Do you think about food first thing in the morning and last thing at night (and about a million times in between)?
Do you wake up worrying if you’ll be able to control your intake, go to bed at night evaluating your day and judging yourself based on how you managed your eating – and then making promises about how you’ll eat tomorrow?
Do you perpetually feel guilty for eating?
The one reason you’re crazy around food is because you want your body to look different than it does.
That’s it. Simple.
And… you have bought into these beliefs:
- controlling how much or what you eat – or both of these – will give you the body you desire, make you a better person, or likely both.
- your size defines your acceptability, your health, or both.
- you can control your biology and influence your genetic make-up.
Almost every woman I’ve worked with has realised that if she’d never gone on her first diet (to try to change her body size) she would never have developed a dysfunctional relationship with food. Ever thought to yourself you wish you were the size you were before you started dieting?
Why you want to change your body in the first place
Acceptance/ belonging is a primary driver for human behaviour. Without acceptance, we are outcasts. Alone. Unable to find a mate to procreate, or a community to help us when we need it; to provide comfort, solace, connection and play.
Bottom line: we are social creatures and we need acceptance to survive.
Everyone I’ve ever worked with received this message at some point in her life. It appeared in different voices and with variations in language (verbal and non-verbal):
If you’re fat/big, you’re unacceptable (which translates into unlovable).
In westernised culture – and indeed increasingly in others, there is a rare body shape that is particularly coveted. A small percentage of people naturally have this body shape – which is slender, slim hipped (though the latest requirement is with some curves, but only in the ‘right’ places) and long limbed. It’s rare because these people don’t have ‘thrifty genes’ which store fat easily. In past millennia, few of them would have survived.
People want what’s rare. We desire what is scarce. Marketing strategies feed on this! If you can achieve, accomplish or acquire what is scarce, your status increases and hence your acceptability. Think of Ferraris.
Insert this into the very real, growing culture of weight stigma and its associated interwoven social issues: Fatphobia, Thin Privilege and Diet Culture.
And let’s not forget the role of our economic system: capitalism works on selling stuff! The way to sell stuff that doesn’t meet our basic requirements, is to create a perceived need by preying on our basic human need for acceptance and belonging. The global market for weight loss was estimated to reach $ 586.3 billion in 2014!
Doesn’t the dieting industry employ a brilliant business model? Look at all the repeat customers who think they are the failures (because they can’t get or stay thin), rather than the product! Imagine buying any other product, say a kettle that didn’t work… would you keep going back to buy it again and again?
It comes to this
Because you have wanted to change your shape to gain a greater sense of belonging, you’ve engaged in trying to manipulate your weight. And you’ve done that through restricting.
The trouble is that if your body is put through unsubtle and sustained caloric deficit, you will crave food. The longer this goes on, the more your brain will fixate on food and eating – which makes complete sense – because if our brains didn’t do this, our species wouldn’t survive.
The truth is – you can’t control your biology.
Any ‘successful’ attempt at weight loss has undoubtedly failed eventually, or you wouldn’t be here reading this. Our survival instinct is very strong – and our bodies work incredibly hard to maintain homeostasis – also known as your set point. Our bodies have a range they like to stay within – based on our genetic make up (though influenced by our history of dieting). Dieting slows your metabolism, making your body become more efficient at storing anything you ingest. It also raises cortisol (stress) levels which slows digestion, and signals the body to store fat.
But it’s not only the physical deprivation that creates this fixation.
It’s also the perceived deprivation which is created by the thoughts you have about food and eating that may not have anything at all to do with what you’re actually consuming.
Any judgements you have about food and eating, any demands you make about how you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be eating, and any guilt or shame you feel associated with your eating or your body, will create a deprivation mindset – even if you’re not physically restricting those foods!
If you’re familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, you’ll know about the ‘forbidden fruit.’ Eve was not going hungry: she wasn’t physically deprived of food, but couldn’t resist the apple simply because it was forbidden. She fell from grace – and took Adam along with her.
The way out of this madness
It’s simple, though that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Stop trying to change your body. Leave. It. Alone.
The truth is that trying to manipulate your weight has failed in the past and will fail in the future. This is true for 95% of people who do it. If you were boarding an aeroplane and were told there was a 95% chance it would crash, would you embark? One of the most consistent predictors for weight gain is ever having dieted!
Stop physically restricting calories or types of food.
If you keep doing this, you will stay fixated on food, and you will have urges to binge.
Drop all judgements about food
That means nothing is good or bad (including you).
Drop all rules about food
Give yourself permission to eat any food, without guilt, preferably when you’re hungry.
Drop all your judgements about bodies
This means all bodies are good bodies, whatever their shape and size. All bodies are valuable and worthy and deserving of respect and care.
Disengage from diet talk and extreme fitness & exercise regimes
Stop following the diet gurus! Throw out your scale and every dieting book or magazine you own. Move your body in ways that make you feel good. Disengage from diet talk at the office, with your friends and in your home.
Remove the words ‘should’ and ‘have to’ from the way you speak about your eating or exercise (and anything else!).
So you want to lose weight for health reasons?
Unfortunately there is a lot of myth in the public realm about the connection between health and weight. I saw a funny though sad cartoon the other day of a big-bodied man at the doctor’s with a stake through his chest. The man shouts ‘Doctor! I’ve been impaled!’ The doctor looks non-nonchalantly over at him and says ‘Well, maybe you’ll feel better if you lose some weight.’ There is undoubtedly weight stigma within the medical profession – and that’s truly awful for people in large bodies.
That said – here’s what I know:
- Not everyone who is at the higher end of the weight spectrum is unhealthy.
- Not everyone who is in the mid-range of the weight spectrum is healthy.
- Weight loss will not improve every health condition, and it’s certainly not the cause of all health problems!
- Attempting to lose weight through dieting for any reason – health or not – is likely to fail!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The reasons for wanting to lose weight do not change the fact that dieting increases your chances of gaining weight!
- You can improve most health markers without dieting or losing weight – by moving your body in ways that feel good; and by eating according to your hunger, fullness and what makes your body feel energised and balanced – as well as for pleasure.
If you have health problems and you’ve been told you should lose weight to solve them, please educate yourself about weight and health.
But will I lose weight?
I have no idea. You might, and you might not. It depends on your genetic make up, how long you’ve been dieting, how committed you are to not restricting – and a bunch of unknowns about bio-chemistry and the mind-body connection.
I know people who have. I know people who have not.
But what I can promise you is you’ll feel free and relaxed around food, your sanity will be restored and your quality of life improved – not just around food! You will stop waiting for a number to be reached before you start to live your life and do the things you want to do.
Plus – you will become an advocate for the solution, instead of contributing to truly terrifying statistics – like the fact that 81% of American 10 year olds fear becoming fat, and 71% of 7 year olds are dieting. You will become an advocate for people of all shapes and sizes to be treated with equal respect.
Each time you engage in trying to alter your body, and judging any body (as good or bad), you’re contributing to these growing social problems. I’m not saying this to guilt trip you. I’m saying it because it’s true. Otherwise it’s like saying ‘I stand for the abolition of slavery!!!! But I want to keep mine…’
Although it’s simple – it isn’t easy. Accepting ourselves, and belonging to ourselves first and foremost is not easy to do in a culture that is obsessed with the thin ideal, in an economy that cynically undermines our unquestionable enoughness for profit. It’s hard to do when every which way you turn there’s a new diet, a friend who’s lost weight (and getting approval from others because of it), advertising that bombards us with messages that our health and happiness are tied to a number on the scale, or a doctor telling you everything will be better if you drop a few pounds.
It’s impossible to do without knowledge, a radical paradigm shift, support and community. Even with these you’re swimming against the stream.
Need help from an expert?
If you’ve had enough of being on and off a diet, feeling ashamed of your body and how you eat, binge eating or emotional overeating — you’ve come to the right place.
I’ll help you discover how to let go of all the food rules, trust your own body and reclaim your innate worthiness — so you can live your life unapologetically and focus on what really matters to you.