Going on a diet can be like jumping into an addiction. You start off eager and bright eyed, food scale, and body scale at your side, ready to be a “good” eater, give up “junk” food, feel the clean glow of hunger. You’re starting back to the gym, feel pounds coming off, feel better and healthier, feel just so good about what you are doing. When does it start to go wrong? Your focus on weight loss doesn’t take into account that there is so much more to who you are than numbers on a scale. It is so easy to get discouraged, hit a plateau, start craving. Since dieting doesn’t teach you about how to eat on your own, it is very hard to learn how to be flexible with food. The pull of losing weight can be as strong as an opiate.
It’s really confusing. There are so many people including doctors and many nutritionists, who tell you to focus on losing weight. As soon as you do, it can lead to the behaviors and feelings that may cause you a problem. Maybe this is because a lot of people, even professionals do not understand eating disorders. Often, when you are engaged in obsessive or self harming behavior, it is because there is hurt and distress, even trauma, in your background.
Binge eating is not a weakness or anything to do with laziness. In general, it can be caused by emotional, physical, and cognitive difficulties. In my opinion, it’s not truly an addiction because food is necessary for survival, unlike alcohol or drugs, or even sex.
What are the alternatives to dieting? You may have heard this all before and it sounds boring or wrong for you. That could be because you want to be hard on yourself and it is normal to want to avoid feeling or addressing deeper emotional pain. You may feel hatred for exercise unless you are pounding off pounds. You may not like the idea of being gentle with your body. You may not want to think about moderate eating, understanding emotional eating, or understanding binge eating.
It is so difficult to lean away from the quick fix and lean into self care, accepting where you are and making small changes in the direction of kindness and gentleness with your body. How much weight will you gain and lose as you try to focus on fixing your body? How much attention could you spend on healing your emotions and possible traumas with a focus on self acceptance and self care?
I have another blog on black and white thinking. When it comes to food and dieting, “good and bad foods” fall into this category. Most people with a history of dieting think they need to avoid “bad” foods. This is not totally inaccurate, but if you try to restrict yourself from eating foods that are comforting and delicious, it can set you up to feel irresistibly drawn towards what you want. Those fries or muffins become an obsession until you have to have them. Then, in the extreme way of thinking, you decide you have ruined the diet and so why not let it all go and start again either tomorrow or as soon as you can later.
If you have tried as many diets as you have fingers and toes, then you might be ready for another approach. Or, you may see the lack of logic in dieting and look for another way to figure out how you want to eat and move your body.
One thing to realize is that you may need help with anxiety and fear of food. You may also need help to counteract the terribly prejudiced ideas and actions of others in relation to your body. You may also need help to avoid the shame of going to the doctor and being told to lose weight, then handed a piece of paper or a booklet on dieting.
It may seem like the whole world thinks restricting food and eating what someone else tells you to eat in the quantity they tell to you is a good idea. Of course you need to learn more about how to set limits on how much you eat, and how to discern when you are hungry and full. Those are not easy endeavors, but in the long run, will serve to help your body and your self esteem. And of course you may have great fear of “fattening” foods. You may have a disease that causes you to need to restrict sugar or gluten. Eating can be a complicated business. I hope you will give yourself a chance to learn and grow in your relationship to food and your body.
If you find yourself relating to what I’m writing about you may want to:
1. Seek therapy from someone who uses a health at every size approach.
2. Consider a nutritionist who has a similar philosophy.
3. Consider medication for depression and or anxiety. Consider evaluation for ADHD.
4. Find support from people in person or online who share the same views.
5. Read this article about binge eating disorder for more information and support.
As with so many problems, it’s really helpful to know you are not alone. And you’re not!