We all are born to a body type, just like hair color, height, skin color etc.
If we are born to a bigger body type, we don’t fit in — and we have a natural desire to fit in and be considered desirable — so we diet (or cut out sugar, or reduce carbs, or exercise every day…. etc.) Unfortunately, dieting triggers our bodies’ survival instincts which will slow our metabolisms and fight to the death to get us back to eating normally. When we do finally eat normally, we feel compelled to eat more than we did before, which is just a side effect of our body and mind’s efforts to prevent any future starvation – this is not an “addiction” or mental health problem.
After dieting our metabolisms stay slowed down to a degree, depending on how severe the dieting/restriction. Every diet increases the impact on our metabolism until we are fatter than we were ever meant to be (naturally).
If you look at the “obesity epidemic”, doesn’t it appear to eerily align with the massive growth of the diet and nutrition industries? I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
So, getting personal for a moment: When I was 14 I discovered smoking to “manage my appetite” which had always been deemed too voracious and out of control (since I can remember – probably four years old). Then in college I went all in on drinking, which helped me feel attractive and bold. Combined, the two substances altered the course of my life 180 degrees away from self-discovery and growth as a human, as a woman, and toward escapism, more dieting (because my weight was my problem), and ultimately self-destruction.
At age 42 (two years ago), I decided I’d had enough of the shame, fear and sickness from drinking and smoking. The failures I couldn’t account for. The debilitating anxiety at 3am.
I had tried to quit smoking many times before, but had failed. Just like with dieting, I gave in to my urges and smoked again, usually when I was drinking.
To say that I was terrified of quitting drinking — and failing again — is putting it very mildly. I was CERTAIN I would fail at quitting drinking, just like everything else I ever tried to control (food, cigarettes), so I postponed trying to quit for a long time.
But when I did decide to quit drinking I decided to quit smoking at the same time because, well, the two went together and I blamed my past failures quitting smoking on my drinking. So, it made sense.
Because of my history with dieting and failure, and weight gain as a result, I was not optimistic I would be able to quit drinking or smoking. But a woman on a private Facebook group told me to make sure I focused on getting continuous sober days under my belt because it would get easier. Easier, not harder like dieting. I didn’t believe it, but I did it. And, ultimately, it turned out to be true: as time passed, my desire for booze and cigarettes went away – the exact opposite of the tightening rubber band that dieting created in my mind and body.
When I started on the sobriety journey, and as I’ve talked about before on this blog, all the wiser long time sober women told me to “eat whatever I want” in early sobriety. I can deal with food later. Just. Stay. Sober. I was even told to smoke if I needed to (I ignored that advice).
Being told to eat whatever I want was a major trigger for me. It scared me. It delighted me. I spiraled. Then I ate. I ate ice cream every night. I ate dark chocolate every day. I ate mac and cheese and cheeseburgers and french fries. I was doing what I was told, and I gained some weight. Terrified, I looked for answers, knowing deep down that another diet was not going to solve my issues long term. That’s when I discovered Isabel Foxen Duke’s program “Stop Fighting Food”.
Oddly, while not a sobriety coach, Isabel’s advice was the same: eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Your body will adjust. You will start to understand fullness in a new way. You’ll develop food tastes that surprise you. Your weight may go up (if you are under your normal setpoint weight) or it will go down (if you are above your setpoint) or it will stay the same. It is extremely difficult to change your weight beyond 10-20 lbs in either direction because that is how our bodies work.
I had already experienced the bizarre effects of eating whatever I wanted in early sobriety. I no longer wanted so much ice cream (at least not every day). I craved different foods. I sometimes didn’t want to eat dinner because I was still full from lunch, or I just didn’t want to eat breakfast even though it’s the “most important meal of the day”. I started to listen to my body, and it was saying very foreign but interesting things to me. I’m full. I’m bored. I’m sad and this kind of food would comfort me. I’m excited and nervous and I can’t bring myself to eat right now. Or I’m tired and really just need sleep, please.
And, weirdly, my weight stabilized the longer I ate exactly whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And while I was doing that, I learned a few things by reading recent research. For example, weight is not the only thing that matters to health. It’s barely a blip on the “health and life expectancy” measures, and yet our society and doctors blame all ills on extra weight. I also realized that accepting my body size is a political statement: my body is not here to delight others visually. It is whatever it is – beautiful, fat, ugly, short, tall, interesting, boring… It’s just my body. And it is my only body. And permanent weight loss to fit into beauty and health standards isn’t actually possible for me – physiologically.
Accepting my body is a revolutionary act. It’s a middle finger to the “man”. I no longer see my body as currency (even though others always will). I see it as a vessel for delicious food, sex, movement, social interaction and some awesome outfits.
As I get more and more comfortable in my sobriety I recognize it for the rebellious act that it truly is in our society. So is accepting my body. I wish both for all women, because I believe the two are tightly intertwined and we can’t be free if we continue to disparage our bodies (and continue to try to solve the “weight problem” while inadvertently making the problem bigger).
When I first started controlling and moderating my drinking, my drinking got worse. Episodic binges erupted instead of regular drinking sessions where I had one glass too many. I think this is similar to what would happen when I dieted: restriction would lead to compulsion. But, the difference with drinking is that the compulsion fades as long as I continue to not drink. With food, our bodies are hard wired to prevent starvation so it will continue to fight back and push until we give in and eat – and likely eat more than ever before, and it will store every calorie to save them for a rainy day.
I’m done with all that. I hope that you are too.