Food For Thought

close up of a woman's hands holding out a bowl of colorful fruits

Don’t Let People-Pleasing Get In the Way of Your Health

Coach Caroline, 06/29/2016

You’ve probably discovered by now that there are many obstacles along the nutrient-dense path—from lack of accurate information to lack of support to your own innate hunger drive. Why, even your own personality can play a role in determining whether you are able to consistently stick to a high-nutrient food palette.

When it comes to relationships, do you tend to set boundaries, ask for what you want, and speak up when you don’t like how things are going? Or are you a “nice” person— easy going and eager to please, putting aside your needs in favor of others?

It turns out that the practice of putting other people’s happiness above your own can pull the plug on your best healthy-eating efforts. My client, Chris, illustrated this point recently when I asked what might prevent him from sticking to his food plan in the coming days.

“Well, I’m having some friends over for supper Saturday night. I’m making a big pot of veggie bean soup—that’s what I’ll eat. But they might bring over some cornbread and cheese. I’ll just avoid that stuff,” he asserted confidently.

I was skeptical. “Ok, you’ll just avoid the bread and cheese. Now, based on past experience,  what is the most likely outcome of this scenario?” Chris was forgetting that the strength of his resolve in that moment had no relationship to his willpower on Saturday night.

“Well,” he began sheepishly, “I’ll probably end up eating some cheese and cornbread, maybe even lots of it.”

“Unfortunately, you’re probably right. What’s a good antidote for this situation? What can you do to make it almost impossible for you to fall off your food plan Saturday night?”

“Hmmmm. . . I could drink some tea. . . ”

Set Some Boundaries

“You could drink some tea as a distraction,” I agreed, “but cheese and bread are pretty potent temptations. What would I do in this situation?” Surely after these months of working together, Chris would have an answer.

Alas, Chris is a people pleaser. He wanted nothing more than to provide a fun and savory dinner for his friends and was even willing to put himself at risk.

“Hmmm. . . .I’m not sure what you would do,” he admitted.

“I would request that the friends bring some berries for dessert. And I would ask that they not bring cheese, bread, crackers, etc.”

Mind you, I am not a pleaser and it’s not hard for me to ask for what I want. Since that is not the case for Chris, I recommended that he tell his friends he’s on a very strict diet, doctor’s orders.

It might go something like this: “Hi, friend. I’m trying out this new way of eating prescribed by my doctor. The diet specifically excludes things like bread, cheese, meat, and dessert. It would help me out a lot if you’d not bring those things and bring some fresh fruit for dessert or an undressed green salad. How does that sound to you?”

Chris balked, insisting that it was his responsibility to choose well, and that his friends shouldn’t have to change their behavior because of some weakness on his part. I reminded him of his past (in which he routinely gave in to tempting, nutrient-poor foods) and that the environment is the biggest predictor of behavior.

In other words, he would do much better if there were no cheddar.

Spending time in the midst of temptation saps willpower—even if you don’t succumb to desire—making you more vulnerable to food plan breeches in the near future.

Luckily, Chris finally came around, and after we hung up he called all the dinner party attendees to make his request.

When we next talked, Chris excitedly recapped his healthy evening. It turns out that, rather than feeling deprived, his friends enjoyed trying simple, unadulterated beans and greens and asked him lots of questions about his new way of eating. And after the meal, instead of lingering over wine and dessert, the party moved into the living room where they played a lively game of charades for two hours!

The Bottom Line

Don’t let people-pleasing rain on your high-nutrient parade by expecting that you should be able to resist highly-palatable fare just so your friends can have fun. Gently set boundaries with others so you can continue to enjoy relationships without damaging your health in the process.

For more tips on how to stick with your diet in social situations, schedule a free session with one of our expert health coaches today!


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