It’s what’s eating you!
A central principle underpinning the diet industry is that losing weight is difficult, and as such, you can only do so with the help of their (invariably expensive) diet, product, food programme, or more often than not, all of the above.
The flaw in all this is, if, somewhat like cosmetics, these actually worked, they would put themselves out of business in a short period of time. We would all gleefully shed the weight we want rid of, and the whole industry would disappear in a puff of success.
Except it isn’t like that. Miracle diets don’t work for most people. And as I started to tackle my personal issue with weight; the two stone I had added due to comfort eating after being made redundant from my job, I started to wonder why diets don’t work, and how I could make one work for me.
Two things hit me round about this point, however. One was that phrase – “comfort eating”, and the other was a piece of advice I was given years ago – “it’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you”. All that started me to wonder if, by changing my relationship with food, or more importantly, dealing with all the crap I was using food to self-medicate, could I be successful in getting rid of weight? Well, 29 pounds later, it turns out it is possible.
I didn’t say it was easy, I didn’t say it was difficult. I just said it was possible.
What does “food” actually mean?
Well, there’s the obvious dictionary definition that we could play with, but I started to get curious about why I was eating. In other words, what did food actually “mean” to me? Put another way, what purpose did food serve for me?
Clearly, food was providing for something other than the biological imperative of providing nutrients for my body; since I was gaining weight, I was clearly exceeding the biological imperative need.
There’s really no surprise there. Food in society has always, and probably always will provide for a range of societal needs. We eat together to form and reinforce bonds. We cook for each other as a demonstration of our regard and care for each other. But since no one could be accused of forcing me to eat, I had to accept that there was something wrong with my personal relationship with food. Which brought me back to that advice, and led me to ask myself, “so what is eating me”?
Reaching for meaning
I realised at the end of it that I was doing exactly what I had described myself as doing – “comfort eating”. I was dealing with the feelings of loss of security, rejection, loss of a sense of self-worth, all the emotions that being made redundant had evoked in me, by changing my emotional state using food.
I was on a sugar “high”. And I was eating to ensure that I stayed there, so I didn’t have to deal with the motional backlash of redundancy. The problem was, well, actually there were two problems.
One problem was that the food wasn’t actually dealing with the emotions – no matter how much I ate I still felt lost, abandoned, lonely, scared, all the things you go through, no mater how apparently irrational, when you are made redundant.
The other problem was that not only was all the eating not dealing with the emotional problems, it was adding the problem of low self esteem because I was adding all this weight.
And I could follow all the diet plans in heaven and earth until the day I died. No diet in the world was going to work, because it was dealing with a symptom, not a problem. My weight was symptom of how unhappy I was, and until I dealt with my unhappiness, no diet would ever work.
Happily, the converse is also true. Having dealt with much of not all the emotional fallout, the weight is falling off. And the funniest part is that I’m not following a diet. No expensive books, no “perfect, chef-created, calorie controlled meals delivered to my door”, followed by the exit of my pay check into their bank accounts.
For the first time in my life, I am in control of what I eat. The most amazing part is that having lost 29 pounds in three and a half months, I have never once felt hungry. Because I’m not self-medicating the pain any more.
Yes, I pay attention to what I am eating, but I’m not fixated with it, because I am eating enough to maintain a healthy diet, and so am returning, quite rapidly, actually, to a healthy weight.
Where to from here?
So if you are trying to lose weight, I’ve got a few suggestions:
Get curious about why you are eating, and what food is providing for you. Are you actually eating because you are hungry, or because you are bored, scared, tired, worried, lonely, whatever it is.
If it’s something other than hunger, get curious about how to fix the real problem. Even if that means spending time and money on a therapist to help you through. You can save up for it by not spending the money on diets that just reinforce your lack of self-worth
And if you don’t believe that food is a problem, even though your weight is increasing, keep a food diary. You’ll be horrified, as I was, at the number of calories in apparently innocuous foods, some of which claim to be “health” foods. The diary I use is at www.myfitnesspal.com but there are loads of them out there
And above all, stop beating yourself up for carrying weight. You’ve been doing the best you can for yourself.
But maybe, just maybe, it is time to ask yourself, “If it’s not what I’m eating, what is eating me?”
And while you are asking yourself, you might want to deal with your real hunger pangs using my recipe for…
Thai Fish Cakes
- 450 g any white fish, skinned and cut in chunks
- 1 stem fresh lemon grass
- 3-4 cloves fresh garlic
- 1.5 cm peeled ginger root
- 2 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 lime
- 2-3 red chillies
- 75g ground coconut
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- Blend the lemon grass, garlic, ginger root, kaffir lime leaves, lime zest, chillies and coconut in a food processor until very well chopped
- Add the fish, and chop together in the processor only until the fish is blended. You are trying for chopped, not a paste
- Tip out the resulting blend of flavourings and fish into a bowl
- Form into small patties, no more than about 0.5 cm thick and no more than about 3 cm wide
- Fry lightly in flavourless oil and serve with the following dipping sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp lime juice – juice the lime from above
- 1 tbsp Thai fish sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 chilli, de-seeded and chopped
- Stir all the ingredients together
I hope you enjoy them, and as always, until the next time, Bon Appétit