Friday, November 20, 2009

Emotional Battles Series: Managing the Emotions of Saying No to Other People.

Happy Friday everyone! As you might remember from last Friday I am going to be doing a post every Friday on the emotional battles that I experienced throughout my journey to better health. For this week in honor of the start of the holiday season craziness, I thought it would be a good time to talk about managing the emotions of saying no to other people. 

Emotional Battle #2: Managing the Emotions of Saying No to Other People.

At one point in my life the word “no” was one that wasn’t used very often when it came to other people. I was a people pleaser to the fullest and whether it was being asked to do something as a favor, an extra project at work, or it was being offered food I would say yes. There were plenty of times I wanted to say no but I gave into that lovely emotion of guilt that would wash over me every time the thought of saying no popped into my head.  So what did all that yes saying get me? Seriously poor health! Physically, mentally, and emotionally I was not in a good place because I was always putting others needs or my perceived needs of others in front of mine. You know the old saying that you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first, and boy was I an example of the truth to that.

Throughout my journey to better health learning to say no and managing my emotional reaction to doing so has been one of the big reasons I believe I have been successful. I’m not just talking about saying no to food, I’m talking about saying no in lots of situations for the sake of my own well being. Heath to me is not just about the reading on the scale. It is a how I feel and perform emotionally, physically, and mentally. In order to feel and perform well in all of those aspects I need to be making sure that I’m taking care of my needs and to do so means making them a priority. Making my needs a priority means believing that I am worth it.

So let’s talk about a common situation that I have faced where saying no and managing the emotions of that come into play. I’m going to focus on one that involves food choices because I think this is one that we all struggle with when it comes to making choices that affect our health.

The Dreaded Social Food Situation:
I’m at a work social function where food dishes are being served  to celebrate a holiday, birthday, etc.

Honestly, these were challenging situations for me to manage in the beginning of my journey. There is or it is assumed that there is social pressure to eat at these functions. At the start of my journey I would find every way to get out of going so I wouldn’t have to face the situation. But in the end I wasn’t really learning how to manage anything. I was just avoiding things and not really making progress. After a while I realized that I needed to start attending these because they do play an important role in my professional career for networking proposes. So this is how I handle them.

I go into these situations focusing on having meaningful interactions with the people instead of focusing on the food.  Before I attend an event where food is being served I make up my mind if I’m going to eat anything or not. It took me a long time to realize that just because food is present doesn’t mean I have to eat it. In most cases where you are attending a social work event it is some kind of celebration (ie. birthday, holiday, etc). Just because there is reason to celebrate doesn’t mean that means you have to eat to be part of the celebration.

You may experience social pressure from some of the people attending to eat if you choose not to. This is where making yourself a priority and sticking to your choice is important. Sure the first few times you do this it will be challenging but every time you stick to your choice you will feel more confident. For me every time I was able to stick to my choice to not eat it made me feel strong and boosted my feeling of self-worth, which in turn made it easier to make myself a priority. Every time I ate out of guilt I didn’t feel so good about myself in the end but luckily I started to look at those moments as learning opportunities on how to manage them better in the future.

From my experience after you attend a few of these events where you have turned down eating at them people leave you alone about it and some others might even start to join you in not eating at the social functions. Most of the time, there are other people who want to not eat at these functions but eat anyway because they fear the social pressure. It only takes one person to be consistent with their choice to attend but not to eat to break the ice and help make it easier for everyone who wants to make that choice. After I had lost quite a bit of weight there where more and more people joining me in the not eating at a function like this. Remember sometimes it only takes one person to start a chain reaction that will result in a change in culture. I actually will get more comments now if I choice to eat because it has become common place for me to not eat at a social function like this. There will be a post later in this series that will go into more detail about that kind of experience. 

If I do make the choice to eat at these celebrations, I go in with some boundaries set for myself ahead of time. For me those boundaries normally mean I’m not trying everything available, limiting the portion size of those items I do choose, sticking to water as my beverage, and not allowing anyone to pressure me into eating something I don’t want to. I also make the deal with myself that if I’m going to eat there that I will go right back to clean eating at the next meal or snack. Making the choice to eat at these functions follows much like my 90-10 clean eating strategy, meaning I make the choice 90% of the time not to eat at these functions.

When it came to managing the guilt that I used to feel when in social food situations I started to use positive self talk when I noticed it would rear its ugly head. I would tell myself that no one gets irreversibly hurt by my decision not to eat or limited what I eat. That if I made the choice to put the perceived needs of others ahead of my need to take care of myself by eating that I was the one who would be hurt in the end cause it would keep me from improving my health. I also told myself that if someone was offended by my choice it was likely because of something that had nothing to do with me. For example, it was because they secretly wish they could make better choices. I also just reassured myself that I was important and worth having a life where I was healthy. Every time I was successful in sticking to my choices that I made a head of time I celebrated and congratulated myself so that I experienced the positive feeling of pride. Now that I have been on my journey for so long the guilt has faded and I rarely experience it. This is largely in part just because I have faced this situation so many times and know what to expect. Plus it helps that those who I interact with in these situations are now used to my behavior.
In addition to the situation above there are plenty of non-food situations where making a choice of saying no to other people can have a benefit to your health. How many of us over-schedule ourselves to the point we are super stressed out or end up running ourselves so hard we are exhausted?  I have so been there but I refuse to live like that anymore. Biggest tip I have to that is to avoid agreeing to take on any task, do a favor, or make a social commitment until you have taken some time to check your schedule and time to evaluate if taking it on will overextend you. I always buy myself time by responding with “Let me check my schedule and I’ll get back to you”. If the person doesn’t accept that and wants an answer on the spot I instantly say no. If I look at my schedule and see that saying yes to the situation is not going to overextend me and it is something I want to do then I agree if not I let the person know that I can’t. I experienced some guilt when I first began saying no to commitments but as I saw that my stress levels dropping because of a more manageable schedule I stopped worrying about it as much. Again those around you start to get used to your behavior and start accepting the fact you aren’t someone who agrees to everything.

If it is going to overextend you the best thing to do for your health is to say no. Keep in mind that you do no one, including yourself, any good by overextending yourself. I apply this not only in personal situations but also at work. The work situation was a little harder for me to get to the point where I learned to say no and that is because I was so worried that saying no would hurt my career. Interestingly enough, I feel like it has saved it. I was close to the point of burn out and if I continued the way I had been I likely would not be in my field anymore. Overall I am more productive now then I was when I was overscheduled. That is because I actually was able to take the time to make true progress on projects because I can focus on what I am working on and I’m not so tired so I don’t loose efficiency because of it.

Questions for you:
How do you manage social food situations like outlined above?
What kind of emotions do you experience when saying no to others and how do you handle them?
What things do you to make your health a priority?

Quote of the day: 
"He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away." ~ Raymond Hull  


  1. I think social eating is so difficult for so many people. This was a wonderful post. I used to work with overweight/obese people and over the holidays they would always gain weight because they were always around food. I think a lot of their problems had to do with not being able to say no. Not only because they wanted the food (sometimes) but also because they felt like if they said no than it would hurt the person's feelings. It's hard too when you are around people who aren't supportive and who make you feel bad for saying no (almost like a sabotage sometimes!). For me it's easy to say no because I have a lot of GI issues and people know that. It's almost a blessing in disguise for me because I'm never forced to eat foods I don't want to eat. I sometimes tell people to lie if it would make them feel better, like say, "I feel really bloated and my appetite is not very big, maybe later?" haha.

  2. I have much less problem saying no thanks if I'm not really tempted...My problem is when I would really LOVE to have a treat, all I need is someone to offer it up, even if I'm not all that hungry and it just looks tasty. Then I use the excuse I'll hurt their feelings if i refuse-- when I know that's not the real reason I'm saying yes, just greed! However, I don't go to all that many social functions so it's not an issue very often.