All posts by Isabel Foxen Duke

The “New Age Thinking Will Make Me Thin” Diet

unicorn4Today I want to talk about the last diet I ever went on before I actually threw in the towel on dieting for real, and that was,

The “New Age Thinking Will Make Me Thin” Diet. 

For those of you not completely saturated in “wellness culture,” this is the hot new diet on the block. 

In it’s various versions, such as…

The “Spiritual Fulfillment Makes You Thin” Diet
The “Positive Thinking Makes You Thin” Diet
The “Body Acceptance Makes You Thin” Diet
The “Meditating, Writing In Your Journal, or Healing Your Relationship With Your Mom All Make You Thin” Diet

Or my personal favorite…The “When You Stop Trying To Lose Weight, You’ll Lose Weight” Diet.

Right…because the Universe is an evil genius, and is actively trying to fuck with you.
I say, when you stop trying to lose weight you’ll just be happier and whatever weight you’re probably meant to be, but that’s another post for another time. 

These “diets” are usually honest attempts by life coaches to help women overcome compulsive or emotional eating — however, these attempts may or may not work, and do run a substantial risk of backfiring if weight loss is posed as the goal, or if someone feels shamed or wronged for their emotional eating patterns.

These “diets” may also be well-intentioned, albeit misinformed, attempts by health professionals to explain why a perfectly healthy person might not be within a BMI range of 21-25. 

(Contrary to popular belief: lots of healthy people have a BMI of greater than 25

Now, while I do believe that healing your relationship with your mother, working towards more positive thinking, and/or making peace with your body, are all probably good ideas whether you lose weight or not,

am concerned the weight loss motive and messaging of this “diet” may be keeping some women from fully making peace with food.

Because of lot of my readers mistakenly think I AM a new-age-thinking-diet-guru, I feel compelled to address this issue —

I worry the “New Age Thinking Will Make Me Thin” Diet may be keeping women from fully enjoying true, honest, body acceptance, which in my opinion is a requirement for ending the diet-binge cycle and feeling truly comfortable around food.

I worry that women are continuing to judge their food, their behaviors, and generally experiencing a lot of emotional deprivation on account of their weight loss goals.

I worry that this way of thinking promotes the very dangerous and stigmatizing idea that one’s weight is an indicator of their mental health…when believe it or not, super happy, spiritually fulfilled and mentally healthful people come in all shapes and sizes.

I worry that women are being made to feel like failures when their attempts at improving their mental or spiritual health do NOT produce permanent weight loss.

I worry that women are not doing the deep-level body image work they need to do to move on from their obsession with food, because they believe a magical-thinking solution will one day make them thinner.

And ultimately, I know that the new-age-thinking diet is still an active attempt at body control, which could very well lead to frustration and rebellion (i.e. binge-eating) in the long run.

Hope that clears up my stance on this popular diet trend!

And if you’re like my good friend Gina, who after reading this post had no idea what I was proposing instead of the New-Age-Thinking-Will-Make-Me-Thin Diet, what I’m proposing is…

ACTUAL body acceptance, without the side of “but please God make me thin.” 

In ACTUAL body acceptance, you have a far better chance of truly healing your relationship with food, and ultimately, arriving at whatever weight is natural for you — whether that be up, down, or the same, I don’t know… every BODY is different.

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“I MUST lose weight to feel better about myself”

When I ask women why they want to lose weight, they almost always tell me…

“because I want to feel better in my body.” 

which is such a funny answer to me, because I know that how we feel in our body has nothing to do with our weight…I feel a million times better in my body today than I ever did at my lowest weight, and I’m at least 30lbs heavier now than I was then.

Here’s a little story to make my point even clearer: 

There are two woman, who both weigh 160lbs.

One woman recently lost 50lbs, she’s down from 210lbs; the other, recently gained 20lbs, she’s up from 140lbs.

They are the exact same size today.

But one feels thin, sexy and beautiful as she compares herself to her former self, and the other feels fat and unattractive.

Anyone who saw them both today would say they look exactly alike, although in their own minds, they feel completely opposite. 

What does this tell us about “feeling fat” vs. “feeling thin?” Well, for starters, anyone can “feel fat” or “feel thin” at any size. 

Your weight does not determine your body image;
your weight does not determine whether or not you “feel good in your body,”
your weight does not determine how sexy you get to feel,
your weight is actually irrelevant. 

It’s your perception of your weight that dictates how you feel about yourself. Not your weight itself. 

If two women can look identical, and feel completely different about themselves, that means, the “problem” of feeling badly about yourself is in your mind — not on your ass. (Tweet it).

This may seem obvious, but over and over again I hear women say that they “need” to lose weight in order to feel good about themselves.

And that’s just fucking bullshit. 

What if the answer to feeling badly about yourself wasn’t losing 10lbs; what if the answer to feeling badly about yourself was a shift in perception? 

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“Feeling your Feelings” is not the full story…

IMG_2292We often hear “emotional eating experts” encourage women to “feel their feelings” instead of “numb out” with food.

Which is somewhat sound advice, as there is no doubt in my mind that getting in touch with your emotions is incredibly important for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not you eat over them — I encourage my clients to feel their feelings whether they eat while doing so or not. 

That being said,  

thinking we can live a life without coping mechanisms is totally unrealistic — it goes against our biological instincts to seek pleasure and avoid pain. 

You will experience discomfort for the rest of your life, and you will reach for some kind of coping mechanism to deal with at least a portion of that pain.

Not to mention that coping mechanisms are what allow us to function during times of emotional duress. We need breaks from crying when trauma occurs. Feelings can’t be processed every moment of every day. We have to get out of bed, go to work, pick up the kids, do our laundry...

Coping mechanisms take the edge off so we can show up for life in the midst of our pain. 

Now,

when we need to pull out a coping mechanism (for whatever reason), humans usually go for the one that seems most appealing or soothing in the moment— which is usually determined by gut-instinct, not “logic.” 

The truth is, we’re not necessarily in control of which coping mechanism we choose when we’re experiencing discomfort (which is one of the reasons “taking a warm bath” doesn’t work).

But we do know one thing — dieting (i.e. trying to control our food/weight) — keeps food on the brain, so we’re more likely to turn to food as our “go-to” coping mechanism.

In other words,

The more we obsess,

the more we try to control food,

the more time we spend googling paleo recipes…

the more likely we are to turn to food for comfort. 

When we stop dieting, however, and let our natural, biological instincts around food take over without guilt, judgement, or attempts at controlwe naturally start to develop new non-food-related coping mechanisms. We make space in our brain for new practices of self-care to emerge. 

Reality check: ALL eating is “emotional”

IMG_5097People often ask me,

do you really never eat emotionally anymore?

To which I usually reply something along the lines of, “of course not, everyone eats emotionally sometimes…and anyone who tells you differently is either lying OR pretty f’ing crazy around food (read: restrictive).”

As my friend Wendy Shanker once said, “there are only 6 people who eat food righteously as fuel, and all six of them are Kenyan Marathon runners.”

More on that here…

Lately, however, I’ve been re-framing my answer to this question, because at this point in my eating career, I don’t really categorize my behaviors as either “emotional” or “for physical hunger” in my mind anymore.

The truth is, my food choices are rarely, if ever, either “emotional” or “physical.” They’re almost always both, just in differing degrees and combinations.  

Everything I eat affects me physically AND emotionally, by virtue of the fact that all food both affects my blood sugar and gives me sensual pleasure (i.e. makes me feel good).

And like all other evolutionary processes designed to make us feel good (cough *sex* cough), it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to separate food from emotion entirely.

My relationship with food, like my relationship with sex, is always a dance driven by both physical and emotional desire. And labeling our food choices as motivated by one or the other is not generally practical or realistic in the long run. 

That being said, in the beginning of one’s anti-diet or “intuitive eating” journey, labeling our choices as being either “physical” or “emotional” can be helpful when trying to learn the language of our bodies — a practical tool for early non-dieters to re-learn what they’re bodies are actually calling for, particularly after years of ignoring them.

In the long run, however, we must acknowledge that this way of thinking about food is elementary at best — an oversimplification of a biological process that is much more complicated and nuanced than that.

Food is not “just fuel.” Just like sex is not just reproduction.

And honoring both our physical and emotional desires in all of our eating choices is an important part of not falling into the “hunger and fullness diet” trap.

My suggestion? Let your physical and emotional hungers work in tandem. Let them inform one another, rather than overpower one another. Don’t deny either — as that may easily lead to rebellion — but rather, explore different ways of satisfying and honoring both, in food and in life.

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