Thin from Within

How inner conflict keeps people stuck

Thin From Within: Meeting Your Inner Obstacles

"You'd think with 55,658 diet books....we'd be slim"

You'd think with 55,658 diet books on Amazon and hundreds of monthly weight loss articles, we'd find our way to slimness. Instead, more people struggle with overeating than ever before.

The problem is clearly not an advice shortage. While much of that ubiquitous advice is questionable, a lot of it could work-if you followed it. And that's the hard part, whether you struggle with 10 or 100 pounds.

It's true that the foods bombarding our senses these days can trigger cravings. But even when we have the tools to manage, it can prove awfully hard to use them. When that's the case-when you find yourself saying "I know what to do....I just can't get myself to do it....", it's often inner work that's needed. Emotional and psychological obstacles to change can render diet advice and coping skills useless. It's a bit like trying to use garden tools in rocky soil....you've got to prepare the ground for the rakes and shovels to work.

If you've been on a hundred diets, tried every trick in the book, and still struggle, it makes sense to tend to what's within. What do you feel when you picture yourself sticking with a healthy eating regime, getting and staying slim? While some will report feeling good or excited when they imagine this, more often than not people report unexpectedly conflicted feelings: fear, maybe, or perhaps guilt. Others are surprised to find they can't picture such a scene at all.

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How can anyone not want freedom from weight struggles? People usually do...it's just that how we eat, our body image and self-care all develop in the context of our relationships with others, and with ourselves, throughout childhood and beyond. Eating may mean comfort, fat may mean safety, self-care may mean selfishness. And while these not-so-uncommon beliefs color much of life, they can filter our experience for decades without our conscious awareness.

Inner obstacles to change take as many different forms as there are people struggling with food. Identifying, making conscious, your own can free you to start succeeding in the "getting yourself to do it" department. The kinds of obstacles I mean are exactly those that aren't so easy to see-the core beliefs and fundamental feelings about oneself that underlie much of what we do.

The simple question posed earlier can start you on your way to making your own inner process more conscious: What do you feel when you picture yourself sticking with a healthy eating regime, getting and staying slim? If the emotions or images that emerge aren't entirely positive, just take note of that for now, don't start a round of self-criticism. Take note of any further related thoughts that emerge as your day goes on, and in the days following. It's helpful to note what you become aware of in a journal.

You can bring what you discover, also, directly to your food and exercise choices. A woman I saw recently, for example, who I'll call Jeanne, noticed that picturing herself thin made her feel pressured. She felt she'd be expected to do more and be more successful if she were effortlessly thin. With this realization, she was able to start asking herself a question as she approached trigger foods: "Does eating this keep me from feeling pressured to be on top of everything....would people expect more from me?"

Sometimes making underlying beliefs conscious like this makes a different choice easier. Jeanne certainly found this to be true. Sometimes it does not, though, at least not right away. It's almost always useful to identify those beliefs and fears, however, because you can then attend to them over time.

For in the end, whether this exercise illuminates mixed feelings, or if you need to ask further questions, it's that attention over time that frees you to become "thin from within". In Jeanne's case, she's needed to start trying to do what works for her, even if others are disappointed. This has of course been challenging, but it's a goal that promises freedom from a self-defeating behavior.

If you, alternatively, discover that staying heavy means deflecting sexual attention, then you'll need to learn that you can say "no" without the physical barrier. If you discover that eating in secret means you've got something that's all your own, you'll need to develop something else to replace that ritual. In short, the inner work must eventually lead to meeting needs directly, rather than with food. This may mean challenging inner beliefs, expressing desires in words, caring for oneself in entirely new ways.

And as you do that, one of those 55,658 books will come in handy. You'll be ready to use it.

Dr. Katz’ workbook, Eat Sanely:  Get off the Diet Roller Coaster for Good, is available in paperback, or as an ebook for Kindle, Nook, or ipad:   www.eatsanely.com/order-the-eat-sanely-weight-loss-workbook

Terese Weinstein Katz, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, eating disorder specialist and diet coach. Her website offers tools for lifelong freedom from weight issues.

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