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Is Martyrdom Fueling Your Overeating?

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Do you overeat when you are stressed or tired or overwhelmed?


Do you flop down exhausted at the end of the day feeling like there is never enough time for you?


Despite your best intentions, do you never seem to get to that exercise plan, that journal that you want to write in, or that fun project you really want to start?


Do you ever feel like no one really understands how much is expected of you?


Are you feeling resentful that there is never enough time to get to you?


If you find yourself answering yes to any of these questions, it’s time to consider whether martyrdom is having a negative impact on your eating, your weight, your health, and your life.


What do I mean by martyrdom? I’m talking about sacrificing yourself—literally—for whatever cause it is that you choose to be a martyr for.


Martyrdom is not the same as caring for others. Healthy caring assumes that you are just as human and needy as everyone else. When you distribute your care, you get an equal share (it’s like dividing up a pizza—everyone gets a piece).


The martyr approach doesn’t work that way. The martyr assumes that caring for others takes priority or somehow cancels out her own needs. She assumes that in order to be “good” at caring for others (or other responsibilities), she must sacrifice her own agenda. The martyr believes that “personal stuff” happens after you’ve taken care of everything else. The martyr often says, “I can’t (meditate, go to the gym, ever see my friends, fill-in-the-blank) because Junior’s soccer schedule is so busy or I’ve got that committee work to do or I have to make dinner. Here’s the litmus test: if Junior has an unscheduled extra practice or the committee calls another meeting, the martyr will move mountains and give up on sleep to make that happen. Her own needs—they just don’t get the same priority.


The tradeoff for choosing martyrdom is feeling exhausted and deprived and unfed, overlooked, and uncared for. Resentment usually follows. Let’s see a show of hands. When you feel exhausted, deprived, unfed, overlooked and uncared for (with a hefty dash of resentment), who finds those chocolate chip cookies a lot harder to resist?


Martyrdom breeds overeating—of many different types. When there is never enough time, food becomes an easy-to-turn-to fix for all the unfilled places in your life. If martyrdom is ruling the day, then no matter what great strategies you learn to take control of your emotional eating, you’ll rarely feel entitled to implement them.


How to leave martyrdom behind? The first simple, big, bold step has to take place in your head. It comes when you can really truly see the cost of this kind of behavior and let go of the myth that martyrdom is a desirable quality. It means challenging beliefs you may have that taking time for yourself is selfish. Care is NOT an either/or proposition. You don’t have to choose—“Do I care for them or do I care for me?” The truth is, in order to really be able to provide your best care for anyone else, you have to be in good running order. In a healthy life, self-care and the care of other people and things go together. While you get comfortable with this notion, consider whether you have a support system that can help you settle in to this new way of thinking. It’s much easier to leave martyrdom behind when you have the support and encouragement of others who believe in what you are doing and will remind you of your priorities along the way.


One more thing—letting go of martyrdom also means accepting the concept of time. You are not responsible for the fact that there are only twenty-four hours in a day and that sometimes twenty-four hours isn’t enough time for everything. It isn’t your job to take your life off the menu so that others can pretend that they are entitled to a bigger slice of life. It’s not your job, it’s not fair, and it doesn’t work.

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