Dieting as a Distraction

img_20161203_145718083_hdr_31363430996_oIs anyone else physically and mentally exhausted by the end of the Julian calendar year? This year was no exception for me, and with the addition of an emotionally draining U.S. election season that did not end in a way I had hoped it would, well, I went into a bit of a tailspin.

Actually, it was a huge, tornado-style tailspin.

Long story short, I ended up in a mildly depressed funk. I’d been here before, in the past, and I knew it would only last a few weeks during which I would remain a reasonably high-functioning human. But it doesn’t feel great. I do not sit will with the yuckiness of malaise.

As time marched on, I began to find myself preoccupied with my body. Specifically, how it looked. I found old, distant feelings arising – namely, dissatisfaction. As a result, I suddenly felt the tug of an old relfex: the desire to diet to control my shape and weight.

Now, luckily for me, I have a few things going in my favor: 1. I committed way back to never diet again. I never wanted to experience the bitter combo of futility, sadness and hunger that dieting left me with. 2. I have wholly committed to honor the wisdom of my body and have promised to fully support it in whatever shape and size it takes, even if it’s a size and shape that takes me out of the realm of societal acceptability. So dieting again IS NEVER an option for me, and for that, I’m so glad. I know that feeling bad about my body in these instances is the symptom, not the problem.

I started to remember other times I experienced depression, and my reactions in those times.

At the age of 22, when my mother was dying, I turned to dieting to distract myself and exert some form of control on my clearly out-of-control life.

At the age of 31, when I found myself in a committed, long-term relationship that didn’t satisfy me, I turned to dieting to get my “perfect” body to solve my unhappiness.

It’s obvious that dieting or a smaller body could not possibly have solved either of those problems, yet that’s exactly what I did to try to ease my suffering because diet culture tells us that we only need to lose weight to make our lives better. So it wasn’t surprising to me at all that this reflex arose at this time of sadness and insecurity and fear. The urge to deny myself my most basic need – food – in order to gain control at a time when I feel I have no control over what happens is so strong, but makes so little sense and is not kind.

Instead of diving back into restriction, though, I decided to just sit with those feelings. I made space for them. I pondered them. I thought about how that solution worked out for me in the past (spoiler alert: not so well. I still had to deal with all those messy feelings and situations in the end, and I was hungry on top of it). I knew I would not diet, and I knew I would have to sit with feelings of body and life and world dissatisfaction and just do my best to deal with it.

In enough time, I felt myself emerge, ever so slowly, from the darkness of these thoughts. I have a great support system at home and that helps. I did some gentle yoga to get myself back in touch with the physicality of my body — to sense what it felt like rather than what it looked like. I’m living with uncertainty without using starvation as a proxy for control. I’m caring for myself in constructive, not destructive ways. My body is not actually the problem, and I don’t need to try to change it.

If you’re finding yourself going down this particular road, stop and give yourself a hug. Think about what you really need. You’d be better off in a Snuggie with a hot cup of tea on the couch doing some comfort-TV binge-watching than trying to diet again. If you need to reach out for help, do that. Just know that dieting and weight manipulation is not real control, it’s not real power, and it just weakens us further. That’s not something that any of us needs in hard times.

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6 thoughts on “Dieting as a Distraction

  1. Sabrina December 5, 2016 / 4:36 pm

    This post really resonates with me. When I look back at my forays into the diet world, they all coincide with periods of depression, anxiety, or insecurity in my life. I went on my first diet at 17, when I was finding it difficult to end an unsatisfying romantic relationship while also facing the unknown of life away from home once I left for college. Another diet at age 20 coincided with a period of untreated seasonal affective disorder and its accompanying depression. And the last diet I ever went on, at 33, coincided with the end of my years of early motherhood, as I faced the fact that I had been doing for others so long that I no longer knew who I was or what I needed. In retrospect I see that those diets were attempts at control at times when I felt I had none.

    I too am feeling the end-of-year funk, punctuated with fear and anger after the election. I am not feeling the pull to diet, surprisingly, though I must say I did feel a strong pull to start lifting heavy weights and perhaps start a martial arts practice (so I can get strong for the revolution and be ready to kick someone’s ass if needed!), so there is still that pull to change my body to deal with the uncertainty and fear about the future. My yoga practice and hikes have been important ways to feel my feelings and my body while providing an outlet for the anxious energy I’m feeling right now. And now more than ever I’m finding it’s important to feed my body (and those of my family) well. We need strong, nourished bodies to weather what comes our way in the next 4 years.

    Thanks for your post, and lots of love to you as you work through this challenging time.

  2. Ocean Bream December 6, 2016 / 1:59 pm

    Wow. I wish you all the best. This post really spoke to me.

    • GlenysO December 6, 2016 / 4:02 pm

      Thank you! I never mind sharing TMI if it will help someone else 🙂

  3. sixmonthstosanity December 6, 2016 / 7:20 pm

    “I’m living with uncertainty without using starvation as a proxy for control.” –> Whoa. YES. So well put.

  4. Grab the Lapels December 9, 2016 / 7:40 am

    Since the election and Brexit and other situations have made many of us feel utterly out of control, I can easily see how dieting would make a person feel in control of at least ONE aspect of their lives. But that’s not what our bodies are for! Nice post, Glenys.

    • GlenysO December 9, 2016 / 9:14 am

      Yes, seems like the whole world is going in a direction I don’t like. But still trying not to take it out on my body :-/

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