The Price of Being Nice

by Jul 8, 2020Food & Body Issues, Women's Wellness1 comment

The Price of Nice: Why We Rely on Food

One of the most common patterns that I see in clients who struggle with weight and food is being “too nice”. They have difficulty setting healthy boundaries in their relationships and at work. It’s difficult to say “No” – even when they want to.

Have you frequently heard yourself say:

“I’m just a nurturing person.”
“If I don’t do it who else will?”
“I’m easy-going.”
“It’s just what _______ do.”
(insert: mothers, friends, sisters, hard workers, etc.)

Being nice or dependable may feel like it’s just who you are.

However, when you chronically put others first, it creates internal distress.

What I mean by “internal distress” is that on an energetic level – physically, spiritually, emotionally – you are depleting yourself:

  • More energy is going out than is coming in.
  • You become smaller, taking up less space in your life.
  • You send the message to yourself (and others) that you are not as important as others.

This mostly happens outside of our awareness, but sometimes chronic nice-ness comes from a deeper fear learned in childhood. If we felt insecure as a child in our relationship with our parents or caregivers, or we experienced a trauma that threatened our sense of safety or belonging, we may avoid making others unhappy by going along and not rocking the boat.

(To a small child it doesn’t take much for something to be scary or threatening. You can have a good childhood and still have a traumatizing event.)

Even the small stuff adds up. Listening to music you don’t like, or watching programs you are not interested in can be a form of compromise and negating yourself.

In seemingly benign ways throughout the day you end up ignoring your needs and wants. By the end of the day, or week, you feel drained and exhausted. Resentment creeps in – leaving you snappy and irritable.

What’s more damaging is when you are so used to neglecting your needs or compromising, that you lose touch with your feelings. If there is resentment or anger it doesn’t register.

“I’m fine!”
“It’s no problem!”
“I’m happy to help!”

But buried feelings are an energy that is held in the body. It takes muscle tension to hold them in.

Under pressure, volcanoes explode and dams burst…eventually.

Suddenly you are way too angry about the internet going down.

Your body sends the signals that it is stressed with digestive issues, headaches, back pain, PMS, hot flashes … the list goes on.

So, when you are trying to lose weight or trying not to binge eat, and, you are “nice”…too nice, it’s really hard to not turn to food.

Eating too much or needing to “treat” yourself may be how you compensate for all the care-taking, support, extra hours at work, and the toll of constantly orienting to the needs of others.

Food is a quick and comforting fix for the physical and emotional energy deficit.

The compulsion to eat to restore your energy is especially strong when there is a deep emptiness beyond the physical, one that comes from rarely, or never, getting your needs met.

If it’s “in your nature” to care for others, to want others to be happy, and to be the one who others count on to say, “no problem”, the idea that you need to have better boundaries and play music you like, may bring up a ton of fear.

Between the social conditioning that girls experience to become women who are the caregivers and emotional labourers, and biological wiring that can create an anxious attachment style, it’s easy to see how being “nice” is how we value ourselves in relationship to others.

When a behaviour is learned in early childhood it could be experienced as a survival mechanism.

Sounds dramatic…but I’m sure you’ve wondered why it’s so hard to say “no” or have someone be mad at you.

For good reason, we will feel resistance to the idea of taking up more space in our life. It may mean looking at our fear of conflict. Or challenging the idea that we can say “no” to our friends and family and still be loved.

We often don’t change unless the cost of our behaviour is so painful – physically, emotionally or financially – that we finally overcome our resistance to change.

I see how empowering it is for women to understand why they struggle with food. Instead of blaming yourself for a lack of willpower, consider the early influences in your life that are most likely the source of where the real wounds are.

Food is just the medication that treats the symptoms.