“The cruel irony is that although we become totally obsessed with the daily measures of how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we are (refused dessert = good; didn’t have time to go to the gym = bad), there is no finish line. This weight preoccupation will never lead us anywhere. It is a maniacal maze that always spits you out at the same point it sucked you up: wanting. We keep chasing after perfection as if it is an achievable goal, when really it is the most grand and painful of all mirages.” “Spontaneity is crucial to health. Listening to when your body is hungry, and for what, is a mindful act anathema to most young women. In fact, the majority of those I interviewed for this book don’t even know how to identify when they are hungry or when they are full. They have so intellectualized the rights and wrongs of feeding themselves that they can’t feel a damn thing.”
-Courtney Martin; Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body
It made a huge impression on me when I first heard Human Behavior expert John Demartini say that you must plant flowers in the garden of your mind or you will be “forever pulling weeds.” Although the guy has a lot of cutesy sayings that fall somewhere in between Cheddar and Provolone, there is no doubt that many of his sayings, like this one, are very well thought out and meaningful.
This saying in particular means that you must fill your life and your mind with what is important to you, and what you are passionate about doing/experiencing/exploring or distractions and annoyances will end up filling your mind and your life – just like a garden with nothing planted in it will quickly be overrun with the stuff you don’t want in your garden. When I first heard this, and the truth of it sank in, it was only a matter of weeks before I purchased 30 health and nutrition books online and started this blog. I’ve been dedicated to filling up as much of my life and mind with what I find to be the most interesting subject on earth ever since. For no other reason than because I really love and enjoy it.
What saddens me is thinking about all our culture’s wasted time and head space that gets wrapped up in “what am I going to eat today” and “gosh life would be better if I lost 20 pounds.” To me, this neurotic and obsessive behavior (that first struck me at around age 14) has become one of the primary diseases of modern humans, no doubt a direct result of being bombarded with a barrage of marketing messages that are totally unrealistic (and of course cloaking serious health problems and eating disorders – because you can’t see those in a picture or commercial) and the yardstsicks of self worth that are generated based on that.
But after researching stress in greater detail, it’s become apparent to me that this fixation on weight, body image, diet, and so forth is a much greater health liability than any known junk food. I also wouldn’t disagree with Shawn Talbott, author of The Cortisol Connection, who states that stressing out about your diet too much is a leading cause of excessive cortisol production. It’s probably an even more prevalent problem than eating a truly crappy diet, and is a problem that humans have never immersed themselves in to such a degree until now.
But it gives me great joy to bring my research full circle. In fact, I applied for an LLC name in Hawaii in 2005 called “The Body Trust.” It was based in part on an epiphany I had while starving myself out in the Wilderness, which was the climax of my war against myself to achieve superhuman fitness, leanness, toughness, and self-sufficiency. The name was turned down because the word Trust is apparently off-limits, so I went back to the drawing board and came up with Sacred Self instead – the original name of this blog.
Cheesy I know, and Woo-Woo up to Wazoo, but the meaning behind it was truly revolutionary. My main sermon was to form a pact with yourself, make a conscious effort to avoid feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse in all things in life but most importantly your exercise and food choices (I can still vividly remember how focused I was on enjoying a piece of chocolate cake for the first time instead of beating myself up over it and quickly promising to run 47 miles on my hands the next day), and to fully trust and obey cues for hunger and desires for physical activity.
That’s where this all began, and I even published a few articles in a New Agey publication about self-judgment and an article entitled, “How Much Do Your Beliefs Weigh?” which featured my strong belief that negative self-talk and the binge and repent mindset were the root of excess body fat storage.
All that aside, the big question is how do we overcome our neurotic fixations on body image and our diet, in the name of better health – and more importantly, a better and more empowered and fulfilling life – filled “ful” of flowers and not weeds?
First, we must break down some of the myths surrounding leanness. We clearly have a totally delusional infatuation with it.
Why is leanness attractive? Leanness is attractive because it is more scarce. Scarcity is what gives all things value. At times in history, and in many countries still today like Mauritania which is the most extreme, it was much harder to be big, strong, and full-bodied than it was to have a 6-pack. Being voluptuous was more attractive, not being lean. In some cultures it’s hot to put a big plate inside your bottom lip or get your face really scarred up. Beauty is mostly a subjective matter and is based almost purely on being rare and difficult to obtain – just like diamonds, gold, silver, art, boutique wines, etc.
Shaved (no pun intended) down to its core, attraction is all about VALUE. What makes a person attractive is based on how valuable they are to the prospective “buyer.” The two most common virtues that are valued in today’s society are wealth (and the status and sphere of influence that accompanies it) and physical beauty (which again, is mostly subjective). For mutual attraction to emerge between two people, there has to be a state of value equality between two people… and equal exchange. When the exchange is equal, the two people have matching self-confidence (self-worth, the prime determinant of your attractiveness), and they feel equally lucky to be in the relationship because each possesses something that the other values.
When there is a power shift however, like one person getting a huge promotion or say, being in the National spotlight for overcoming testicular cancer and going on to win a worldwide athletic competition that inspires a billion people, the balance is totally thrown out of whack. When this happens a whole set of instinctual behaviors emerge that try to achieve balance once more. The lesser person in the relationship will often be quite irrational in trying to bring the other down to his or/her level (via resentment, infidelity, depression, alcoholism, abusive and/or combative behavior) or bring himself or herself up in value (by getting leaner, trying to seduce another, more powerful person, plastic surgery, or whatever desperate measures can be conjured up).
I bring this all up because, in today’s day and age, one thing you don’t want to use to attract another person is physical beauty. Physical beauty, unlike most other qualities that can have value and therefore be attractive to someone else, is a DEPRECIATING ASSET. I semi grew up in Aspen, CO for the love of Pete. What I’m about to say is not a stereotype, but a fundamental law of interpersonal relationships…
The more attractive you are based on society’s definition, the higher your probability of attracting people more fixated on physical appearance and less fixated on personality characteristics. Most people probably have a percentage. Some are 10% physically attracted, 90% attracted to other values – some are 90% -10% in the other direction.
And I’m telling you, the more attractive you are, the more likely you are to attract someone whose attraction is more heavily weighted on physical appearance.
Wealthy young man marries hot young woman. This is a common exchange because these are the two most prized “scarce” attributes in modern society. Her accessory is the large diamond she gets out of the exchange and the increasing social status. His accessory is the woman herself and his personal feeling of self-confidence as every man obsessed with physical appearance (there are many) wishes they could be him. Both enter into the top tier in the pecking order for their respective genders (and yes, men and women’s pursuit of stupid leanness is more in competition with people of their own sex for power and thus increased self-worth, not necessarily because it is what the opposite sex finds attractive – but again, self-worth is the overall prime determinant of attractiveness).
Man gets increasingly wealthy. Hot woman becomes increasingly less hot. Woman goes crazy dieting and getting plastic surgery and blowing enormous amounts of money on things that make her feel more attractive and confident (jewelry, botox, designer clothes) trying to maintain equality. Both stop getting along and start becoming unfaithful. It is a mess. Inequality of self-worth cannot exist in a healthy relationship.
Or the man of course just cashes out and seeks out a younger, hotter piece of ass that equalizes his ever-growing self-worth.
You may not see this play out much where you live, but it has taken over places like Aspen and parts of So Cal and South Florida with jaw-dropping consistency. It’s probably no coincidence that Lance moved to Aspen where he can bar tender bartenders.
I bring this all up because being attractive is just as much of a curse as it is a blessing. To be fixated on it as if life will be made better by becoming more attractive is a tragic error. Rather, the more attractive you become the more you attract those who care more about physical appearance than anything else – and as the love you receive from your partner slips away with your beauty over the years, and your partner starts spending lots of time checking out other people and wishing to do a trade in for a younger model, you will get to experience what it feels like to be on the short end of the relationship stick.
So based on the grounds of relationships, or attracting a wonderful mate, there really is no grounds for thinking you need to improve your appearance. Even if physical attraction is important to you, and you want to “tie down” a hottie, you’ll be more likely to achieve it by generating an asset more valuable to a hottie – like material wealth, or being a great musician, entertainer, intellectual, etc (trust me, Orianthi could gain 50 pounds and still be more desirable than any supermodel on earth).
And let’s not forget that…
1) Dramatic attempts to become super lean and hot usually end up with you becoming more fat and ugly with more health problems and more emotional instability.
2) We are usually pretty limited in our ability to change our physical appearance more than slightly – not enough to make any real difference in the grand scheme of things
3) The opportunity cost of being perpetually fixated on your outward appearance, your diet, and your exercise regimen is a huge waste of your time here on earth, keeping you from having more fulfilling experiences in your life, and cultivating self-worth via other means that are NOT DEPRECIATING ASSETS.
4) The more obsessive you become about being more attractive, the more insecure, self-conscious, self-critical, narrow-minded, and one-dimensional you become.
5) The more you value physical appearance, the less you will be able to connect with yourself and others and appreciate people, including yourself, for the many, diverse gifts and talents one can possess.
6) Diet obsessiveness is socially crippling and alienates friends and family members
7) Restrained eating is a serious health liability (Linda Bacon claims there were 75 studies that demonstrate this as of 2008).
8) Being worried about how you look is without question the single biggest turnoff to others in the world. Trying on 36 outfits to see which one makes you look the least fat is not “cute.” In my experience, seeing beauty in someone who cannot see it themselves because of some drive for the elusive perfection, is deeply heartbreaking.
9) The universal quest to obtain and express unconditional love (for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse) gets farther out of reach the more you measure yourself up to an aesthetic ideal (which, again, is mostly subjective, and is an elusive fantasy that no one can ever obtain).
10) If you diet down below your weight set point to attract someone, you will create an artificially high standard for your looks in the other person’s eyes which will lead to a lot of disappointment in the person you attract when you gain all that back plus some.
11) There are 7 million Americans, and many more millions worldwide with a diagnosed eating disorder (and an estimated 25% chance of dying from suicide or that affliction directly and a more than 20-year reduction in life expectancy once diagnosed), and diet and body image fixation is the “gateway drug” to get there.
12) Most of the compiled epidemiological health stats gathered worldwide suggest that being slightly overweight is more healthy, and yields much greater longevity, than if you are a of a “normal” weight or are underweight compared to your fellow countrymen and women.
So I propose something totally different, and that something different is to take a lot of focus off of diet and body image (weeds) and make a conscious and continuing effort to replace those weeds with the things you want to do, experience, have, learn about, and spend your day doing – not just for your own sense of enjoyment, but to actually cultivate self-worth in areas that don’t depreciate.
Sure, health is important. We all want to feel good, be full of life, have the energy and charisma to do the things in life we want to do, and so forth. Health will always be the foundation for living a truly inspiring and fulfilling life. And our diet and lifestyle is a great backbone for all that. However, this desire to nourish oneself, eat the type of food that makes us feel good and perform at our best instead of for other reasons, and establishing a healthy relationship with our diets, our health, and our physical attributes – is something that stems from total dietary freedom, flexibility, open-mindedness, and lack of restraint of any kind.
You should never allow yourself to feel deprived of something so easily under your control as the food you eat or the amount of rest and/or activity you require to function at your best.
But most importantly, no matter who you are you must swear above all else that you will never betray yourself with self-deprecating thoughts. If you get one thing out of this post, it would be to replace those self-deprecating thoughts and body image fixation with time spent cultivating your greatest skill, fulfilling your greatest pleasure, touching the lives of others with whatever gifts you’ve been given, and begin taking a large dose of the wonder drug Fukitol for additional support with that.
In other words, to quote the movie Little Miss Sunshine, “Do what you love and f#!% the rest.” If you don’t love thinking about and playing around with your diet to see how it can change how you feel and function, then stop doing it. If you don’t love checking yourself out in the mirror 47 times per day and constantly thinking about that little pouch of fat on “x” part of your body, then stop doing it. If you don’t really love engaging in the endlessly interesting health conversation at this blog, then spend your time doing something you love more. I won’t be offended.
In closing, I don’t think there’s anything much more inspirational than this as it pertains to us all trying to overcome the nagging, time-consuming, and disease-causing fixation on body image. Many people allow 100 pounds, 50 pounds, or even as little as 5-10 pounds to get in the way of them doing truly great things with the gifts they’ve been given (or even go on a beach vacation) – or the desire to be more attractive occupies so much time and energy and mental racket that it prevents people from developing valuable knowledge and skills – or even being so much as a good parent, a good friend, or just enjoy a slice of pizza.
Well, you can weigh over 700 pounds, barely be able to breathe, and still be widely loved, adored, respected, appreciated, and honored for the talented and passionate person that you are. IZ (shown above), perhaps the state of Hawaii’s greatest icon – and the only non-government official to have the state flag flown at half mast after death, was recently recognized by NPR as having one of the top 50 voices in the history of recorded music. 15 years after his death, his most beloved song has had well over 75,000,000 views on Youtube – and is still one of the top downloaded songs worldwide. I can’t embed the video here due to permissions, but you can see it by clicking below. I highly recommend watching it if you have any image insecurities – with weight or otherwise.
The question is, would his time have been better spent dieting, feeling ashamed over how he looked, constantly trying to figure out how to lose weight, looking in the mirror, hiding from cameras, counting grams of trans fats or sugar in his food, and shying away from the public eye for fear of being looked upon as a glutton by a bunch of people who don’t understand the first thing about body weight regulation? If he had a 6-pack would he have been more loved or less loved? If you get that last little bit of cellulite off your ass, and you spend most of your idle time thinking about how you look, will you inspire others and leave a mark on society so profound that someone that you’ve never met will see a random video of you on Youtube 15 years after you die and have tears of inspiration rolling down their cheeks? I kinda doubt it.
This next year, make it a resolution to first choose Inspiration, then Health (and doing what makes you feel physically good) in that order, and stop trying to lose weight. If you lose weight doing that, great. If you don’t, great. It doesn’t matter. The weight problem is the fixation on it, not the weight itself. And that can be cured in 5 seconds if you really GET what I’m saying in this post.
Besides, I still fully agree with Schwarzbein’s proclamation, “you must get healthy to lose weight, not lose weight to be healthy.” But I think it can be taken even further, in that you must cure a weight issue to lose weight, not lose weight to cure a weight issue. Like a wise man once said, “don’t drink to solve your problems, solve your problems before you drink.”
From Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size…
“Only through extraordinary effort and education have I been able to free myself from my obsession with weight.”
“As wonderful as food is, it is only one of many pleasures in my life. I am no longer waiting to lose weight before I live my life fully. Having freed up all the energy and time that I spent on dieting or obsessing about my weight or food and having let go of my shame about these, I have greater depth and fulfillment in my life, including deeper intimacy with others. I don’t think about my weight, and it stays fairly consistent. Oddly, after this new eating pattern became firmly rooted, I actually lost about thirty pounds.”
“Fat isn’t the problem. Dieting is the problem. A society that rejects anyone whose body shape or size doesn’t match an impossible ideal is the problem. A medical establishment that equates ‘thin’ with ‘healthy’ is the problem.”
“There is an easy way to win the war against fat and reclaim your pleasure in eating: Just give up. Yes, give up. Stop fighting.”
For more on the futility of dieting or trying to consciously control your calorie intake to lose weight and more, read Diet Recovery: Restoring Hormonal Health, Metabolism, Mood, and Your Relationship with Food.