Diet is a 4-Letter Word

The psychology of eating

Cleaning Out My Closet

Why getting rid of your 'skinny' jeans is sometimes a good idea

A few weeks ago, I shared that I am recovering from my eating disorder and had a bit of a freak out when my favorite pair of pants started getting tight. This resulted in a weight loss because I started restricting again. I've finally regained the weight I lost after my tight pants freak out, and my dietician issued a challenge: Clean Out Your Closet.

The objective? Get rid of all of the clothes I used to fit into (including my favorite pants) so I don't see them and think I need to be able to fit into them again. It's an interesting challenge and one that, while it scares me, should be a good exercise for me.

The ironic thing is that just last year, a friend posed the following question to me: When you gain some weight that you are not thrilled with, should you or should you not throw out your ill-fitting clothes? In my case, it’s a lot of clothes that I really like, and a lot of expense. I’m hoping that when I have a more active lifestyle again that I’ll get to wear them. Am I approaching this incorrectly?

My answer to her was that it depended on how likely it was to think that in the next 3 to 6 months those clothes would fit again without a lot of effort on her part. In other words, if she knew she always gained a few pounds over the holiday season but always lost those few pounds as Winter turned to Spring and she became more active, she should keep the clothes. If, however, this was unexpected weight gain and to get back down to her old clothes would mean starving herself, then the answer was toss the clothes. The rationale? More often than not those “skinny jeans” serve to make us feel bad about ourselves rather than motivate us to lose weight in a healthy, maintainable way.

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And that's just what my dietician was getting at. Parting with your favorite clothes can be nerve- wracking for many reasons, but leaving them hanging in your closet as a constant reminder that they used to fit is not helpful for your psyche either - or in my case, recovering from my eating disorder. If you honestly believe that those clothes will still be hanging in your closet collecting dust 3 months from now, I suggest you do some serious Spring cleaning and prepare to bring the perfect fitting clothes into your life.

And that's just what I plan to do. Out with the old, in with the new. And while I’m at it, I might throw away some of my disordered thinking about food.

Let’s face it: many of us have distorted relationships with our food. We love it, we hate it; we label it good and bad. Regardless of whether you were raised in a ‘clean your plate’ household, an emotional eating household, or a ‘leave food on your plate’ household, the majority of us have misguided notions about food. But here’s the thing: food is food. It doesn’t know that it’s good or bad. That it’s reward or punishment.  That if we don’t clean our plates, children in Africa will starve – I never could figure out that one! That by leaving some food on our plates we were showing respect for those who prepared the food or for our ancestors. That food – in certain forms, like chocolate – solves all of our problems. Food doesn’t know any of that. What it knows is that it’s fuel for our bodies. And, much like a car, we need fuel to run smoothly and efficiently. But most of us weren’t raised to believe that – or to trust our bodies when it came to deciding what to eat and when to eat it.

If that wasn’t bad enough, not long after we learned that we should ignore our body’s wisdom concerning food, hunger, and satiety, we learned how we were supposed to look and what we were supposed to wear. And, if you’re anything like me, you might have found that lesson a bit confusing. How can you consistently clean your plate while simultaneously fitting society’s notion of the ‘ideal’ figure? You can’t.

At 40, I am now cleaning out my closet. Both of my ill-guided notions of what food is and isn’t and my too-tight clothes. I no longer want to torture myself with society’s beliefs about what I should look like or have an unhealthy relationship with the very substance my body needs to survive.

How about it? Are you ready to join me? Ready to ‘clean out your closet’ of old beliefs and old clothes? Ready to eat intuitively instead of based on the clock or occasion? Ready to re-learn how to love and respect your body as is? Ready to be free of someone else’s expectations about what you should look like or what you should and should not eat? I know I am.

 

 

 

Mary E. Pritchard, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Boise State University.

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