About a week ago, I posted about the book Overcoming Overeating and how it had altered my thinking on my lifetime of being either on a diet or breaking my diet. The book advocates the (radical!) concept of abandoning dieting and "diet think", making all foods legal and accepting one's body for what it is. The authors encourage the reader to learn how to eat when hungry, to eat exactly what one is hungry for and to stop when full. If that means you're up at 2 AM, starving for a jar of peanut butter, you eat it.... but if that also means that when everyone else is eating a special Mother's Day brunch at 10 AM and you're not hungry, you don't eat. You might be sitting with a group of people with an empty plate in front of you... but if you're not hungry, you wait until you are.
In addition to the eating program, Overcoming Overeating advises that people get rid of the bathroom scale and strive to eliminate the "morning yuck" reaction many of us have to our bodies. You know what I"m talking about: you get up, strip down for your shower, catch a glance of your jelly thighs or your tummy pooch and think "YUCK." That "yuck thought" follows you through your day, dampening your self esteem and, according to the authors, creating an emotional need to deprive yourself or binge. To defeat the yuck, the authors advise (gulp) MORE mirror time, not less. Becoming intimately familiar and accepting of how your body really looks is supposed to de-sensitize you to its appearance, so that your reaction slowly goes from critique of your flaws to "Oh, yeah, that's me."
After about two weeks following this plan, my experience has been that "doing the food" is easy, but defeating the "morning yuck" is very, very hard.
It's really a pleasure to eat when hungry-- and to enjoy exactly what I want to eat without the slightest guilt. I find it easy to stop when I'm full because I know that when I'm hungry again, I can have more of whatever I want. Eating chocolate chip cookies without guilt is a wonderful thing, but even more wonderful is the discovery that, because they are "legal" and I can have them, I don't want them. I actually THREW AWAY half a box of those grocery store baked ones yesterday. They had sat on the counter for a week and gotten stale. The dieting me wouldn't have had them in the house-- and if I'd bought them, I wouldn't have been able to leave them alone until they were all gone.
Eating whatever I feel like has led to some surprising choices. Turns out, I don't like chocolate as much as I thought I did. Or potato chips. I'm perfectly happy most days with strawberries and whole-wheat crackers. And nuts. I like nuts. But not meat. I never crave it. Too many low carb diets in my past, I suspect.
In accord with the book's recommendations, I have hidden my scale so I have no idea what my weight is. I also gave up my exercise regime which, for me, was as punishing as my diet. But so far, in spite of my fears that without diet and exercise I would balloon immediately to Reubenesque proportions, my clothes still fit. Two weeks of diet liberation hasn't resulted in any dramatic weight gain... or loss either, as far as I can tell. But I can deal with staying the same weight in exchange for this new feeling of liberation in eating.
But the mirror is another story. Every morning, when I face the mirror, "yuck" is still my first thought. When I catch a glimpse of myself in any reflective surface, I have the same reaction. I've been thinking "yuck" for most of my life-- the difference is now I'm finally fully aware of it and how often that reaction pervades my consciousness. And, according to Overcoming Overeating, "yuck" is what ultimately sends us life-long dieters running for the cupboards, either right away or after weeks of restrictive dieting. Yuck makes us not eat... which ultimately makes us eat.
The authors write: :"Ruminations about what is wrong [with your body] can take up a lifetime. They provide a focus for people and a fantasy that if this one thing were corrected life would go well but they never inspire change. People feel as though they are being productive when they focus on what's wrong. In fact, they are spinning their wheels and thus staying in a rut." Overcoming Overeating, p 82 A few paragraphs later, they remind us that one of the biggest myths of the health/weight loss culture is that EVERYONE is meant to be thin. It's like saying "every one should be the same height" or "everyone should have brown hair." It just doesn't hold up under rational analysis.
But our feelings about our bodies aren't rational at all. For women in particular, body image is tied up in desirability and attractiveness. None of us are happy with how we look and we devote tremendous resources-- financial, emotional and physical-- toward attempting to conform to an impossible ideal. If we could just fix our bodies, then we will be attractive, successful, respected and financially secure like the beautiful people on TV. It's crazy-- I know this and so do you. And yet, there's the "yuck", every day in the mirror.
Change, the authors say, comes from positive reinforcement, not negative. When we feel good, it's easier to embark on a healthier choice, secure in the knowledge that succeed or fail, we're still okay. Yuck thoughts work the opposite way, condemning us to a diet/binge cycle based in self-hate. It's a new idea, that my "yuck thoughts" are keeping me from moving forward, but understanding is the first step toward change. For now, understanding is all I've got.
Today, I'll put on my bathing suit to take my kids to the pool... and think "yuck". But I'll put it on and I'll go, monitoring the turmoil inside myself about how I look. All this, I hope is the foundation for change. Perhaps one day, I really will be able to put on my bathing suit and just enjoy it, without comparing myself to every other woman at the pool and finding myself lacking. I would love that-- but I honestly can't image it ever happening.
I promised myself I'd spend the full summer "not dieting" and working on acceptance of my body as it is... but this very well could be the job of a lifetime. More later as this summer experiment progresses..