“Feeling Fat”: How to Move On From Using Diets as Coping Mechanisms
I felt utterly, completely lost when I finally ditched diet culture.
Sure, I’d mostly untangled myself from the mess, but still — diets were an easy coping mechanism. Like a deck of cards, you could fan them out and pick one to play. Low energy? There’s a diet for that. Sluggish digestion? There’s a diet for that. Hormonal imbalance? Yup, one for that too.
Whatever your problem, whether a bad breakup (too much ice cream? There’s a diet for that) or trauma, there’s a diet in the wings, just waiting for you to mutter, “I’ll start this on Monday.”
According to The Bodywise Woman by Judy Mahle Lutter, 50% of American women are on a diet at any given time, up to 90% of teenagers diet regularly, and up to 50% of younger kids have tried a diet at some time.
Diets — which science tell us time and time again do not work (as in, they don’t do what they say they’re going to do.)
They stress us out, slow the rate of weight loss with each successive attempt, teach the body to retain more fat when you begin eating normally again, decrease metabolism (1).
They increase binges and cravings, increase risk of premature death and heart disease, cause satiety to atrophy, and cause body shape to change. (1)
Diets also erode our confidence, self-trust, and have been linked to eating disorders (30% of pathological dieters go on to develop a partial or full-blown ED). (1)
But still, even knowing this, we can’t escape them. In fact, “fatness” has become an epithet for nearly anything undesirable, from financial troubles to a break-up. “Fat, skinny, or in between, all compulsive eaters feel fat. When they say that they feel fat, they are really saying that they feel bad. Use the word fat to mean bad is more significant as a sign of our culture’s fat phobia than it is a description of body size. Fat in our society is an epithet” (2)
Wherever we look, we’re told fat is the worst thing a woman can be (well, next to promiscuous, but even that is debatable these days.) We’re encouraged to shed fat, burn fat, spot reduce. I can’t go to the gym without a trainer affirming how many calories I’m burning, scroll through Instagram without being told which foods to eat (and when to eat them and in what quantity), or grocery shop without being told, time and time again, that I should always be monitoring.
We never speak positively about body fat, even though it’s saving our asses. Those in northern climates, for example, were originally heavier than those in southern climates because their lives depended on it (2).
Body fat keeps us warm (it regulates temperature), supports healthy reproduction (especially in women), helps to regulate nutrients, and is essential to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails.
So in short: without body fat, our species would cease to exist.
You’ll have to excuse the drama.
What does this have to do with feeling lonely after leaving diets in the dust?
It means you’ve been robbed of your coping mechanisms. You can’t shelve your miserable feelings in the corner and pretend they don’t exist. You can’t continue to distract yourself from the real issues at hand by chasing after an impossible aesthetic.
For me, it meant I could no longer play small in my business. It meant I could no longer transmit the same messages I’ve been spewing about health and wellness. I could not continue to avoid accepting my body as it was and is and will be. I could no longer put off getting rid of the clothes that no longer fit because I was finally honouring my hunger and fullness cues and had quit restriction in all forms.
For you it may mean…
Dealing with an unsatisfying relationship.
Figuring out your next career move so you don’t dread going into work.
Coping with negative emotions in a way that doesn’t involve a disordered relationship with food.
Finally booking the trip of a lifetime to Bali even though you feel you can’t afford it.
Enrolling in yoga teacher training, instead of listing the reasons it doesn’t make sense.
Pursuing adoption on your own, because you never met anyone who felt ‘right’ and you always wanted children.
Delaying our hopes, wishes, and desires doesn’t always mean we’re crutching on diets, but dieting can prevent a part of us from growing up and fully embracing our inner selves.
But to mature into intuitive eating, we need to create our own self-care box. We need to figure out what makes us feel good, what lights us up, what brings us joy. You know, the opposite of a diet.
This could include a mix of things, like:
Watching Netflix while enjoying a delicious glass of kombucha
Heading to a yoga class on a Sunday morning
Getting together for coffee with an old friend
Spending a rainy day reading and drinking tea instead of killing yourself at the gym
Enjoying a night of pizza and board games with your family
Hosting a frisbee game in the park
Going for a run (not my thing, but possibly yours?)
Starting an art project
Taking a photography class
Cooking a new recipe
Catching the latest Woody Allen flick
Watching a live music show
Colouring (there’s such a thing as adult colouring books and they are awesome)
Taking a relaxing bath at home with candles and romantic music
Hosting an impromptu dance party (yesssss)
It doesn’t matter if none of these resonate with you. I encourage you to brainstorm some ideas on what you could add to your personal toolbox to help you to cope with those times when you would otherwise restrict, deprive, or engage in bingeing or binge-like behaviours.
What would you include in your self-care toolbox?
1. Intuitive Eating, 3rd Edition. Resch, Elyse and Tribole, Evelyn. St. Martin's Press, 2012.
2. Overcoming Overeating: Conquer Your Obsession with Food. Hirschmann, Jane R and Munter, Carol H. Vermillion, 2000.