Being a people-pleaser is likely to have adverse effects on one’s body image and self-esteem.

In last week’s blog, I introduced the role that sociotropic (people-pleasing) characteristics play in disordered eating behaviours. People with these traits are susceptible to situations where they fear a lack of social acceptance, potential conflict, or loss of a relationship.[1]

At one end of the scale, people-pleasers emphasis on social harmony means they may eat foods they do not like or want, eat when they are not hungry, and attempt to match the eating habits of the group they are in.

At the other end of the scale, they may avoid eating in social situations altogether.

These scenarios can lead to prevalent disordered eating behaviours, severe eating disorders, and food addiction.[2]

In Part 2 of Sociotrophy and Disordered Eating, I will focus on the three key strategies people-pleasers can use to free themselves from their fear of relational conflict around food.


3 Tips to Counteract People-Pleasing Eating Habits

This section is focused on coaches helping their clients towards empowerment. However, If you are reading this for yourself or a loved one, I ask you to pay particular attention to point 3.

1.      Be Assertive

Ask your client to journal their thoughts around their social eating habits regarding pleasing others, acknowledge the types of situations that make them uncomfortable, and the thoughts and feelings that arise at those times.

  • Do they overeat to make other people more comfortable?
  • Do they overeat so as not to appear more self-controlled and therefore superior?
  • Do they overeat so as not to draw attention to themselves?
  • Do they stay away from social events with food to avoid the above scenarios?

Now, take note of the actions, thoughts, and emotions which occur after the event.

  • Do they feel resentful, ashamed, angry, or anxious?
  • Do they want to purge, excessively exercise, or fast to counteract the consumption of unwanted food?
  • Do they want to isolate themselves from others, avoid future events, and eat in secret?

This is the time for the client to realise the extent of their self-sabotage! Now is the time to say ‘No’ instead of ‘Yes’ as they are the only ones standing in the way of freedom!

Becoming more assertive takes practice. It is not easy to say or do things that we fear will upset another. However, people-pleasing tendencies around food are constructed mainly by our upbringing, history, and level of self-worth.

By taking the time to acknowledge the false fabrication we have created around food to keep the peace, it will become easier to change the story.


2.      Setting Boundaries

Now we understand the triggers and reactions to those triggers; we can introduce containment. Containment works to protect the individual from trigger situations, feelings, foods, and environments. This is done through the establishment of boundaries.

Boundaries may include:

  • Avoidance of particular scenarios or specific people who won’t take no for an answer.
  • Avoiding foods that are difficult to refuse even when not hungry.
  • The introduction of a list of non-negotiables to a person’s support network (see below) so they understand their intentions and can empathise with their feelings.
  • A ‘buddy’ who the person can contact for support when in a triggering situation.

Warning signs appear when a trigger is present, and boundaries act as a barrier between an individual and a trigger, allowing space for a rational, thought-through response. If a person can recognise warning signs and enforce their boundaries, habitual behaviours can be interrupted.


3.      Support

None of us are built to withstand the pressures of the world alone. We thrive in communities made up of different types of relationships.

It isn’t always easy to accept help, especially as adults, but it is an essential first step on the road to wellness.

As a food addiction coach, it’s a great privilege to witness a client’s journey from despair and frustration to freedom and serenity. I am sure it’s the same for all medical practitioners, coaches, therapists, and personal trainers.

Sure, there will be instances when a client may become stubborn or resistant to change, but this is all part of the process. Change can be uncomfortable, and altering habitual behaviours can be incredibly complex; however, obstacles can serve a purpose, and both client and coach will benefit and learn from the experience.

Support and recovery plans are not a one size fits all methodology. Each client has unique needs and requirements to help them flourish.

As well as working with a professional coach, the client must develop a positive support network. This network could be a mix of family members, close friends, and even colleagues. Most crucially, they must understand the problem and encourage the person to break free from their problematic eating habits.

The client must also fully understand their people-pleasing triggers, their reactions to those triggers, and the consequences of their actions. Once these are understood, the client can make informed choices about their behaviours and change detrimental people-pleasing habits into ones that encourage them to lead a healthy, independent life.

Nobody needs to do this alone! I warmly invite you to discuss a path to food freedom with me. Please get in touch with me, Dr Bunmi Aboaba, The Food Addiction Coach, by following this link.



[1] Otani, Koichi et al. “Distinctive Correlations Of Sociotropy And Autonomy With Working Models Of The Self And Other”. Comprehensive Psychiatry, vol 55, no. 7, 2014, pp. 1643-1646. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2014.05.013. Accessed 8 Sept 2021.

[2] Exline, Julie J. et al. “People-Pleasing Through Eating: Sociotropy Predicts Greater Eating In Response To Perceived Social Pressure”. Journal Of Social And Clinical Psychology, vol 31, no. 2, 2012, pp. 169-193. Guilford Publications, doi:10.1521/jscp.2012.31.2.169. Accessed 8 Sept 2021.