Most emotional eaters or binge eaters get to a point where their old faithful quick-fix—dieting—stops working. That’s a time of incredible fear. If dieting doesn’t work anymore, aren’t I just going to get hugely fat, majorly depressed and eventually just die, miserable and alone?!
I felt a little bit like that in my mid-20s when I gained all the weight back from the last diet I ever went on. But far from leading me into a dark, unhappy future, giving up on dieting lead me to where I am today: Happy, healthy and recovered from binge eating disorder. Letting go of the diet mentality (“Everything will be better when I’m thin, and if I just have enough will power, I will get there”) allowed me to stop focusing on the symptom (my weight) and start focusing on the real problem: The fact that I used food to cope with life.
That’s the happy message I want to send to HealthyGirl.org reader Stacey, 18, who sent me this note a while back:
“I recently lost 40 pounds in this pattern: One month liquid fast then three months of strict low-fat, low-carb and low-calore (no joke) eating. I was happy, everyone said I looked good, I said ‘I will never be fat again.’ Then one day I decide to have a piece of chicken, and after that I wanted rice, and cookies, and then on my birthday I had a chocolate cake, and some cheesy artichoke, then I started visiting the dorm vending machines at night. I kept doing that until I completely ended my diet, and now I am about 30 pounds heavier and still eating. I have tried going back on a diet, a healthy one. It’s not working. I tried eating in moderation. Didn’t work. I am mostly mad at myself. I cry a lot now, but I still eat.“
How can you be angry with yourself for something that’s not your fault? Yeah, that’s right, failing at dieting is NOT YOUR FAULT. When you restrict your eating, it’s a natural and normal physiological reaction for you to crave more food. It’s like a rubberband—pull it back too far and it’s bound to bounce back (hard). Emotional eating expert Geneen Roth put it best: “Every diet has an equal and opposite binge.”
There was a classic study done decades ago in which researchers had a group of normal, healthy men cut their eating back far enough that they lost 25% of their body weight over two years. What happened? These once totally normal guys became obsessed with food. And when the dieting study ended, they started to binge eating. Their eating habits and thoughts about food remained screwed up for a long time.
Why should it be any different for us? The way to get to a healthy weight is by dealing with the issues that cause us to overeat in the first place: Anxiety, pain, fear, low self-esteem and the need to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
Ladies of HealthyGirl.org: Have you stopped dieting? Why? And what’s happened since?