Dieting, Weight and Making Peace with Food
A binge eating therapist's perspective on Oprah's success with Weight Watchers.
Posted January 31, 2017
There it was, on the cover of People magazine last week, Oprah Winfrey superstar and self-identified professional dieter said she has made peace with food. That’s great! But the headline made my heart sink: "How I Lost 42.5 Pounds with Weight Watchers".
As a therapist who works with women with disordered eating, I wish this “success” story wasn’t about the weight. Society focuses on weight and tells us that if you just fix the weight issue everything will be fine. But losing weight does not solve most people’s relationship issues with food. In fact, dieting and internalizing the thin ideal make disordered eating issues worse. With binge and overeating, feelings of deprivation followed by counter regulation are an all too common reaction to dieting.
Dieting rules use external guidelines to control your decisions. Whether it points, steps, carbs or calories…it’s all meant to control and override your internal feedback loops. Research shows that we have a deep need for autonomy in our food choices, rather than be told what to do. Until someone stops dieting, food and weight will always be the focus. Making peace with food requires disengaging from the struggle and need to control.
A “peaceful” journey?
Oprah says she’s made peace with food—unfortunately, I didn’t hear peace in her story. During her 17 months on Weight Watchers, Oprah told People that she steadfastly counted points (30 points a day and 10,000 steps), counted exactly how many chips she could have as a snack (11), and that she gave herself cheesy scalloped potatoes “as a Christmas present.” She’ll probably be counting “points” for the rest of her life, she said, and stressed that the half pound in the 42.5 pounds she lost “counts”—it’s clear where her focus is.
I hope she doesn’t gain the weight back, but 95% of people do, and for the sake of people like the women I care for at the Women’s Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, I worry about the message being sent by Oprah and the entire weight loss issue of People magazine. In one story a women bragged, “I haven’t had a slice of pizza in 5 years.” How sad!
As much as we want dieting to work it doesn’t. Even when it’s marketed as a “food plan” or “lifestyle,” anything that controls the intake of your food from the outside in won’t address what’s going on inside you.
The women I work with are, like Oprah, smart, successful people who find themselves tired and beat up by the same old diet cycle looking to find a solution from the inside out. There is no shame in needing help with that. Truly making peace with food means living a full life now regardless of your size and teasing out the emotional connection to food from the food itself. After 25 years working with women who struggle with weight, I’ve learned that a mindful integrated approach of eating, moving and living can bring a type of peace that simply doesn’t come in pill or monthly subscription.
Green, M. (2017, January 11). I’m Finally at Peace with Food’: Oprah Winfrey Tells PEOPLE How She Lost 42.5 Lbs.! Retrieved January 31, 2017, from http://people.com/bodies/oprah-winfrey-tells-people-how-she-lost-42-5-l…
Lowe, M. R. and Levine, A. S. (2005), Eating Motives and the Controversy over Dieting: Eating Less Than Needed versus Less Than Wanted. Obesity Research, 13: 797–806. doi:10.1038/oby.2005.90
Teixeira, P. J. et al. (2015). 13:84. Successful behavior change in obesity interventions in adults: a systematic review of self-regulation mediators. BMC Medicine. doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0323-6