Did you know that fat feelings are not actually about fat and that fat is not actually a feeling? Fat feelings are an expression of discomfort about something going on in your life. Yet, we are so conditioned to feel like there is something wrong with our bodies that we blame all the discomfort we are feeling on our bodies. Then we make a plan to change our bodies. This plan is a distraction from the real issue. It is also a way to feel like we are bringing control and certainty into life situations that feel chaotic and scary. So it's a brilliant coping mechanism, but it doesn't address the real issues.
Here is an example. A woman I know suddenly decided she wanted to do a fitness program at the local gym. She came up with all sorts of reasons for wanting to do this. She felt sluggish, she was tired all the time, she had the dreaded "brain fog"; she also had gained some weight recently and figured that the gym could help her with all these things. In order to feel better, she decided to try and lose some weight and vowed to cut sugar, wine, gluten and ice cream out of her diet.
So that was her plan. Dietary restrictions. Weigh yourself daily. And go to the gym. 5 days a week for 6 weeks. She was even going to get her money back if she completed the gym program and went to all the required sessions! How could she lose?
Here's how. Unfortunately, this plan is not without negative consequences.
First, by cutting calories and cutting out foods that used to give her pleasure, this woman now dreads her eating experiences. The food is boring and bland and not filling. She is thinking about food all the time. She has also had a few episodes where she has "gotten off track" and has eaten way beyond fullness feasting on "forbidden foods". But then she feels guilty and full of shame and recommits to her "clean eating" and gets back on the wagon every Monday. It's been 4 weeks and she has only had to restart 3 times! That's good right?
This woman also doesn't realize that her weight gain is due mostly to menopause and it is serving a beneficial biological function. This weight is going to help her live a longer life. But she is trying to get rid of it. What she doesn't know, or has forgotten since her last diet, is that by dieting and restricting her calories to lose weight, she is likely to gain back anything she loses plus more. She is better off leaving well enough alone if weight is her concern.
Also, what she hasn't taken into consideration, is the fact that she just got a big promotion at work and is going to be more visible and accountable from here on out. She is even going to be a guest speaker at the company convention! She loves her work and this is really exciting news. But also kind of scary right? There is uncertainty in a new position at work. There is discomfort. There is fear. There is anxiety and nervousness that she will do a good job. So how does she process this anxiety? Well, for some reason, at about the same time, she started to feel fat but she knows that if she can fix her body, she will feel so much better. Or will she?
She has now added the extra stress to her life of making it to the gym a certain number of times a week, doing a taxing workout that she doesn't even enjoy all that much, worrying about what to eat and how much and when, avoiding social situations where she can't control her food. She can't even kick back and relax with a glass of wine with her husband at night anymore. (And without wine, you know what else isn't happening!)
She hasn't done anything about the work anxiety that is slowly simmering underneath it all, because she is not even aware that she has those feelings and is behaving in reaction to them. She finds herself arguing more often with loved ones and on the verge of tears and she can't figure out what is going on. So she piles even more self hatred on herself and assumes she is angry because she can't lose this stupid weight.
Now what if we start over from the beginning. What if this woman had cultivated trust in her body and knew that her body was her friend? What if, as the feeling of discomfort arises from the job situation, instead of assuming it's food and body related and making a plan to change her body, what if this woman got curious? What if she sat in stillness and asked herself what was going on - where in her body was she feeling the discomfort? What did it feel like? What if she let the heaviness in her chest and the tightness in her belly speak for themselves.
What do you need? How can I help? I'm here for you - she can tell herself. What if in a flash of insight, she connects the heaviness in her body to the pressure put upon her with the new job. As it turns out, she hasn't reduced any of her responsibilities at home even though she has more responsibilities at work. Things are out of balance. She is not walking the dog as much as she used to and she is eating pre-prepared foods that don't even taste all that good but are quick and easy. She doesn't feel good but it has nothing to do with her weight. It does have to do with how she is taking care of herself - and restricting foods she loves and going to punishing workouts is only making things worse.
Instead, what if she realized she had to re-prioritize and make some changes? What if she asked her husband for help in getting to the grocery store and cooking some meals? What if she changed her schedule to go into work a bit later and started walking the dog more? What if she made sure she got a few dates on the calendar to go out to dinner with her husband or out to coffee with friends? What if she scheduled a massage for every other month and got some audio books on tape to keep her company for her commute to work? What if she continues to sit with her discomfort when it arises and takes steps to learn more about meditation and relaxation techniques?
Furthermore, what if she thanks her body for all it does for her every day and for all it has done for her in life? What if she is grateful to be active and healthy and loving her work and her home life? What if she treats her body with loving kindness, compassion and appreciation?
By addressing the root of her discomfort, and having a respectful relationship with her body, my friend can feel better sooner than later without ever going down the dark path of self hatred and body shame. I wish she actually knew this.
Does this happen to you? Do you automatically and unconsciously translate discomfort into a problem with your body? Do you make a plan to change your food in order to feel in control of your life? It's understandable, and natural and expected in the stressful culture that we live in today. However, it's not the only coping strategy, and not actually the healthiest or the most satisfying option. Life is supposed to feel good, and when it doesn't, it's time to find out why without blaming it all on your body. It's not your body's fault. Your body is just the messenger.
The next time you feel tempted to go down this road - making a plan to change your body, pause and say to yourself - "Honey - what do you need? It's ok, I'm here for you." Then let me know what happens next!