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When People Tell You What You Need to Do

I’ve written often on the dangers of disregulated eaters insisting they “must, should, ought, need, etc.” to do things. These words are prone to kick up a backlash and only start you fighting with yourself, exactly the wrong strategy when you’re trying to make healthful food choices. Likewise when people insist you “need” to do something. Learning how to handle others’ demands will help you make wiser decisions.
This subject came up with a client whose dietician—a helpful, caring, woman—told her that she “needed” to cut back on portion size, stay away from high-sugar and –fat foods, and pay more attention while eating. This client had been doing all that and was pretty pleased with her food intake, although she granted that it wasn’t perfect. She tried to tell the dietician that, but only heard more “needs” and “shoulds.” After the session, my client told me she went on a binge. Now, why do you suppose that is?
We often dig in our heels when people tell us we “need” to do something. But, think, is it true that you need to or is their need being exposed? After all, they’re the ones with the inner pressure to have you behave a certain way. Maybe their good feelings come from your success, maybe they feel helpless to change you, maybe they feel powerless to change themselves and are displacing feelings onto you, or maybe there’s out of control stuff going on in their lives and they’re trying to feel better by controlling something.
When people say you “need” to do something, understand right off that only death is compulsory and that everything else is optional, even though it may feel otherwise to you and them. Recognize when people’s intentions are caring—which they frequently are—and by valuing that caring, feel good about their intent. Most of all, understand that they are transferring the pressure they feel onto you so they don’t have to feel it—and don’t internalize the pressure. It’s just like rejecting spam in your email inbox.
Also, acknowledge that, as adults, people generally are not out to take away your choices, and that even if that were the case, it would be because they hope you’ll make ones that promote your health and happiness. After all, isn’t the “something” that many folks tell us to do often in our best interest—eat healthfully, bring an umbrella, exercise, calm down? If you recognize that someone isn’t aiming to usurp your power, you won’t get so bent out of shape about their inappropriate word choice. Remember, it’s often your interpretation of what they’re saying that makes you want to prove you can do what you want. If you already know that (really know it), you won’t have to prove it to anyone, least of all someone who’s not trying to take away your power to begin with.