When someone comes to me for help, they are seeking guidance for how to rid the horrific side-effects of dieting. These effects are described as chronic anxiety, paranoia, panic, fear, and obsessive thinking about size, weight, clothes, food, and restrictions. They are ridden with incessant pressure to fix their body, anxiety about food, and are heavily burdened by the daily task of starving in order to feel safe and adequate in their body.
When you look at the negative emotions one has about themselves, it's clear why the abuse and dysfunction of dieting is rationalized as a worthy cause. The obsessive mental focus on restrictions, food, and exercise are promoted as “healthy”, with the underlying belief that all of the negative emotions will go away once their body is good enough.
The problem with this focus is that it misdirects and projects the original emotions one has about themselves onto the body. But in fact, the emotions were there prior to believing weight-loss would make the uncomfortable emotions go away. Once an individual believes fat loss will make them feel better emotionally, fat becomes the focal point of cause and effect. In other words, if you feel ashamed and you believe losing weight will make those feeling go away, the unintended consequence is that gaining fat becomes a cause of shame.
For me, days after a traumatic sexual assault, I decided losing weight would help me direct and control intolerable feelings of loss, darkness, shame, fear, chaos, and disorientation. Because I didn’t understand the trauma or recognize why I felt ashamed, my first instinct wasn’t to fix the experience, but rather to blame and fix myself. My way to resolve feelings of inadequacy, failure, and chaos was through organization, order, and control of food, and through a fantasy that fat loss would make me feel powerful and safe.
I consciously made my diet and body my unconscious cause and effect.
Once I began to successfully restrict food and lose weight I experienced feelings of peace, calm, quiet, safe, and order. But the moment I deviated from the safety of my diet, my coping mechanism became my biggest enemy. It became a bigger cause of failure and emotional pain than the original trauma itself.
Feelings of failure, inadequacy, shame, chaos, disorientation, and panic came flooding back, but worse. The only focus that would remove those feelings was to eliminate the damage. Purging, excessive exercise and obsessive dieting took over. Like a rabbit hole, I was sucked into a vicious cycle of mostly shame, fear, panic, anxiety, starving, and severe psychological pain.
At its worst I would have to exercise to burn at least 1200 calories a day and would starve enough to binge and purge 8-12 a day. All just to feel fleeting moments of safety. Ninety percent of my day was spend in horror and heavy depression, especially when I realized there was no way out. It wasn’t until I had decided to commit suicide that the process unraveled.
In the end, I had to get down to the original emotions and detach them from my body. I had to experience those emotions as a soul, not a body, giving me clarity, perspective, and freedom from the torture of trauma and the suffering of my coping mechanism.
The people who come to me for help, I understand. I know what Hell feels like and despite feeling inescapable, there is freedom. But not without going into the original emotions, and not with coping mechanisms to escape.
When you have the humility to willfully surrender ALL coping mechanisms you accept responsibility for your emotions. You open your mind to recontextualize trauma, and have compassion for yourself and others. You open your soul to the grace necessary to recognize illusions, and the freedom from having to be defined by them.
There is freedom, and it isn’t with a coping mechanism. Once you open yourself to what you are afraid to feel, you are given perspective. Here is a session with a client where I discuss the insanity of dieting and the truth of what your desire to lose weight is hiding.
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