How Do You Say No And Not Hurt Your Friends Feelings?

If you are reading this post, I would ask that you take a minute afterwards to share some advice and wisdom to the woman who asked this question.

I recently received an email from a woman I am going to call “Jane.”  Jane is in a tough situation that I see so many people in.  They are trying to do that right thing, but those around them are making it hard.  They are afraid of what might happen if they say no.

So let me share with you the email, then my suggestions, and then it is your turn to respond.

“Hey Dustin,

I’ve been doing your bootcamps for awhile now and I love them along with all your blogs and everything you send out almost every day.  I look forward to reading everything you send out.  You have such an awesome business going.  I’ve been trying really hard with the dieting and even working out at night when I have the time too.  The frustrating part of it all is when people ask me to go out for a drink and of course they always want to get appetizers or whatever.  Deep down in my heart I always want to just go and work out and avoid all that cause I know I don’t need or want it but feel I have to to please them so I know I haven’t lost as much as what I probably could.  But I don’t want to hurt their feelings by turning them down and I don’t know what to do to avoid this.  I feel if I tell them I’ll go and just have water and nothing to eat that they’ll just say well then we might as well not even go.  And they know I’m trying to lose weight.  The reason I’m asking this is because about a year ago I lost one of my best friends because I didn’t want to go out to eat or if we went out, I just had water and apparently she had a problem with my decision for not drinking and eating crap food.  I just don’t want this to happen again.  I’m afraid if I tell them I’d rather go work out or I’ll go and have water that they won’t ask me to go out and do anything anymore.  Do you have any advice for me on this?  And how to avoid temptations especially when you have a craving.  I don’t keep any crap food in my house but if I have a craving for something, which always seems to be chocolate, it’s so easy just to stop somewhere and get some and then I beat myself up over it afterwards.  I just can’t seem to get rid of the cravings.”



Jane, thanks for the email.  This definitely is a tough position to be in.  I am sure you have been good friends with these people for quite some time.

My first comment to the story about losing your best friend last year, is how in the world could that person have been a good friend and just ended the friendship because you didn’t want to eat or drink certain foods.  That seems ridiculous to me.  It reminds me of the many friends my girl friend Abby lost when she left the partying stage.  Those who won’t stick by you because of something that small, are probably best to be out of your life.  I apologize if that seems harsh.

As for your current friends… Have you talked with them about the stress and challenges you are facing regarding this situation?  If you haven’t I would.  Maybe you would be surprised.  They might be happy for you and interested in joining in with you.

Today  I went out to eat with a handful of my clients and they had brought a new guy with them.  We ate at a nice Vietnamese restaurant.  For the past year he has chosen to be vegetarian and he is a health nut, and chose not to eat with us at the restaurant.  He drank his water and hung out.  He said he had food from Whole Foods at his place waiting for him.  Now I don’t know this guy very well, but I had NO issues with him not eating with us.  It was his presence that was great and we had an awesome time.

If you haven’t already try to reach out to the bootcampers that you see on a daily basis and find some common interests and plan some events together.  It doesn’t have to be anything big, but start something.  Then you can invite your other friends to join you if they are interested.  Lean on and take advantage of the bootcampers.

Also I don’t think it is wrong to eat an appetizer or have a drink once in awhile.  Once a week won’t hurt anything assuming you are very focused throughout the rest of the week.  So pick and choose times when you want to splurge and enjoy it guilt free.  There are many things at a restaurant that are OK.  Just go to their website beforehand and know what you are going to order.

As for your craving questions.  80% cacoa chocolate is pretty good for you and loaded with antioxidants.  You can have a piece of that sometimes.  Also I would make a food journal and try to find out when and why you are craving certain foods.

It might be emotional, or it might be cause you are eating too much of something and not enough of something else.

I hope that helps…

Blog readers:  Please share with everyone your experience with this and write your comments in the Facebook comment box (ideal) or in the comment section below that.  Thanks for being an awesome community!


  1. loligon says:

    I can identify with the woman who wrote the email, although not for the same reasons, so I wanted to respond. I am a bit harsh though, so you probably won’t pass it on. Still I’ll feel better saying this.
    Anyone who stops being your friend because of something like what was described was never really your friend in the first place. Sorry, but it needed to be said. If these “hanging out people” are of value, there are ways to avoid upsetting them. She could tell them she just ate but would really love their company, which should mollify hurt feelings if the “really love your company” part of the statement is emphasized. I am an emetophobic and eating out often leads to panic attacks. My real friends understand this, but my hanging out people get the excuse. She could also try offering to share the appetizer and slowly eating a piece or two. Most people won’t notice, or they’ll assume you’re too busy talking. Besides, not eating more is an act of willpower, and willpower is a muscle that grows when exercised.
    As for the cravings, she NEEDS to stop beating herself up over them. Studies have shown that people who accept a “setback” and move on have healthier behaviors than those who feel they have screwed up. Eat the cupcake, admit you ate a cupcake, and move on. It’s just a cupcake after all. 🙂 also, people who punish themselves for “bad foods” can end up with disordered eating, if not a full blown eating disorder.
    Hope this helps.

  2. TraceyW says:

    I have to agree with most of what Dustin said. At first, I didn’t get support from the important people around me either. I stuck to my guns, didn’t preach at them or criticize their food choices, and after a while they noticed some huge changes in me and came around. Now some of them have joined the active, eating clean lifestyle! You might loose someone, but like Dustin said, true friends support you. In order to be there for others we must first be there for ourselves. Sending positive thoughts and prayers your way!!!!

  3. True friendship should be based on really knowing what matters to the other person and caring enough about them to want to see their dreams come true. You should be happy to see your friends succeed and you should know, understand, and support what is important to them in life. You should also be able to have an open and honest conversation with good friends. You don’t have to be harsh or put your friends down for their choices, but you should find a way to talk to your friends about how important bootcamp and making healthier choices has become to you and how much you would appreciate their support and friendship as you pursue these goals. I would also echo all the comments above that you could try to suggest other activities (although that never worked for me with one circle of friends who liked hanging out at bars; they never changed until we got 20 years older) or you can go along and simply make healthy choices. Drinking water is not the only option if you are eating right and exercising through the week.
    It also concerns me to hear you talk about wanting to please others so much. It’s great to be caring and thoughtful, but when pleasing others means doing things that are not in your best interest, that is not a relationship that is going to add anything positive to your life in the long run.
    Also I’ve had great weight loss success the past 5 months and I eat one piece of dark chocolate every day after lunch.

  4. I agree with the other responses about eating a small appetizer and one drink…..and realizing that if your healthier lifestyle changes are a big problem, then these people probably weren’t very true friends in the first place. For the people that are willing to accept your changes and possibly change along with you, suggest something active when you “go out” to socialize….maybe a climbing gym or bowling or something like that. Something NOT centered around eating and drinking…..It would benefit everyone.

    Now, for the cravings. I, too, struggle with MAJOR chocolate cravings. And if I eat a small piece, it is very hard for me to stop at that. I have tried total deprivation, but that does not work for me very well either. I go for so long and then go on a major binge. I NEED chocolate! I just love it………Anyway….what I am trying right now, is to actually buy some chocolate that I am craving, but SAVE IT until the weekend. Then I have just one night that I splurge a little and then get back on track for the week. It is strengthening my “craving muscle” and I am excited and proud when I resist. I keep it in my desk at work and look at it from time to time, but deliberately resist eating it……yet. I still cannot keep anything in the house, so at home I have no chocolate or anything bad in the pantry. I bring my treats home from work on Friday and indulge that night or Saturday night……So far it is working great. Hope that it works for you. I cannot deal with life without chocolate, but I have to learn to control my out of control cravings…I feel like I am finally on the right path!!

    Take care and good luck to you 🙂

  5. Hi Dustin, I agree with Dustin. Get new friends. Tell them that your doctor told you to loose weight., I use to bring my own food to a party or out for lunch. If at a restraunt, just eat a salad. Try not to judge what they are eating. They usually make fun or get made at me when I use to mention about how bad that is for you. Drink good water or green tea when you have a craving. Good luck. Shalom, Esther

  6. Shelley says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Dustin. Definitely an issue with us women and people pleasers.

    I have totally been there. I want to stay on track – but don’t want others to feel guilty or have them feel like I’m “lording” my healthiness over them or anything. BUT, my good friends know I’ve struggled with my weight for forever and don’t seem to care at all what I’m eating/not eating. Plus, when I do indulge with friends and then think over the evening, I often times can’t even remember what I ate/drink – I just remember the emotions and comraderie I gained from the night out.

    Totally agree with Dustin and the other posts re: real friends will support you regardless. Try and feel empowered by your choices. Tell people you just ate but you’d still like to hang with them if you don’t want to indulge that night.

    If you’d really rather work out – do it! I sure wouldn’t want a friend of mine hanging with me if she’d be happier somewhere else.

    Have you tried inviting them to work out with you? How about walking/hiking together? I love walking and talking with friends. Gives me the same rush of hanging out with friends over wine, but has the added bonus of burning some calories!

    Not sure if any of this helped you out, but it sure helped me to think about all this! Thanks so much for sharing! Good luck, “Jane!”.

  7. Anne-Marie Peterson says:

    I’m sorry to hear Jane is hurting. Some companions are quick to the defensive because they know they are not doing the right thing, and to make themselves feel better about their choices, they ridicule the choices of others. Jane, do for yourself. Go out, have a water or a drink and enjoy! I am a lightweight as a drinker and nurse whatever I have for hours. When the appetizers come, have just a bit. I wonder if some of the issue is your contribution to the 1) pitcher, 2) appetizer plate. Do you feel that by not eating or drinking, your friends think you’re being cheap? And as most of the others who responded say, ask your fiends to do something active with you. My family spent way too much time eating meals in front of the TV for several months. We stopped, it was so bad for us on many levels. Centering comeraderie around food is a learned behavior and can be changed. Give it a try.

  8. Two more quotes I like:

    Don’t be distracted by criticism – the only taste of success some people get is to take a bite out of you.- Zig Ziglar

    “Set your goals high, never apologize for them, and don’t quit until you get what you want!”

  9. Stephanie says:

    I have an answer for the chocolate craving, seeing how chocolate is one of my down falls as well. I looked up some recipes for homemade protein bars and it really helps. I used chocolate protein, all natural peanut butter and some fat free half and half (or skim milk) and oats. Mix it all up shape it into a bar and put it in the freezer ( hardens better )or refrigerator. There are many other recipes so just google a bunch. Plus they are way better for you then the ones you can buy at health food stores.

    As for your friends, invite them to the gym or to play tennis anything besides eating/drinks.

  10. Vanessa says:

    I am trying something this summer, that I think Dustin suggested once (I could be wrong). When I am alone or with my family or at home, I eat impeccably…it is easier to make good choices because I only buy good/healthy food to keep in my house. It is also easier because I don’t need to explain myself to my family and I know I have their support. So, 100% no cheating.
    BUT…when I am out at a restaurant or with friends, I am allowing myself to enjoy eating whatever I want at the moment while paying attention to portion size. This is relatively easy because I no longer like the “over stuffed” feeling of eating too much.
    That said, I only go to restaurants or out for drinks 2-3 times a month, at most. I’m sure this wouldn’t work if I dined out regularly…
    Maybe this will work for you, Jane? But do it only if YOU want to indulge…not to appease other people whose opinions don’t ultimately matter. Cheers!

  11. Consider that, when good things happen to others, there are just some people who don’t like it, for whatever reason. This includes weight loss success. Go with your
    friends, have a club soda with a lemon and a lime and order the vegetable platter.
    Most people just don’t want to eat alone and they might see you as being the “strong
    one” and that makes them feel guilty for their choices. SO WHAT? Be your strong
    self, protect your investment, join in the fun, and if they are really your friends, they
    will support you….if not, then it’s THEIR problem, NOT YOURS. One of my favorite
    quotes is, “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” Don’t let your “friends” make your
    good choices a negative. It’s too hard to do what you are doing, I know! Don’t let
    anyone make you feel badly about it, and give yourself credit for a job well done!

  12. Jane,

    I follow Dustin’s blog from time to time, so I will give you a guys perspective and one who is retired military, broken ex-athlete, current bootcamp trainer/owner, and loves to eat food in general.

    One word – BALANCE. Life in general, whether it’s exercise, food, family, friends, religion, politics, etc….it’s all about BALANCE.

    Too much of one of the above, you turn into someone that just freaks out over every little thing.

    This is why the health and fitness industry is so crazy all the time. Women have it harder than anyone with all the stupid magazines, commercials, other friends pressuring them to look perfect or size zero, etc…

    Not to get all religious here, but when I was a kid, athletics was all I cared about, but it wasn’t an obsession, it was just plain FUN. As I got older, I realized my priorities and maybe you should come up with your own priorities in your life, but my life has always been 1. God First, 2. Self, 3. Wife, 3. Children, 4. Family, 5. Work, 6. Friends, etc…

    So many times in life, we can get too obsessed, and health and fitness is no different for all of us trying to stay slim, trim, and healthy.

    All I can say Jane is, if your priorities are right and if you do follow God, put him first, he cares about your inside first and then wants you to take care of your temple second. So if you heart, mind, and soul are on God and you love yourself first, everything else will workout, regardless if friends get stupid over whether or not you eat food, have drinks or whatever else their hangups are.

    At the end of the day, you do the best you can with what God gave you. We can’t all be supermodels, fitness freaks, or five percent bodyfat.

    Enjoy life with BALANCE, have your priorities the way you see them, and as the young kids say…..DO YOU and don’t worry about all the other trivial stuff that friends, family, coworkers, or anyone else brings your way…..that is NEGATIVITY and you can’t ol’ negative stuff in the butt and out of you life.

    So, from this ol’ Sarge…..a big HOOAH !!!!



  13. Jane,

    Sorry to hear about your friend. I tend to be the health eating of my friends and they do tease me alot. They liked to go out for a drink and food also. I’m not a drinking,but I will go out with them have my water with lemon and generally pick a salad with the dressing on the side. That way I can have some control of the calories and I can have fun with my friends. Some of my dfriend over time have charged their eating habits and now will make healthier choices when we go out. Also I have inspired some of my friends because I do loke to exercise. Some are working out. If you friend true friend you will eventually inspire them because the see the changes you made.

    ASbout the chocolate. I love chocolate. I allow my self 1oz of chocolate a day 90% cocoa per day. That actually satifies my sweet tooth for the day.

    As Justin stated Make friends with your fellow bootcampers. Everyone id there for the same reasons.I would hope to fget heathy and fit. They would make great friends. I know from expierence from past bootcamps I have done in the Milwaukee area.

    Good Luck,


  14. Allison says:

    Dear Jane,

    I totally understand what has happened to you. You are in a transitional period of life, a good transition. In my opinion, a TRUE friend will listen to your desires and goals that you have for yourself and seek to support you in any way that they can.

    In my mid-twenties, I went through a pretty major life changing evolution. It caused me to give up the “party life”, settle down and dedicate myself to my family and my own spiritual growth. Of course, over time, I pretty much lost everyone that I had once called friend. But in losing those who were no longer compatible with my life goals, I gained new and stronger, deeper friends in the new circles I began to travel in.

    You are doing a good work for yourself. Be open to the “new you” and become discern when those around you are an enemy to it. Good luck on your journey and may you find true friends en route!

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