Let’s Call a Ceasefire

Have you ever noticed that weight loss is always described in military terms or as something to win?  A few clicks on Fitness magazine’s website quickly provided me with many perfect examples. Take a closer look at newspapers, magazines and commercials – the war theme is everywhere.

 

  • “Beat the odds, and your genes, with these strategies to lose weight and keep it off for good.”
  • “For years you’ve been told that saturated fat is public enemy No. 1 in the battle against obesity and heart disease.”
  • “Researchers now believe that it’s best to tackle exercise first.”
  • “Losing weight is a precise numbers game, so you can’t really afford to loosen the reins too much.”
  • “The story of how she conquered her emotional eating habit.”
  • “Daily weighing is a winning weight-loss strategy.”
  • “Gaining more than five pounds over a week is a red flag.”
  • “Score a stronger core.”
  • “Burn calories and blast fat fast.”
  • “Tone your trouble zones.”
  • “Fit women whose flab-to-fierce successes will inspire you.”
  • “Don’t let these 12 bummers sabotage your spring or summer fitness plans.”
  • “The Seven Day Fat Fighting Menu.”
  • “Expert advice on how to fight your body’s natural chemical slowdown.”
  • “Battle to the finish line with our head-to-toe top picks for performance running gear.”

Common metaphors shape the way we perceive the world. By using these terms, we imply that weight loss is a struggle, one that requires you fight your own body to win. It also dictates the solutions we think are available. If losing weight is a battle, we choose strategies like obeying superiors (fitness experts), relying on willpower to fight obstacles (cravings and fatigue) and dehumanizing the enemy (berating ourselves for being fat). In our society’s war paradigm, we only view self-care as a means to stay motivated and have the energy to continue the fight.

At first, I wondered if I could use conflict resolution terms and techniques to create new positive metaphors. However, I realized that by doing so, I am acknowledging that a conflict existed in the first place and that it may arise again in the future. I settled on a completely different metaphor.

I am not at war; instead, I am caring for a newborn baby. Look at how drastically this changes my approach:

Discerning over Obeying
Instead of relying on external experts to tell me how to win the weight loss battle, I listen to my own body’s cues. Babies cry when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. They know the exact amount needed to feel content. I will remain mindful while eating and alert to my body’s sensations rather trusting the latest fitness industry leader or shocking media headline.

Health over Weight Loss
Instead of making weight loss something to win or lose, I remove it altogether from the priority list. Babies are seeking contentment, not a certain physique.  By listening to their body, their weight will fall where it should for optimum health. If I place health and contentment above all else, my weight will naturally fall to its intended number, which may or may not fit society’s standards. It is a side effect, not the goal.

Support over Coercion
Instead of using willpower to push through discomfort, I will pay attention to what is causing the discomfort and tend to it in a positive way. When babies cry, it is usually one of four things – they need food, sleep, cuddling or a diaper change. Before parents begin to tell the difference between these needs, they try each one until the baby is content.  I will try all of my self-care options (more sleep, time with friends, more exercise, etc.) until the issue of willpower resolves itself.

Natural over Processed
Instead of choosing modified diet foods, I will choose unprocessed and organic as much as possible. A mother’s milk has what a baby needs; the closer to its original form, the better. However, it is not always practical. Mothers may pump breast milk or supplement with formula, depending on the situation. I will be flexible in my food choices, yet strive for pure, natural forms of food.

So, although the title for this post is “Let’s Call a Ceasefire,” from now on I will remove aggressive military terms from my vocabulary when talking about my health. I am not attacking, fighting, battling or trying to win the war on my weight. I am nurturing, nourishing and caring for my body. YAWN. Time for a nap!

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Food for Thought

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.

Restricted Eating

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.

Overeating

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