“Should I Just Give Up? My Life of Dieting is Driving Me Crazy!”: Expert Mary Anne Cohen Answers

Dear Mary Anne:

For many years I have tried to lose between 20 to 30 pounds. I go on many different diets. Sometimes I lose, but then I gain it all back. I am so tired of the struggle of fighting this extra weight. I’m thinking about just throwing in the towel. What do you suggest? Should I just give up?

Thanks,

Barbara

Dear Barbara:

What an excellent question! You are not alone. Many people can relate to your frustration, confusion, and despair.

Should you give up? The answer is both YES and NO! Here’s why:

Yes, give up!

The definition of misery is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The truth is that restrictive diets do not work – and you are living proof!

Here is why you should just give up:

1. Body size and weight are not just related to overeating

Biological and hereditary factors strongly influence someone’s size. If you come from a long line of full-bodied women, chances are that may be your destiny as well.

Also, each of us has a “set point” which is the weight range we are meant to be when we are not overeating/over exercising/dieting or fasting. Often that “set point” is higher than we would like, but to continue fighting it means we are in constant battle with Mother Nature. And guess who always wins?

2. Recognize that we live in a fat-phobic culture that demands every woman be young, thin, and sexy

All women internalize that message to one degree or another and dislike themselves if they can’t conform to that requirement. But beauty comes in all sizes and shapes.

If you knew you would never lose another pound, would you still continue to fight and struggle and hate yourself for the rest of your life?

As one of my patients, Greta, declared,

I don’t really love my body, but I’ve decided to declare a truce against attacking myself. Self-hate hasn’t gotten me anywhere, so I’m working on just accepting my human imperfections.

No, don’t give up!

If “giving up” means bingeing and overeating for the rest of your life, is that really what you want?

Here is why you should not give up and what you should do instead:

1. Reframe your goals

Forget about focusing on weight loss. Focus on health and well-being instead. That means getting enough sleep, reducing stress in your life, and finding activities you enjoy (water aerobics? dancing? yoga?) that are pleasurable for you and are not about punishment or guilt.

2. Get help

Confer with a nutritionist about creating an eating plan that is flexible and compatible with your life style but not with the rigid goal of weight loss.

3. Talk about it

Consult with a therapist if your eating is related to depression or anxiety so you can learn to separate your food from your feelings and find alternatives to emotional eating. Food, after all, is the cheapest, most available, comforting, socially acceptable mood altering drug on the market!

4. Eat intuitively

Practice eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. Become more mindful of hunger, fullness, and overeating triggers that sabotage your conscious eating.

5. Dig deeper

Ask yourself if your constant struggle with weight and overeating is a cover-up for not facing something deeper.

Samantha came to realize that her obsessive focus on counting calories was a smoke screen for not dealing with grief about her mother’s death.

Carol realized her compulsive exercising was related to avoiding feelings of loss when her last child left home.

Renee realized she had stuffed down feelings of anger which she was afraid to hash out with her husband. What would be the next issue that would come up for you if you weren’t constantly worried about your weight?

Learning to accept yourself at the size you are may involve some sadness. But, we all have to make peace with the fact that we are not as thin/young/successful/pretty as we wish to be.

We need to acknowledge those “necessary losses” and move on.

Paula related this story about self-compassion and self-acceptance,

I was looking at a photo of me taken during my summer vacation at the beach. I was laughing out loud with a great happy grin on my face. But I also noticed that my stomach was really sticking out. In that moment, I realized I had a choice about what to focus on: the beauty of my laughter or my fat stomach. The choice is up to me!

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