Sometimes dieting is about more than just wanting to lose weight. When I first joined in 1994, my mother was dying, I was unemployed, and I felt like I my life had no direction. I may have been unhappy about my weight, but this had not been a problem for me in earlier, happier times. No, it was life itself that was getting me down.
Suddenly, though, I found a great deal of comfort in controlling what I ate and talking about it weekly with a group of (mostly) ladies that were trying to do the same thing. I loved the feeling of doing something that yielded such immediate results, so different from all my other problems. So even as my life felt like it was tumbling out of control, dieting and those meetings were my personal eye of the storm. It came to seem that by solving my fat problem, I was solving my life problems! But like an actual eye of the storm, it continued to move, bringing the storm with it. My mother passed away, I struggled with depression and making ends meet was always a challenge. But dammit, at least I was thin.
When I decided, eight years later, to lose “those last 10 pounds” – to finally get that “ideal” body I had dreamed of – a lot was going on in my life once again. I’d moved to a new country and was missing my life back home, I was in a relationship that wasn’t working, and I was starting out in yet another job that I didn’t love. As before, instead of acknowledging and facing these problems, my knee-jerk reaction was instead to change my body. My BMI was 23 and I was by society’s standards “normal sized,” but somehow my life would be better if I could just be thinner.
I don’t think I am the first person that thought that if I could just perfect my body, then my life would be perfect. Dieting has become the go-to fix-it tool that we use to deal with our problems, because society tells us right now that obtaining total control over our bodies and our health is the most important thing we can do to have a good life. But that is just plain misguided. I lost that 10 pounds – slowly, painfully, unhealthily – but my problems didn’t go away until I finally acknowledged their existence and decided to solve them. And dieting created a whole other set of problems: hunger, body dissatisfaction, food preoccupation, and eventually, a lot of weight gain.
I see this use of dieting as a way to solve our problems sort of the way medicine once used leeches to treat headaches or ear infections – it’s just the wrong cure for the ailment.
There are still the occasional days when I don’t feel great about the way I look, but now I stop and ask myself why – what kind of a day did I have, what were the frustrations I faced, and what is it I’m really worried about? Usually I find that I’m using my feelings about my appearance as a stand-in for my actual feelings about what’s happening in my life. I make sure to work on the real problems, give myself a big break and treat myself well.
The diet industry takes advantage of this. They know they sell a product that doesn’t work 95% of the time, and they show us the sad before and happy after pictures, peddling happiness in the guise of weight loss. Don’t buy it – try to find out what it is you really want or need and then find out what it will take to get you there.