Many Americans will begin another year with a resolution to lose weight. Most will start out with a bang, but then fizzle out like New Year’s Eve fireworks.
The majority will lose weight, but only a small percentage will keep it off. Most will gain it all back, plus more. They will then jump again onto the merry-go-round of dieting, which always leads to the feeling of deprivation. This usually leads to a binge, which causes shame and despair. Then the cycle continues and the person hops back on the dieting bandwagon.
The cycle continues until they understand the truth: Food and body image issues are much more about our hearts and stories than about calories and exercise. Granted, a calorie is a calorie, and exercise is pivotal (unless it becomes an addiction, which happens to many people).
But food/body image issues (including eating disorders, although they are much more complex than this) are issues of the heart.
This trap of dieting, bingeing, dieting, and bingeing is a vicious cycle. Sometimes it includes purging and/or over-exercising (which is a relatively common addiction in which people look great on the outside but feel like a 90-year-olds due to all the wear and tear on their bodies).
More recently, research has poured in showing a strong correlation between binge eating, purging, and binge drinking. The cycle of dieting, bingeing, dieting, bingeing repeatedly is hard on the body, mind, and soul. And considering that less than 1% of the people who lose weight will keep it off, why not deal with the roots of the problem?
If you are a professional dieter, you probably know so much about dieting you could write a book on it. But the problem is you have missed the major piece of the puzzle. I know I’ve already said it, but I want to shout it from the Space Needle:F
Food, weight, and body image issues are much more about our hearts and our stories than about calories, carbs, and exercise. If you continue to concentrate on the symptoms instead of the causes, it is like putting gas in a car that has a hole in the gas tank. You will be successful, but only for a while. This blog (and book, which is almost complete) addresses the underlying issues so that you will have a greater chance of beating the Body Image Bandit.
Make this the year to address the underlying issues so that you can become the person you were meant to be.
My hope and prayer is that you continue on the journey of changing your heart, working on the causes of your food issues instead
By now, if you have been following this blog for long, you understand that issues with food, weight, and body image are much more about your heart and your story than food and weight. Let me say it again: It is NOT about food! It is about your heart and your story. Until you work on these underlying issues, you will not fight the Body Image Bandit and win. Geneen Roth, writer and body image specialist, recently addressed this on Oprah. One of the women interviewed had been 100 pounds overweight. But in working through her story, she realized the weight gain coincided with the divorce of her parents. She had been dieting on and off for years, but until she addressed that pain in her heart and her story, she could not keep the weight off. This did not surprise me at all because issues with food and body image are much more of a symptom than people realize. If you treat the symptom only, it is like covering up an infected wound with a bandage.
What would it look like for you to finally work on the roots of your issues instead of treating your symptoms only? And how can you re-learn a healthy relationship with food? Since we have seen over 250,000 ads by the age of seventeen, and we are constantly bombarded with ads about delectable foods as well, our relationships with food are entangled in a web of confusion. On the one hand, the images re-program our brains to think, “To be thin is beautiful, and beauty is almost everything.” Of course we know deep down that our worth is in our hearts, but the media drowns us in toxic messages so we get confused. At the same time, the media floods us with juicy, delectable images and messages about foods that are dripping with taste. And of course most of these foods are high in fat and sugar. So our relationship with food plummets to a deeper level of confusion.
We want to have it all, which is why so many fall into the arms of eating disorders. Eating disorders – particularly bulimia – make us believe that we can have it all and get away with it. But of course we know now from research that people actually die of bulimia. It is another example of the enemy disguising himself as an angel of light. Or perhaps we choose anorexia and it eats away at our hearts and our lives. Whenever we deny ourselves, we develop an insatiable hunger which results in the sick cycle of dieting and bingeing (and for some, purging or over-exercising). (For more information, check out my blog postings on The Sick Cycle of Dieting, Bingeing, Purging, and Over-exercising.) So dieting and denial is a landmine that will completely distort our relationships with food until we feel completely hopeless and powerless.
About two months ago, I started to pray wholeheartedly for God to give me a healthy relationship with food. I know dieting is a monster because it only leads to feeling deprived, which creates a binge mentality. This is why research shows that almost everyone who diets loses weight, but later gains it all back- plus more! But I also know that purging is not the answer and is in fact extremely dangerous. Thankfully, by the grace of God I have never been chained to the beast of bulimia (see my blog posting, Confessions of a Purging Flunky). I have also received a lot of counseling and the Lord has helped me to work through my own issues – yet at the same time I know that this side of Heaven, I will always have issues.
And so I finally put my relationship with food on my prayer list. Several times a week, I prayed for God to give me a healthy relationship with food. I think he has. Please understand that I am not talking about cutting out everything, because that is what leads to a feeling of depravation. Then all heck breaks loose and you eat everything that is not nailed down. (You’ve been there, done, that, and got the tee shirt, haven’t you?) So I have been eating better as far as more fiber and less fat, etc. BUT I do not deprive myself! I still have mochas, ice cream, etc. about once a day. I have not concentrated on eating or not eating any certain way – I have simply prayed for God to give me a healthy relationship with food. I have lost about ten pounds, which is significant since I’m under 5’3”. More importantly, I feel released from the world’s messages about food and body image, for the most part. I will keep praying and keep you posted.
And so I would like to ask you to take the 40-Day Challenge: Pray every day, asking God to give you a healthy relationship with food. He is faithful and he will answer you and take off the chains of despair about food and body image. That is the only way to fight the body image bandit and win. Ask God to set you free…And please keep us posted!
“When did you first begin to substitute food for love?” I asked my client. (Note: Names and identifying information have been changed to protect confidentiality.)
“I don’t really know,” she answered, reaching for the Kleenex box. “I remember in high school when I’d lost a lot of weight, and this really popular guy gave me the eye, if you know what I mean,”
My nod encouraged her to continue. “What did you do right after he gave you the eye?” I asked, knowing what she would probably say.
“I went right home and raided the fridge.”
“You’re terrified of your own beauty?” I asked, althought it was spoken softly and sounded more like a statement than a question.
“I guess so. His look made me realize at that second that if I didn’t put a layer of protection around myself – actually a layer of fat – then I would probably be abused again, or turn back into my old promiscuous self, which is even worse. So yeah, I guess you could say I am terrified of my own beauty.”
She grabbed her long, sleek brown hair and began to twist, which I recognized as a sign of anxiety. conversation caused her to ponder difficult issues – issues that are much more about the heart and her story than calories and fat grams.
I encouraged her to continue therapy to get to the roots of the issues, which often display themselves through many secondary symptoms, including:
- Eating disorders
- Drug, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping and other addictions
- Promiscuity or lack of sexual intimacy
- Difficulties in friendships and other relationships
When did you first start to gain weight? is a MILLION dollar question! I cannot stress this enough. Something happened to the person at that time in her life. It may have been the divorce of her parents, sexual abuse, or another extremely painful situation. Until the pain is dealt with, people trying to lose weight will continue to dance around the symptoms. They will often lose weight, but then – just as research shows – most of them will gain all of it back, plus MORE!
This client has now lost over 80 pounds and has kept it off for several years. I ran into her a while ago, and asked her how she lost the weight. “It was mostly the counseling,” she said. “You helped me to process through the hardest parts of my story, and then I turned to food less and less.” She is now much more comfortable with her own beauty, and refuses to substitute food for love.
Does this mean everyone who is significantly overweight has experienced abuse? Of course not. However, many who have struggled with weight issues have experienced major trauma in their lives. Usually they will continue to struggle with the weight until they have the courage to face the roots of their issues – the pain in their hearts that grew from seeds of sadness in their stories.
Being overweight is usually a symptom of underlying issues, and more than likely the weight loss won’t stick until these issues are addressed. To work on the weight alone is somewhat like chopping off the top of a weed in your garden. The root will be hidden for a whole, but sooner or later the weed will reappear.
Make 2010 the year that you work on your own life story with a licensed mental health counselor who addresses the causes of issues and not only symptoms. Then you will fight the body image bandit and win because you will no longer substitute food for love. You will become the person you were meant to be…
© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies: Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies: Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Tooshie: Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
|After her brother said she was fat, Karen (not her real name) vowed to do whatever it took to get into a pair of size 6 Calvin Klein jeans. Most women who struggle with eating disorders remember this type of significant moment in their stories. This vow included starving herself to the point that she passed out on a beach.
When she regained consciousness, the EMT asked her, “What can I do to prevent this from happening to my daughter?” With tears in her eyes, she answered, “You can love her unconditionally.”
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe these elephant thighs,” you remark in front of the mirror as you try on a new pair of jeans.
“Maybe I have elephantitis, and my doctor hasn’t diagnosed me yet.” Your daughter hears this, and you both laugh.
But the problem with these types of negative body image statements is that they cut deeply into her soul, doing much more harm than you realize. Such comments, even if said in jest, reinforce the belief in our culture which screams, “If you’re not toothpick thin, you are ugly.”
This spurs girls, sometimes starting before age five, into dieting. Then they begin the roller coaster ride of dieting and later bingeing because they feel so starved.
This leads to shame, which leads back to dieting again. Even if they get down to a normal size, they still feel fat. If they have people-pleasing, perfectionistic personalities, they often get swallowed up with anorexia.
If they are not people-pleasers, they often flirt with throwing up until it develops into full-blown bulimia. But when they throw up, they are actually trying to purge all the hurtful feelings stored in their hearts.
This is why learning to express true feelings is so important. (I will write more about this in another blog.)
Here are some ways you can protect your daughter (or son, as more and more boys are developing eating disorders) from eating disorders:
- Avoid talking about dieting, fat, or your fanny. Whenever you do this, your daughter is getting the message that her value rests on how thin she is
- Discourage dieting, as it usually leads to a lifelong obsession with black-and-white thinking in regards to food
- Discourage your daughter from looking at beauty and fashion magazines. Research shows this leads to depression
- Stop praising girls for their beauty. Instead, focus on their other strengths and accomplishments, When we praise girls for their appearance, we reinforce the cultural tsunami of lies that drown girls in feelings that they are only valued for their appearance.
- Be aware that certain activities such as ballet, modeling, gymnastics, and wrestling often emphasize thinness, which puts your child more at risk for developing an eating disorder
- Encourage your child find out which physical activities he or she enjoys, so they can have fun while getting exercise
- Promote a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that kids tend to pick up their parents’ lifestyle habits, whether they are smoking, exercising, obsessing about dieting, or eating lots of sweets. Work toward moderation so that they don’t feel deprived, yet get the benefits of a well-rounded eating pattern
Of course there are no guarantees, but these suggestions will help your child to feel good about himself or herself, appreciating the unique characteristics that God has given them. Also keep in mind that many more boys and men are now falling prey to eating disorders.
© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies: Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies: Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies: Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This article is taken from a newsletter on my web site: www.notjustsymptoms.com. Click on Newsletters on the right side of the home page.