Back in April I gave up sugar for a stretch of several weeks, during which time I abstained from the white stuff in all of its many forms. A few positives came out of skipping the sugar shaker: My afternoon sweet cravings diminished and everyone in the house was eating less sugar (probably because I wasn't keeping the pantry stocked in chocolate or tinkering with baked goods). Most interesting, though, was something I noticed on a more emotional level: It wasn't always easy to say no to sweets. Not because I wanted them (more often than not, I didn't), but because someone else wanted me to have them.
Whoa! It was an "AHA" moment, as Oprah would say, and made me wonder how long and how often I'd been accepting food for no other reason than good manners.
I first realized it over tea in a friend's kitchen when she set a plate of cookies in front of me and suggested I have one. I declined and immediately felt bad. "She'd gone to the trouble of cookies and here I was saying no," I thought. The fact was, having just eaten breakfast, I didn't want a cookie. But this wasn't about my appetite, it was about my desire to buffer the people around me from disappointment.
On another occasion a girlfriend leaned in after dinner at a restaurant and asked in a conspiratorial tone, "should we get dessert?" Again, I found myself feeling guilty. How would I break the news that she would be all alone in her pursuit of an after dinner sweet?
Reflecting back on these scenarios got me thinking how deeply socialized we are to please, right down to how we please others by what we put on our plate. Sure there is place for good manners, but the truth is, a true friend or loving family member shouldn't care or take it personally if you opt out of a piece of pie. I look to my friend Lori as a role model. While I've never seen her turn down an offer of chips and salsa, she doesn't appear to have a single sweet tooth in her pretty mouth. She very politely and without issue says no to dessert nearly without fail.
My takeaway in all of this is to pay attention to what I want rather than what someone else might want for me. I'm quite convinced that as long as it's accompanied by a big smile, a "that looks delicious," and a generous "no thank you," turning down a slice of cake can be just as polite as accepting one... that is, unless you really want that cake. In that case, by all means.
How about you? Do you grapple with a need to please at the table?