Internet Inspiration – August 9, 2013
August 9, 2013
Book Club – Tiny Beautiful Things
August 14, 2013

Chronic Dieting: The Hail Mary Pass

I have been coaching two women, and I think I might not be presenting my position clearly.

These two women are extremely motivated athletes. They have very advanced body knowledge, and for different reasons they have found themselves not exercising at the caliber they used to. So they stopped exercising, put on weight, and are now unhappy and looking for change.

Both of these women look to strict exercise schedules and highly regimented eating plans for success.

And we butt heads during our sessions.

Here’s the thing: I am also an athlete. I have also gone through periods where, for various reasons, I stopped exercising and put on weight, didn’t count calories, etc. I really do understand what they’re going through. It sucks to not have your abilities match the image in your memory. And if they want to lose weight, I am in no way trying to stand in their way.

We differ on one point, and one point only: Body disconnect is too high a price to pay for weight loss success.

I believe that, deep down, these women want to be themselves more than they want to be skinny. I believe they want dignity and strength and value, and they want it to come from something besides their weight. But they’re not sure how to get at the core issues, so they, in my opinion, are throwing Hail Mary passes at any diet that passes their way, any option that has a shred of success at taking weight off. Smoothie diet? Yes. Juice cleanse? Yes. Paleo? Yes.

And here’s me again, telling you that if there’s a diet in the world, I’ve done it. Sometimes to lose weight, sometimes for detox purposes, and sometimes just so I’d know what I was talking about. There is no wrong way to eat if you’re truly eating for yourself.

But I think that extreme diets give people the reassurance that they can overcome challenges. (Because let me tell you, juice cleansing for three weeks is a challenge.) There’s some part of you that thinks that you put on weight because you were out of control, or because you were bad, or lazy, or [you fill in the blank]. And if you can just prove that you do have control, that you can be a good rule follower, and motivated to change, obviously you’ll get the results you want.

The only issue is that you’re ignoring yourself, and  you’re kicking the problem down the road. And it’s too. high. a price.

Caroline Knapp, in the incredible book Appetites, writes about her struggle with anorexia, saying, “Anorexics, like all addicts (and to some degree like most humans), are masters at seeking external solutions to internal sources of emptiness and distress, their lives dictated by a grand, encompassing hunt that revolves around a single phrase, if only.” And make no mistake, chronic dieting is very much about “if only.” And the pattern of control, restriction, and new rules have to be addictive, because there’s always more to be had, and they all promise the same thing.

So here’s the first step, no matter what your goals are: IF ONLY must become EVEN IF.

“If only I were skinny, then I’d get clothes that fit,” becomes “Even if I’m not at my goal weight, I deserve clothes that make me feel powerful, beautiful, sensual, and at ease.”

“If only I loved to exercise, then this wouldn’t feel like a punishment,” becomes “Even if I need to exercise, I am allowed to enjoy moving my body. I’ll find something that I love to do.”

“If only I could just stop drinking/binge eating/losing control, then I’d finally be happy,” becomes “Even if I have a drink every night/binge eat cookies/and can’t exert control, my body is showing me health. It wants me to succeed.”

“Why can’t I just look the way I want?” becomes “Even if I don’t look the way I want, I will look for a deeper meaning here. What do I need to learn from this weight? What can I learn?”

Losing weight is the easiest thing in the world. People do it every day. I can help you do it if you want to. But sustaining weight loss requires more than obedience to an arbitrary set of rules. It requires surrender, a yielding to your body and its needs. It requires you to ask questions of yourself and your habits.

I promise you: there is health in every decision you make. You just need to find it. And for that, you cannot externalize your problems. You must embody yourself and examine where health lives.