Healthy choices: is there a polite way to refuse office cupcakes?

Larry Patrick Zolob
Jul 2, 2016 · 4 min read

This is a genuine question — one for which in my years of healthy eating I have yet to find a solution — so I’m appealing for help.

If you work in an office, you’ve probably seen it. Someone brings in donuts or cupcakes and they get passed around. I’m completely OK if others are into these types of foods but I’m not, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute. I try to remove myself from the situation to avoid any awkwardness but that’s usually tough to do.

You’d think the conversation dynamic would be simple:

“Larry, have a cupcake….”

Me: “no thank you, I don’t want one”

And with that, you’d hope it would be over. But it NEVER is. Never. I will either get asked ‘Why not?’, a question that will persist even if I just say something basic such as “I don’t want one, but thank you”. I get pressured to provide reasons…and it’s relentless. I try to more forcefully shut down the conversation (e.g. “Can we just leave it at that, please?”) but that results in escalation to a negative tone more than ending the discussion, I have found.

And then, quite often, the digs and editorial comments begin:

“Oh, you just don’t like to have fun, do you….?”

“Oh, so you’re this healthy eater, so you’re way above this…..”

“Oh, so you think we’re all fat and unhealthy because we eat donuts….”

“Just have one…it’s not gonna kill you. You can’t go your whole life depriving yourself of stuff that tastes so great….”

“Are you refusing just to shame us??”

Even among the nicest colleagues I have worked with it, no one can just let it go. Seriously, people…ever.

Here’s what I someday hope to be able to help others understand:

  • I truly don’t care what you do or what choices you make. Find your own bliss, is the expression. I will never talk about others, only reference myself and what I do. That I don’t want one, but thank you for offering.
  • I recognize that for many of us, sugar is biologically an addiction…so it’s no joke. Our bodies relate to it in that way. We crave, we indulge, we have a high, we crash, we crave again. It’s a sensitive issue, so I approach it with understanding. It’s difficult to refuse or change habits that your body has ingrained in you over time.
  • I have over the course of my life taken a number of steps to improve my health. I meditate and rest a lot, I eat mostly whole foods and I exercise regularly. It’s tough to make these wholesale choices overnight but if you address one thing at a time, you get there. I have actually withdrawn from sugar (biologically) such that it now gives me headaches and makes me slightly nauseous. Same with white grains (which metabolize into sugars). It’s truly not difficult for me to pass on these types of foods because, yes, I look at carrot sticks with the the love in my eyes that others might have for a donut. That’s what biologically happens to you. It’s not the least bit difficult to refuse white, sugary foods for me now. I actually equate healthy food to ‘fun’; the paradigm has completely flipped inside me. I’m middle aged and I’m healthy and in great shape….and that’s now my addiction. It’s my own personal journey that I don’t force on others, yet I’m somehow left feeling as though I need to remain covert in my healthy ambitions.

So that’s me. As for many others, I’m quite sensitive to the fact that changing habits isn’t an easy thing to do, so I don’t in the least look down on the people who don’t make the choices I do. I instead hang back and look for ways to be supportive if people need it.

I also understand that for many, eating crap comes with a lot of guilt. And I’m not helping as my skinny ass backs away from the donuts while another person goes face down into the box. It can look bad…and many people feel badly about it although they can’t stop themselves. And that dynamic can manifest itself in some troubling dialogue. But the insensitive side of my wonders to what extent that should be my problem to solve.

The guilt can come out as anger or resentment, positioning me as the offender. I have to be conscious of this and very patient with it. Still, it’s hard to not react when I’m at Starbucks ordering a latte with skim milk and I hear two middle aged women behind me muttering loudly “Oh, like he needs skim milk….”

And, while I try to be patient and thoughtful, I’d like to also remind people out there that calling out a person’s body for any reason that isn’t complimentary is a form of shaming. So if you don’t appreciate it, please don’t do it to others. Starting a sentence to me with “you’re so skinny, why don’t you…..” is something I’d like more people to think twice about.

(PS, I’m 6ft and 175 lbs. By medical standards for my body type and age I’m slightly above midrange in ideal body weight. The fact that I’m called ‘skinny’ fairly often just sort of shows you where we are today, but I digress….)

But I’m not here to position myself as a victim or be just another offended person ranting publicly. I’m not worried about myself.

I just want someone to give me some pointers on how to politely refuse the office cupcakes without offending anyone. I’m all ears!

As I said, I honor everyone’s freedom to make any choices they do that don’t impact me directly. My goal is to someday help people to accept mine as well.

Larry Patrick Zolob

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Toronto. Mktg/strat, traditional and tech. Two apps in development. Org culture, sports, future of work, food, well-being.