Dieting and Control

When people suddenly start to talk about wanting to lose weight when they haven’t been talking about it before, I wonder what is going on for them. Frequently, what I find out is they are feeling powerless. It seems to me that dieting* is often a way for people who feel powerless to assert some control over an aspect of their lives: their bodies and the food they feed to their bodies. It is understandable that people would want to assert control in their lives in this way.

The problem with trying to feel some control via dieting is that it only works in the short term and it doesn’t usually help in the areas of life which are feeling overwhelming. If you are feeling overwhelmed by a bad relationship, dieting doesn’t help the relationship, it just makes you temporarily smaller. If you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, dieting doesn’t get to the root of the anxiety, it just temporarily distracts you. In my opinion, dieting is usually a way for people to avoid dealing with something else.**

So, if your life is feeling out of control, instead of going on (yet another) diet or making a “lifestyle change” that makes you feel deprived, try one of the following coping strategies instead:

  • Meditate. Sit quietly, close your eyes, and pay attention to your breath. When your mind wanders, as it always will, just notice it with a smile and bring your attention back to your breath. When your anxieties about your life arise, as they will, just notice them, be aware of the feelings, and bring your attention back to your breath. Guided meditation CDs can be very helpful as well. I particularly like the ones by Tara Brach.
  • Take one very small step towards improving one of the areas of your life that seems overwhelming. For example, if your finances are a mess, one small step might be asking some friends if they know any good financial planners. Or it might be creating a file system for your financial papers. Or it might be setting the goal of saving a small amount of money every week for emergencies.
  • Write it down, paint it, sing it. Creatively express how your life feels out of control right now.
  • Call a friend. Talk to someone who cares about you about how difficult your life is at the moment. Cry on someone’s shoulder.
  • Ask for help and guidance. Pray, if that is meaningful to you. Talk to a therapist. Find a mentor. Have a frank conversation with your partner about what you need.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, just the coping strategies that occurred to me at this moment. The point is to do something that doesn’t encourage you to avoid the difficulties or to numb out about them, but to acknowledge and address them. This is all easier said than done, I know — but dieting isn’t any easier.

And eat healthily and with pleasure. Treat yourself well and accept your body as it is.

  1. * I am including here the kind of dieting that people label “lifestyle changes” while still having the goal of weight loss. []
  2. ** When people eat compulsively, and it is not a reaction to having been recently starved by dieting, then compulsive eating is also an avoidance behavior, just like alcohol, drug use, gambling, etc. I just put “dieting” in that category as well. []

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