I started my first diet when I was 12, and this began a full-time career of yo-yo dieting, sneak eating, and eventually 10 years of secret bulimia. It's tragic to say that I thought about food and weight more than anything else. I was painfully self-conscious about my body and even when I briefly landed at a weight that was considered healthy, I never felt good enough, attractive enough, or enough of anything.
Today, I no longer diet or overeat. I no longer have several sizes of clothes in my closet, and I can honestly say that I feel comfortable in my body. And if I can do it, you can too.
Disordered eating has reached epidemic proportions and it's no wonder. We are surrounded by unnatural messages about food and unrealistic images of what we should look like and the happiness it would bring if we could only achieve that look. We are encouraged to restrict our food, eat huge portions, and listen to diet books and diet doctors rather than our own bodies.
In our book, The Don't Diet, Live-It Workbook, my coauthor and I teach the four components of a "live-it," our alternative to a diet. Here is a brief summary of each:
Physical -- We were all born with the ability to know when we are hungry, what we like to eat, and when we have had enough. We were all born with natural desires to move our bodies in ways that feel good and to rest when we are tired.
But here, in our culture, those natural connections are stolen from us. We are taught that certain foods are good and bad, we are encouraged to drink caffeine if we are tired, and we are told how many sets and reps and minutes of cardio we are supposed to do. It is not easy to strike all this from the record, but it is possible!
Emotional -- In the same way we are taught that there are good and bad foods, many of us are taught that there are good and bad feelings. We are generally not encouraged to accept and express what we feel.
Over time, you can learn how to better identify what you are feeling and what you need when you are in distress, and eventually all that excess food and dieting will no longer be needed.
Intellectual -- Think about how many silent self-critical thoughts can take place in the course of five minutes: "I feel fat." "I hate my thighs." "She's so much happier than I am." "I shouldn't have eaten that." "I shouldn't have said that."
It's no wonder so many people try to comfort themselves with food and dieting. We have no choice about the fact that our mind will think thoughts all day long. That's its job. It's not always a problem. It's only when we camp out on the unhealthy ones or believe the cruel ones that we get into trouble and misery.
We basically have five possible places where our thoughts can land at any given moment:
- Future: fantasy or hope
- Future: fear, worry or dread
- Past: longing or wishing
- Past: resentment, rehashing or regret. And now, drum roll here...
- The present moment
The present moment entails what is actually and factually here. Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking about the future or the past. It's like living in a dream or a nightmare rather than in the here and now. Luckily, we do not have to believe everything we think. We can retrain our brain and learn to live more in the present moment.
Spiritual -- Cultures where there is little or no evidence of disordered eating have spiritual practice and meaningful rituals built into their daily lives. Our rituals seem to center less around spiritual matters and more on weight loss schemes and anti-aging creams.
Imagine living in a culture that teaches us we are worthy, no matter what we look like. Imagine a culture that values compassion and kindness more than the number on a scale. Imagine a culture without scales, clothing sizes and mirrors, but rather with the goal of connecting to what is around you and within you. Imagine spending the rest of today (or even a few moments) being kind to yourself and your body. I double dare you!
Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has appeared on several radio and television shows and served as The Food and Emotions Expert for America Online. Currently, she is in private practice in Northern California where she works with adults, adolescents, families and groups. Andrea is co-founder of InnerSolutions Counseling Services and co-author of The Don't Diet, Live-It Workbook. She is also co-director of Healthy Living Programs for the Human Fulfillment Institute. Andrea is an inspirational author and counselor who brings expertise, humor and personal recovery to her readers. For more information on her book or her online course, Defeating Overeating, go to: www.innersolutions.net. Andrea can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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