Face it: As long as you work in an office, there are going to be birthday bashes and retirement parties and bridal showers and that-pain-in-the-ass-in-accounting-that-no-one-really-liked-anyway-quit clandestine celebrations.
And there are always going to be people who ask questions when you don’t have a huge slice of cake in front of you during these festivities.
Or make snide remarks when you keep passing the plates down instead of greedily snagging the corner piece for yourself.
It can be tough to handle yourself graciously in these kinds of situations. A huge part of people bonding is about eating together, so when you’re not eating, it’s easy for people to get offended.
For the longest time, I felt ridiculously uncomfortable dealing with these situations. And, to be honest, I gave in to the peer pressure more often that I wanted to.
Realize that it’s going to happen. When it does, don’t beat yourself up too much. And always remember that’s it not all or nothing.
But, when you really, really don’t want to have a piece of cake (or cupcakes or pie or ice cream or whatever the birthday boy or girl has chosen), here are 10 ways to politely decline and hopefully keep the focus on the fun and not on your food choices.
No, thank you.
A short and polite response that doesn’t really leave you open to too many questions. A smile and little whoa hand gesture compliment this standard response nicely.
No, thank you, I’m not hungry.
No, there’s not always room for d-e-s-s-e-r-t. And no one can really argue with whether or not you’re hungry. Again, the smile and hand gesture combo work wonders here.
No, thank you, I just ate lunch.
Similar to the above. You’re the only one who knows when you’re hungry and when you can’t handle any more food. Perhaps a little tummy pat here to drive the point home?
No, thank you, I have a big dinner date tonight.
Pretty much everyone can relate to wanting to have some reserves in the calorie bank for a big meal later in the day. Talk up your big plans like it’s dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town, not just a solo date with a giant ass salad on the couch.
No, thank you, I don’t eat dairy (or sugar or flour or eggs, etc.).
This one will probably lead to some questions, so use at your own risk. People are always curious when you start talking about what you don’t eat. And make sure to frame it as “don’t” rather than “can’t” so it’s clear it’s a choice you’re sticking to.
It looks delicious, but I’m good.
It’s like a condensed version of the compliment sandwich. (i.e., You’re such an asset to our team. Sometimes you have really, really strong opinions that no one wants to hear, but we value your expert input.) It works when you actually like the birthday person (or it’s your boss) and you’d rather butter them up than piss them off too much.
I’m trying to eat healthier.
Respect. You might get a little pushback on this one or you might earn some admiration and some followers. I like to think that the people who give you a hard time secretly admire you, too, because you’re willing to stick to your guns. It’s hard to argue with total conviction.
I’m cutting back on sugar.
People will probably ask why and you can lecture, errrr explain, to them why you’re choosing to eat less sugar. Like the one above, people will either hate you or love, but they’ll probably all think you're a badass for staying committed.
I hope you don’t mind if I pass on the piece of cake this time.
Direct this one at the honoree and wish them a happy birthday with as much enthusiasm as you can muster. They’ll appreciate the extra focus on them and the implication that you’ll totally celebrate with them the next time.
Sorry, but that cake won’t make me feel too good.
TMI. This one’s for anyone who likes to share a little too much and maybe be the center of attention. No judgment - whatever makes you feel comfy cozy and helps you fend off that cake. Probably not a good option for the limelight averse (like me).
Of course, you always have the option of not attending the party, choosing to smile stupidly rather than respond, pretending you can’t hear, or taking a piece of cake and making a show of taking it back to your desk where you promptly dispose of it. Or give it to your friend in another department who couldn’t make the party.
Whatever you do, you have to find an answer that feels comfortable to you. Whether it’s a straight-to-the-point I’m not hungry. A straight-up lie like I’m allergic to frosting. Or a straight-up lame stand-up one liner like That cake doesn’t want a piece of me.
Friend, if you take nothing else away from this post, please remember this: It’s not you. No matter how polite you are or no matter what you say, someone will find a way to be offended or upset or take it personally that you aren’t partaking in the party.
It’s totally a reflection on them. And you have to learn to be okay with that.
If you need a little help with this, I’ve got good news for you. My birthday is on Friday (yes, that would be Friday the 13th and yes, I think that’s the coolest thing ever) so I’m gifting my people with a bonus one-hour session when they sign up for the Eat Clean in Your Cubicle program by Friday. So it’s like BOGO. Happy birthday to me!
Get on the list below.
P.S. Need more tips on eating clean at work? Check out Episode #54 of the Party in My Plants podcast where I give tons of actionable tips.