Image: ra2 studio via Adobe Stock
If you could be paid for the number of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years you've spent dieting, or thinking about dieting - you'd be rich, wouldn't you? If you could earn a £/$ for every pound you've ever lost, (including those repeatedly lost) - you could probably buy something really nice!
How much of your precious life has been absorbed by the pursuit of thinness?
- the endless fighting with yourself
- the hours spent doing exercise you hate
- body-checking in front of the mirror
- the times you've hated your reflection
- weighing and measuring food - or your body
- feeling hungry
- dissatisfaction - with yourself, and with what you're eating
- the agony of being in social situations that involve food that's not on your diet
- the pain of not being able to fit into your clothes - again - and the anguish that goes with buying a bigger size
- the days you've felt hopeless and deflated because of the number on the scale
- and more...
There is a way to be free from this sapper of joy.
Step 1: Stop Dieting!
Here's some scientific data:
A 2007 UCLA meta-analysis of 31 long-term studies into the effectiveness of diets concluded that the vast majority of people who have dieted would have been better off not having dieted in the first place. Several of the studies found that 'dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain.'
In addition, the study recommended Medicare (Federal Health Insurance Program in the US) not to fund weight-loss programmes as a treatment for obesity because the benefits of dieting are too small and the potential for harm too great.
The study drew attention to the harmful effects of weight cycling (repeatedly losing and regaining weight). Apparently it's linked to cardio-vascular disease, stroke, diabetes and immune function.
If diets worked, why would so many people do them again and again? If you bought a kettle that tripped your electrical circuits every time you boiled it, would you blame yourself? How long would you keep trying before you returned it and asked for your money back?
More people are dieting now than ever before, and obesity has risen to its highest level in history!
The diet gurus (who own a slice of the US$60bn diet industry pie) will tell you it's because you're eating the wrong foods, at the wrong times, in the wrong amounts; or that the manufacturers are to blame for the way they have adulterated food. They'll encourage you to 'eat clean.'
I have NO problem with eating whole foods - I encourage it - and indeed the food industry is not doing our health any favours. Our cells function best on what nature provides. But when it becomes rule-based and rigid, and whole belief systems are created around the food - that's where the trouble begins.
Step 2: Stop trying to lose weight
Look, I get it - the pursuit of thinness is very compelling. The media glamorise thin bodies, using skinny people combined with Photoshop. We are fed a media diet promoting thinness - either directly or indirectly. There are very few mainstream celebrities who aren't thin and you'd be hard-pressed to find advertising that incorporates body diversity, unless it's peddling weight loss solutions.
We are wired for social acceptance. That's how we survive. If thinness is what's being held up as highly desirable, of course that's what we want too!
Let's not forget that there's widespread institutionalised fat-phobia. Fat people are not only shamed by family, co-workers, friends and doctors, they're also shamed by arbitrary strangers for eating in public, sitting in a seat in a public place or for simply minding their own business. On top of that, fat people are also discriminated against: in the workforce, by the medical profession and there's increasing concern that fat people may lose state benefits.
On the other side of this is 'thin privilege.' Thin and attractive people get the better jobs, with more pay; in addition they get overt and tacit approval from most people around them.
Fat-phobia and the social desirability of thinness make it very hard for people of any shape other than thin, to be accepted both by society and themselves! Hence the desire for weight loss.
The trouble is that focusing on weight loss as a goal is very likely to backfire. And this is because diets don't work long term.
'But what about health?' you're probably shouting at the top of your lungs.
May I redirect you to step 1? In particular the recommendation to stop funding weight-loss programmes, and the connection between weight cycling and disease.
According to Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size, on average, 'overweight' people live longer than 'normal' weight people - and no study has ever shown that weight loss prolongs life!!!
For the most part, excess weight is a correlation NOT A CAUSATION of health problems. You can write that out a hundred times in your own handwriting so your brain gets this!
Step 3: Start understanding yourself
One of the things that I teach as a Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Teacher (MB-EAT) are the notions of external wisdom and internal wisdom.
When it comes to freeing yourself from the dieting trap, the important external wisdom to grasp is that dieting is NOT a solution: it's very unlikely to make you thin for longer than 2-5 years at the very most - and actually, it's much more likely you'll end up heavier than where you started.
Then there's internal wisdom - this is the piece that you most need to cultivate to be free from the misery of yo-yo dieting and weight cycling.
Internal wisdom comes from paying attention, in the present moment, without judgement to what you're:
- feeling in your body
- thinking in your mind
- experiencing emotionally
This attention will lead you to discover:
- why you want to eat when you're not hungry
- why you're craving certain foods
- your emotional hungers and what will satisfy them
- what foods you actually enjoy
- which foods feel good in your body and which don't
- how much your body wants
- why you find it hard to stop eating
- how you're judging food, yourself or other people
- the influence of your history on your decisions around eating
- and more...
This journey which frees you from dieting, leads you right into yourself - into your life, into your deepest self, into your precious heart.
And that cannot be gained from any diet.
Can I guarantee you'll lose the weight? No, I can't. You might. You might not. Because your body is individual; you have the history you have; and you have the genes you have.
But what I can guarantee, if you do the work, is a life that is richer, more enlivened and more free.
Are you in?