How to put yourself first

If you’re too busy ‘people-pleasing’ to lose weight, here’s how to flick the confidence switch and take back control.

How to put yourself first

Here’s the deal: it’s nice to be nice and no one’s saying you shouldn’t put other people’s needs ahead of your own from time to time, but realistically, if you consistently do that, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself missing the mark when it comes to hitting your own goals. In other words? The occasional sacrifice to help another person out is a great thing, but if ‘good girl’ behaviour becomes an ingrained habit, it does more harm than good.

The psychology of people-pleasing
According to Sydney-based psychologist Dori Wisniewski, women in particular feel the need to people-please. “Society expects us to be the caregivers and we’re raised to believe that being selfish is wrong,” she explains. “But sometimes, in wanting to take care of everybody else, you forget about yourself.” The good news? With just a few simple strategies, it’s possible to turn this habit around and maintain ‘nice girl’ status while looking after your own needs. Here’s how:

When the pressure’s on at work

Problem: The killer deadline is looming. Your boss is pressuring you to work through lunch… again. The result? Your gym bag gets pushed to the back of your drawer – and your planned workout is cast aside. 

Solution: “Acknowledge that you’re important, too, and schedule in your exercise sessions by locking them into your diary,” suggests Wisniewski. “If you’re firm about keeping appointments with other people, then you need to be firm about the appointments you make with yourself.” The world will not end if you don’t answer all those emails, immediately.

Take out time for yourself
“When we take time for ourselves, our performance at work reaps the benefits,” says Wisniewski. Professor Rob Newton, an exercise physiologist from Edith Cowan University’s School of Exercise and Health Sciences agrees: “The research is overwhelming in evidence that employees are more productive and effective in the workplace if they take regular breaks and are physically active.”

Breaking the food-as-love cycle

Problem: Find yourself dreading the family gathering because you’ll be bombarded with food-based guilt trips? And your aunt insists on serving double helpings and keeps warning you not to get ‘too skinny’. This ‘food as love’ pressure can test even the most hardened resolve. 

Solution: Accredited practising dietitian Margaret Hays recommends this win-win solution. “Have a small serve of what’s on offer, then ask for the rest to be packed up to take home and eat another time. You can portion up the leftovers to take to work as lunch for the rest of the week.” Alternatively, be the first to help clear the table. No one will notice you’ve left any food on your plate. 

Try these lines:

  • ‘Oh wow! Thanks for making my favourite lasagne! This is a huge serving. I don’t have space. Can I take a doggy bag home so I can have the rest for lunch during the week instead of wasting the rest?’
  • ‘Just a small serving for me, please. I’m going to save some room for that delicious-looking potato salad over there.’
  • ‘That was delicious. It tasted so good. I’m going to have a break before dessert. Can I grab myself a peppermint tea?’

The ‘Cozy couple’ kilos

Problem: The early stages of loved-up bliss include lots of cocooning on the couch, leisurely brunches and candlelit three-course dinners. Before you know it, your curves are swelling as big as your heart! “I’ve had female clients who’ve gained 12 kilograms after meeting their new boyfriend,” says Hays. “It’s unbelievable how much food-related activity goes on in a new relationship.” 

Solution: You don’t have to sacrifice fun just because you’re trying to lose weight. Try making grocery shopping and cooking healthy meals something you do together, rather than alone. If your partner is putting on the pressure because you want to get out and about rather than kick back on the couch, don’t feel guilty.

Be happy and healthy
Remind yourself you’re enhancing your relationship by making healthier choices. “Being happy and healthy is the best thing you can do for loved ones,” says Professor Newton. “You’ll be less anxious and more patient, so will be easier to live with. This has to be more beneficial to your partner than just sharing the couch with them.”

Try these lines:

  • ‘It’s amazing weather. Let’s get out there and do something together. How about a walk on the beach?'
  • ‘Are you up for a game of tennis? We can always tape the cricket on TV and watch the highlights later.’ 
  • ‘Fancy a quick gym session together? We can grab a healthy Thai takeaway on the way home for dinner.’

Cocktail’s catching up with you...

Problem: Catching up with friends is something we all love to do. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. But if it involves too many rounds of cocktails and an intimate relationship with cheesecake, the scales end up bearing the brunt of your regular socialising. 

Solution: Mix up your get-togethers and try some activities that don’t revolve around food or having a couple of drinks. Catch up for a shopping trip, a gym session or a play date in the park with your kids instead. 

Try these lines:

  • ‘No more margaritas for me. I have an early meeting at work tomorrow and need to be out the door by 7am.’
  • ‘I’d love a red, but am only drinking on weekends at the moment, so just a soda water for me, thanks.’ 
  • ‘The dessert menu sounds delicious. Does anyone want to go halves or thirds with me, in the chocolate mudcake?’