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How to manage ANY health condition…without dieting

I’m often asked—

“If the pursuit of weight loss (almost always) leads to bingeing or rebound weight-gain in the long-run, how am I supposed to address ‘weight-related’ health issues I may be facing? 

What if I have joint pain?
Or high blood pressure?
Or diabetes?
Or any others of the infinite conditions I’m always told will be alleviated through weight loss?

Good question—here’s my answer: 

First of all, it’s important to remember that “weight-related” does not necessarily mean “weight-caused” (in fact, it very rarely does), and weight loss in-and-of-itself is not a fix for any of the problems listed above. More on this here.

That being said, even if a particular condition could be managed through weight loss alone, the fact remains that dieting simply isn’t sustainable for almost anyone long-term (and usually leads to higher weight outcomes, and worse health indicators in the long-run).

In other words, trying to lose weight is not an effective method for dealing with any “weight-related” conditions, by virtue of the fact that there’s currently no proven, safe, or effective way to accomplish that goal.

Thankfully, there are plenty of other (more effective) ways to address all of the conditions mentioned above.

For instance, someone struggling with joint pain may be helped by strength training. If trying to lose weight doesn’t work long-term, let’s get more muscle on you, so you can comfortably carry more weight.

If you have high blood pressure, you may want to work on getting more exercise in your day or lowering the amount of sodium you consume.

If you have diabetes, you can work on managing your blood sugar through exercise, food-pairing, or various other dietary changes.

Ultimately, these behavioral changes *may or may* not lead to weight loss—

but whether they do or not, they have a much better chance of improving your *actual health condition* long-term than some arbitrary attempt at weight control…which is almost surely doomed to fail in the long run. 

Another way of thinking about this is…

if you accepted that the pursuit of weight loss is not an effective course of treatment for any health conditions—by virtue of the fact that diets have a 95% failure rate and a long list of side effects, including weight gain,

what would be your Plan B? How would you approach this problem if dieting (or attempts at weight reduction) was not an option?    

and if you need help figuring out an effective Plan B for managing your particular condition—

ask yourself (and/or your doctor),

how would a thin person manage this condition? 

thin people also get diabetes,
thin people also get high blood pressure,
thin people also get joint pain,
and pretty much any other ‘weight-related’ condition you can think of.

What do *they* do when faced with these medical concerns? Probably something a lot more effective than hopping on the yo-yo diet train…

Food for thought.

(and speaking of your doctor, if you’re struggling to find a healthcare professional who will work with you in a weight-neutral way—e.g. your doctor is refusing to work with you around a particular condition “until” you lose weight, or is shaming you for something that very few people actually achieve—make sure to check out this important book. You may also be able to find a more compatible health professional in your area by clicking here.

Like this blog post? There’s a whole (free) video series about where this came from. Check it out at stopfightingfood.com

Weight Bias is Not In Your Head…and that’s probably not a reason to diet.

Isabel Foxen DukeDear Isabel,

I understand that a focus on “weight control” is what’s behind most restriction (and subsequent binge/emotional eating behaviors). For the sake of my own healing, I’d like to get on the body-positivity train, but it’s hard to let go of dieting in a society that *really does* judge people on the basis of size. I have a deeply set fear that if I get bigger, I won’t be loved, I won’t be chosen for jobs as easily, I won’t be noticed—how do I overcome this fear when I see it happening around me all the time? 

xo Anonymous

____________

Here’s the short answer to this question: 

Yes, we live in a highly oppressive world—towards all marginalized groups on the spectrums of race, gender, size, ability, age, class and various other factors.

Weight discrimination is not just “in your head,” and healing your relationship with your body may mean learning to navigate an incredibly violent and prejudicial culture without hurting yourself or causing yourself further harm.

That being said—I don’t know many people who are made happier, or healthier, by *participating* in their own oppression—by agreeing with, perpetuating, or acquiescing to the demands of cultural mandates that are fundamentally designed to oppress them.

It’s worth asking yourself the question—are you really happier trying to conform to a particular weight standard, than you would be rejecting those standards and being true to yourself—even in the face of judgment?

Are you happier doing the *constant* labor of harming yourself so you can look like something that isn’t natural to you? Likely without any long-term ‘success’ in these efforts anyway?

Are you happier suffering at the hands of restriction, food obsession, diet-binge cycling? Weight-cycling up and down?

Are you happier spending your numbered days on this planet trying desperately to conform at the cost of your own health, sanity, and freedom?

Yes, you may incur judgment by being your natural size—and given the long-term success rates of dieting, you’ll likely incur the same judgment whether you choose to diet or not,

but is incurring the judgment of some fatphobic people really *more* scary than living in a constant state of self-harm, with no promise of safety from that judgment regardless?

Like most people, I battled a deep fear of judgment when I first gave up dieting—but that fear seemed infinitely more manageable when I honestly considered my alternative.

At some point, it felt less scary to stand up to fatphobia, than continue pandering to bigotry, ignorance, and hate.

That’s the short answer.

How to Recover from a Painful Binge-Eating Episode

Stomach AcheOne of the most powerful tools I ever developed for recovering from a “bad binge,”

was simply learning how to separate whatever physical pain I experienced post-binge,
from the emotional pain I experienced post-binge.

When I took the time to notice, I realized that the physical pain of bingeing,
even the kind that leaves you in bed in the fetal position for hours,
is really not much more uncomfortable than having to pee really badly, or having a bad rash, or hangover, or some other arbitrary physical irritation.  

The true bulk of my suffering at the “hands of a binge,”
was actually the result of emotional pain

that is, my shame at having failed,
my fear of gaining weight,
and my belief that there was something deeply wrong with me for not being able to “control myself around food.”

(It didn’t occur to me that most people can’t “control” —aka restrict— their food for very long, and that most people binge when they try.)

While there’s no safe way to eliminate the physical discomfort of a binge after-the-fact (other than wait it out, listen to your body, and take care of yourself like you would a hangover),

our emotional discomfort,
which is the much more painful part of bingeing in my experience,
can be alleviated in an instant,
through challenging our weight-normative beliefs,
our morality of food and eating,
and developing compassionate understanding of what diet-culture has put us through.  

(And don’t worry, the physical discomfort part goes away pretty quickly on it’s own once we get back to listening to our bodies–just like a hangover).

Like this post? Check out my free video series about ending the diet-binge cycle here!

The Most Common “Emotional Eating” Mistake

Emotional eating, at the end of the day, is just a coping mechanism.

I’m all about “feeling your feelings,” and there is no doubt 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,

but unless we practice new coping mechanisms, we will continue to eat when emotionally uncomfortable.

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

Now the problem for most “emotional eaters” is that they focus on “not eating” instead of focusing on developing new ways of dealing with their feelings.

Of course, the more we try to resist food, (i.e. the more we think about food), the more practiced we become at leaning on food as a coping mechanism. (I know, catch-22 from hell…)

Eventually, we fall out of practicing other coping mechanisms altogether and become dependent on food to take care of all our problems, especially as we obsess, worry and generally freak out about our bodies.

So here’s a new way to think about emotional eating…

instead of telling yourself “don’t eat emotionally,” I want you to start thinking about all the other ways you could possibly “cope,” and start practicing them…regardless of whether or not you eat as well. 

Ultimately, diversifying and expanding our coping mechanisms without worrying about the food is far more effective, than trying to resist (and therefore binge) over it later.

BTW – If you’re not quite sure the difference between “emotional eating” and “binge-eating,” this is something I cover in my free video training series, which you can sign up for here. All three videos of the series are out, so the videos will be emailed to you immediately after you enter your name and email at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!

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