When you're itchy, it feels good to scratch – it's a distraction from the discomfort. But when you're not itchy, relentless scratching will hurt. People who struggle with disordered eating might feel itchy all the time. There's a persistent irritation deep inside where they believe that their bodies are flawed. So they restrict food, go on diets, and emotionally eat to get momentary relief from the itch. But, of course, that only leaves the irritation to fester.
People in recovery understand that they can't heal by obsessively scratching that itch. Acting out in any part of a yo-yo dieting cycle only leaves a person spinning in the whole miserable circle. Instead, they have to work at the root of the irritation. They have to face and recover from the experiences and conditioning that caused them to dislike their bodies and distrust their appetites in the first place.
In my book, Non-Dieting: How to Love Your Body and Be Healthy in Diet Culture, I write about my life as a dieter. Back then, I felt itchy all the time. My brain became hungry due to my fear that my body was flawed, the stress of weight-watching, and chronic malnutrition. I was stuck in the yo-yo dieting cycle -- alternating between restricting food and losing control over my eating. And while my size and shape made sense for my frame and genetics, I felt like I was overweight. Back then, I was in such pain because I falsely believed what diet culture promotes -- that if I could get control of my appetite and lose weight, I would be at peace.
But then I walked into a yoga studio, where I started a mindfulness meditation practice. Over time, that practice changed my mind and calmed my overactive nervous system (most dieters suffer from a hostile ego and a nervous system stuck in fight-and-flight, by the way -- we treat this condition with neurofeedback brainwave training). I learned how to let go of the punishing body standards and moral judgments I internalized while marinating in diet culture. I also learned how to be kind and gentle with myself, which helped me develop a sense of worth.
Most surprising to me was that when I changed my mind, the hungry sea inside grew calm. The itch was gone, so I no longer felt compelled to act out in my yo-yo dieting cycle. When we feel good inside, we don't need to use food to soothe emotional pain -- we're already ok. And when we learn how to be alive and connected to the amazing body we have (instead of looming over it with criticism), we naturally stop the weight-watching lifestyle that can ruin our physical and mental health.
This freedom is available to you. You can overcome the profound irritation that personal hurts and scars from living in our conflictual food and diet culture cause. If you want to learn more about the non-dieting road to peace, confidence, and better health, check out my book on Amazon, Non-Dieting: How to Love Your Body and Be Healthy in Diet Culture or join an online support group at nondietinghealth.com.
Hi. I’m Alison Ross, founder of Non-Dieting Health in Agoura Hills, California. I’m a licensed psychotherapist and neurofeedback practitioner specializing in eating and body image. My favorite things are my family, my dogs, yoga and working with my clients.
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