It’s not what you’re eating — it’s what is eating you

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“No matter how developed you are in any other area of your life, no matter what you say you believe, no matter how sophisticated or enlightened you think you are, how you eat tells it all.”  — Geneen Roth   

Women’s love-hate relationship with their bodies is one that fuels the multi-billion dollar diet industry all over the world which is estimated at US$60 billion in the United States alone. 

The desire to lose excess weight has women buying a host of products and services including health foods, meal replacements, gym memberships, diet books, cosmetic surgery, therapy and supplements. 

A snap survey of 30 women in Roma showed that only four were happy with their bodies.  The rest, 87 percent, were not happy, with seven saying they were too thin and 19 stating they were too fat. 

I am focusing on the latter problem today. 

Some of the comments were: “I am fat.  My grandmother is too fat.  I eat junk and take fizzy drinks.” 

“I have hips that are too big.  But I am taking tablets.”     

On the face of it, we are made to believe the solution is quite simple: eat fewer calories than the body requires and the body will burn excess fat for energy, thereby losing weight.  

This is where the ever-popular diet comes in, also known as “restrained eating” whereby the dieter has to cut out certain foods and eat only certain amounts at certain times.  

Anyone who has been on a diet will tell you that it is one of the hardest things to do.

Dieting can be one of the most soul-destroying cycles one can embark upon.

I have been there. 

Periods of relative success that can last a few days or several months if one is lucky, punctuated with episodes of relapse, which can be a small snack to an all out binge. 

What exactly is going on when a woman buys three chocolate bars, one to be eaten before reaching the car park attendant, the other while driving home and the last one to share with the kids, as if nothing has happened? 

Why is it so hard not to eat when one is not hungry?   

I found the answer in research done by proponents of the “intuitive approach” to weight loss. 

In her book Women Food and God, Geneen Roth notes that “Women turn to food when they are not hungry because they are hungry for something they can’t name: a connection to what is beyond the concerns of daily life.”   

The idea is that there is a link between our beliefs, emotions and relationship with food. 

For example a woman may be facing a difficult situation at work, in a business venture or personal relationship. 

Feelings of despondency about this situation may be worsened by underlying beliefs that there is no hope, the world is unfair, other people are lucky and that they themselves are helpless. 

These feelings of fear and depression can lead to emotional eating in an effort to dull the pain.       

So in a nutshell, dieting without addressing the underlying issues causing one to over-eat will bring limited results over time.

Briefly, the following are some of the tips from various sources given to help in breaking the dieting cycle and attain weight loss: Feel the feeling. 

This may be hard because some feelings like fear or guilt are considered negative but it’s important to acknowledge it without trying to cover it up or distract oneself by eating, talking, watching TV or drinking;

Eat only when hungry not because it’s one o’clock and it’s time to eat, or it’s a cocktail and there is food around or someone persuades you to eat because they are eating too.

Eat with enjoyment and in peace without distractions like radio, television, newspapers or intense conversation; and most importantly redefine yourself by changing limiting beliefs about life and your abilities to realise your goals including that of weight loss.

The above holistic approach initially requires dedication and effort but over time something clicks and suddenly food loses its hold.

If dieting alone has not worked for you, the intuitive approach is well worth a try. 

Tendai Murahwa is a writer, consultant and trainer living in Maseru.  Her areas of interest are women, leadership and personal transformation.  Her email address is afrikarizma@gmail.com

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