Can Being a Doormat Make You Fat?

A red welcome doormat sits on a porch with a flip-flop laying on its edge.For people struggling with issues around being assertive, food can become a powerful coping mechanism. Karen Koenig, in the book Nice Girls Finish Fat, states that women only open their mouths, with a few other exceptions, to eat and speak. She goes on to explain that when we don’t stand up for ourselves, we have a tendency to eat. Food is soothing and can be incredibly comforting when it seems like we have no other outlet. The problem with this is that it is only a temporary solution. As soon as we stop eating, the pain surfaces again. As soon as we feel the pain, we have the urge to eat again.

If you’re concerned you may have difficulty being assertive, consider the following list of questions:

  • Are you constantly giving to others while rarely receiving anything in return?
  • Do people consistently take advantage of you?
  • Do you say yes when you really want to say no?
  • Do you over commit to your own detriment? Do you take responsibility for other people’s problems?
  • Do the people in your life expect you to solve their problems?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are at risk of being a doormat.

Eating instead of expressing our feelings becomes a dangerous cycle. The more we withdraw emotionally, the more difficult it becomes to be to assert ourselves, and we may feel helpless to make a change. The tension will build until, eventually, we blow. Then, when we do stand up for ourselves, we struggle with the balance between assertive and aggressive communication. Other times, we may slip into passive aggressive communication.

Here are some attributes of good, assertive communication:

  • Approach people directly and respectfully
  • Don’t minimize your own concerns
  • Take responsibility for yourself, instead of apologizing for your needs
  • Base your words on facts
  • Use “I” statements instead of blaming
  • Approach people with a calm voice and neutral body posture

Once we begin practicing assertive communication skills, we feel more empowered and the feelings of helplessness go away.

Here are some examples of different communication styles. Let’s say your boss tells you on Friday that he/she expect you to work on Saturday:

  • Passive (lack of boundaries): Even though you have plans Saturday, you say “Ok. No problem.”
  • Aggressive: “Are you kidding me? It’s Friday and you expect me to work tomorrow? This is ridiculous. I am sick and tired of your unreasonable demands. Maybe this isn’t the job for me.”
  • Passive-Aggressive: “Ok. No problem.” Then you don’t show up.
  • Assertive: “I would really love to help out, but I have plans tomorrow that I cannot change. If I have more notice, I can definitely help next time.”

If you were to choose the first three styles, how would you feel at the end of the interaction? What would typically happen as a result of those feelings? For many people who struggle with emotional eating, this would be a challenging trigger.

How do we prevent this cycle of emotional eating from continuing? We need to set boundaries and stick to them. To decide what boundaries to set, try to explore your priorities.

  • What is important to you?
  • What do you need to give up in order to create balance in your life?
  • Where have you become overextended?
  • Once you decide where to make changes, be clear and direct with other people about your limits without making apologies.
  • Learn to say no when you mean no.

Because we lack confidence, even when we do try to set boundaries, we struggle to maintain them. We give in to the slightest hint of annoyance or a sob story. When we give in, what do we communicate to other people? We are teaching them not to accept our words at face value. It is just like setting limits with children. Initially, they pout and cry, but when we are consistent, they learn that manipulation tactics will not work. Too often, we are worried about what other people will think if we set boundaries. We are so concerned with being labeled as “selfish” that we don’t recognize that self-care is not selfish. Self-care is necessary for our survival.

When we set and maintain appropriate boundaries and use assertive communication, we feel respected. When we feel respected, we feel more confident and have higher self-esteem. Taking care of ourselves helps us have better relationships, less stress, and a more positive outlook in life. When we can directly address feelings and improve our situation, we will look to unhealthy coping skills like emotional eating less frequently.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Michelle Lewis, therapist in Salt Lake City, Utah

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • swifty


    April 10th, 2012 at 3:43 PM

    Perhaps it is not about being a doormat per se, but instead about all that that entails. You can’t say no to people, you can’t say no to food, so it’s about the inability to put your foot down and say no.

    You have to elarn to put yourself first, and that does not mean that you are being selfish, but instead are looking out for you so that you will be able to be around for others when they do need you.

  • MaRiAh


    April 10th, 2012 at 5:11 PM

    Being a doormat and giving in to other peoples demands on you is one of the worst things that you can do to yourself. Allowing that neglect of yourself to be reflected on the outside is even worse. It shows a lack of care for yourself and really, if you don’t care about yourself, that what else is there? I am all for doing the right thing to help people out, but I make it known that my needs come first. I am all that I have and it’s not like anyone can do that part for me.

  • kris r

    kris r

    April 11th, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    For me weight has always been a struggle. It started when I was a child and has never gotten any better. I have always been a people pleaser, in every aspect in my life. If someone brings cakle and I am on a diet I dont want to hurt their feelings so of course I have some. If someone needs a ride or needs me to do something for them and it means that I will miss my workout as a result, it is always more important to me to make them happy than it is to do the workout. I am not sure where all of this came from except that I am an only child and have always strived to mae my parents happy, and I guess that has evolved into making others happy too, everyone but me.

  • Maria


    April 11th, 2012 at 6:51 AM

    This is a helpful article. One of the challenges that causes the problem in my opinion is that our overly aggressive society with its over the top expectations makes it difficult to say no for fear of being found inadequate. I think it is important to take stock in one’s life to see where we go overboard on being too generous and what we are not paying enough attention to. Sometimes a rebalancing including dropping unnecessary obligations can help.

  • Jacqui


    April 11th, 2012 at 1:21 PM

    I know that what I am gonna say will be unpopular, so be it. But here’s the truth. You can or cannot be a doormat- the choice is yours. What is causing you to be fat though has nothing to do with that. You eat too much and exercise too little. That is the bottom line. I am so sick of hearing all the excuses. You can deal with the things that hurt you as a child or the things that you let other people do to you today, but how in the world is that supposed to convince me that that is what is making you fat? Obesity is a real scary thing, and if you are going to sit around and whine about all of the reasons why this is happening to you and not do anything about the two biggest reasons why you carry extra weight, than I for one do not wish to hear any more about it. Plenty of people have needed to lose weight and have done it, and there is no reason why the rest of you can’t either. Need therapy too? Ok so sign up, but you don’t have to do one and then the other. They are things that can be done simultaneously you know.

  • Alfred


    April 11th, 2012 at 5:47 PM

    Hmm,seems like i have been quite a doormat to those around me..i always thought i was being nice but having read the questions at the beginning and the entire article,i think there is more to it than just being nice..

    but just how do we draw the line between being nice and being a doormat?is it even possible to draw a line?

  • Michelle Lewis

    Michelle Lewis

    April 12th, 2012 at 8:09 PM

    Thank you all for your comments! Alfred, to answer your question, it is a fine line between being nice and being a doormat. I think the distinction is in the affect it has on you. If you find yourself giving to the point of mental or physical exhaustion, that is a big red flag. I also think it is important to explore the extent to which the other people in your life reciprocate. If you you lack balance in your life, it is likely that people are taking advantage of you.

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