A Habit Worth Breaking - Viewing Fat as the Enemy
A Habit Worth Breaking - Viewing Your Body as an Enemy
Fat as the enemy
First and foremost, let us remember (and celebrate) that not everyone who is "overweight" is unhappy with his or her body. Many large people are quite comfortable with and well-served by a large body, and we support them by respecting this fact. For others, it is not the size or shape of their bodies, but rather the stigma and judgment that they face from society that pains them. Internalized weight stigma and shame causes a great deal of pain for people who would otherwise be quite satisfied with their bodies, and the solution to this lies more in the way we think, feel and talk to ourselves than in how we eat, exercise or how much weight we gain or lose on any given day. The medical community tends to promoting health and wellness by promoting outcomes and behaviors, and many of us criticize ourselves harshly when we fail to achieve a certain weight or practice those behaviors consistently. Psychology tells us that our thoughts, feelings and beliefs not only drive our behaviors but also determine how consistently we practice and how long we sustain those behaviors. This post is intended as food for thought for those of any weight who are uncomfortable with the size, weight, or shape of their body and believe they would like to change it.
Many of us view our fat as the enemy, but that means hating something that is part of us. How can you love and care for yourself when you are hating or criticizing the body that houses and expresses the products and gifts of your mind, and spirit? When you criticize your shape, your weight, or your eating habits, you alienate yourself from important information, keeping you stuck in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. A very brilliant coach named Brooke Castillo (you can visit her website and learn more about her books, programs, and talents here) teaches her students and clients that “you cannot hate yourself thin.” I agree. In fact, I encourage my clients to become strident and defiant about refusing to criticize and hate themselves as part of their recovery from overeating, body dissatisfaction, and self-criticism.
Your New Habit: Seeing "the problem" as a source of awareness
What if we refuse to hate ourselves and instead choose to see the cause of our dissatisfaction (our thighs, our “extra” fat, or our cravings for non-nourishing foods, our body dissatisfaction, for example) as a learning opportunity? What if, in the words of Ryan Holiday, “The obstacle is [actually] the way?”
If you are uncomfortable with your body, your weight, or your eating habits, then perhaps the fat is there to help you to understand what is not working for you, so that you can improve your self-care. A friend of mine once described her fat as a symptom of her past and current pain and detachment from herself. In her case, the fat itself was not the problem, but rather a signal that she was starving for connection, healing, and her own attention. Because most “weight problems” are actually eating and/or body image problems, the same could be said of overeating, self-criticism, or for any other habit that interferes with our personal connection to ourselves and living the deliberate, self-directed life we crave.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that maybe the fat is a guide, kind of like a Sherpa to our internal world that is there to lead us to kindness, self-compassion, growth and sustainable self-care. Fat used to be coveted as a source of much-needed warmth and calories during periods of famine. Nowadays it is often viewed by those of us struggling with eating, weight, and body image concerns as the source of our suffering. However, if we instead view the fat as a signal of an unmet need or an indicator that our life has become unbalanced, a previously unseen world opens up to us. Could it be an indicator that we are needing more kindness, better balance in how and why we eat, how we move, and how we protect our boundaries, say no, and generally care for ourselves? Are we hungry for our own acceptance, compassion, attention, unconditional love, comfort and space to grow? Is hating your body the answer, or is it a symptom that is time for a new approach? Maybe it’s an opportunity to evolve into our adult role as our own wise, competent, confident self-nurturer. Maybe it’s time to be deliberate about creating that life for ourselves.
Signs of Success:
1. You begin deliberately to treat your body as you would a treasured friend, rather than as a disappointment. You seek to protect, nurture, and strengthen it.
2. Curiosity, not criticism, becomes your first reaction to dissatisfaction with your body, eating habits, and self-care skills.
3. Your self-talk becomes more encouraging and empowering. You notice that you jump to self-criticism less and less as you become more aware of and tuned in to your feelings and the needs and values that the feelings are there to communicate.
You don’t have to do this perfectly, of course. Awareness is the first step toward progress, and baby steps become big steps with practice.
In the next “Habits worth breaking” post, we’ll define dysregulated eating and consider the personality attributes that often characterize people who struggle with it.
I hope this post has been helpful to you.
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