In Binge Eating Disorder recovery, one of the most common topics that comes up is weight loss. People learn to take the focus off of weight loss and put the emphasis on health and healing and self-love, but that feels both wrong and uncomfortable. After all, the pursuit of weight loss is something that they have been doing most of their lives. When I ask people to try to refocus their direction away from the scale, they often tend to get anxious or unhappy. That’s totally normal and I expect it.
If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you know that I have a weight neutral approach to healing. Weight neutral is idea that health isn’t tied up with your weight. The common dialectic states that when one loses weight, their health will improve. The weight neutral approach states that when the weight is focused on, it takes attention and focus away from actual real health concerns and that people die from diseases that were ignored because they were told, “lose some weight and this will resolve…” The other part of the weight neutral movement recognizes that when people primarily focus on their weight for health reasons, it only makes things worse by causing binge eating and rejecting other parts of life and certain foods that would increase healthfulness. In fact, in a study done last June, it was shown that a weight neutral approach to healing actually increased health (by measurable standards such as lowering cholesterol), reduced stress and increased life satisfaction more than simple weight loss programs. We know that focusing on weight and weight loss increases frustration, increases binge eating, and ultimately increases weight, yet so many of us still just want to lose weight…
So let’s discuss that. If Oprah Winfrey, one of the most powerful women in the world, a billionaire, if she still hasn’t been able to let go of this notion, than you can know that you are in good company. But Oprah. Oh how I love Oprah and I love how human she is and I love how she’s publicly been sharing her struggle for all these years. I can use her struggle to illustrate why and how weight focus is so damaging.
Oprah, (despite the fact that she has more resources than 99% of us) still has not let go of her desire to lose weight. She is not immune to it. And this doesn’t make her a bad person. However, it does make her someone who has been fighting the same frustrating fight for at least the 30-40 years that we know of. And it’s likely been longer than that. Wanting to lose weight doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you superficial and it doesn’t make you unlikely to recover from your eating disorder. But the desire to lose weight, just like the desire to binge is a desire that would perhaps be better left to sit with than to follow down the rabbit hole to satisfy. Because like the desire to binge, when you follow and take action on the desire to lose weight, you will more often that not, wind up feeling uncomfortable in your body. Why? Because the pursuit of weight loss can make one feel very unstable and is almost never long-lasting. It sets us up for failure. This is illustrated to the left by one of the most powerful women in the world.
So let’s talk about acceptance. I don’t just mean body acceptance and body love, but accepting yourself as a whole. Accepting that you have these feelings, thoughts and desires that are directly opposed to everything you might have learned or believe in.
Maybe you think that the pursuit of weight loss is a waste of time and maybe you believe that it will get in the way of your recovery. Maybe you see how damaging it is. And maybe you still want to lose weight. That is okay, because you are human. And you have to balance and accept these very real human desires and feelings inside of you.
I know you still want to lose weight. I know it. And I accept that and I accept you. You are human and all your feelings are important and valid. And, just because you want to lose weight, that doesn’t mean that the pursuit of weight loss is necessarily a positive thing for you.
So what can you do? You can be your own most powerful ally. You can do your best to fully accept that despite the fact that you have the knowledge and the understanding that dieting is not good for you that you still want to lose weight. You can know that part of self-acceptance is accepting the confluence of emotions and desires that are diametrically opposed to your beliefs and morals. You can know that your desire to treat your body with love and respect and to feed it, nurture it and treat it with the utmost of kindness is in direct conflict of the messages that we get from the media and the medical community- messages that skinny is best, that if you had more discipline that you could be skinny, that you have to lose weight to be healthy. As we have seen, all those messages are not just wrong, but damaging.
So here’s the deal– I want to help you be accepting of yourself, of all your thoughts, and of your body. I want you to treat your body with love and respect. I want you to feed yourself when you are hungry and not restrict or reject foods unless you don’t like them or are allergic to them or sensitive to them. I want you to listen to your body. I want you to go toward health and wellness. When you do, your weight will likely land where it’s supposed to. As I’ve said before, that might be thin, that might not be thin, but it will be healthy. When you treat yourself with kindness, your body will come to it’s natural shape and weight. And even if you still want to lose weight, it’s okay. Wants and desires are okay and normal. But when you redirect those desires, when you think about how you want to live your life and don’t let the pursuit of weight loss get in the way of that, when you do the things that you want to do in life and give yourself what you really and truly need this is where your healing comes from.