Did you buy six boxes of Girl Scout cookies this year because you couldn't say no to the world's cutest 7-year-old in a Brownie uniform?
Did you take that extra helping of your sister-in-law's whole-wheat carob cake because you didn't want to hurt her feelings?
When your BFF is waffling over ordering dessert, do you agree to share it with her, even though you don't want it, and then match her bite for bite?
If you could answer yes to any of these questions, you may suffer from sociotropy the scientific term for having the need to please others. Although this trait might make you the right candidate to broker peace in the Middle East, excessive niceness is a recipe for excessive girth. And it's only one of the character flaws that can lead to unhappy mornings on the scale.
We all know the major triggers of emotional eating anger, loneliness, rejection, guilt. Most of us, at one time or another, have taken out our fury on a bag of crunchy corn chips or tried to beat the blues with a pint of cookie-dough ice cream. But new research shows that certain personality types also are prone to making a frosted doughnut a chosen alternative to therapy. Besides the sociotrope, there's the thrill-seeker and the worka-chocoholic and each type needs different strategies for coping with extra calories.
In a recent experiment at Case Western Reserve University, researchers screened volunteers for their "gotta be nice" qualities, then invited them to a meeting with a staff member (actually an actor) who casually passed around a bowl of M&Ms. When the bowl came their way, students who'd scored higher on the sociotropy scale dug in, taking more than the students who were less concerned with others' comfort or with matching how many the actor ate.
"They didn't want him to feel bad by eating fewer," explained study leader Dr. Julie Exline.
We often eat more when we're around those who are eating a lot, and that's one reason studies show that people whose friends are overweight are more likely to be heavy themselves. "Then, if you have a people-pleasing thing going on top of that, you'll feel even more pressured to follow others," said Exline.
After overeating comes depression, and not just because you can't zip your jeans. "When your motivation is to please other people, you're letting them tell you what's important to you," said Exline. "I describe it as 'silencing your own voice.' "
The goal, then, to avoid piling on those unpleasing pounds, is to find that voice.
Tips to help people-pleasers
Consider what you want • Decide first if you're even hungry when around others who are eating. If you're not, "Lay on the praise, then state your boundary," suggests Karen Koenig, a psychotherapist and author of "Nice Girls Finish Fat."
De-nice yourself a little • Koenig advices practicing saying a polite "no."