Home It's All Mental Get Life: The Power of ‘No’

Get Life: The Power of ‘No’

by Erika Nicole Kendall

For EBONY.com: Erika Nicole Kendall on finding the willpower to rebuke the foods that are destroying your diet

One of the biggest challenges to healthy living, I’ve learned, is developing the ability to say “No.”


It sounds easy enough, right? It feels like everyone around us can easily turn down things they know they shouldn’t have. We ask ourselves, “My friend can say no without flinching; why can’t I?” and, before we know it, we’re filled with a sense of self-loathing, wondering why we can’t get it together like others. Of course I know what it’s like – I’ve been there before and, in some ways, am still there now.

The weird thing about self-control, what we’ve come to know as “will power,” is the belief that everyone is born with the same ability to say no. It’s always propped up as being something like a tool in a dusty drawer somewhere that you have to simply whip out and use.

I can speak from personal experience when I tell you, it ain’t that easy.

When you’re admitting to yourself that you struggle to say “No, I don’t want to eat any more of this food,” you’re not “making excuses” – you’re admitting that something presents a real challenge for you, and that’s okay. In fact, Dr. David A. Kessler, author of the amazing book The End of Overeating, would not only understand you, but agree with you.

When you’ve spent so much of your life saying “yes,” those first few “no”s are difficult and painful, thanks to a term known as “incentive salience.” In the book, it is described as “the desire, activated by cues, for something that predicts reward. It’s a learned association – we learn to want a food or some other substance we once liked. We may not even like that food (though we often do). But it’s the wanting, not the liking, that drives us to do the work necessary to obtain that food.”

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’d realize that we’re not struggling to turn down the broccoli. We’re not struggling to turn down the turnips. It’s usually the sweet stuff – the soda pops, the juices, the comfort foods, the sugary-fatty-salties of the world – that’s got us feeling sad and angry about our ability to say no. It’s usually something that we have some kind of emotional connection to – the memories associated with it make us feel good and draw us to it, or the actual consumption of it serves as some form of stress relief. Either way, consuming it makes us feel better. Those feelings are a part of that cycle – they’re self-reinforcing.

The trick to will power, is… [click here to read more]

Talk to me about your no. What makes it a challenge for you? What has made it easier for you in your journey? What kinds of foods do you find yourself struggling to turn down? Let’s hear it!

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Robin August 8, 2013 - 5:00 PM

I think the environment is an important part of saying no as well. If I am in the grocery store, shopping alone, it is easier for me to avoid those center aisle where all my trigger foods exist. However, if a friend invites me out to dinner. Even if I manage to order something that is within my eating plan, it’s so hard not to grab a piece of bread from the bread basket, or steal a few fries from her plate. My friends frequently have gatherings that are centered around eating. Even if I bring my own food with the best intentions. It is highly unlikely that I will leave that gathering without having “a little” of this or that. Usually dessert! So aside from complete social isolation, how do you realistically exercise the power of “no”.

Kami August 9, 2013 - 8:30 AM

I need to learn to say no to my family who tempt me with dessert or beverages e. The regualr food I end up turning down. Everyday I strive to live healthier and take in more fruits and vegetables.
Hopefully my mother would stop bringing treats in the house. it is easier for me to turn down everything outside the house. When I am around in the house I might give in to my sweet tooth.

colah October 15, 2013 - 4:16 PM

At my best, my no is made easier by distracting myself from the desire for the food. I have to do that to derail the process it takes to get it (like stopping myself from baking the cookies in the middle of the night or not stopping for onion rings on the way home). My best delay tactic that I employed which helped me lose the last half of the 100+ pounds I’ve lost is to tell myself (especially in the middle of the devil’s lair, Whole Foods Bakery area) “this food ain’t going nowhere! When the time is better/right or the goal is met, then ALLLLadis is gonna be here when I’m ready.” Clench my jaw, blink really hard, inhale slowly and back away from sweet temptation. Ashe!

Rowena December 30, 2013 - 7:37 PM

Three words ya’ll. Wine, wine and WINE-T!! I work a job that puts the P in pressure and when I get home in the evenings I just have to unwind with a glass *or four* of wine. This issue has been the nemesis I battle everytime I start a new weight loss plan and I need to find the strength to say NO while still having a way to de-stress from the day. Ugh and oy vay! Help!!

Erika Nicole Kendall January 6, 2014 - 12:54 PM

If you’re looking for an alternative, I have a suggestion. 🙂

Rowena January 6, 2014 - 2:19 PM

Any suggestions are very welcome!!

Erika Nicole Kendall January 6, 2014 - 5:55 PM

Awesome. Check out this post I wrote here, about using chamomile tea as an anxiety reliever.

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