As we all know, food is not just energy for our body. Food can represent comfort, tradition, medicine, celebration, culture, status and love — the list is endless. We associate food with memories and places we’ve been – both positive and negative. To complicate matters, our current society has a lot to say about what you should eat and how you should look. Quick judgments are made about your character by what’s on your plate and how much you weigh. There’s an obesity epidemic, have you heard? Your weight is everyone’s problem.
Like each of us, I’ve absorbed information about food over a lifetime and processed it from my unique perspective. I don’t expect that this metaphor will resonate for everyone, though it may provide some food for thought. (Pun intended) I uncovered this metaphor after asking “But why do I feel this way” over and over. I knew my unhealthy behaviors were based upon complex, underlying beliefs. I just didn’t know what those beliefs were.
Based on my internal questioning, I found that the act of dieting reinforces a restrictive mindset that permeates all aspects of my life. It represents holding myself back, denying who I am. It is the physical act, every day, of telling myself that I should do as I’m told.
You should be a size 6. You should always be selfless and fade into the background. Be responsible. Don’t bother anyone. (Again, these are just my own feelings) Ideas about weight are intermingled with other statements about my place in the world.
Therefore, when I fail a diet and gain weight, I feel exposed and vulnerable. I’m suddenly unable to hide from the disapproving masses. Appearing in public when I’m overweight is like wearing a neon sign that says “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please don’t look at me.”
In the same way, when I speak my mind, put myself first or become the center of attention, my immediate reaction is to retract into my shell. My “good” self, who pushes me toward restriction, is frightened. She wants to hurry back before everyone sees what we’ve done.
However, the other part of me is angry and wants to take advantage of this opportunity. If dieting represents restriction, then binging/overeating represents complete and utter freedom. It’s my untamed ego, on the loose yet still laying low. However, she is hounded by my good self the entire time – “We should feel guilty. This isn’t right. Let’s turn back.”
I see the “bad” self in dreams when I’m screaming at people, breaking things and beating up authority figures. She doesn’t appear in my waking hours, thankfully, but it’s an expression of frustration for years of self-denial. In real life, instead of breaking the law, I eat whatever I want because it’s a way of saying “FU” to the world of restriction – food or otherwise. It’s like a jail break – I want to have as much fun as fast as possible before I’m caught.
Good or Bad, Still Trapped
Obviously, these are opposites on a continuum. When I artificially hold myself at the restricted end of the continuum, I am anxious and tense. I always fear failure. When I can’t do it anymore, I spring to the other end like releasing a taut rubber band. I eat to show my independence, to show that no one can stop me. But soon, the eyes of disapproval are too much and I trudge back to restriction. Either way, my soul is being controlled. Even when I think I have freedom, I am still just reacting to the perceived voice that judges me.
Complete Paradigm Shift
So how will this play out? Will I scurry back to restriction or careen out of control?
I’ve decided to throw the continuum out the window. No matter where I am, even in the middle, I am still a prisoner to these illogical beliefs. I want real freedom. I hope that by dragging these beliefs out into the open, the light of day will expose them as frauds.
Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson