I find that whenever I read about weight loss in the popular media or watch people on reality TV trying to fight off the pounds, or listen to the latest strategies from the experts – be it a drug, diet, or the promise of some genetic breakthrough – I’m left feeling empty, used and uninspired. It seems to me that we’re collectively stuck in the same limited conversation around weight that keeps playing itself back and landing us in the same place – nowhere. With obesity rates at an all time high and continuing to rise, I’m stunned at how these anemic messages about weight never change, and never truly work:
- Eat less, exercise more
- You’ve got to have more willpower
- Try the latest weight loss drug
- This new diet book is the answer
- Staple your stomach
- Count your calories
- Some day, soon, we’ll simply just change your DNA
- If you can’t lose weight, you must be a loser
- What’s your problem?
Science has failed us in the weight loss department.
It literally gets an “F.” The culture has failed us as well. Far too many people have intense moral judgments towards anyone with excess pounds, which contributes to the hidden epidemic of social disconnection, apathy, and plain old sadness. Let’s face it: when it comes to the subject of weight gain and weight loss, we’re clueless. And from that place of cluelessness we tend to flail around, we try our hand at the most inane weight loss strategies, we diet for decades, we consume diet foods and ingredients like synthetic fats and artificial sweeteners that are, if you care to closely study the scientific literature – toxic.
I’d suggest that if you’re not outraged at how all of us have been handling the issue of weight, than it’s time to pay more attention. It’s time for a more enlightened conversation. It’s time to strap your gear on, pack a few snacks, and take a good, long, deep dive into the rabbit hole called weight. Before we can “fix” the problem, it’s best to see the problem through new eyes. So rather than go into the specifics of what to do and not to do – no article is big enough to honor such a powerful and epic discussion – here are some thoughts around what some fresh thinking around weight might look like:
- Weight is a richly complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon. Most often, there are no simple black and white solutions. It’s time to honor the depth and the psycho-physiologic complexity of weight and it’s loss
- Excess weight is a symptom, and every symptom we experience under the sun has a divine message, a wise teaching, and has lessons that we are being asked to learn. We need to honor this sacred symptom rather than attack it
- Extra weight can be related to an unlimited number of nutritional and metabolic factors
- Extra weight can be caused by an unlimited number of emotional factors
- Extra weight is fast becoming an issue of genetic inheritance
- Extra weight can be directly connected to deeper and more profound soul lessons that we are being asked to learn. Some of these lessons might include patience, humility, getting present, embracing our sexuality, forgiving others, forgiving self, learning how to nourish ourselves, loving what is…
- Extra weight can be a mix and a swirl of any or all of the above factors
- Extra weight, often times, doesn’t even belong fully to the person who has it. Meaning: humans often “carry” the symptoms of others, of parents, of the collective. The most obvious example – few obese children have “a problem” – it’s all about the parents, or their surroundings, their peers, the media…
- Extra weight is not a personal issue, it’s collective – meaning, if over 200 million individuals in the USA are overweight, then weight is about the entire tribe. We need to heal the culture as much as we need to change individual habits
- Women suffer in a unique way, and in a more intense and poignant way when it comes to excess weight. We need to ask why, and to understand that men and women though equal, are rather different
- Eating disorders have skyrocketed. Eating disorders have absolutely nothing to do with food per se. They are not food issues. They are LIFE issues, expressed via the vehicle of food. Once we listen to these sacred dis-eases more deeply, we can hear how they are calling us to grow, and how they are pointing to the ways our families and communities are failing to hold and love one another in a good way
- Our relationship with body fat, even for those who have very little of it, is clinically bonkers. Too many of us assume that any body fat is demonic, unworthy, unnatural, unappealing, and deserving of our contempt. Body fat has a brilliant biological purpose. If you could truly suck all the fat out of your body, you’d be dead in an instant
- We project our shadow – our unconscious judgments, our negative mind chatter, our prejudices, our hate, our moralism – onto people who carry too much weight. As a culture, we secretly love to hate fat people. Who’s issue is that?
- From the standpoint of science, we really don’t even know how much any given person truly ought to weigh at any given time. So many people walk around claiming, “I need to lose 5 pounds, 10 pounds, 20 pounds.” Says who? By what scientific criteria can anyone assess ideal weight?
- According to the sum total of all the research on weight, science cannot say with any certainty that extra weight is a symptom, a disease, a risk factor, a positive indicator of health, a genetic issue, a psychosocial one – because it can be any of these
- The scientific community still can’t wrap its’ head around the simple fact that weight is a mind, body, heart, soul, psychological, cultural and spiritual phenomenon. How we “do” science as a nation is rather immature, and often primitive. It’s time for the scientists, doctors, dietitians, and researchers who hold the collective power to counsel others – to heal their own inner wounds and expand their vision so they can serve from a deeper and more humane place, and a truly scientific/holistic place.
I’ll pause here for now.
I’ll remind you that the emotional and psychic issues around weight are far heavier for people than the weight itself. The amount of pain and suffering we carry around body fat is tremendous. Imagine what would happen in society if all of us were in love with our own human form, and in love with our own humanity. We’d be powerhouses. We’d be free to do our work, our mission, our truest purpose in life. So much energy would be liberated. We’d be more creative, more confident, more connected to one another. Our hearts would feel better. The sex would be better. We’d have no reason to hold ourselves back.
But being in love with our own human form doesn’t mean: “First I lose the weight, than I love myself.” It means we begin the journey of love now. Would you tell your own child “I will love you once you are skinnier.” Sounds terrible doesn’t it? Well, that’s what so many people are saying, internally, to themselves. Love only exists in the moment, and in the present. Vitamin L – Love, has long been the key missing ingredient in the weight loss recipe. But the love needs to be guided by a healthy dose of Vitamin W – wisdom. We need to not just be kinder, but to smarten up.
It’s time to let go of our limited scientific and emotionally charged beliefs about weight that are stale and outdated. How would love and wisdom guide you to a deeper understanding of this powerful challenge of our times? Where would it ask you to go, and how would it ask you to be an agent of change and transformation?
My warmest regards,
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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