If you ever want to call a truce on the war with your body, you have to first start by making peace with food. Diets will always keep you wanting what you think you can’t have. Assuming you’re a woman who is a serial dieter like I was, you’ve perhaps been quietly or not so quietly resenting your body, blaming your misery and unhappiness on the size of your thighs or any other body part. Isn’t it time to get off the diet roller coaster?
UCLA Study Revealed: Up to 98% of All Diets Don’t Work
For years many weight loss experts have been saying – “stop dieting.” Emotional eating, or eating to soothe your feelings is very common. In fact it accounts for the near 98% failure rate of dieting. In April 2008, Traci Mann, Associate Professor of Psychology at UCLA shared the results of a composite study of 31 different long term studies, analyzing people who lost weight on diets and opted to have their progress tracked by the study for between 2-5 years. As lead author of the study, she says, “We found that the majority of people regained the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.” When asked what alternative is best to consider in lieu of dieting, Mann said, “Eating in moderation is a good idea for everybody, and so is regular exercise.
Giving up Dieting: Are You Crazy?
I’m sure you can relate to the fear and concern that giving up dieting would mean ultimate failure. And perhaps you think that opening the door to eating the foods you want would lead to complete self-destruction and a weight gain of about a million pounds. That’s exactly what I worried about in 2006 when I was faced with the consequences of my disordered eating.
No More Dieting For Me!
Back in 2006 my life took a radical turn when I decided to stop dieting. Besides wanting to do it for my own reasons, it had become apparent that I had to make the change for the health and well-being of my daughter.
At the time Cara was ten years old. She was steadily gaining weight and showing signs of being an emotional eater. Oblivious and not really knowing what to do to help her, I was beginning to repeat the same desperately ignorant parenting mistakes my father had made. I, too, had become a hypocritical role model, espousing healthy eating one moment and bingeing whenever anyone’s back was turned. As a woman with my own disordered relationship with food, I realized I was the worst role model for Cara.
Repeating My Father’s Mistake of Trying to Control My Daughter’s Eating
Desperate to get her eating under control, I watched her like a hawk, made backhanded comments about her weight, criticized her food choices, obsessed over everything she ate, and in general began to lose sight of my precious girl. It was killing our relationship and she was starting to hate me.
After seeing how the legacy of my tortured, twisted thinking and dysfunctional eating was affecting her, I knew that if I didn’t stop this runaway train, Cara would end up like me; fat, perpetually unhappy with herself, and hating her body. I couldn’t live with the idea of doing that to my daughter.
Diets Are Part of the Problem
That was when I realized that diets were a big part of the problem. Sarcasm, criticism, and meanness were the only ways I knew how to talk to myself. I used these same desperate attempts at communication with my daughter which was toxic to our relationship. Our closeness was being destroyed. In order to help her regain her sense of balance and comfort around food, I had to first help myself.
Deep down in my heart I knew that as much as I wanted to help Cara find her way to peace in her relationship with food, I couldn’t, because I was cluelessly lost myself. I vowed to find the answers for both of us and prayed for help so we could begin our healing. Soon afterward, the universe sent me a gift—Dr. Harold Frost.
An Eating Disorder Specialist Teaches Me Intuitive Eating; A Non-Diet Weight Control Method
I met and befriended Doc Frost in an online networking group. Doc was in the process of retiring from a successful twenty-five year career as a therapist and co-founder of an eating disorder clinic in the Midwest. He wanted to share his experiences by writing a book and I offered to help by giving him feedback on his writing. He eagerly accepted and explained to me his work with women who had eating disorders.
Hearing him speak of his patients and their struggles with such tenderness and care, I instinctively knew I could trust Doc. I confided in him and shared my story, asking for his help and guidance. He explained to me that in order to change the way my daughter related to food and to her body, I had to challenge many of the limiting beliefs and assumptions I had about food and my body.
Doc said that as a dieter, I had learned to fear food and think of my hunger and my body as “the enemies.” This had set up an unnatural relationship with food and kept me hating my body. As long as I lived with the dieters’ all or nothing mentality, I would always end up craving foods that I thought I shouldn’t eat.
He explained what was making me binge. When I reached the point where I couldn’t stand denying myself a moment longer, I would give in and binge. My associations with guilt, fear, and shame around food, combined with bad feelings about my body, kept me in an endless cycle of bingeing and dieting. Doc offered to teach me an alternative to dieting: a non-diet weight control method called intuitive eating.
Making the decision to stop dieting terrified me. I saw it as the ultimate form of giving up. As much as I hated dieting, it was the only way I knew to control my voracious appetite. I figured if I ever began eating without being restricted by a diet, I’d never stop. Doc assured me this wasn’t true.
At that time, in July of 2006, American Idol contestant Katherine MacPhee shared her eating addiction story with People® magazine. She talked about her amazing recovery using a process called Intuitive Eating. In reading the article I discovered she had lost thirty pounds eating all the foods she loved. That got my attention.
Doc then sent me an audio tape of his entitled, Loving the Child Within™. He said I should learn about intuitive eating by listening to the stories of his former patients.
One such story was of a woman named Megan. On the tape Megan spoke of the abusive and chaotic atmosphere in which she was raised as a child. When I listened to her I knew I had found someone to whom I could relate. Like me, she had spent most of her life trying to disconnect from her painful past by using food to numb her emotions.
Megan described how her work with Doc had changed the way she dealt with food. He had helped her heal much of her rage and she had developed a new appreciation for her body. I realized that if she could heal her broken relationship with food and with her body, then I could too.
From that moment on, I decided to have faith. Faith, that just like Megan and Katherine MacPhee, my body’s inner wisdom would effortlessly and naturally guide me back to my natural size.
My First Experience with Intuitive Eating
Within the first week that I began the process, I was easily able to recognize that certain foods no longer tasted as wonderful as I ‘remembered’ them. My first milestone experience was eating a potato chip and deciding that it tasted too stale. I actually stopped chewing it and pulled it out of my mouth. I was shocked and amazed because noticing a potato chip was stale would never have stopped me from eating those chips before.
Shortly after my family and I took a trip to Chocolate World, Hershey, Pennsylvania. And with chocolate everywhere and easily accessible, none of it appealed to me and all I wanted was a piece of broiled chicken.
A couple days later after several days of eating french fries, I was craving a baked potato. Each of these instances was proof to me that this process really worked, so I was committed to continuing to learn it, but as impossibly picky as I was becoming, I was unable to feel satisfied. I always wanted to eat more. Now I know why.
Intuitive Eating As a Way of Being Gentle with Yourself, but What If You’re An Abuse Survivor and Being Treated Kindly Is Not Familiar to You?
As a woman with a ton of eating issues and a history of being verbally and sexually abused, somewhere along the way I learned to become my own worst critic. I’m often harder on myself than anyone ever could be.
From my understanding of intuitive eating, I realize that it is a process that is based on learning how to treat yourself kindly and lovingly. It also requires developing a sensitivity and connection to your body. As a sexual abuse survivor, I’ve spent years trying to preserve my sanity by detaching from my body and disconnecting from the pain of my past.
At the time when I attempted to learn the process, I found intuitive eating to be very challenging. It did not come as second nature to me, as it does for many people. I ended up constantly eating more than my body could comfortably handle.
I learned the hard way that intuitive eating is more challenging for people with experiences of abuse or neglect in their past. If like me, you grew up in a chaotic and high stress environment, you probably can relate to always feeling anxious and on edge.
Being in this high stress state, you’ve probably abused food as a way of calming yourself down and numbing your emotions. And like me, you are also probably not fully aware and feeling safe connected to your body.
If you’ve also spent years trying to distance yourself from your feelings and detach from the pain and anguish of being violated, you won’t be very comfortable focusing on how your body feels.
As abuse survivors we often turn our uncomfortable feelings of self-hatred and shame inward and end up abusing food as a way of punishing ourselves.
Confronting Your Inner Conflicts Around Fear of Weight Loss
For many of us, we feel an unconscious need to hold onto our excess weight. Although we feel conflicted about this, our excess weight is tied to our internal sense of safety and our way of creating a barrier of fat separating us from the world in hopes of being protected from unwanted attention.
If you’re holding onto your excess weight because it’s the only way you know to create feelings of safety for yourself, it will be a challenge to eat in response to your hunger because the idea of allowing yourself to feel hungry and empty is frightening. It will trigger your survival instincts to kick into overdrive and whenever your body gets too close to being hungry, you will feel the need to eat again to create that sense of fullness and safety in your body.
Like every other body function, your habits around eating are controlled by your subconscious mind. If you are overwhelmed with feelings of stress and upset, and your need to eat to comfort yourself is much stronger than your desire to get thinner, you will face a conflict. Here’s why:
In the same way that your subconscious mind controls your body processes, it also holds the internal image of how you see yourself; your self image. Consider your subconscious mind to be like the internal operating system of a computer software program. It’s the warehouse that stores all of your life experiences, beliefs and interpretations about who you are and the world in which you live.
Think about what experiences you’ve had and what you’ve learned about yourself in terms of food, feelings and weight. What has life taught you to believe? Here are some of my experiences:
Growing up with a Dad I loved
Like so many kids, for years I put my father up on a pedestal and thought he was perfect. I was around 6 years old when my parents divorced. I went to live with my mother and brother. During those years I lived with my mom, I was sexually abused by my step father, Jorge and so many other men. My step father beat my baby brother every day. I was terrified of him. Now I understand that my mother has always suffered with mental illness, but I never understood why she didn’t protect us.
During those years I was very quiet and shy. Nobody but me knew that I was a young girl keeping a lot of horrible, dirty secrets. Because I felt so fearful all the time I used food to feel better. I gained a lot of weight during the years I lived in Florida. I kept wishing that one day I’d get to live with my dad.
When I was around 10, my father invited me to come live with him and my step mother. I was so grateful to finally have my wish come true. He and Rosie gave me a wonderful home and a sense of safety and confidence that I’ll always treasure. It was my father who led me to do the work I do with coaching and empowering women. He taught me the value of personal growth by letting me follow in his footsteps. It was the 70’s and he and Rosie were totally fascinated by the personal growth boom. They explored seminars and programs. At home, we talked about the law of attraction, NLP, hypnosis, the power of our thoughts and energy, how to use more of our mind and develop our intuition. I was completely fascinated and wanted to learn what they were learning. Eventually I joined dad and took a Silva Mind Control seminar and learned how to do Transcendental Meditation. Those were some of my first wonderful experiences learning and seeing for myself what my mind was capable of doing. I was hooked and knew that I wanted to keep on learning.
My dad always encouraged me and told me that I could do anything I wanted to do. We would go to bookstores and he would pick out 10 or more books for himself and encourage me to get as many books as I wanted. Each night we would sit and read our books, watch documentaries, play card games and have great discussions. Dad was never comfortable with being affectionate, so his way of showing me he loved me was to pat me on the head. I loved that and felt so safe and adored.
Some of My Experiences Around Food and Weight
But there was another side to my dad. He was seriously fat phobic. And he was horrified to discover that I had gained about 30 pounds living with my mom. When the doctor diagnosed a heart murmur and put me on my first diet, my dad turned it into a family obsession. Since that first moment, I’ve had horrible experiences with dieting. Every bite I ate was supervised and accounted for. Every meal was charted and the calories and fat grams were tracked and journalled. I had to walk home every day and eat lunch at my Nana’s house. She used to give me a plate of steamed broccoli with lemon juice, mushrooms, cauliflower and a small piece of fish or some other variation of vegetables and protein along the same boring lines.
Living with Dad and Rosie, we used to eat steak for dinner all the time. Before I became a vegetarian, I used to love steak, especially the fat. But in those days when dad controlled what I ate, my portion was very small. I was instructed to cut off all the fat and push it to the side of my plate. I hated all the restriction I was living with. All I wanted to do was eat my favorite foods.
Food seemed to be everywhere, but I couldn’t eat it. My Nana used to bake these amazing cakes, cookies, pies, muffins and candies. And I snuck them every chance I got. In my house, both Rosie and Dad loved potato chips, cookies, pies, donuts and Chinese food. Everything you could ever want to eat was in my house, in huge quantities. We went shopping once a month and bought enormous amounts of groceries. Every cabinet, refrigerator, freezer, and pantry was filled with food. But I was told that I couldn’t have it. I was told that the potato chips and cookies and M&M’s had been counted.
Because I felt so deprived and hungry all the time, I took desperate actions to get the foods I craved. I stole money from my father’s wallet to buy pizza and candy after school. I raided the kitchen cabinets of the families for whom I babysat their kids. I ate cold steak fat out of the garbage. I offered to wash the dishes so I could eat the leftovers. I smuggled food out of the house in my pockets and ate in secret whenever I could. When nobody was home, I went into the kitchen and just started eating everything. As a result of being caught with my hands in the cookie jar too many times and being made to feel deep shame and guilt, I accepted that I was out of control around food. I believed that I would probably always be a compulsive eater and overweight.
Every week on Fridays before I ate lunch, Nana and Dad would check my weight. I’d take off my shoes and get on Nana’s scale and both Nana and Dad would peer at the number. It was so mortifying. My father was usually was very upset that I was gaining weight and I was chastized for overeating. All my experiences through my life with scales have reinforced a strong belief that I will always be fat.
With Rosie and Dad we used to go out to dinner a lot. Dad would point out obese women and make nasty comments to me about what they were eating. If they were eating fattening foods, he would say, “You see Andrea, it’s obvious that woman has no will power and doesn’t give a damn about herself and doesn’t care how fat she gets. She doesn’t care about the way she looks because she’s eating that sundae.” The more I heard my father fat shaming obese people and commenting on what they ate, the more I felt targeted myself. I associated being overweight with being ugly and unacceptable.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): The Power of Stress-Relief At My Fingertips
When I became a coach in 2004 and learned about the power of beliefs, I finally understood how that related to my issues with overeating. I realized that I was carrying around a lot of negative and self-limiting beliefs that I had picked up from listening to my father. By accepting his beliefs and making them my own, I had developed a very negative self-image. I used food to feel better about myself. For years I had struggled with dieting, and could never control my voracious appetite.The more that I felt sorry for myself and out of control with food, the more I wanted to eat to feel better.
That year I learned how to use tapping, specifically a powerful stress-relief method called Emotional Freedom Techniques or EFT. It’s also called tapping because similar to acupuncture without the needles, you use your fingertips to tap gently on certain comfort spots on your body. This releases the stored energy blocks relieving you from physical pain, discomfort, and emotional issues like fears, phobias, traumas and memories from negative events in your life. When it was first used on me I was having a panic attack because I was reminded of the worst memory of my sexually abusive past. I had spent 16 years in traditional talk therapy trying to come to peace with myself over my painful past. No amount of therapy was able to change the terror I felt when I thought of that event.
Within a few minutes of tapping, I was calm and collected. I was so stunned and amazed and knew that I had to share this gift with other women who had also been abused. Because I wanted to lose weight, I started to study the work of EFT masters who had great success in applying that technique in working with cravings. I decided to create a course for women that combined tapping with intuitive eating. I began to share what I was learning with groups of women. I taught them about the principles of intuitive eating. I showed them how to listen to their bodies and eat whatever food they wanted in response to their physical hunger. Then use tapping to eliminate their cravings when they weren’t actually hungry. It was an amazing experience for the women. They were all overjoyed and losing weight.
Verbal abuse is as devastating as sexual abuse
But at the time my relationship with my father was fast falling apart. It became crystal clear to me that verbal abuse is as devastating as sexual abuse. I didn’t realize it but over the years my father had been verbally abusing me and I was accepting it because I thought he was right. For years when I was a kid, his verbal abuse was not obvious, so I completely discounted it. As an adult of 23, when I stepped in to help him run the family business, my father began changing and his verbal abuse intensified. He began to attack my intelligence, calling me stupid, incompetent and naive. For 16 years I made excuses for his behavior and kept on thinking I was to blame. One day it became clear to me that he had become a very toxic influence in my life. I haven’t seen or heard from him since 2008 when he decided to cut me out of his life. I spent nearly a decade mourning his loss, feeling betrayed and abandoned, grieving for the love of the dad he used to be. Today we are estranged and I’m more at peace than ever with not having his toxicity in my life.
But during the years when I was teaching my first clients how to use tapping to manage their stress, I wasn’t tapping on my own feelings. Despite the fact that I was teaching women how to tap away their cravings, I wasn’t using tapping on my food issues. I just kept on overeating. All my clients lost weight, and I gained weight.
But my faith in the process of intuitive eating, never wavered. I saw evidence of it’s success with my clients. I knew it worked because I was also a moderator on several non-diet discussion boards. I was constantly reading about other people’s successes. For me, the intuitive eating gave me the ability to get very picky about what foods I would eat, but it seemed that the guidelines for the process were so vague that it lacked the structure that I had come to expect from years of dieting.
To be fair, you will notice when you read the guidelines below, #7 is deal with your stress. For some reason, I never even noticed reading that and I just focused entirely on the food aspect of intuitive eating.
Left to my own devices, I had no clue how to listen to my body’s hunger. Because I didn’t deal with my stress, I was always hungry. As a result, I gained 35 extra pounds.
Mortified and embarrassed out of my mind, I knew that something was missing. In a light bulb Aha moment, putting my coach hat on, I realized that something was missing. That’s when I knew that I had to integrate what I had learned about stress relief and actually use it on myself. In a flash, as soon as I started doing that, my aching, screeching hunger, was silenced. That’s when I knew that stress relief was a key element to succeeding with non-diet weight control.
On my journey, I’ve learned that along with using the non-diet process of intuitive eating, you have to love and accept yourself in order to finally make peace with food. If you can’t find compassion for the vulnerable parts of you, you’ll continue to unconsciously abuse yourself by overeating.
Letting go with love
I spent nearly 10 years grieving the loss of my dad’s wise, kind and funny presence in my life. During those years of living with him and later working with him, I didn’t realize I was depressed. I just thought I was eating out of control.
Tough times then. I created a lot of that sadness for myself because I kept on thinking and telling myself how unhappy I was and doing nothing to change it.
There’s an old saying, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” It’s stupid, I know but what it means to me is that there are experiences in our lives that bring us enormous joy that often end up in extreme pain. But as long as we keep on focusing on the pain, we can’t remember the joy. I spent 10 years asking myself why my father rejected me and cut me out of his life and focusing on the pain. I’d rather remember the joy.
My dad is gone, although he’s just a few miles away. He’s not that same lovable guy he was. Now his sweetness can only live on in my memory. Rather than trying to toss him out completely, that would negate all the precious gifts his presence has given me. I’d rather have some special part of him rather than none of him. I’m willing to hold on to those special memories and let go of the hurting others.
I could hold onto my love and gratitude for him and the man he used to be, and let go of the hurt, disappointment and feelings of rejection of the angry person he’s become.
I wrote my book, “Lovin’ the Skin You’re In” because I didn’t want any other women to experience the pain of feeling not good enough.
For a lot of years as an adult up until when I was 40 years old, I let my dad bully me with his verbal abuse and it caused me a lot of pain. I stuck around far too long because I kept on holding my vision of who he used to be, hoping that my old dad would come back. Now I’m at peace with believing that won’t happen in this lifetime.
The principles of Intuitive Eating: A Natural Non Diet Alternative To Weight Control
Okay I hope I haven’t completely soured you on intuitive eating because it works for so many people. And now that I realize where I went wrong and what caused my excessive weight gain that I continue to hold onto, I’m actually considering trying intuitive eating again.
The great news is that there is this amazing alternative to dieting. It’s the process that I’ve been mentioning called “intuitive eating,” a term first coined by nutritionists, Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D. FADA, in their book, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.”
According to Tribole and Resch, “Intuitive eating is a permission based approach to food and eating that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body–where you ultimately become the expert of your own body. You learn how to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings, and gain a sense of body wisdom. It’s also a process of making peace with food—so that you no longer have constant “food worry” thoughts. It’s knowing that your health and your worth as a person does not change because you ate a so-called “bad” or “fattening” food.
Here are Tribole and Resch’s 10 principles to become an intuitive eater:
1. Reject the diet mentality. Toss out your diet books, and anything else to do with fat and calorie counting. No more dieting.
2. Honor your hunger Eat when your body says, “I’m hungry.” This rebuilds the trust between you and your relationship to food.
3. Make Peace with Food Call a truce on the food wars. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. No more deprivation.
4. Challenge the Food Police Monitor your diet mentality-driven, self critical, body bashing, fat phobic thoughts that push you to fear food and think of eating cake as bad.
5. Respect Your Fullness Become aware and pay attention to the subtle body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Pause in the middle of a meal and notice the difference of how the food tastes when you’re hungry vs. getting full.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor Engage all your senses in pursuit of enjoying your food. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and pleasurable, you will eat less. There’s an old Japanese saying-Hara hachi bunme-which roughly translated means, “stop eating when you are 80 percent full.”
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food Find ways to deal with your stress without resorting to eating. Cultivate new ways of learning how to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food.
8. Respect Your Body Make friends with your body. If you can’t appreciate your body for the way it looks, love it for it’s function. Doing this will help you feel better about who you are.
9. Exercise– Find a way of moving that’s fun and enjoyable. Move at your own pace and find what works for you. Avoid having a goal to lose weight. It will activate all your internal resistance.
10 Honor Your Health– Choose food that not only tastes good, but also makes you feel good. As you gain trust with yourself, knowing that you can eat whatever you want, your preferences will change.
According to Tracy Tylka, an assistant professor of psychology at the Ohio State University, she says, intuitive eaters weigh and eat less than women who diet. When they feel hungry, they eat what they want. When the hunger is gone they stop eating. What do you think? Are you ready to learn how to become an intuitive eater?