What happens if I tell you to stop thinking about pink elephants?
Let’s try it: Whatever you do, don’t think about pink elephants!
Well, did you think about at least one pink elephant?
This is one reason why diets don’t work. Dieting doesn’t keep you from not thinking about your favorite foods—you think about them more.
A diet tells us to eat this, don’t eat that, this is good for us, that is bad. Have you noticed that the “bad” food is usually always your favorite foods? Even if we love the “good” food, if we eat it long enough, love goes from like, to boredom, to “I never want to eat this again.”
When we diet, we stop listening to our bodies and we start listening to what others say we “should” or “shouldn’t” eat. We may become overwhelmed because there are so many others telling us what to eat (doctors, diet creators, mothers, fathers, friends, grandparents, siblings, nutritionists, magazines, TV, radio, the internet, personal trainers, even therapists). As children, we know exactly what our bodies want and need. We eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. As we grow up, we begin to trust others more than ourselves and our body image can take a serious hit. We start to diet because we think that is how we become a good, successful, attractive person.
Entering the Binge Cycle
When we stop eating the food we love because the “diet” tells us to, we may lose some pounds and end the diet. Then what do we do? We eat our favorite food again. However, we will rarely eat just a little of it. Your body and mind think you’re starved of it, and now you can’t get enough of it. If we plan on going back on the diet, we know we won’t be able to eat it again, thus we binge on it in the moment. We all know this—the “my diet starts tomorrow” philosophy. This can certainly leave you feeling more out of control with food.
In addition, when we do “lose it” and start binging on the “bad” foods (even just thinking about the food can trigger this for some), we think we are bad, weak, or undisciplined for eating it. Of course, that bad feeling can frequently lead to more binging. And, there we are, right in the middle of the binge/purge cycle. Even if you don’t use vomiting to purge, you purge emotionally just by beating yourself up for eating. “Bad food” becomes “bad me.” Bad me leads to binging.
Diets don’t work. In fact, diets can cause weight gain. Researchers are finally looking into the diet phenomenon and discovering this. I have recently noticed diet ads have started to include the disclaimer, “results not typical.” Studies show that people who diet gain more weight over time, potentially leading to more health problems as yo-yo weight gain and loss is hard on the body.
Lastly, not dieting is way more fun! Imagine eating what you want and having your favorite foods in the house for weeks, without fearing you will eat it all in one sitting! This balance is absolutely possible and a great way to live your life. This balance can be found through the help of a therapist who focuses on food and eating issues.
My journey toward balance can be seen in my relationship with peanut butter. I love peanut butter. As a kid, I used to eat it out of the jar, spoon in hand. Although I grew out of the spoon phase, I still love it with bread and honey, with chocolate, and in nearly any candy bar. What I never knew about peanut butter is that it made me sick. I was so out of touch with my body and its relationship to food that I never realized that the sick feeling in my stomach was the result of what I just ate. It took time of working on my food and body issues to make this connection, and even longer to realize that my tummy rejects peanut butter only when I have eaten more than my body can handle. Now, when I get that sick feeling, I just stop eating peanut butter for a while and then I can eat it again. Of course, I always have the choice to eat it, and sometimes I do choose to, even when I know I may not like how I feel later. However, I have a choice and the choice is mine.
© Copyright 2008 by Anne Cuthbert. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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