We typically approach diet, health and weight loss as a science: eat less, lose weight. Exercise more, lose weight. In this mechanistic view, we view the body as a machine, where we do X to get Y.
We focus on fixing the behavior (eating less junk food, less sugar; losing weight, and tempering our emotional eating) as the solution to our problem. To fix these bad behaviors, we employ all sorts of tricks: bribery (When I lose 20 pounds Ill buy a new wardrobe), vanity, putting up skinny photos of ourselves as thinspiration, blame, name calling (You fat cow!), punishment, guilt, shaming, boot camps, white knuckling it, and more.
The challenge with behavioral approaches is that their success often comes at a high cost. Even if they do work lets say you finally lose the weight the cost to your psyche, heart, and tender spirit is too much to bear.
This can play out in many ways. We may feel like somethings missing like weve become a rat in a laboratory and were just going through the motions. Theres no joy, no celebration. Food and weight become a dry, barren duty.
We may feel small and separate cut off from essential parts of ourselves as we judge which parts of us can be seen, felt and expressed and which parts are silenced. Its a high price to pay for reaching a happy weight, and eventually, were not willing to pay it. The soul longs for freedom and starts acting out in messy, messy ways (like eating an entire chocolate cake) that are bound to get our attention.
We may feel beaten up by self-criticism. Our standards of behavior are so high that we never get there, so were constantly frustrated by our lack of progress. We may be exhausted from shoulding all over ourselves: I should be thinner, I should eat less at night; I should exercise more, I should be kinder to my co-worker, I should be more patient with my child, I should be sexier
Or the control we enact to be good causes us to feel compulsive, anxious and tight. We live in a state of mental obsession, of constant rumination about the size of our butts, the content of our meals, and the fitness level of our bodies: what happens if I eat more than 1800 calories a day? If I dont walk for two hours each morning? Will I get fat again? We live in a very tight, narrow rigid space. It doesnt feel good even if we can slip into our skinny jeans.
But most of the time, this approach doesnt work. We gain back the weight. We put aside the eating plan. Life gets messy and we stop exercising. The consequence is that we feel frustrated and pissy and hopeless. We give up, believing healing is impossible.
Its not impossible. It does need a different approach.
In my experience, overeating is not healed through tricks, will power, or even well meaning attempts to eat healthier. Its definitely not healed through punishment: blaming, shaming, name calling and more. Its not necessarily healed through diet or nutrition, either, even though sound nutrition is an essential component for physical healing.
Overeating is healed in relationship. Im suggesting that weve got it backwards weve been trying to heal the behavior first, hoping that the relationship (self acceptance; healthy food choices; loving structures; kindness towards our bodies and more) will grow from there.
This is like trying to grow an apple tree without roots. Nothing grows without roots. Nothing grows without relationship.
I suggest we start with the roots. Its the relationship that you have with yourself, with food, your body, and your tender humanity that allows you to heal the behavior: the overeating thats driving you nuts.
To heal the behavior, first heal the relationship.
Here’s why: a relational approach offers much, much more than a thinner body or peace with food. There are hidden jewels gems you gain during the process. These include greater self compassion, self love, and self esteem; less perfectionism, all or nothing thinking, and anxiety; a greater comfort with our emotions, and an inner feeling of wholeness. Healing the relationship brings its own rewards along the way.
In addition, in my experience, healing the root of the problem is the only way to create lasting transformation: to create external change healthy, nourishing habits with food and internal change a healthy, nourishing relationship with yourself.
The mercy of this path is that its intrinsic in you. You dont have to force it. Everything wants to grow. An acorn longs to be an oak tree. A seed, a full blown plant. And you, the fullest expression of who you are. When you feed the roots the relationship you will grow.
And grow. And grow.
To learn more about using the power of relationship to heal overeating, try Heal Overeating: Untangled, 12 audio lessons to heal the roots of overeating.