What do you hear when an advert tells you that you have “four weeks to fit into your LBD”, to “tone your tum for Christmas” or to “drop a dress size before Christmas”? Many of us hear fear, failure, and the reinforced message that you cannot be trusted around food; that you need the rules of a diet to tell you what and how to eat, or you’ll eat everything that’s not nailed down.
Several women have mentioned to me that they hide in photos, with their children as little props in front of them. Or hiding in black clothes with black trousers being a staple in their wardrobe and constantly tugging down their top so it covers their bum.
Alma is a typical client - intelligent, well-educated and fun-loving, but ‘feels fat’. She is acutely conscious of the reactions of others towards her weight and her eating. She recalls wishing the ground would open up and swallow her when she overheard a family member say “she’s eating AGAIN” or when a complete stranger looked in abject horror at the plate of food in front of her and then at her face. It seems that the acceptable reaction of those around overweight people is to be disgusted, and the dutiful place of an overweight person is to feel ashamed and small, very small (oh, the irony!).
Alma was obsessed with counting calories and points, of trying to be in control but then losing control as she shovelled food into her mouth. She felt utterly helpless. Yes, it was indeed her choice to eat. But weight loss or the struggle to lose weight is not what it is all about. Alma revealed that part of the reason why she has remained fat is because the extra weight means she can blend into the background, without being the focus of attention, and she doesn’t feel that she’s ‘on show’. If we allowed ourselves the space to understand our weight, instead of constantly piling pressure on ourselves to lose it, it would bring us closer to a ‘normal’ relationship with food. You cannot lose it until you first own it.
How we eat often reflects what’s happening with and around us. So, suggestions such as “move away from the table” or “how does someone allow themselves get so fat?” (which my clients are often asked) implicitly lack understanding and convey a very narrow belief that fatness and being overweight are all about gluttony, lack of discipline and willpower. But that makes no sense given that you have discipline to do so much else in your life, such as raise a family or go out to work, and given that willpower is only a short-term burst of energy that usually ends quite abruptly.
That diet mentality implies “be good until Christmas, then have a blow-out for 2 weeks”, then “lose weight as your New Year resolutions”. The best you can do right now is to push out your goals and decide where you would like to be in six months or 12 months from now. Start to give yourself the chance to understand what your extra eating and weight is all about. After 15 years of experience, I realise that you are far more than what the bathroom scales tell you, or what the looks or comments of others say about you.
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Wishing you good health,
Dr. Bernadette Rock (PhD).
Weight Management Expert