You’re having a conversation with a close friend. There’s something exciting going on in your life and you’re dying to fill them in. As you talk, you’re brimming with energy and enthusiasm about your venture. When you finish, rather than sharing in your excitement your friend says flatly:
“What’s the point?”
Slightly stunned, you ask them to explain what they mean.
“Well”, they say, “it’s just that you’ll never do it. You’ll never achieve that. You might as well give up”.
How do you feel?
Deflated and defeated. Like the wind has been knocked out of your sails.
And so it goes with making peace with food. While this may not be an actual conversation you have with a friend (I really hope not), it’s often a dialogue that takes place within you.
You can be making real progress normalising your relationship with food when bam! a voice says “What’s the point? You’ll never succeed”. Suddenly, the rug has been pulled from under you and you feel utterly hopeless.
It’s why you can feel enthused about your process one minute and despondent the next.
That voice, which we’ll call the Hopeless Side, isn’t the same as your Inner Bully. The Inner Bully wants you to feel ashamed, depressed and generally rubbish about yourself. The Hopeless Side has a very different motivation.
It’s trying to protect you.
The Hopeless Side knows your history of dieting and attempting to lose weight. It knows how hard you had to focus on your eating. It understands the sacrifices you made. Most importantly, it remembers your overwhelming disappointment when the diet failed and you regained the weight you lost. It recalls the emotional pain you suffered as a result – the frustration, the despair, the sense of failure.
So it wants to protect you.
It wants to protect you from feelings it believes you can’t handle.
The problem is, it doesn’t differentiate between dieting and normalising your relationship with food. It just thinks anything eating-related is a no-go area and it needs to step in to protect you. So it says “What’s the point? You’ll never do this. Your eating will always be out of control. Just give up”. In its mind, it’s saving you from the pain of trying and failing yet again.
So it keeps you stuck because – for the Hopeless Side – being stuck is better than moving forward and risking disappointment.
If you want to get unstuck, it’s important to address it and deal with it.
Here are some suggestions of what you might say to the Hopeless Side when it’s asking “what’s the point?” and telling you to give up.
“This is different”
Normalising your relationship with food – or eating intuitively or whatever you want to call it – isn’t the same as a diet. Instead of working against yourself by attempting to stick to someone else’s idea of what or how to eat, you’re working with yourself. You’re giving yourself full permission to eat and listening to your body’s cues about hunger, preference and satisfaction. You’re also exploring ways to meet your emotional needs that don’t involve food. Therefore, the Hopeless Side can’t hold your dieting history against you – this is making peace with food and you’ve never been here before.
“I can handle disappointment”
People whose eating is emotion-driven usually learn to detach from feelings early on in life. They also often have a hard time trusting they’ll get what they want. Sometimes, this is as a result of being promised things as a child that were never delivered. The Hopeless Side doesn’t understand you’re an adult now and can learn to handle challenging feelings. And, actually, it’s essential that you do. If you’re disappointed, it’s OK to acknowledge it – there’s no better way to build emotional resilience.
“Thank you, but I’ve got this”
The Hopeless Side needs to understand you know what you’re doing. Articulate your approach to eating and why it’s what you want. List your character strengths and achievements. Remind it how far you’ve come in your process already and you don’t need any help because you’re in charge of your life. Then it’s a polite but firm “thanks, but no thanks”.
As much as the Hopeless Side thinks it’s helping by protecting you from difficult feelings, it’s not. It’s standing in the way of you and the life you want and deserve.
Because life is to be lived. Really lived.
It’s to be lived free from obsessing about food every waking moment. It’s to be lived in gratitude for the body you have and all it does for you. It’s to be lived wholeheartedly, courageously and authentically. Not hopelessly.
That’s the point.
There are additional questions for eatonomy group members – and anyone else who finds them useful – on the News page.