If the strategies you’re using to feel better about your body haven’t worked, why are you still using them?
More than 60% of American women ages 25-45 say that they are currently trying to lose weight. 75% have disordered eating patterns. (Note that the second link is to a popular press article that describes the study in the first link.)
Is dieting a strategy you have tried? Have you engaged in other strategies to change your body to make it more appealing or acceptable?
- Eating disordered behaviors?
Even if you realized a long time ago that none of these strategies worked in a long-term way, you may have continued to engage in them. Even if these strategies don’t change your body, they may offer other benefits.
It’s interesting that the reasons people give for dieting are similar whether they are:
- normal weight adolescent girls on their first diets,
- underweight women with Anorexia Nervosa,
- or fat men or women seeking medical treatment for weight loss.
Losing weight “for health reasons” is sometimes given as a reason for dieting, especially among fat people seeking weight loss treatment. But health isn’t the only reason people give. For many people, the most important reasons to diet have to do with pleasing others, looking better (in order to feel better about themselves), and improving unhappy moods. Teenage girls beginning their first diets say they did it “because I was depressed” or “unhappy with myself.” Women with Anorexia say that the eating disorder “makes me feel good about myself” or “makes me feel accomplished.” 15% of overweight or obese people seeking weight loss treatment in one study reported that the major reason they sought to lose weight was not health or appearance, but to improve their mood.
Is your mood state linked to your body shape? Why?
What motivated your first efforts to change your body?
- Was it being teased by peers?
- Negative body comments by the people you loved about themselves?
- Negative body comments by the people you loved about you?
- Being told to lose weight, by a parent, a peer, a lover, a doctor?
- Noticing that your body looked different from someone else?
- Or is the link between “feeling bad” and “feeling fat” less obvious to you?
What are your reasons for engaging in strategies to change your body and eating?
If you made a list of all the strategies you’ve tried to solve your body problem last week, I left you with a cliffhanger. You evaluated all of the strategies you have already tried, so now that you’ve considered them, I have some questions for you.
- How old were you when your problem with weight, shape, food, or body image came into your life?
- How old are you now?
- How many years have passed since this problem entered your life?
- And since the problem entered into your life, has the problem gotten better, gotten worse, or stayed about the same?
So what does that mean?
- You have worked hard, for many years, trying to solve your problem with weight, shape, body image, and food by every logical means.
- You have put in a good-faith effort. You have tried unbelievably hard.
- Nevertheless, despite all your efforts, here you sit, years later, with a bigger problem than you had when you started, or at least a problem that is no smaller or easier to solve.
Is that the case for you? How does that feel?
Does it feel hopeless?
Or are you reading this blog with one last hope? Maybe this stranger on the Internet really has it, the solution, that once-and-for-all magic that will fix this problem in a way none of your previous efforts ever have. One more try. Maybe this time will be the charm.
Well. I have some terrible news for you. I don’t have the solution. You’ve done everything I can think of, and probably many things I could never think of, to solve your problem with weight, shape, food, and body image, and yet the problem is still here, big as life and twice as distressing. I don’t have any magic wand to control something that you, with all your best efforts, have been unable to control.
All I can offer you are some images:
When you go into a casino, go up to a slot machine, and insert a coin, what do you hope will happen?
If you take a roll of coins to this slot machine and play, it is likely that you will win: a little bit, here and there, just enough that you may feel tempted to keep playing. Not only that, if you look around, you will see evidence – flashing lights and clinking coins — that some people win big.
But what happens if you keep playing, roll after roll of quarters, for days, weeks, months on end?
You lose money. And the longer and harder and more faithfully you play, the more you lose, even though — as gambling addicts can tell you — from time to time you may be ahead, you may be winning. Why is this? Why is it that gambling addicts always lose money — entire fortunes! — despite dedicated effort, over many years, in a place expressly designed to address their hopes to win big?
The reason is very simple: Because the game is rigged.
Could it be that the same is true for your game? Your dieting, weight loss, self-hatred game?
Look back over your list and see if this is true: Did your problem ultimately get worse every time you tried to make it better? (Don’t be like the gambler, who brags about the small wins without admitting to the much bigger losses – look at the net change for you over time.)
If the problem got worse every time you tried to make it better, is it possible that the solutions may be part of the problem?
By now, a lot of people have blogged about this image:
which is a salon-style photograph of women with a variety of short haircuts. What fascinated me about it was the comments like these:
“I was so happy to have found this poster recently. When I went to the salon last week, I pulled this poster up on my phone and pointed to the haircut I wanted. For the first time EVER, I got the haircut I actually wanted.”
To look the way this woman wanted to look — to envision it in her own head, and then convince others to help her to attain it — she had to have a picture of it. And she was not the one who created that picture.
When I was 15 or 16, I was a fan of Sinead O’Connor. Around the same time, I thought it would be neat to have a haircut that looked like this:
Then, the next year, my friend Francis got extensions for his hair that looked like this:
And ever since then, I’ve wanted to get extensions just like that for my hair.
Neither Sinead’s hair cut, nor Francis’s, would have been conventional haircuts for me, a white woman, but as a teenager, I was interested in being actively unconventional, looking creative and perhaps even provocative. But what I find fascinating is that even given my own explicit interest in appearing creative or unusual, I had to have a model before I knew what I wanted to do with my own hair, my own body. I was — and am — creative, artistic, and comfortable with my hair and my body looking different. But how many of my ideas about how I wanted to look, or could look, or should look, came from my own creativity?
How many of your own ideas about how you can look or should look or would like to look are actually your own?
Maybe none of them.
How does that feel? What does that mean?
When you created your body timeline, were you reminded of your efforts to solve your problems with weight, shape, food, or body image?
Evaluating those efforts honestly is a useful strategy: It may point to solutions that worked well but have been abandoned prematurely, as well as steering you away from solutions that will not work no matter how hard you try to implement them.
So give it a try: In your journal, make a list of every single thing you have tried to solve your problem. Be exhaustive. If you’ve tried them, include medications, therapies, surgeries, exercise programs, fashion changes, diets, self-talk, being more positive or looking on the bright side, gym memberships, personal trainers, food delivery services, fasting, spa trips, eating or binging on “forbidden foods” in an effort to feel better, eating disordered behaviors, or anything at all else you can think of. List each strategy separately – each medication or diet pill by name, for example, each diet by name, and so on. The important thing is that you list every single thing you have tried to solve your problem, whether it was “healthy” or unhealthy, effective or not, helpful or not.
Once your list is complete, look at each strategy, one at a time. Ask yourself, for each strategy: How Far Has This Strategy Taken You Toward Solving Your Problem?
Be brutally honest. Did it help for a little while, but then stopped working? Did it make you feel better, without solving the problem? Did it make the problem worse? Did it work well, but you had to give it up? And if so, why? Was the strategy too costly in terms of money or time or effort? Was it dangerous or unhelpful in some other way? Don’t say, “I was just lazy,” or “It was my fault.” If it was really a good strategy, you would have stuck with it, so for any seemingly helpful strategy that you gave up, honestly admit to the costs that made it hard to implement, rather than blaming yourself.
How long is your list? Did you miss any? Go back, add in any you forgot, and evaluate each of them, too.
Now, look at that.
Did you realize that you had worked this hard to solve this problem? Do you deserve a gold medal for your efforts to solve this problem? I think you do. You have worked hard and tried hard and made an incredible, valiant effort to solve your body image issues. If you hate how you look, or you’ve received messages from other people that you should hate how you look, you may believe – or have been told – that your size and shape are your fault.
But look at your list! Whatever size or shape you are: It’s not your fault. You’ve worked hard, and tried hard, and given it your all – tried everything you can think of, and probably everything I can think of, too – and the problem remains.
How about your evaluations of these strategies? Here are some common categories; see if your strategies fit into these:
- The solution didn’t work at all.
- The solution made the problem worse.
- The solution made me feel better, temporarily, but didn’t actually do anything to solve the problem.
- The solution worked temporarily, but the problem returned. (And sometimes, the problem returned and was even worse when it came back!)
- The solution worked for some aspects of the problem, but didn’t help with others (or made others worse).
- The solution worked well, but I had to give it up because it was too costly or difficult to implement.
- I am not sure whether this solution would work because I haven’t given it a fair shot; I still think it may hold promise for solving the problem.
Do you have any number 7s on your list? If there are, the thing to do is to put down this your journal, get up from them computer, and take a deep breath, and pause. This blog offers a truly different approach, and I believe it is not worth your time to consider a new path if another well-worn strategy still holds promise for you. So if there are any strategies on your list that are 7s, go back to them and try them until either a) your problem is solved or b) they move into a different category on your list.
If you haven’t got any 7s, don’t despair. We’ll talk about that more tomorrow.
I’m not actually a chocolate fiend — one of those folks who so adores the taste of chocolate that virtually anything chocolate, anytime, is a source of pleasure and joy. But I do agree that really excellent chocolate deserves its name.
So here’s some prime choices for times when you want to dine like Quetzalcoatl.
All of Colin Gasko’s chocolate is simply amazing, the very best chocolate I have ever had, anywhere. I haven’t tried this Piura bar, but the next time I have $20 to burn, I will — if I can get some before it runs out!
Chuao Chocolate’s Spicy Maya bar is heady and almost intoxicating; it’s a nice way to start a special date with yourself.
Don’t Recchiuti’s Key Lime Pears look amazing?
Brian McElrath’s passion fruit truffles are tiny tangy chocolate bombs.
His white chocolate passion fruit truffles for Valentine’s day are just as good, and even prettier.
Vosges’ Naga (coconut curry) bar is mysterious and delicious, and their tasting notes are an exercise in mindfulness even if you don’t adore the chocolate.
If you took a hard look at all the ways this problem with your body has cost you, how did you feel? Were you angry, sad, or ashamed? This problem has been painful. This problem has hurt you.
Or did it leave you feeling determined? This is why this problem has to change. I have to solve — to get rid of — this problem. Is this feeling familiar?
Be honest: Have these feelings — the anger, the sadness, the shame, the guilt, the fear, the determination about your body and your eating — hung around for a long time? How long has your body been part of your problem?
Why not take a look? In your journal, try making a timeline to organize your history in your body, and all of the important life events in your body history.
On a page turned to a landscape orientation, draw a line across the middle. Along the bottom fill in dates, ages, whatever way you want to organize time. You can take the timeline up to the present, or project it into the future. It’s up to you.
What can you put on your timeline? It might include your weight or shape history, your dieting history, health events that affected you, other events that affected your self-image. It should definitely include other important life experiences, positive and negative, that shaped who you are today. Try putting positive events above the line, and negative events below the line. Paste in photographs, write in comments, make drawings and doodles. Make it your own.
Here’s a little vintage Cyndi Lauper for you while you get out the glue sticks and scissors.
So, take a look: what do you notice? Take a look at the positive side of your timeline. Did body shape and weight take as big a role as you expected? I’ll bet a dollar that your major achievements weren’t “reached 100 pounds!” or “fit into my skinny jeans!” Instead, the events that are significant may reflect your values and passions apart from your body struggle.
How do weight and shape struggles appear on your timeline? Do they appear at all? (Are they mostly on the negative side of your timeline?) Are there diets, negative body comments by people you cared about, ongoing events in your struggle with yourself? What does this mean?
Did you note your weight anywhere? If you didn’t, notice that: Maybe deep down, the number on the scale doesn’t matter as much to you as the experiences and life events you truly value. If you did put in important “numbers on the scale” were they achievements (numbers you were proud of)? Or were they numbers that represented failures or tragedies to you?
Are there photographs of you pasted into the timeline? What are your memories of those times? Does the person in the picture look like the person you remember being?
Another interesting thing about weight numbers, if they appear in your timeline, is to observe their pattern over time. Despite your struggle with your body, if you are like most people, your weight has increased over time.
The opposite may be true for your satisfaction with your body over time, especially if you have been engaged in a body-related struggle. See if this is true: Is it the case that, despite lots of changes and lots of efforts to “fix” yourself, you are more unhappy with yourself now than at whatever age your body struggle began?
Seeing weight gain and increased body dissatisfaction over time is not unusual, but typical. Whether you charted in your weight numbers or not, consider: Is this true for you? Have you gained weight, lost weight, or stayed the same over time? What has happened to your body image over time? Has it gotten better, worse, or stayed about the same?
What does this mean?