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Will therapy help you lose weight? Not according to science.

Today 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 “Therapy Will Make Me Thin” Diet.

Sometimes this diet goes by other names, like…

The “Spiritual Fulfillment Makes You Thin” Diet
The “Healing Your Trauma Makes You Thin” Diet
The “Body Acceptance Makes You Thin” Diet

Or my personal favorite…The “Body Acceptance Makes You Thin” Diet

Right…because the Universe is an evil genius and is actively trying to f*ck with you.

I say, when you accept your body you’ll just be happier and whatever weight you’re probably meant to be, but that’s another post for another time.

Of course—therapy, spiritual practice, trauma resolution, and making peace with your body may all be valuable (if not critical) pieces of the diet-recovery process—after all, anxious attitudes around food and weight are correlated with trauma, negative body image, and other non-food-related mental health concerns. 

That being said, there is NO evidence to suggest that size is an indication of mental health in any way, or that weight loss will be the natural result of any kind of psychological healing process (including recovery from binge eating).

Mental health professionals who suggest otherwise are making giant leaps and assumptions about the science of weight management that simply aren’t rooted in observable fact. More on this here.

This all to say,

I’m deeply concerned that the weight loss motive and messaging of this “diet” keeps folks trapped in an oppressive system wherein true freedom around food and weight is shallow at best, and impossible for most.

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 healthy people come in all shapes and sizes.

I worry that folks 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 folks are not doing the deep-level body image work that will ultimately free them because they believe a magical-thinking solution will one day make them thinner.

Ultimately, I know that the “therapy-will-make-me-thin 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.

If you’ve been told that thinness is a self-help-slogan-away and feel like you must be doing it wrong because permanent weight loss was not the result—please know you’re not alone, and there is another way to live…

Make sure to check out the Stop Fighting Food Master Class for a truly anti-diet, weight-neutral approach to food, health, and binge eating recovery.

The OTHER Reason People Binge…

Binge-eating is, plain and simple, eating we do in reaction to deprivation around food (or a perceived threat of future deprivation). 

It’s eating we do because we haven’t had a piece of bread in 3 weeks and we can’t hold back one second longer. Or eating we do because we have every intention of never eating bread again, starting tomorrow.

I call these more obvious kinds of deprivation “physical restrictions” because they represent purposeful, conscious attempts at dieting, which we all know, almost always lead to binge-eating eventually.

Now there’s one other kind of deprivation that may lead to eating mass quantities of food when nobody’s looking, that I call

“Emotional Deprivation” or “Implicit Deprivation”

which happens when we experience the feeling that something we’re doing with food is dangerous, shameful, or inherently wrong. 

When we “let ourselves eat food…” 

…but feel anxious about it making us fat,
…worry we won’t be able to “control ourselves,”
…judge our behaviors harshly after crossing some arbitrary line of “too much food,”
…believe what we’re doing makes us unloveable pigs,
…or compare our behaviors to what we perceive as “normal,”

we send ourselves the conscious or sub-conscious message:
tomorrow I’ll try not to do this again…better get it in now. 

Although we may not be depriving ourselves explicitly through planning traditional diets, fear of deprivation is implicit when we feel shame or judge our current behaviors.

Wanna learn more about recovery from diet-binge cycling, emotional restriction, and generally ‘feeling crazy around food?’ Check out my free video series here.

Harm Reduction for Emotional Eating

I’m at my desk trying to meet an important work deadline…with the worst writer’s block of all time.

All I want is snacks—especially chocolate—which I know won’t make me feel physically *awesome* while I try to get through the rest of this day…but, c’est la via. That’s just where I’m at.

My reality, in this moment, is that chocolate is probably going to happen.

Thankfully, I can whip out some handy-dandy “harm reduction” tactics to balance my blood sugar, so I don’t fall asleep at my desk afterwards.

For instance, I can *add in* fat, protein, or fiber-filled foods to slow down the absorption of sugar into my blood…and minimize the blood sugar spike-and-crash I might otherwise experience from eating chocolate by itself. It’s blood sugar magic!

But seriously, harm reduction—that is, the practice of taking actions that reduce the effects or likelihood of harm when engaging in other-wise “risky” behaviors—is life-saving magic…particularly for folks recovering from dieting while managing nutrition-related health conditions. More on this here.

Although emotional eating is a relatively safe (or harm-less) coping mechanism in the absence of food-related medical conditions—I hesitate to even use “harm reduction” language in this context to avoid creating unnecessary fear around food—I feel strongly that we consider alternatives to “abstinence-only” policies for behavioral modification…even in cases when coping mechanisms *do* objectively come with more risk. 

For another example, you can read how harm reduction policies have saved thousands of lives in the opioid epidemic here. Methadone clinics, needle exchange programs, even condom use and safe-sex education, are all examples of “harm reduction” policies.

This all to say…

Sure…we can keep trying to white-knuckle ourselves into “abstinence” from emotional eating…probably failing and almost certainly beating ourselves up along the way (and maybe even falling into hard-core binge-mode, because, fuck it…I already screwed up, so might as well eat everything that isn’t nailed down and try again tomorrow…)

OR

we can accept the reality that “emotional eating” sometimes happens to humans…and acknowledge that there are lots of ways to take care of our bodies that don’t require we meet unrealistic expectations of perfection or “abstinence.”

Lastly, if you’re personally recovering from an “abstinence-focused” approach to emotional eating, I highly recommend listening to this podcast interview where I share my experience in 12-step programs for “food addiction” and why I made the shift to a judgment-free, allowance-focused approach to food instead.

Processing vs “Overcoming” Body Shame in Recovery

I often hear clients berate themselves over the fact that they “still struggle with body image” or ask how they can “overcome” difficult body image feelings once and for all. 

But struggling with body image—that is, having days where our feelings about our body are more difficult or uncomfortable than others—isn’t really something we “overcome,” 

it’s something that we learn to relate to differently in recovery—and which may heal slowly in its own time as a result of processing our feelings in a different way. 

This all to say—recovery isn’t really about the absence (or existence) of difficult feelings about our bodies—which are almost inevitable in a culture that is constantly judging and evaluating our worth on the basis of size,

but rather, about our ability to be kind and caring with ourselves in the midst of those difficult feelings—in the midst of pain, shame, fear, etc.

It’s about being able to make the self-loving choice not to harm ourselves through dieting—even when we’re having a hard time facing the internal or external realities of fatphobia in our world. 

It’s about being able to make choices in alignment with our values (values like weight-neutrality or self-care) even when we’re overwhelmed by fear, shame or other difficult emotions. 

In other words—the deepest body image work involves: 

learning to how to be with difficult feelings without judgment,

learning how to feel without agreeing with the narrative those feelings attach to,

and learning how to skillfully care for ourselves when such feelings inevitably arise.

if you’d like to work on these feelings-focused body image skills, sign up for free coaching emails and get new blogs sent straight to your inbox. If you’re still struggling in your relationship with food, make sure to check out my free Stop Fighting Food Video Training Series too.