From the time you were a child, you might have been a people pleaser. You tried to ace your schoolwork in order to win your parents’ approval…you practiced soccer for hours on end to win a vote of support from your coach…or you diligently practiced your piano chords in order to earn the gratitude of your music teacher. There’s nothing wrong with aiming to please. It can make you a respected leader, a valued friend, a comforting mentor. However, it should be recognized that some food addictions begin with an inability to say “no.”
It might have begun with a Thanksgiving during your childhood when your mother asked if you wanted a second helping of mashed potatoes. Or a teacher at your elementary school might have given you a gold star if you cleaned your plate. You were probably taught that it is wrong to waste food and that a hearty appetite was a good thing. The problem is, such cues from your environment might have caused you to learn the wrong lessons when it came to food consumption.
In our society, many people have difficulty saying “no.” They want to be part of the crowd and they don’t want to stand out for non-participation. They will do all they can to blend in and that leads them to say “yes” more times than they’d like to. In fact, the epidemic of alcohol and drug abuse may be due in part to the refusal of many people to say “no.”
Admitting that you have a problem overcommitting yourself is the first step to progress. It shows that you have a great deal of insight into your own problems with food and you want to change your bad habits and replace them with admirable ones. But this can be difficult, given the fact that so many families have a number of rituals involving food. Also, unlike cigarettes or marijuana, food is not considered inherently bad—nor should it be. However, you need to learn how to use food effectively.
Part of your training begins with learning the power of “no” or “no thank you.” You need to learn to assert yourself, to recognize that you do not have to go along in order to get along. You realize that you are doing yourself no favors by accepting extra helpings of pasta—in fact, you could be doing your body a great deal of harm. The key now is to do something about it.
What’s the best way to undergo assertiveness training? One method you can use is role-playing. Practice saying “no” to extra servings with the help of a friend playing the role of adversary. In this “pretend” situation, you may feel more comfortable saying “no.” You will also learn that saying “no” isn’t the end of the world; that you will not automatically lose friends by taking a “negative” stance.
Another trick you might use is making sure that you do not slouch while sitting at the table for your meals. Slouching indicates defeat—a belief that a situation is hopeless. With your head held high you will gain the confidence you need to say “no”—and to mean it.
Yet another effective strategy is to keep a journal recording your thoughts after you’ve said “no”—either to more food or to a commitment you just can’t handle at this time. Putting your feelings in writing can be quite cathartic. It can also help you with problem-solving, enabling you to figure out ways that you can say “no” without hurting another person’s feelings.
Something else you will need to learn is that it is not necessary for you to fulfill another person’s expectations. In other words, whether your Aunt Mary thinks you’re eating enough really doesn’t matter. If you recognize that you are overweight, Aunt Mary’s opinion shouldn’t be taken into account. You must do what you think is best in order to take control of your eating. Assertiveness will not happen immediately. But, with practice, you can learn to say “no” like a pro. And you—and your waistline—will be better off as a result of what you’ve learned.