When I started writing about how to quit dieting and bingeing and eat more sanely, I thought my first book, which laid out a set of basic guidelines for connecting to appetite, would, presto, turn readers into “normal” eaters. Well, okay, I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, but I assumed that reconnecting to appetite signals was the key to success. So when my clients continued to have trouble fending off non-hunger food urges, I wrote a second book on how to separate and manage food and feelings. How could it be then, that my female clients still persisted in “taking care” of themselves primarily with a fork and spoon?
I had my epiphany while doing my usual get-to-know-each-other exercise at the first session of one of my eating workshops when I asked participants—all female—to state their names, expectations for the workshop, and one thing they really liked about themselves. Bafflingly, they seemed stumped by sharing what they liked best about themselves, though eventually, each woman sighed, smiled wistfully, and said something to the effect of, “Well, I guess I’m nice.” For the life of me, I could not fathom how this was the best they could do when invited to toot their own horns, and I realized I’d been hearing this same “I’m nice” bunk from women for decades.
So I wrote Nice Girls Finish Fat: Put Yourself First and Change Your Eating Forever and was delighted when Fireside/Simon & Schuster published it.
How do you know if you’re a “nice” girl? You constantly look to please others rather than yourself, avoid confrontation, attempt to do everything yourself, strive for perfection, cherish giving over taking, and regularly put everyone else’s needs before your own. You take care of others with your warm heart and loving nature and take care of yourself by making multiple trips to the refrigerator.
Here’s what Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead has to say about how, based on her research, niceness shapes women’s personalities and actions: “Success and likeability positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women,”, and, “[i]f a woman is competent, she does not seem nice enough.” What Sandberg is saying is that if you’re shooting for likeability, forget about success. What I’m saying is that an addiction to likeability above all else may be causing or, at the very least, exacerbating your compulsive eating problems.
So, do this—use all the crayons in your box just like men do, not just the nice crayon. Be sweet, kind, caring, thoughtful, and a great caretaker, but also be assertive, confrontational, and selfish enough to be very good to yourself. Draw lines in the sand, delegate, give up wanting to be all things to all people, hurt others’ feelings to spare your own, say “no” more often, and accept that there’s more to life than being the nicest person in your office or on your block.
If you start coloring your life with all your crayons, you’ll have more fun, decrease stress, feel happier and more satisfied, and stop running to the cookie jar when you’re stressed or distressed. Give yourself a nice-ectomy and you’ll have a far better life, minus the food problems.
The Rules of “Normal” Eating: A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters, Undereaters, Emotional Eaters, and Everyone in Between by Karen R. Koenig
The Food and Feelings Workbook: A Full Course Meal for Emotional Health by Karen R. Koenig
Starting Monday: Seven Keys to a Permanent, Positive Relationship with Food by Karen R. Koenig
Feeding the Hungry: The Experience of Compulsive Eating by Geneen Roth
The Seven Secrets of Slim People by Vikki Hansen and Shawn Goodman