I work with women who can't "control themselves" around food -- women who think about food all the time, trying to stick to some diet or "healthful eating" ideal they've developed over the years, but who, no matter what they do, always end up "falling off the wagon" at some point or another.
Body image always plays a roll in this cycle, because, who are we kidding? Women aren't obsessed with food in a vacuum. They're obsessed with trying to control their weight. As society's "thin ideal" has spread, a dangerous myth has developed: that being dissatisfied with our bodies is "motivating," or that being accepting of ourselves will mean that we blow up to (fill in the blank) scary-number-of-pounds.
This myth is SO backwards, and I'd like to set the record perfectly straight -- hating our bodies spurs women on to eat more, not less, for the following five reasons:
1. "Feeling Fat" triggers emotional eating. "Feeling fat" is emotionally uncomfortable. It's a manifestation of feeling insecure, nervous, fearful or hopeless in a variety of situations, and those are not comfortable emotions to withstand -- we always want to soothe or comfort them, and often choose to do so with food. Emotional eating is an auto-response for many chronic dieters, and "feeling fat" is certainly emotional.
2. When we "feel fat," we stop doing things that make us happy, creating yet another trigger for emotional eating. When we say to ourselves "I feel too fat to go out tonight," or "I shouldn't go after that guy at this weight," we hold off on doing what makes us feel good, and end up eating to make ourselves feel better in the meantime. Ever stayed home because you "felt too fat," and ended up eating a pint of ice cream in front of the TV instead? I have.
3. "Feeling fat" is the first phase of the diet/binge cycle. This is the most obvious and violent way "feeling fat" makes us eat more. I'm not just talking about emotional eating anymore. I'm talking about binge eating -- a whole other ballgame, and far more painful. Binge eating is what happens when we "fall off the wagon." After we've clung to a diet for as long as we can bare, we lose our grip and go flying in the other direction. We feel desperate for food, frantically rummaging through our kitchen cabinets, hoping no one sees us. Binge eating is a direct response to restriction, and "feeling fat" triggers restrictive behavior more often than not.
4. When we "feel fat" we can't help but judge our choices around food, and judgement around food has a similar effect on our brain as dieting. Have you ever thought "I might as well eat this entire pint of ice cream right now, because the diet's gonna start tomorrow?" That's the message our brains hear when we judge our bodies, and thus our choices around food. Our brain hears "This is wrong," and thinks "She's gonna take the food away soon. Better get it in now."
Point is, learning to accept ourselves the way we are is helpful in developing a healthful relationship with food, not harmful. In fact, creating a more positive body image is essential to ending emotional eating and binge eating. If you're struggling with your relationship with food and want more specific help, read my blog and download my guide: "How To Not Eat Cake... really fast, standing up, when nobody's looking." It's all here.