For those of you who are familiar with my work, you know that I love to discover and illuminate the unseen connections in the world of health, nutrition, and consciousness. Indeed, if we truly want to advance the field of eating and nutrition, or any field for that matter, we need to be courageous enough and original enough to see into the hidden Web of Life. For me, connections tend to reveal themselves as I continue to cultivate openness, and deep listening.
Sometimes the hidden architecture of the universe is indeed hidden from our vision. At other times, it’s right in front of our eyes, but we simply hadn’t noticed. The great linguist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” With that in mind, I’d love to share with you these thoughts around the connection between women, food, pleasure, sex, and weight:
A client once came to see me to lose 30 lbs. Alice was 49 years old, a health professional, 5’10, smart, funny, attractive, outgoing, successful, and frustrated that 22 years of intense dieting and exercise still had gotten her nowhere. She desperately wanted to lose weight, but knew she needed a different approach. Alice had also tried medical fasting, a long list of supplements, and received all the relevant medical tests that revealed what she suspected all along – that nothing was wrong with her metabolism and her health was fine. Alice felt confused and fed-up with the world of dieting.
When I asked her why she was so motivated to lose weight, she replied that she wanted to find the love of her life.
It was time to meet a special man after having divorced in her early 30s and spending the last 6 years without any dating or relationship. A few more details about Alice – she hated her body, constantly insulted her own weight and figure, enjoyed food but was forever fighting her appetite, and seemed to have a love/hate relationship with men. She was still angry with her ex husband, and found herself resenting any man who showed any attraction towards her. And her diet was pretty healthy, and moderate in terms of calories.
So let me cut right to the heart of the matter and tell you how I helped Alice lose the weight without changing anything she ate.
First, I noticed that because she had “disowned” her body and decided it was worthy of her contempt – she had cast out any sense of pleasure and fun. She hadn’t been touched or massaged in 6 years. She went to the gym but hated exercise machines. She ate her meals quickly and didn’t really feel “nourished” by food. She dressed in clothing that was outdated and unflattering. And she complained about how she couldn’t feel comfortable in her own skin.
I find that many of us believe that once we lose weight, then and only then will we love our body, be happy, be the real “me”, be outgoing and confident, and finally have the good life. But here’s the headline news: It’s a complete lie. Indeed, Alice had lost the weight several times, but gained it back rather quickly – a very typical story.
The strategy that I use with weight loss clients like Alice is very simple – let’s achieve all the results you expect at the end as a result of weight loss, in the beginning. Meaning, it’s time to love your body right now. It’s time to receive pleasure now. It’s time to be the real you now. Then and only then can lasting weight loss be possible. How can we treat the body with punishing exercise, a flaccid diet, negative self talk, and constant unlove – and expect to be happy at the end of it all?
The journey will always inform the destination.
So, I coached Alice in baby steps. Start getting some touch. Pay for a regular massage. Slow down with food. Eat in with some sensuousness and appreciation. Buy some fabulous new clothes. Give up exercise machines and take the dance class you’ve always been interested in. Pamper yourself more. Show your body some love.
Needless to say, this was all groundbreaking for Alice. And she embraced it with anticipation, and a nervous excitement.
Next, we did a bit of a deeper dive into her relationship with sexuality. It turns out that her boss had raped her during a summer internship as a graduate student. Her excess weight came on shortly after that experience. Alice had never made the connection between her weight and her sexual assault. It stunned her. I suggested to her that for many women, excess weight is often a brilliant protection against sexual harm and dangerous men. The lights really came on for her. Here she was, with one part of her trying to lose weight so she can find a man, while another part of her was committed to holding onto the very weight that protected her from men. Can you see the conundrum here? And can you now understand why after years of intense effort, the weight could not come off until she uncovered the reasons why it needed to be there in the first place?
After a number of months exploring these different voices within her, making some peace, and integrating her past with more insight and compassion, Alice felt ready to date. She understood that she had cast out pleasure from her life, and cast out her sexuality – yet she had been using diet and exercise to try to have the kind of body that would somehow make it all better. Previously, she could not lose the weight because she needed that weight to protect her. The body has a wisdom that trumps all the ways we try to take shortcuts in life. We cannot override the wisdom of the universe that speaks through the body. We simply need to listen to it.
After 6 months of working together, Alice was truly enjoying food. She wasn’t in dieting consciousness, she wasn’t doing punishing and boring exercise, she had “reclaimed” her sensuality through touch and beauty care and dance, she was going on dates with different men, and she was falling in love with her body. But here’s the real eye opener – she lost 25 lbs. The weight came off gradually and without any dieting whatsoever. In so many ways, Alice had simply re-birthed herself as a woman.
Of course, if we continue to look at weight as if it’s exclusively a bunch of ugly invasive body fat that we need to hate and attack, then we will continue to battle with it, and wonder why we keep losing. It’s time to let go of the fight altogether, and dive deeper into our humanity, and into our metabolism that is influenced by more than mere calories and exercise.
This is just one example, one story of the profound connections between our relationship with food, weight, pleasure, and sex. There are plenty more connections and magical ways that the body can heal and transform and shape-shift once we begin to see weight as more than just “calories in, calories out.”
The human body is profoundly complex, and deeply impacted by the soul inhabiting it.
This, by the way, is also one example of the work that we teach at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. We look for the every-day and profound ways that our inner world impacts our metabolic world. We use weight-loss as a doorway to help people get to the deeper places within themselves that matter most – the places where true and lasting shape-shifting is born.
How have your eating challenges revealed what matters most to you?
My warmest regards,
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