So, I just read the following, written by another therapist whose work I really respect. It mirrors many conversations I’ve had this week about “What happens when you gain weight?” She writes: “Instead of just trying to answer this question, try closing your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and feel the answer. Imagine yourself gaining weight…what do you imagine? Feel it. You likely imagine being teased, or rejected, or a desire to isolate. What would happen if you were rejected or teased or isolated? You would be alone, right? And if you were alone, how would you feel? Sad? Hurt? You might even feel unloved or unlovable. So if we follow this feeling back to the original fear and connect the two… your fear of gaining weight is really a fear of being unloved!” via The Link Between Love and Eating Disorders, Part 3 |.”
Because actually, the only thing that gaining weight means is that you’ve gained weight. If you are actually, medically, objectively overweight, that means only that. Your body is carrying extra weight. Period.
What makes the difference, and changes everything, is what we believe about what that weight means. There are certainly many culturally available meanings for us to latch onto about what thinness means, that one can “never be too skinny”, that fat represents laziness or lack of intelligence (it pains me to even write these things, but I’d be fooling myself if I thought they weren’t already in your mind), and many families and communities actively subscribe to these beliefs and teach them to their children. Fundamentally, all of these messages are about worth and goodness. So it’s far too easy for someone with fears about their own worth and goodness to latch onto the idea that if they can just control their weight, they will be worthy and loved. That’s why some people get eating disorders and some don’t (well, one of the reasons). It’s the vulnerability in terms of fears about worth and acceptance that can turn fat fear into a religion for some, and the relative security of attachment that allows others, exposed to the same messages, to get by relatively unscathed.
What really sucks, like, big time, is that when you’re driven by those beliefs, you feel better when you lose weight, and feel worse when you gain weight because of what you think those things mean and how that influences your behavior, which then provides you with “evidence” that the beliefs are true. For example, back when I was a weigh-yourself-every-freaking-minute lady, I would frequently notice that I received more compliments on “skinny days” (we’re talking ounces of difference here), which I took as reinforcement for my beliefs, never considering that it was the happiness and confidence fueled by my beliefs about that day’s number that were changing people’s perception of me, and the likelihood that I would be liked or loved.
This means something interesting in terms of recovery or changing patterns. If you want to change your relationship with your body, and hence your relationship with food, you have to change your relationship with yourself, and address your fears about your own worthiness or “ok-ness” as a human. It’s possible to make a great deal of progress in letting go of food and weight obsession without ever discussing food or weight because that’s not what at’s the core of the problem. Disordered eating is a symptom of a disordered relationship with the self. Sure, you’ve got deeply ingrained food and exercise habits that need to be actively addressed, but if you don’t work on your fears about what fat means, progress is limited. SO, think about it. What do you believe it would mean if you gained weight? If you’re currently living in a body larger than is healthier for you, what do you believe that means? The answers to those questions are a really excellent starting place for making change because if you can address those fears head on, in the ways that they have nothing to do with food and your body, you’ve got a fighting chance at normalizing your relationship with food once and for all.