By Scott Abel
In terms of knowing, accepting and understanding that diet-psychology is ALWAYS going to be more important than “nutrition knowledge and information” -> Take a real client of mine, Debra for instance: Her story follows. And I offer it because it is a common story for ladies, although there may be subtle variations for each individual of course.
Debra’s first memories of being conscious of her body in a negative way was when she was about 7-8 yrs. old and she remembers being in the doctor’s office and getting weighed. She remembers at the time connecting this with seeing her mother weigh herself at home all the time and watching her mother reacting emotionally to the number on the scale – sometimes reacting positively, sometimes negatively. But the doctor that day didn’t just weigh Debra – he was pinching her skin here and there and making comments. From that day on Debra told me – she remembers being very self-conscious of her weight and her appearance. And she projected this perception onto everyone else; thinking that everyone else was treating her as if she had some kind of problem.
And as I see so often in my work, it doesn’t take long for a perception to manifest into a reality, even a false perception. No matter how Debra looked, no matter what she weighed, she just didn’t like what she saw in the mirror. And seeing her mother cursing the bathroom scale had a major unconscious influence on Debra’s own self-rejection as well.
Debra started to feel invisible. As she grew up, of course she dated and did all the usual activities suitable to her age group. But she never felt good enough or pretty enough – and she especially never felt thin enough. She always felt for sure that the guys she was dating must have been more interested in other girls. In her teen years, she truly believed that to keep guys interested she needed to be thin like the other popular girls. It never occurred to her at that young age, that maybe a goal of “keeping guys interested” and needing that kind of validation from others, maybe these weren’t very healthy goals to have to begin with.
Nevertheless, Debra set out to engage one deprivation diet after another, often going all day without eating – only to come home at night and binge alone. In fact she even began looking forward to bingeing alone. It was kind of like her comfort zone where she didn’t have to worry or focus on who liked her, and who didn’t. And she could allow herself to be completely caught up in the moment. But this pattern of dieting, starving and bingeing went on for several years.
Debra did finally meet someone. And she got married. And she remembers “dieting and working out religiously” for her wedding day, as so many ladies do. To Debra this was of course a legitimate reason to diet and starve, and so she did, like so many other ladies I’ve dealt with over the years who engage a deprivation diet for their “special day” –only to never look like that again. But like every other deprivation diet she suffered through – once the wedding was over and she had to settle into a new life; she was overwhelmed, and she lost control again – and of course began bingeing alone, and overeating in general.
This is what happens when you never address causes and only treat “symptoms” of an underlying issue. This is what happens when you delude yourself about what your true issues are, and you deflect them onto appearance, and filter them through diet, dieting, and weight-control. This is the oh-so common lie ladies tell themselves.
Looking at her own wedding pictures on the mantle made her even more disgusted with herself now. And one day a comment from her husband sent her into a tailspin of depression. He looked at the wedding pictures on the mantle and commented, “Remember her?” pointing to the thinner but unreal and unsustainable version of Debra. She was crushed, still living inside herself as that young girl in the doctor’s office and as that young teenager – still desperately seeking validation from someone else, preferably, a man – in this case, her man. His ongoing comments about her weight only brought on more shame inside her. To compensate, she put on this air of being “Darling Debra” – trying to be sweet and kind to everyone even when she didn’t feel like it.
She was getting further and further away from her authentic self – and further and further away from owning and trusting her authentic emotions. And the more she pretended on the outside, the worse she felt about herself on the inside; and of course then the more she ate as well.
Remember -> Behavior is always a reflection of the mindset that drives it.
Debra wanted to lose weight, but no way she was going to go to a gym “until” she lost weight first. She didn’t want to dress up or go to social events. All dressing up did was remind her how huge she had become – and all the social events did was put ‘in her face’ how much prettier and thinner than her all the other wives were: (the losing female mindset of “compare, contrast, and compete – that I talk about often in my book The Empowered Woman Experience).
All any of this accomplished was to once again, reflect unconsciously back on to Debra that inside her own head not much has changed since she was a child. And Debra isn’t a stupid lady. She knows she was eating too much. But she has never connected that all of this was using food to combat strong emotion -> to avoid it, relieve it, numb it, repress it; just anything not to have to feel it for a while. Food was her self-medication of choice: And then from this faulty mindset, she would commit to yet another diet-attempt doomed to fail from the beginning. Why? Because when Debra sentences herself to these deprivation diets and the strict behavior they entail – none of it is enhancing her life. It’s only contracting her life even further. She gets caught up in a faulty fantasy that she can fix her emotional pain and self-judgment by losing weight, yet again.
But in truth, another diet-attempt with this kind of self-loathing behind it, only keeps reminding Debra of her emotional pain (even though she can’t identify it) – and only gives Debra another constant reason to judge herself, usually in negative terms. People who don’t learn from their past are destined to keep repeating it. And this is Debra now, going from pretentious “Darling Debra” on the outside, to a very dark and empty “Desperate Debra” on the inside. And the truth is, the more Debra gets caught up in fantasy notions to “fix herself – by fixing her appearance” the less vital and satisfying her life becomes – shrinking constantly to a bunch of numbers to judge and measure herself by: just like she recalls her mother doing all those years ago.
Debra didn’t realize that what she needed is a truth, not a fantasy. She needs emotional fitness and nutrition – not another fantasy diet to solve everything. She needs emotional courage -> strength and conditioning for the soul. Debra needs someone to help her along and to finally accept and realize that “salvation lies within, not WITH-thin.”
You see, no one ever taught Debra that just because she has a consistent thought; it doesn’t mean that thought is necessarily true. No one taught Debra to actively question her thoughts, as to whether they are helpful to her, or hurtful to her. No one ever taught Debra that if she didn’t learn to question a thought, then the thought would not only persist, but it would look for “proof’ that it is a correct thought to have. So Debra saw “proof” all around her that she wasn’t good enough; and that losing weight would “fix” her.
You tend to believe your most consistent thoughts, especially if you never learn to challenge them and you just blindly accept them. And when you do, then just like Debra – you become a slave to these thoughts. You serve them, they don’t serve you!
And as dark as the bottom of the well is where Debra now finds herself; I have at least taught her to stop digging and to stop thinking of ‘digging deeper’ as a way out, when it’s really just putting her deeper in the well. Debra may indeed still be in the darkness. But I have a flashlight; and together, instead of Debra digging herself deeper, we will follow the light and she will find her own way out.
In 6 months now, Debra has lost 40 lbs. – not by counting calories and weighing herself; but by letting go of all that fantasy of “digging her way to wellness.” Now she does directed journaling via Coaching. Now she recognizes her patterns that started all those years ago and just continued and took root inside her.
And for me, it’s not that Debra has lost 40 lbs. that matters. In truth, that is neither here nor there. I don’t consider that a victory if the mindset behind it is still one of shame and self-loathing. What matters is that Debra has lifted a lot of the emotional weight she has been carrying around all these years. And this was the real weight that was being reflected externally back to her by her wearing it on her body; trying to get her to pay attention to the pain she kept avoiding and repressing: pain of her own making, caused by toxic and poisonous self-rejecting, and self-emptying thoughts.
Coaching has taught Debra to realize that when you have dug yourself into a hole, then at least know enough to stop digging. Trying another diet is like buying a brand new shiny shovel to keep digging deeper. And that has only ever led her to darker and darker places.
Our work is far from over. But Debra is learning that self-acceptance isn’t a fantasy place to someday get to; like Oz. And I am no wizard either. Debra is learning that self-acceptance isn’t a destination; it’s a path. And it’s the only path to true soulful liberation and freedom. Perhaps you identify with Debra’s story or know someone just like her.
Isn’t the definition of insanity to do the same things over and over and expect a different result, “this time?” How many more diets are you going to try while never addressing the mindset that drives you to try them? Maybe it’s just time to learn how to address your mental and emotional fitness and nutrition; and your spiritual metabolism. Debra is, and she is finally “lighter” for doing so -> lighter mentally, lighter emotionally, lighter physically, and lighter spiritually.
Isn’t that the real kind of “lightness of being” you seek, when all is said and done?
About the Author
Scott Abel is a former professional bodybuilder and coach to over 400 fitness and bodybuilding champions at the National level and beyond. Thoroughly disillusioned with the industry, and with an academic background and much experience in social work and counseling, his recent work focuses more on helping individuals to resolve diet and body image-related problems and disordered eating. Learn more from his broad spectrum of work at www.scottabel.com. You can also hear Scott on the 180D podcast.