It’s hard to say ‘no’

How good are you at saying ‘no’? Me? I’m usually pretty good. As other nutritionists and dietitians will attest, we are often the bearer of bad news:

“Mikki, wholemeal is better than white bread isn’t it?” (No)

“Mikki, we use Olivani spread, that’s good isn’t it?” (No)

“Mikki, agave nectar is a natural sweetener, that’s way better than sugar isn’t it?” (No)

But sometimes, saying no to certain people or in certain situations is harder than others. I really struggle to say ‘no’ to Laurie, my twin sister. Not when we were younger: She was always rubbish at it but me? I was REALLY good at i:

“Mikki, can I have a bite?” (No)

“Mikki, can you lend me 50c till we get our pocket money?” (No).

But like most siblings, as we moved into adulthood and our relationship changed, saying no got much more difficult. Up until now it’s not really been an issue – pretty much, if we are able to help each other out then we will do it – but, in reality, the situations have been few and far between as to how often we’ve had to ask. For the most part, one of us will offer if we see we can lend a hand. It’s only really been in the last few weeks where I’ve really had to exercise my right to say ‘no’ to her. And, god, it’s hard.

As those of you who follow my Facebook will know, Laurie is almost four weeks into a new, healthy approach to food and health. This all came from an unexpected meeting I had with her in Cromwell after the Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand meeting. Truth be told, I got a bit of a fright. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart issues run in our family. We had a grandparent that died young of heart problems and a second-degree relative also suffered from a heart attack at around 38 years old. At around the same age, Laurie looked to be the spitting image of her. Even though I’d seen Laurie in January and we talked most weeks on the phone, the picture I have attached to her number is one that is perhaps five years old – so the Laurie I spoke to was (in my mind) younger and fitter than the Laurie that was dealing day-to-day with the health issues that would have been obvious to me had I seen her. So when I approached her about doing something about her health, I did it in a manipulative way that only siblings can get away with: I took advantage of the fact that Laurie isn’t good at saying ‘no’ to me and made it about me and not her. Previously when I had raised it with her (ONLY after an offhand comment about how tired she might have been feeling, or how she wasn’t feeling very good about herself – never unsolicited*), she got angry at me. She was tired, stressed out and got annoyed (to put it mildly) that I would even talk to her about giving up foods that were staples in her diet. How could I possibly understand? She had to organise her household in the morning, go to work   in a job which is largely unsatisfying but pays the bills from 9am-3pm, then rush to pick the kids up after school to drop them to soccer or Karate to then pick them up, feed them, do their homework and make sure they were in bed early enough so they could get up and do it all again the next day. She has neither the time nor the money to invest in herself and her health. Telling someone that their future health is at risk if they don’t do something now is often not enough to make a change. Trying to convince them that doing these things will actually make them feel better now is hard to believe when the very idea of trying to change ingrained habits is exhausting. I had to take a different approach – therefore I told her I needed a case study for my business and she was the best person for the job. It doesn’t take a genius to see right through that, and Laurie did in a heartbeat. Truth be told, she had wanted to do something for a while but didn’t have the energy to do it. Now I was taking the role of the bossy twin (easy) and made it about me, It seemed at the time that I took the responsibility away from her and placed it firmly on my shoulders. Which is great, I can handle that – most of the time.

Where I struggle though is having to say ‘no’ to her. Right now we are working together to help Laurie make the best decisions possible – and obviously some things that are just common sense to me are completely new to her. She made these awesome scotch eggs from the Well Fed cookbook, and sent a picture to show me how they turned out. They did look great, but I then saw the sweet chilli sauce that occupied a good part of the plate (we Kiwi’s love our condiments). How had I overlooked telling her about the sauce?? We had talked in depth about looking at ingredient lists and going for as minimally processed as possible – and one of the highest sugar products that is in anyone’s refrigerator had made its way to her plate. No big deal, right? Of course not – but I notice I’m far more delicate with her than I am with anyone about putting her right. This week has been especially challenging. Laus text to tell me she was going around to a friend’s house for a BBQ where she was likely to have a few drinks and my heart rate immediately picked up about 60 bpm. She drinks once in a blue moon, and her friend had a bottle of vodka that she wanted her to share. Laurie enjoys her vodka with orange juice, so when we talked on the phone   she was tired from a long day and didn’t want to hear me tell her that she maybe she could try instead have her vodka with soda water and a low calorie lime juice.**  As sisters get, we were so annoyed at each other but I knew I had to try and stay calm and not bite when she was telling me I was ruining the one fun thing she had planned. I just told her (in a really calm voice) that I wasn’t trying to ruin anything and she had to make the best decision for her. Then I made an excuse to get off the phone so I could fume by myself.

I said earlier that I took the responsibility away from her and placed it on me. That’s not true, and that small exchange made me reflect on that this week. Like all of my clients, it is up to me to provide the best tools possible for her to make changes, and up to her to decide whether to use them or not. I find it so, so difficult. I said before that I took the role of the ‘bossy’ twin. Actually – that’s the only role I’ve had in our relationship. Being bossy only gets me so far now we’re adults though. I am so scared that a harsh word from me, or when I say ‘no’ to her request to have a coffee after dinner, is going to make her fed up enough that she’ll throw in the towel and the hard work she’s done to date will be lost. Some might think that I need to lighten up and these small things don’t matter in ‘the big scheme of things’ as – I say this often – ‘it’s what she does typically that counts.’ Because it’s Laurie I feel (rightly or wrongly) that those rules don’t apply. It’s just the way it is.

So, I’m having to say ‘no’ to her more often than normal and I’m not feeling overly good about it. It’s fair to say that neither is she.

*well, by ‘never’ I really mean, almost never unsolicited and not in the last few years

**yes, of course there are many reasons why Laurie could absolutely be fine having vodka and orange. But I’m not a fan of the alcohol and sugar mix and her reason for liking that drink was that ‘she couldn’t taste the vodka’. I’d rather she drink a drink where she was all to aware of the alcohol in it.

Laurie and I. For some reason I have always thought we've worn ties in this picture.

Laurie and I. Me: bigger and bossier.

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