5 Questions to ask Yourself about Your "Weight Problem"
In my experience, both as a person who struggled with overeating and chronic dieting for decades, and now as someone who helps others stop dieting and heal overeating, people who struggle with “weight problems” are often hard on themselves, and this is actually a driver of dysregulated overeating.
Far from being lazy or unmotivated (something that their doctors, families and even they themselves often erroneously believe because of their size or shame about their food struggles), dysregulated eaters often use food to try to manage feelings, cope with life or meet unmet needs. It’s not surprising that using food in this way (eating problem) might lead to weight gain (“weight” problem).
Because most “weight problems” are actually “eating problems,” trying to restrict calories or change lifestyle-related habits is bound to fail if the underlying reasons for the eating behaviors are not addressed.
This is one reason that most diets fail and that so many people lose weight on diets only to regain it later. Starting from a place of deliberate curiosity and self-compassion, consider the following non-judgmental questions about what is driving your eating, and you just might open the door to sustainable healing.
Am I being self-compassionate and kind? A coach that I admire once said, “You can’t hate yourself thin.” Accepting your body as it is in the present moment, with compassion, is actually an important first step toward changing the thoughts and behaviors that aren’t working for you. Self-critical thoughts, on the other hand, are more likely to derail you when the going gets tough. When the urge to be self-critical surfaces, consider thoughts such as, “My body may not look or feel the way I would prefer, but I am always deserving of kindness, love, and respect, especially from myself.”
Am I using food for pleasure that I am otherwise missing in my life? Do I feel worthy and deserving of pleasure, a break, rest and relaxation, or am I harboring a childhood belief that I my value lies in my achievements or that it is wrong to relax? You can’t change what you do not acknowledge. Understanding your assumptions is a necessary first step in changing them.
Am I engaging in perfectionism or all-or-nothing thinking? Perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking are personality traits that are common among dysregulated eaters. Although laudable in certain situations – think about how being perfectionistic makes you very popular with your boss or team at work – these attributes may make you more likely to engage in your exercise routine either all the time, possibly overdoing it and setting yourself up for injury or burnout - or never - because you don’t have the time or energy to do it perfectly. Same goes for food choices. All or nothing thinking has derailed many a dieter. After eating nothing but “virtuous,” “healthy” diet foods for weeks, who hasn’t succumbed to a full-fledged binge after eating half a cookie, feeling ashamed, and thinking, “Oh, well. I’ve already ruined my diet. I might as well eat everything in site?” By training yourself to think in more rational, nuanced terms, you can learn to sustain positive changes and persevere in the face of lapses and setbacks.
Am I giving myself permission to rest, relax, slow down? I cannot tell you how many high achievers use food and eating to “get through the day.” Doctors and health professionals are particularly susceptible to this failure to pace themselves, because the work is never ending and in our training we succeeded by deferring our own needs for rest, sleep, relaxation, and time off in order to fulfill the requirements of our training. Once in practice, many of us experience symptoms of burnout and seek to self-medicate, often with food. Same goes for many other high achievers. By learning to give yourself permission to slow down and smell the flowers occasionally, you become more connected to the rewards of the present moment, which can short-circuit the urge to overeat.
Am I approval seeking? Do I have my own approval – do I know how to give that to myself? Once again, many high achievers thrive on outside approval, but forget to give it to themselves. When that outside approval is not forthcoming or not enough, we often seek solace in food. What follows is often a sense of disappointment in ourselves, shame over the eating episode, and a complete lack of understanding about what drove us to eat. Practicing self-acceptance, even in the face of mistakes and shortcomings, can make us more resilient. Plus, getting approval from within means that it is always available to you, which is more than you can say about ice cream.
These questions are a great place to start building the skills and habits you need to care for your body in a consistent, sustainable way.
If you coach, counsel, or love someone who struggles with overeating, feel free to share this with them. Skilled self-kindness is the way out of the cycle.
To learn more about how to implement these skills for yourself or with your clients, you are welcome to contact me.
Until next time, friends, here’s to your deliberate life!