No one likes to be called "selfish." For many, simply looking at the word sparks feelings of shame, guilt and a wave of defensiveness. (Me? Selfish?! Of course not!) Selfishness has a negative reputation, and rightfully so—the actions of a truly selfish person can potentially harm others. But when you're on a mission to lose weight and improve your overall health, being selfish might do you well.|
Here's the thing: Selfishness isn't a one-size-fits-all quality. Indeed, there's more than one way to be selfish. Moreover, there are different scenarios where selfishness is okay (or even necessary).
A weight-loss journey is one of those scenarios. During this time, you'll have to make choices in the interest of you, your health and no one else. In the process, you might find yourself opting out of certain social scenarios—even if the people in your life aren't pleased. You may turn down invites to bars and parties. You might refuse your co-worker's homemade brownies, no matter how much everyone else raves about them. Perhaps you head to the gym on a Sunday morning, even though your partner is pushing to veg out on the couch together.
When you set out to modify your habits, saying "no" can be the key to success.
Your social relationships play a vital role in behavioral change. According to a 2013 article in the Journal of Obesity, these relationships influence how well you can adopt—and maintain—healthy behaviors, including those linked to weight loss and weight gain.
In turn, you might need to turn down people when their choices don't align with your goals, even if it leaves them frustrated, disappointed or annoyed.
Does this mean that your loved ones are wrong or want you to fail? No, of course not. Yet, it's possible that they have different priorities, and that's okay. What matters is that you prioritize making conscious, mindful decisions in the interest of your health.
Making Sacrifices During Weight Loss
Turning people down isn't easy, especially if you feel like you're "missing out" and making sacrifices.
But according to Dr. Sally Chung, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist at Oceanside Psychological Services in Seattle, your mindset makes all the difference. "It can feel like we can't connect with others if we have to keep a diligent eye on our health goals," she explains. "[However], focusing on the 'missing out' aspect can make it harder to keep to those goals."
Dr. Colleen Fairbanks, Ph.D., a licensed clinical health psychologist and public speaker in Chicago, also shares that it helps to look at these situations as "shifts" instead of "sacrifices." "A sacrifice implies there is no reward or benefits," she says. "[Yet], making healthy changes to improve your body, mind and spirit requires a shift in mindset and behaviors, one that you will most definitely reap the rewards."
A choice that benefits your health is not a sacrifice. And in the words of Dr. Fairbanks: "Shifts are sustainable, sacrifices are not."
Embrace Selfishness, Lose Weight?
Everyone's weight-loss experience is different, so take a moment to think about what scenarios may hinder (or support) your own goals. This will help you gauge potential situations that you might have to turn away.
If guilt or shame begins to trickle in, consider these four reasons why being selfish will do you well.
1. You Learn About Your Needs
When you refuse a scenario that can thwart your goals, you receive a personalized lesson on what you need to succeed. Specifically, it sheds light on the characteristics of the situation and how it plays into your personal health behaviors.
Let's say your friends are going to the bar for trivia night. Meanwhile, you're heading to Zumba class. While they might try to reel you in, being selfish and sticking to your plans can help you look inward and learn more yourself. Maybe it reminds you that you're prone to unhealthy food choices while drinking. Or, perhaps it reinforces how great you feel after working out. It might be as simple as confirming that Zumba is an activity that you truly enjoy.
No matter the reason, you're making a conscious choice to do something for the betterment of your own health. You also create the opportunity to become more mindful about what you need to succeed, prosper and thrive.
2. Your Self-Respect Flourishes
On its own, setting out to reach a healthy weight is a practice of self-care. As you pick and choose situations that benefit your health, though, you're able to exercise self-respect and self-compassion even further.
One might argue that respecting your needs shouldn't be called "selfish." And while this is certainly true, we can't ignore the stigma around putting yourself first.
"In today's society, we tend to have a hard time taking care of ourselves over others," explains Kerry Clifford, M.S., R.D., L.D.N. "[But] how can you help others if you can't help yourself?"
Dr. Fairbanks also reminds us that we're involved with many different relationships, including the one that we have with ourselves. Each relationship demands a different kind of attention and demands on your time and it's up to you to make decisions about how you spend your waking hours. When it comes to personal change? "Your relationship with yourself [is the] top priority," she reinforces.
Essentially, as you prioritize your health in the face of pushback, your self-respect gets a chance to shine.
3. Your Motivation Gains Momentum
When you make a major lifestyle change, it's normal to receive a response that's less than ideal. For instance, your friends might suggest pizza for dinner (again) or your co-workers may coax you into happy hour. After all, for those around you, nothing has changed so it's common to be met with confusion or even hurt feelings if you suddenly stray from your normal routine. Motivation, to say the least, can feel like a foreign concept.
But as you prioritize your needs, you'll be surprised to learn that it's quite the opposite. Putting yourself first is an empowering act! The more you do it, the more you'll see the benefits unfold. This will only further spark the internal motivation that you need to keep going, even if you don't feel it at first.
As for external motivation? This can flourish, too. When you're mindful of your social interactions, you're bound to spend more time around people with similar goals. You're also more likely to find your "tribe", a factor Dr. Fairbanks attributes to successful change.
"Find your healthy lifestyle tribe," she encourages. "[This includes] people who understand and support you in being the best 'you' possible. Nurture and lean on those relationships during this time." While doing so, you'll find more reasons to stay motivated and focused.
4. Your Support System Gets Stronger
On that note, being selfish during a weight-loss journey can strengthen the support you do have. Again, it may not seem this way at first—it might even sound counterintuitive—but as you push through the roadblocks and build your own path, you'll find that some people will be right next to you, ready to help smooth out the cracks.
"Not everyone in your life can meet your needs in all areas of life," explains Dr. Fairbanks. "[But] when you focus on your relationship with yourself, you will begin to see who is understanding and supportive. These individuals will be your tribe for this [particular] journey."
Does this mean you should "test" your loved ones? No, not at all. However, when someone wants to be part of your journey, you'll be able to tell.
"Take a chance on yourself and see who follows," Dr. Fairbanks recommends. "[For] those who don't, have some patience. They may join back up with you after a brief period of adjustment. If they don't, that's okay. You are with yourself all the time."
How to Deal with Pushback from Loved Ones
As you refuse specific scenarios or habits, it's impossible to know how people will react. It's even more difficult to predict how you'll feel when people express their discontent or confusion. The best you can do is to think about how you can prepare for these situations.
1. Have an Honest Conversation
Explain to loved ones that you're making a change that is important to you. Emphasize that your choice doesn't come from a place of disrespect, but instead, a place of self-care. Share with them what you hope to gain by making these lifestyle changes and do your best to help them to understand why they must be a priority.
2. Explain How You'd Like to Be Helped
The people in your life can't read your mind, so communicate with loved ones and verbalize how you'd like to be supported. "Everyone is different about the type of support they need in their journey," says Clifford. "Tell [people specifically] how you would like their help."
Let's say you're trying to quit soda, for instance. You might ask your partner to kindly stop bringing it in the house. This will not only limit temptation, but it could enable your partner to help, too.
3. Practice Patience
"Change is hard, not only for the person initiating [it], but for those observing or directly impacted by the change," says Dr. Fairbanks. "[Be patient] as you navigate this change and the ripple effect it may create in your support system."
Remember, you can't please everyone. "Not everyone is going to understand," Dr. Fairbanks shares. "[But] it's not your job to help them understand. It's your job to live a healthy life, and hopefully lead by example for those around you."
While selfishness can help your weight-loss goals thrive, don't let it deter you from having a social life. It's possible to find balance during this time of change.
If you're attending a party, for example, Dr. Chung suggests bringing lighter dishes. "[You can also] eat beforehand or limit certain high-calorie favorites," she says. "Health doesn't have to mean deprivation!" As for restaurants and other outings? "Check out the menu online and make sure there is a healthy choice for your needs," Clifford recommends. "People who plan their meals are less likely to make impulse decisions."
You can also turn healthy habits into social activities. Take a walk with your partner, invite a friend to spin class or host a plant-based potluck. By finding your ways to include loved ones in your goals, being "selfish" won't feel so yucky and negative. It all comes down to practice, patience and honoring your relationship with yourself.