Growing up, my parents were big fans of the expression “waste not, want not”. This played itself out in many arenas, some comical and some not so much. On the topic of bad food, my Mom went through a prolonged phase when I was in elementary school where she prepared many dishes traditionally made out of ground beef with ground lamb instead. Knowing my mom, and again, I think I do, this had to be a bottom line issue, because ground lamb is dry, chewy and tastes like metal. So she was not “wasting money” on delicious beef. And even though the ground lamb was disgusting, we were not allowed to “waste food” by not eating it. And yes, we had to clean our plates, this was the 70’s. Now you can cut to, in your mind, a montage of the many ways I devised NOT to eat ground lamb, including feeding it to the dog, excusing myself halfway through the meal to flush the lamb I had hidden in my napkin down the toilet and sneaking my portion onto my sister’s plate (sorry, sis!). When you are a little kid, you are not allowed to say “no”. At least we weren’t in the 70’s.So then you go to middle school and high school, where “no” is like a dirty word—you sure as hell don’t say it to your teachers (at least not in the 80’s) and saying it to your peers can have devastating social consequences. I have a vivid memory of standing behind the Grand Union grocery store in a homemade dress (thanks, Mom!) while a group of kids passed around a bowl of pot…I was supposed to be at a school dance with my friend, but when she asked me to go meet up with some guy so she didn’t have to go alone, I couldn’t say “no”. I did say “no” to the pot, however. There I stood, feeling like a fool and a geek, in a weedy backlot wearing my ribbony, flowery party dress watching a bunch of classmates getting stoned. But I never regretted that “no”. And it taught me that saying “no”, while often difficult in the moment, is very empowering in the big picture. “No”, when used judiciously, can be your very best friend.
How often do you ignore the bad restaurant rule and say “yes” when every fiber of your being is screaming “no”? Once a month? Once a week? Or one-a-day, like a vitamin-in-reverse; your unwanted “yeses” sapping you of energy, strength and frankly, just putting you into a bad mood. I have a couple of girlfriends who don’t seem to have the word “no” in their vocabulary…if there is a situation they can volunteer for, they will. I like to joke that God put me on the planet to teach them to say the words “No, thank you” and be at peace with it. We are all of us, to some degree or another, eating at that restaurant we don’t like. There are relationships and situations in our life that “serve bad food” but we stay, or we return because for some reason or another we don’t think saying “no” is an option. But “no” is your ONLY option if you don’t want to live a life of continuous discontent. “No” is your only option if you want to make a decent meal of it.When we are little, we are not allowed to say “no” to grown-ups because grown-ups have gone ahead in life and made discernments—about what foods and activities and input are good and appropriate and healthful for a growing child. Children need to be exposed to many different things in order to learn discernment, so that as they grow, the power of choice becomes an earned privilege. As adults, we have, through our experiences and learned preferences, earned the right to say “no”. Saying “no” does not devalue us; neither does it devalue the person or situation we are saying no to…”no” is often the most respectful thing we can possibly say. Rather than dragging ourselves through the unwanted motions and resenting the whole time, give the opportunity to someone who genuinely wants to say “yes”. Respect and trust yourself enough to know what is right for you. Once more, that bad restaurant —how would it feel to ONLY eat good food, for the rest of your life? Does that seem like an outrageous ideal? It’s not…it’s actually the bare minimum you can do to take care of yourself. So take better care of yourself…by saying “no” to toxic foods, people and situations. And this can be the best year of your life.