Expert Insight: Dieting and the Fear of Famine

“Our ancestors did not have a constant supply of food. When a large animal – a whale, a bison, a woolly mammoth or an elephant – was killed, everyone feasted, gorged… it might be weeks or months before another big kill, so large amounts had to be eaten quickly and then stored in the body for the times of scarcity that were sure to come.  

This is an ancient or atavistic memory that calls us to eat all we can now, even if we are not hungry, just in case there won’t be any food tomorrow… there is something deep in our primitive brain that still fears starvation, scarcity, famine.”

Jan Chozen Bays, “Mindful Eating”

Remember the panic-buying we witnessed when the Covid-19 crisis first hit?

Here in the UK, there wasn’t a food shortage but just the possibility of one made people panic – ironically bringing about the very shortages they feared.

There were similar experiences worldwide: supermarkets struggling to keep up with demand as people began to hoard food and supplies.

The danger of scarcity led to stockpiling.

This is what happens when we diet.

When we exert outside control on our eating, rather than respect internal cues, our bodies perceive the restriction as scarcity or famine.

When we break the diet, as we inevitably will, we’re compelled by a primal instinct to eat more than we need, in order to prepare for further food shortages.

When we say “I’ll start the diet again tomorrow”, we confirm the impending deprivation and trigger the order to binge.

Our bodies store the excess food we eat as fat to help us prepare for future famines. We hate them for gaining weight but it’s not their fault. They’re simply doing what they’re supposed to do.

Our bodies aren’t to blame, it’s dieting that’s the issue.

When we begin to normalise our eating, we focus on giving ourselves full or unconditional permission to eat exactly what we want. In doing so, we prove to our minds and our bodies there’s no famine, no scarcity. Therefore, there’s no need to “stock up” by bingeing.

It’s probably one of the hardest parts of the process of recovery because it swims against the tidal wave of diet culture, but it’s possibly the most rewarding.

Every time we give ourselves permission to eat what we really want, we chip away at our old diet mindset and move a step closer to making peace with food.

Ultimately, we can learn to relax and enjoy food, and that fear of famine “deep in our primitive brain” can stand down, safe in the knowledge we’ll never diet again.

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For more on giving yourself full permission to eat, click here. And don’t forget to access my Scoop.It page for even more information.

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Reference

Chozen Bays, J. (2009), Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. Boston: Shambhala.

 

 

Expert Insight: A Gentler Way of Dealing with Yourself

“Change happens the way a plant grows: slowly, without force, and with the essential nutrients of love and patience and a willingness to remain constant through periods of stasis.

If change is what you want, you need to find a gentler way of dealing with yourself and others.”

– Geneen Roth, “Breaking Free from Emotional Eating”

Continue reading “Expert Insight: A Gentler Way of Dealing with Yourself”

Expert Insight: Soothing with Words and Compassion, not Substances

“The fundamental problem is that if we have not been appropriately soothed and have not had carers who have sufficiently helped us to manage our feelings, we are likely to have great difficulty managing them as we grow up and in adult life*. We badly need the skills of emotional regulation because otherwise we are at the mercy of our feelings…

Many people, of whom you may be one, self-soothe not with words and compassion but with substances and activities. The compulsive exerciser is making himself feel better by his exertion; the drug addict or problem drinker is using substances to escape from feelings he can’t manage; the person with disordered eating is using her preoccupation with food, weight, shape and size to deal with feelings that she doesn’t know how to manage in any other way.”

– Julie Buckroyd, “Understanding Your Eating”

Continue reading “Expert Insight: Soothing with Words and Compassion, not Substances”

Expert Insight: Looking the Wrong Way

“Body image is quite independent of physical appearance. Someone with high self-esteem tends to view her body favourably, regardless of how she actually looks.  

The weak connection between body image and physical appearance means that changing your looks won’t guarantee a lasting improvement in self-esteem…you need to get past your appearance and focus on your other personal strengths as well.”

– Rita Freedman, “Bodylove”.

It may come as a surprise that body image really has nothing to do with how you look.

Continue reading “Expert Insight: Looking the Wrong Way”

Expert Insight: Seeing the Funny Side of Our Mistakes

“One way to encourage clients to accept themselves is to remind them that it is human to err and make mistakes. This will enable them to see themselves as human and learn to replace self-judgement with humility and laughter, rather than being crippled by shame. When clients are able to laugh rather than become embarrassed by awkward situations, they are able to redefine their experience and maintain social bonds. In this way, good-natured humour and laughter has a positive effect in disrupting the cycle of shame (Scheff 1990). Moreover, shared laughter is quintessentially human and a powerful tool for connecting to others.”

– Christiane Sanderson, “Counselling Skills for Working with Shame”

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Expert Insight: Filling the Spaces of Your Life with Positive People

“Boundaries can be used in two ways – by limiting the actions of the people who have hurt you, and by including the people who’ve shown themselves to be trustworthy. In other words, boundaries prevent harm and allow benefit.

…When a friend proves trustworthy, see that friend again. Risk a little more. Notice when you are treated kindly. Pay attention when someone offers you trust. As you become more discriminating about the people you let in, the spaces of your life will fill up with positive people, and you’ll have less room for the harmful ones.”

– Anne Katherine, “Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day”

Often we think of boundaries as a means solely of keeping toxic people out. But, as Anne Katherine explains, they’re also how we let trustworthy people in.

But how do you know who to allow close and who to keep at a distance?

Continue reading “Expert Insight: Filling the Spaces of Your Life with Positive People”

Expert Insight: Finding Satisfaction with Food is like Learning to Ride a Bike

“Compare teaching yourself to eat just the right amount of food to teaching a child to ride a bike. Do children learn easily when you get angry or criticize them for making mistakes? Will children feel like giving up if they are expected to do it perfectly right away? Will they want to try again if they’re ashamed about falling off? Or do they learn best when you observe what they do, encourage each positive step they take, and offer gentle suggestions on how they can improve? Do they want to keep trying because you focus on how much they are progressing, not on what they do wrong? Will they feel encouraged when they notice it gets a little easier each time?

Learning to stop eating when you’re satisfied is exactly the same. You’re most likely to learn when you’re gentle, patient, encouraging and optimistic with yourself throughout the process.

Continue reading “Expert Insight: Finding Satisfaction with Food is like Learning to Ride a Bike”