Weight loss. Maybe we're fighting the wrong war.
Yesterday a client said something that's really stuck with me. We were discussing the challenges she'd had on her weight loss and health plan when she said "All I want is the freedom to just eat whatever I want and not worry" I remember that feeling. Really well. Because what she wants isn't the ability to gorge herself on burgers, the freedom she's talking about is and escape from the constant concern about food, weight, body image and confidence.
She wants to be free. To not be a hostage to how she feels about food and her weight.
Something that most people believe is the ultimate result of being thin.
And it rattled me because I know this feeling. Very well. And although my life and my relationship with my body and with food is vastly different to what it once was, that feeling sometimes still surfaces, forcing me to confront it and work through it yet again.
I started to think about how strange it is that although I'm a coach and so many of my clients struggle with those feelings but don't want to talk about them. Because we are led to believe that food and willpower are the problem. If we just eat right everything will be fine.
The reality is that whether you've suffered from an eating disorder or not, a disordered relationship with food can be a constant and overwhelming presence in your life. One that even when you have all the tools, can be difficult to resolve.
My client put it perfectly when she said "Quitting smoking was easy. But it's not like I can just stop eating! I have to remake the decision to eat well every single time there's an opportunity to put something into my mouth. And sometimes, I just need to eat everything I possibly can because I feel like I'll never get to have it again".
Someone who's never had a difficult food relationship doesn't understand the drive that has you eating an entire loaf of bread with butter, slice after slice until you can fit any more in. They don't understand being anxious around fruit loops cereal because if you have just one single loop, it will ruin everything and you'll have to fast for days on end. Both those things were absolutely real for me at one point. I remember on more than one occasion being so exhausted by the mental battle of each meal that I started to wonder if I could just give up food completely. Live on protein shakes and vitamin injections or something.
Anything to stop the insanity that I felt on a daily basis from the moment I stepped on the scale,
to when I tallied up all my eating for the day in a notebook and went to bed promising myself that tomorrow was THE DAY.
While I was thinking about writing this post, I started to think about my own journey with my difficulties with food and body image and weight, and it was startling to think that it was a regular feature in my life for almost HALF of my entire life and that it's only in the last 5 years that I began to really find clear head space away from the constant "food debates" that my mind liked to host. Only a few years of freedom from that absolutely constant presence of food on my mind, affecting everything from what I ate, wore, where I went, what I did for fun, who I hung out with...
The value I placed on myself as a person.
I sometimes wonder what else I could have accomplished in life so far if I'd put the time and energy spent on freaking out about food and my body on things that were really worthwhile... and wouldn't make me feel overwhelmed, frustrated and crazy.
In my own journey, I've learned so much about nutrition, about the bodies metabolic processes, about food manufacture and production, and about how different foods affect the body and the mind. All of which has been tremendously helpful both to me and my clients, but I also know that it's only a small part of the whole solution. Anyone who has difficulties with their weight or with food will tell you that no matter how much information they have, it's just another system. Another plan, other diet, it doesn't change anything.
Coaching people for weight loss made it very clear to me that my experience is not unique, because at the end of the day, so much of the issue is not about food, and trying to fix it with food is like trying to fix crumbling wall with new wallpaper. Looks good for a while, but that wall is still falling apart. There is always an underlying reason for weight issues, whether it's about an emotional difficulty with food, habitual programming or beliefs that we have developed about ourselves and what our diets or weight represents, a "weight problem" is a symptom, not the problem itself.