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How to Stop Being a People-Pleaser and Lose Weight

After being overweight most of my life, I finally lost the pounds by speaking my mind and putting myself first.

You need to change more than your eating and exercising habits if you want to keep the weight off for good.

You need to change more than your eating and exercising habits if you want to keep the weight off for good.

Are You an Overweight People-Pleaser?

  • Do you "need to please," always putting others in front of you (your kids, spouse, relatives, and co-workers) because you want to be seen as nice?
  • Do you think women who make time to go to the gym, have their nails done, and go to book clubs are selfish and self-centered and should be taking care of others?
  • Do you eat unconsciously, grabbing a milkshake and hamburger at the drive-thru and devouring it in the car, instead of slowing down to enjoy a nutritious meal?
  • Do you see women who are opinionated, direct, and assertive as ball-busters?
  • Do you avoid conflict at all cost, stuffing your anger and frustration with food?

If answering yes to any or all of these questions, you need to change your people-pleasing ways before trying to lose weight by dieting and exercising. If you don't, you may drop some pounds in the short-term but eventually gain them back and then some.

Successful long-term weight loss begins from within and involves changing how we think about ourselves. It means making ourselves a priority. It involves speaking our minds, feeling our feelings, and eating when we're hungry—not because we're bored, lonely, sad, frustrated, or angry. It means changing the way we interact in the world: being more aware of our thoughts, seizing control of our lives, and not using our weight as an excuse to hide.

To Lose Weight and Keep It Off, You Must Put Yourself First

A friend and I were walking up our neighborhood hill after a Saturday morning chat at the coffee shop. As I trudged along, my breathing became loud and labored. I was mortified by all my huffing and puffing, becoming convinced I was about to have a heart attack right then and there. I was 49-years-old and in terrible shape, both physically and emotionally.

During the prior 18 months, I had gained over 30 pounds as new onerous responsibilities got placed on me at work. Plus, there were obligations at home—two kids (one with autism), a husband, and an aging mother. Like many women who are people-pleasers, I had put everybody's needs before my own. I had stopped exercising, stopped eating right, stopped caring about my appearance, and stopped doing things that brought me joy such as writing, gardening, listening to music, meditating, being still, and spending time in nature.

I thought about dieting but knew the weight would just creep back on like it always had in the past. Yes, I desperately needed to lose the pounds but, more significantly, I needed to overhaul my entire life. It was finally time to acknowledge that my people-pleasing ways were inextricably linked to my obesity. If this was going to be my final weight loss journey (and I needed it to be), I knew wholeheartedly that eating less and exercising more would be only part of the solution. To restore my health, I needed to stop pleasing others and start pleasing myself!

5 Keys to Losing Weight, Keeping It Off, and Ending Your People-Pleasing Ways

Without a doubt, I ate less and exercised more to lose those 50 pounds and keep them off permanently. However, the discipline it took to do that only came about when I stopped my people-pleasing ways and started putting myself first. I'd finally seized control of my life, my eating habits, my appetite, and my fitness routine. During my weight loss journey, I discovered the following steps were key to losing those excess pounds and no longer allowing thoughts of food to rule my existence:

  1. Make your health your number one priority.
  2. Feel every feeling.
  3. Grow a backbone and learn how to say no.
  4. Please yourself and your family before pleasing others.
  5. Handle conflict with words, not food.

This video has good advice on saying yes to yourself and no to others.

1. Make Your Health Your Number One Priority

I grew up with an overweight mother who never exercised. She suffered a stroke two years ago but still refuses to take care of her health. Her doctor says she needs to walk, but she doesn't. Her physical therapist gave her strengthening exercises to do daily, but she doesn't. Instead, she drives her friends to and from their medical appointments, spending hours a day in her car. She's a people-pleaser and it's going to kill her, but it won't kill me!

Going against my mother's example and what was instilled in me during my religious upbringing, I began putting myself first. Iyanla Vanzant—the renowned spiritual life coach, and author—helped me realize that this behavior isn't selfish (as many of us women were taught) but necessary for our physical and emotional well-being. For a life-long people-pleaser like me, this message was exactly what I needed to hear in order to make myself a priority and not a casualty.

Vanzant says, "It's self-full to be first, to be as good as possible to you. To take care of you, keep you whole and healthy. That doesn't mean you disregard everything and everyone. But you want to come with your cup full. You know: 'My cup runneth over.' What comes out of the cup is for y'all. What's in the cup is mine. But I've got to keep my cup full."

2. Feel Every Feeling

I'd been on weight loss plans throughout the decades, losing pounds and then gaining them back plus some. I knew my middle-aged body couldn't take the yo-yo dieting anymore without serious consequences. At long last, I understood that my obesity had less to do with a love of food and more to do with unresolved childhood pain. I had stuffed my emotions for far too long and was finally ready to comfort myself in ways other than eating.

Diane Petrella, a psychotherapist and life coach, writes about the connection between emotional pain and overindulging in "Stop Numbing Your Feelings With Food, For Good." She argues it takes more to conquer our weight issues than just cutting calories and increasing exercise. She writes, "To end emotional eating and release weight permanently, you need to stop pushing away your feelings with food and instead let yourself feel your feelings...Think of your feelings as little children calling for your attention. They need to be heard, soothed, and comforted. Not pushed aside as if, they—and you—don't matter."

If you don't think your emotional life is key to losing and maintaining a proper weight, you're way off course.

If you don't think your emotional life is key to losing and maintaining a proper weight, you're way off course.

3. Grow a Backbone and Learn to Say No

Being a people-pleaser, wanting everyone's love and approval, makes it nearly impossible to lose weight and keep it off permanently. When we try to be all things to all people, we're never our authentic selves. This makes us feel drained, depleted, and resentful. We turn to food to make us feel better, give us a boost, and provide some much-needed comfort.

Psychotherapist and author, Amy Marin, says people-pleasers struggle mightily to lose weight because they don't speak up for themselves, find it nearly impossible to say no and put other people's needs before their own. She writes, "people-pleasers often sabotage their goals. Studies show that people-pleasers engage in self-destructive behavior if they think it will help others feel more comfortable in social situations. For example, people-pleasers eat more when they think it will make other people happy."

4. Please Yourself and Your Family Before Pleasing Others

Many people-pleasers put more effort into satisfying acquaintances, co-workers, and even complete strangers than themselves and their own families. I had unconsciously done that for years, giving my loved ones the short shrift while trying to win over everybody else. I'd volunteer at the elementary school, patiently helping the students and doing any tasks the teachers asked of me, but then was short and sarcastic with my kids at home. I always made time to assist my co-workers on their various projects but ran out of steam when my husband wanted to go out for dinner or have sex.

Like other people-pleasers, I had gotten my priorities discombobulated and needed to set them straight. I was exerting too much energy on my public persona—trying so hard to look nice, helpful, and enthusiastic. I was always acting fake, leaving me exhausted and unhappy.

When we spread ourselves too thin, we don't have the time, strength, and determination to lose weight and keep it off permanently. Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist, writes, "People pleasing can turn into a vicious cycle of chronic stress and unhealthy behaviors. If you have the constant feeling like you are too busy and doing everything for everyone else but yourself, you might be stuck in this cycle." I certainly was and, only when I got unstuck, did I have the energy necessary to lose those 50 pounds and keep them off permanently.

To stay fit, thin, and healthy, you must advocate for yourself

To stay fit, thin, and healthy, you must advocate for yourself

5. Handle Conflict With Words, Not Food

Before losing those 50 pounds and keeping them off permanently, I dreaded conflict and avoided it at all costs. It made me anxious, causing me to steer clear of situations where I might need to express a differing opinion, take a stand, or risk offending someone. As a people-pleaser, I wanted to be liked and not make waves or even a ripple. Social psychologist and author, Susan Newman, writes, "Often, people-pleasers are afraid of confrontation and will agree and say yes to most anything to avoid an uncomfortable argument or disagreement."

While I don't relish conflict today, I now don't go out of my way to avoid it. Instead, I see it as a normal, healthy, and inevitable part of life. When you disagree with someone and work through it together, you build a stronger bond. You discover people will still like and respect you (sometimes, even more) when the two of you have differing viewpoints. After decades of failing miserably to lose weight and keep it off, finding my voice and ending my people-pleasing ways was what I needed all along!

This video explains why you became a people-pleaser and how it hurts your life, your health, and your relationships.

Are you an overweight people-pleaser?

I Wanted to Finally Put Food in Its Proper Place and This Book Helped Me Do It!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I keep people happy by feeding them. How can I change that?

Answer: Many women (myself included) easily fall into the people-pleasing trap of feeding others in order to win their love and approval. We may have grown up watching our mothers and grandmothers doing that and followed their lead, trying to make others happy with lavish entrees and high-calorie desserts. When we watch old TV shows and movies, we typically see the females characters play that role—the warm, kindhearted souls in the kitchen, rattling the pots and pans and always doing it with a smile (and sometimes while wearing a dress, heels, and a pearl necklace)!

When I desperately needed to change my eating habits and lose weight, I worried that my husband and teenage sons would miss the fancy meals I had always made. I thought that it would be selfish of me to deprive them of the food they liked because of my need to cut back on calories. But, boy, was I wrong!

When I started to make smaller, healthier meals, my husband and sons were thrilled. They wanted to eat less meat (or no meat at all as one son is a vegetarian), consume more fruits and vegetables, and wean themselves from nightly desserts. Everyone was on board and I quickly realized it was me, not them, who had wanted those big, time-consuming meals. Those dinners had made me feel needed, appreciated, and loved. I also realized that I had been using my family as an excuse for not taking better care of myself.

Today, my self-worth is no longer tied up in providing big meals. Instead it's tied up in helping me and my family live longer, healthier lives with less food, better choices, and more exercise. Now we have a meal kit delivered weekly with vegetarian and low-calorie dinners . It takes me only 30 minutes a night to prepare them, and everyone is pleased as punch with the results. It has freed me up from meal planning (finding recipes and going to the market) so I can spend more time doing things that I enjoy such as taking long walks, painting, and working in my garden. Finding joy in activities other than cooking and eating has been the key to losing 50 pounds and keeping them off without a struggle.

Don't sell yourself short by thinking people only love you because you provide good food. Focus on the other things that make them enjoy your company: your conversational skills, your sense of humor, your compassionate nature, and your listening abilities. People love you even if you don't feed them, and it's important that you know that. Take care!

Question: What advice do you have to avoid overeating during the holidays?

Answer: Great question! The holidays are a time when emotional eating comes into play as we spend time with difficult family members, recall painful childhood memories, and often feel lonely even though we're surrounded by others. We can get depressed when the reality of the holidays don't live up to our exuberant expectations. Many of us experience an emptiness that we try to fill with the high-calorie treats that are everywhere during the season.

This year, instead of seeing food as the culprit, pay attention to your emotional eating and how it may actually be at fault. Instead of trudging through the days like a zombie, take time to feel all your feelings: talk about them, write about them, and deal with them through exercise, meditation, and prayer. Ask yourself if you're experiencing any holiday joy or are just constantly stressed, burdened, and bothered.

Instead of letting the holidays unfold around you, take concrete steps to make a better experience for yourself. Perhaps, you want to eliminate a couple parties so you have more quiet time to yourself. Perhaps, you want to scratch your annual cookie-making day and go on a hike instead. Perhaps, you want to put an end to some of the gift-giving and make a donation to a homeless shelter.

Moving away from food-centered activities is a healthier way to spend the holidays. For many of us, holiday parties create a lot of anxiety because we're trying to make chit-chat, pretending we're having fun, and struggling to not overindulge on the appetizers and eggnog.

As an introvert, I experience holiday get-togethers as draining events that can trigger my emotional eating. For many years, I overindulged during them to soothe myself because I felt awkward and uptight. I mistakenly thought food created the anxiety I experienced at these parties. In reality, though, I simply don't like those noisy events with too many people and too much superficial chatter. I'd rather be at home reading a book!

Now, I turn down most holiday invitations and, when I do attend, I stay for a preordained amount of time. That way I don't feel anxious and trapped. I'm now hyper-aware of my emotional eating and don't overindulge to comfort myself.

I suggest making a list of ways you want to enjoy the holidays that don't involve food. Mine would include driving around looking at Christmas lights, visiting the gingerbread house display at our local community center, watching “It's a Wonderful Life,” playing board games with my family and listening to my favorite Christmas carols. Be pro-active about creating situations where you'll experience the peace and joy of the season. Be conscious of your emotional eating and deal with your feelings in healthy, constructive ways.

© 2016 McKenna Meyers


McKenna Meyers (author) on November 26, 2016:

Thanks, Bill. I stopped doing a lot of things that I thought I needed to do. You know what? The earth kept spinning. Learning to say "no" was far more important to me than any diet plan.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 26, 2016:

The fact that you gained weight is logical considering all you have on your plate. The fact that you lost that weight is admirable.

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