is best for you and what works for you. You know your mind, heart and body better than anyone else. And remember, I’m always around for lunch, dinner or creative fun…something that doesn’t involve anything on your no-no list.

    • You just put your finger on what makes me cranky–I don’t hide what I do, but it’s also my responsibility, so I try not to parade it around in ribbons. When someone tells me how I should do what they do, and starts to push me about how Paleo, or raw, or gluten-free is *better* than what I’m doing, well, they have no idea. It’s like 7th grade. You, however, are a supportive joy. We have to get together for lunch, at least!

  5. Blimey…that’s amazing….be really proud. We live in bizzare food times. Twenty years ago my acupuncturist gave me a book called Eat the right diet. I am lucky to be a skinny wrench with a high metabolism….but the book has a yes,no and indifferent food list all related to your blood group. I developed something odd in my blood after living in India. It has been a great guide for me,I can’t eat ice cream,never have,and it was on the no list alongside red peppers and other seemingly random things. Over time you just get used to what you can and can’t have,then….your body doesn’t want it…in a year a piece of cake will taste so sweet and sickly you won’t fancy it! That’s the good news! We live in a remote village and have little acess to convience food and fast food…in three weeks we are moving back to uk from Spain….yes Quinn I pulled off the heist,fill you in on that later!
    The supermarkets in uk are like food heaven for me…the kids said,mum,we want to carry on with healthy food,don’t start getting all that crappy food in packets will you! I nearly fell on the floor!
    I hope lentil Dahl from the Indian takeaway will be acceptable!
    My friends 7 year old daughter got poorly a lot. She turned out to be allergic to sugar,takes her own cakes to kids parties etc…but she’s amazing,doesn’t complain…because she feels better. So I will get some of her special recipes and send them to you…her mum has 4 other kids so she practically cooks for herself!…she’s 9 now!It’s really hard work,how have you kept going with all your teaching and art…wow,you are an inspiration….third book could be…100 things to do with a carrot! You can slap me! Have a great day!xxxxx

    • I’ll slap you with a carrot! No, no, I won’t. I’m thrilled you are coming back to the UK! I want to hear how you managed that. It was so hard for you to be away.
      We eat almost nothing processed. Except for canned tomatoes and occasionally cannelini beans (when I don’t have time to soak the dried ones), we don’t eat anything processed. Daal takes a while to make, so I hope your kids takeaway Daal will get the nod. It’s so good!
      I’ve had people tell me that in a year I won’t miss cookies and cakes, and I certainly hope that’s true. Right now, I dream about them all night long!

  6. So my e-friend, aren’t you doing well! As someone with oodles if will-power but very little won’t-power I understand your awesome efforts.
    It’s all very well for people who say it’s just a matter of closing your mouth and moving your body more but quite frankly I’d like to slap them . . . hard! Possibly two or three times . . . and I’ve never been one for physical violence.

    • I’ll help you smack ’em. There are foodies–like me, who love everything about food. And there are food as fuel people, who can diet easily because they don’t have a deep love of the fun of food. I’m a foodie, and this is a struggle that may be the hardest thing I’ve done since I gave up smoking.

  7. Wow….given all the hype out there about dieting etc…it would be hard to be your friend.
    We all want to help, talk about it, give advice. It’s mostly well meaning too and that makes it hard to lay down the rules. Your rules are sensible and smart and will help you stay with your new life plan. I am interested in how you enforce your rules with your well meaning friends?
    Thank goodness for Cooking Man. You are a lucky woman to have him in your corner!
    Quinn, you are an inspiring woman in so many ways. You will succeed because you have the heart of a warrior and you are smart enough to know what’s good for you. There are so many of us out there that know what’s good for us but aren’t as fearsome (or maybe it’s fierce-some) as you are! You will succeed.
    I have to say, as much as I wanted to, it was kind of hard to make a comment today.
    I find myself re-reading what I’ve written because I want to encourage you, say the right things, be a good friend and follow the rules! lol So…be patient with your friends while they learn to help and support you the way you need to be.

    • It IS hard to be my friend; I’ve struggled with being “different” all of my life. I don’t mean fat, I was skinny enough to be a model when I was younger. It has only been recently that I have become comfortable with being the person I am–difficult in many ways, and always working on it. And I thank my coach for that! But for much of my adult life, in order to get along and be friendly, I allowed others to define me, and did what others wanted, let them define me.

      My husband, who is a chef, expressed love through cooking. And I ate it all up. It took him a while to get in my corner, but yes, thank goodness he did it. And that’s when I started being very honest with friends. And very honest means blunt sometimes. When I began to change, it meant my friends were going to have to change, too. And not everyone loved that. A few friends found it too hard to remain friends. I don’t blame them. I was hard enough to be friends with as it was. But people depend on me, and if I become sick or disabled, I will cause hardship for my family. So I had to make choices. And I did.

      Thank you for saying I have the heart of a warrior, but I didn’t get fat by having the heart of a warrior. I got fat by having the spine of a slug. So now I’m standing on my own two feet. Those who find me unbearable–I can’t blame ’em. But those who stick with me, ahhh, bless ’em!

      Mostly when friends say things that aren’t helpful, I change the subject. I did offend one kind woman because I didn’t want to have a diet buddy. This is my struggle, and I’d rather have an art buddy.

      • Dear Quinn, Warriors are not born, they are made. Made from struggling and injustice and abuse. You, my dear Quinn are a warrior.
        Keep fighting.

        • I’ll take it. It was so graciously given, and I thank you. I just got the book “The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary.” by Angeles Arrien, so I can explore what it means!

      • By the way…I don’t think it’s hard to be your friend at all Quinn! In fact, quite the opposite. You are on YOUR path and nobody else should be concerned with that, only supportive (even if that means staying quiet and keeping their opinions to themselves). Easy, peasy!

  8. Thanks for sharing your journey, and thanks for the words to use! I hope you’ll check in with us from time to time and let us know how you are managing! I’m proud of you!

    • Thanks, Judy. I decided to say something because I’m really struggling and my readers who leave comments have always been helpful, kind and funny. In 10 more pounds, I’ll just be fat, and not obese!

  9. To my complete and utter amazement, my husband gave up cookies & candy of his own accord and has started reading the labels on everything, as you are doing. Not a word of nagging from me, I swear – I have my own food issues and he never nagged me. Not even when I binged my way up to 240 pounds. [I have since lost 85 pounds.] Our nurse-practitioner has been treating the hubs as a pre-diabetic and he was happy to go along taking pills for that while eating loads of sugar and gobs & gobs of butter. (Feh.) His attitude was that, having abstained from nicotine and alcohol for over 30 years, he wasn’t about to stop eating what he liked. Never mind that he had triple bypass surgery almost 10 years ago. So, you ask, what turned him around? Watch Dr. Robert Lustig’s 90-minute video, a lecture about sugar and insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Then read his book, called Fat Chance. Hubby is re-reading Fat Chance as if it’s the Torah – and he’s not even Jewish. Also read The End of Overeating by David Kessler. The Kessler book is not a diet book; the title is really a misnomer, but the book is packed with information. I’ve underlined and highlighted in it so many times, I could make a new book with just the underlined portions. I wish you the best of luck on your journey. I have given up sugar/wheat/flour and am happier for it. Oops, I hope I didn’t violate one of your 5 ways with that last sentence. 🙂

    • Nahh, I’m happy to read your story. Because it sounds like it was hard for both of you. That’s my thought–this is just plain hard. And right now, if anyone tries to take my gruyere cheese from me, they are in danger! I’ve given up so much, I”m clinging on to a few things right now. Those books sound like I should check them out, though.

  10. Quinn, I just LOVE you! You are always so honest and never hesitate to expose your vulnerabilities. You are so fearless and I really admire that. I’m on a similar lifestyle path and its tough. The only thing that helps me is to plan ahead and spend all Sunday afternoon shopping and chopping for the week. Left with no plan or prepared items and I’m apt to fall off the wagon and head off to Taco Bell or something. The sad thing is the verboten items are so darned easily (and cheaply) obtained!!! Methinks its a conspiracy! Bless you, girlfriend! The struggle is yours, but know that you are not alone.

    • Shopping and chopping……..I love it! While I was still working I did the very same thing, and brought my lunch always. Nowadays I still prepare things in advance, only not so many. Planning is key. As David Kessler says in his book The End of Overeating: structure prevents chaos.
      Oh, BTW, now that I’m off sugar/wheat/flour, fast food doesn’t even taste good to me anymore. It reminds me of a pile of garbage. In my mind it’s a pile of poison. But I am no saint………on my birthday I sure do enjoy a big ol’ bowl of ice cream. OK, on my anniversary, too. As for alcohol, it never had much allure for me. Nowadays maybe I’ll have half a glass of wine on Christmas day at a friend’s house (we do not keep or serve liquor in our home) and a drink on my brother’s birthday. OK, two drinks. And that’s it for the year.

      • I haven’t eaten fast food for more than ten years. That’s not what did me in. I did it all by myself, mostly in my kitchen. But for right now, and maybe for ever, no more ice cream. I can’t handle it. You don’t have to be a saint, you just have to be tough most of the time. In my case, I can’t afford a slip up, but for some people it works great.

    • I’m SO glad to have company! No kidding, there is a huge fight over our grocery dollars and the sweet, crispy, fatty, and crunchy foods are cheapest. I am not a fan of celery, but I’m not a fan of dying of complications of diabetes either. To make it all worse, I am a giant foodie who just loves to eat. More time in the studio!

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