“I just want to lose weight”.
If you’re overweight you probably hear yourself say that a lot. Sometimes it might feel like the extended dance mix is playing on a loop in your head with repeated choruses of “I hate myself, I’m so disgusting”.
With such conscious thoughts, it’s easy to believe that all you want is just to lose weight and if you could do that (ideally instantly) then everything would be OK.
However, while it’s true that there’s a part of you that really “just wants to lose weight”, there may be another part that really doesn’t. And while the part that wants to lose weight is very well known to you, the part that doesn’t can be completely unfamiliar.
Clients often struggle to believe that they feel conflicted about changing their eating behaviour and losing weight, but time and again it comes up. They can be doing really well normalising their relationship with food when bam! they’re back to bingeing quicker than you can say “where are my car keys? I’ll just pop to the all-night garage”.
While relapse is a perfectly normal part of recovery, these episodes go beyond a bit of overeating or occasionally reaching for food when they’re not hungry. It feels like something else is going on here – some subconscious self-sabotage at work.
So why might you be conflicted about resolving your issues with food and weight?
It’s a really good question to ask yourself. Does anything come to mind? Is there a small voice inside you trying to get your attention?
There can be many reasons why you might be afraid to change.
If you turn to food to look after yourself emotionally the thought of changing your eating behaviour can be terrifying. If you’re not going to binge to supress your feelings then how else are you going to deal with them? It can feel like nothing will ever replace food, nothing will taste as good or do the job you need it to do.
One of the most powerful reasons for retaining surplus weight is sexual protection. This reason can be complex in itself. On the one hand, the thought of reducing in size can make you fear being more sexually attractive and, therefore, vulnerable to attack. On the other, you can be concerned if you lose weight that you will become sexually provocative and promiscuous and will turn into someone you don’t like.
Dealing with conflict is a normal part of the process of recovering from emotion-driven overeating and it is where your psychological energy is best spent. Try as you might to normalise your eating, if there’s a part of you that’s not on board, you’re going to struggle. There’s no point trying to force yourself to do something that a part of you fundamentally doesn’t want to do.
Crucially, while the part of you that doesn’t want to change is intensely vulnerable, it’s also tremendously powerful. It’s this part that motivates you to binge. It doesn’t care about nutrition or how much weight you gain or how awful you feel physically. It’s just trying to survive emotionally in the world and it believes it needs food in order to do that. In the battle of to eat or not to eat, it will always emerge victorious.
So please get to know it, maybe start by writing down how you truly feel about resolving your issues with food and weight. Be gentle with yourself. Understand the scared part of you as well as you do the part that desperately wants to change. In this way, you might find a compromise between these conflicting factions of your personality that seemingly want very different things.
Then perhaps you can begin to work with yourself to heal your relationship with food and allow yourself gradually to let go of your excess weight.
Here are some more thoughts on how to deal with inner conflict.