I recently had an email discussion from which I’d like to share an excerpt below.
To summarize the situation, the woman with whom I was corresponding was experiencing a frustrating and upsetting cycle that is all-too-familiar to many readers. Wanting to lose weight, she controlled her food intake rigidly, enduring near-constant hunger, managing every calorie, counting every gram of protein, and relegating starch and fruit to narrow windows of time in which they were permitted. She wanted her goal, and she wanted it bad. In her words:
“Being “fitness magazine cover lean” is not an easy thing to achieve and that is the very reason why I want it – to prove to myself that I have really gotten beyond being a fat girl and that I am strong and disciplined both mentally and physically and have truly overcome my battle with food. It is sort of like the finish line of a race for me.”
But working that hard, 24-7, is never maintainable, and her tolerance for suffering and denial cracked at times, when she felt a loss of her rigid willpower over food and ate uncontrollably. As you can imagine, the problems with this pattern only begin with the frustrating lack of tangible fat loss is produces. More viciously, it eats away at a person’s confidence, identity as a healthy person, and self-esteem. Many people feel shame, sadness, and fear they can’t possibly ever leave behind their seemingly bottomless appetite or irrational hunger.
Sadly, the most common thing people do after a binge is swear to eat better tomorrow, and start dieting again. They solemly vow, “No sugar, no carbs, I’ll feel so much better if I just eat really clean for the next few days and hit the gym.” And in doing so, they return to the very behaviors (dietary restriction) that create the need for the binge. The diet is the problem. Restricted eating and dietary rigidity feed cravings to binge like twigs feed a fire. By vowing to cut out foods again, you begin kindling the next binge.
Happy people do not binge. People who eat freely and flexibly do not binge. People whose needs are being met, who are calm and sated, do not have overwhelming urges to eat more food that is comfortable.
What is the alternative, though? Continue to eat out of control? Give up on being fit and healthy? Not at all. Read on.
It sounds like what you really want is for the battle to be over. To feel like you’re on one team with your body, rather than fighting it. But trying to change it via restricting food to try and lose fat has a way of keeping the feud going. I’m not saying you can’t get leaner, but I will say that success is more likely when you come at it from a different angle.
Right now, the game plan sounds like: Diet –> get lean –> accept myself, like myself finally because I am lean –> when I like myself, it will be easier to treat myself better, not binge, etc
Except in real life, that linear plan looks more like a cycle including diet, binge, and feel worse about myself… and round and round. Not reaching your body composition goals and feeling worse with each successive lap.
The place where you’re starting now, the diet, is a place of not accepting yourself or treating yourself well. You’re holding off on that for later, when you’ve “earned it.” I know many women struggle with that, feeling like they can’t like themselves with any bit of extra fat on them. So they think dieting will help them get to a place where they can eventually feel better about themselves.
Coming at things from the perspective, we might say that there’s a life experience down the road that you want to make real, and that includes a lean body and not having to struggle over every bite, and liking yourself and treating yourself well. But you can have more success going in a different order. Taking better care of yourself NOW can start to cause you to feel better, and you already got a start by changing your viewpoint tonight, accepting that you have the option to do whatever you want tomorrow, and thinking that you want to not continue binge eating tomorrow because it feels lousy.
Dieting isn’t taking care of ourselves. Overeating isn’t taking care of ourselves. They are two behaviors that stem from the same flawed thinking, that I will be happier if I ignore one of my needs for a reward. In dieting, the reward is the attractive body we imagine and we ignore our needs for variety, enjoyment, carbs, and adequate satiety. Overeating, we ignore our body’s needs for an appropriate amount of food to be optimally healthy, and we often are doing it because we’re choosing to ignore or not experience an emotional need. The reward in that case is the food, the distraction, the taste, the escape.
What’s the alternative: meeting your body’s physical needs AND your own emotional/mental needs. That makes for a lean, healthy body and ends the struggle. No dieting, no bingeing. You can create a calorie deficit without monitoring every calorie, it just takes healthy consistent habits. If you were comfortable enough with your day to day food intake, feeling good about it, you would likely find the urge to binge quiets and goes away. Many people who struggle with binge eating don’t realize that if they stopped binge eating, they could actually eat MORE on their “normal” days and lose weight. Not taking in thousands of calories in a binge once or twice a month helps body fat come down.
That’s a big task, so like anything else I suggest one baby step at a time. Do you think there are some needs you have been letting slide that you might try taking a different action on? They can be food related, or non-food related. If I were to hazard guesses, I’d say you may have been shortchanging your need to just relax and be free from pressure about food. If you took some of the pressure off, you might find the mystery insatiable hunger lightens up. You might benefit from letting yourself have some flexibility, a treat every now and then, actually getting satisfied at meals instead walking around hungry, something along those lines.
I’m interested in your thoughts.
Hugs. I know this is hard stuff.
And I’d like to pose the same invitation to all my readers. Is there a need or desire of yours do you think you might consider addressing a little more, rather than denying? Maybe you are trying to get by with too much monotony, and some more food variety and fun are in order. Maybe you’ve cut out all the tastes you really enjoy, and adding back in some of the enjoyment would help a lot. Maybe you’re really craving freedom and autonomy, instead of being controlled by your food restrictions. In which case, it might feel good to trust yourself to enjoy a little more flexibility in your food intake.
You may not benefit from dieting harder. Identifying and meeting your needs more appropriately can unlock the way to be comfortably, happily, and permanently lean. If you need a personalized hand, check out my coaching program.