Diet & Nutritional Supplements : What Is Compulsive Overeating?
Why Diets Don't Work
I often say that I have a PhD in emotional eating. My history of diets is illustrious—some might call it staggering.
It includes, but is by no means limited to, Grapefruit Diets, Thousand-Calorie-a-Day Sugar Diets, Fried Chicken Diets, Coffee-Cream-Soda-and-Cigarette Diets, Weight Watchers, water fasts, and, last but certainly not least, the Atkins Diet.
All of them worked for a week, a month, even a year. Sometimes I stayed at my goal weight for 10 minutes, sometimes I stayed longer, but eventually, inevitably—here's the bad news—every single diet stopped working.
And here's why: Diets don't work if they don't help you understand and resolve the emotional eating reasons you turn to food when you aren't hungry. They can't. When you lose weight on diets, you don't lose the emotional eating reasons. They're still there, waiting for the first opportunity to come out again and make you reach for food.
When you feel fat and miserable, the thought of going on a diet is incredibly seductive. You watch those breezy, thin women pull out the waists of their pants on the low-carb commercials. Or you read the latest article about "10 Butt Busters to Blast You into a Bikini" and decide that if only you could blast your butt, everything would be fine. A burst of hope fills you with inspiration, energy, and willpower. Soon you will be pulling out the waist of your tight jeans. You're going on a diet!
Don't Do It!
Here are four reasons why you shouldn't.
- For every diet, there is an equal and opposite binge, and you will gain more weight than you lost.
- The basic message of most diets is that you must repress and deprive yourself, because if you let yourself go, you will devour the universe. You begin to believe that you are hopeless, a bottomless pit of emotional eating. This isn't a kind thing to say to yourself. It's also not true. No one's hunger is bottomless.
- Long-lasting change can only come through kindness to yourself, mindfulness about what you are doing and why, and a willingness to act on your own behalf. Diets are like having a mean, abusive parent inside your head. They keep you stuck as a cowering child.
- Finally, deprivation, fear, shame, and guilt do not, and never will, lead to long-lasting, positive change.
MORE:What To Do When You Overeat
Why I Know This
When I stopped dieting, I was terrified. Because I had spent every single day of 17 years on either a diet or a binge, I was certain that, given the permission to eat as much ice cream as I wanted, I would gobble the entire half gallon.
But after the initial glee of releasing myself from diets jail, I discovered that it was the very fact that certain foods were forbidden that made them so attractive; I wanted what I couldn't have. When I gave myself permission to eat a half gallon of ice cream without feeling as if I were having an affair with a married man, I didn't want it anymore.
I began to understand that the only reason I had previously wanted the whole thing was because I wouldn't let myself eat any of it without guilt. When I took the emotional eating "forbiddenness" away, I also took away the need to rebel. When I stopped dieting, I stopped bingeing.
A student of mine was 60 pounds over her natural weight when she started to break free from dieting. One rainy winter night, she and her husband were cooking dinner, and she realized that she didn't want pot roast and vegetables. What she wanted was a piece of lemon meringue pie from Annie's Place in town. She sat with her husband while he ate his dinner, and then he drove with her to Annie's Place, although it was 10 miles away.
They sloshed into the restaurant and ordered tea and lemon meringue pie. My student took three bites and said, "I've had enough." Her husband was incredulous. "We just drove 10 miles in the pouring rain, and you only want three bites?" She nodded and said, "Geneen said we should eat what we want and stop when we've had enough. I've had enough." (He finished the pie.)
Later, she said, "It wasn't really the pie I wanted. I wanted to know that I deserved to have what I wanted. And I wanted to know that I was worth driving 10 miles in the rain to get it. Once I did that, the pie was unimportant." She became more and more discriminating about what she wanted to eat and when. At the end of 10 months, she had lost 50 pounds.
InZen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Shunryu Suzuki talks about giving farm animals big pastures in which to roam. He says that when you fence them in too tightly, they become wild and restless, but when you provide wide-open spaces, they relax. The same is true for humans.
Give yourself the benefit of trusting that you want what is best for yourself. If you don't treat yourself kindly, it's because you don't know how and you still equate kindness to yourself with eating. Start slowly. Discover the kinds of food that feel good in your body by eating when you are hungry and stopping when your body has had enough. Try to understand the emotional eating reasons you turned to food to begin with. Only then can you begin to listen to your hunger and reach your natural weight—kind of like having your cake and eating it, too.
Video: How to Stop Binge Eating and Emotional Eating for Life!
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