We live in a culture that teaches us, consciously and subconsciously, to equate fatness with death. No wonder we are afraid. Fear is by far the biggest barrier to trying, sticking with, and going all the way with Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size. It's the boogeyman. We have to talk about it.
Fear about intuitive eating and health at every size comes to the surface for my clients in statements like these. Do any of them resonate?
"If I give myself 'full permission' to eat anything I want, I will go totally 'off the rails' and eat nothing but chocolate donuts (or ice cream or bagels or snickers bars – each person has their own food that they cite in this scenario. Mine were coffee cake muffins and peanut M & Ms)
"If I let go of the rules, I won’t know what to eat."
"What about my health? Aren’t certain foods just objectively BAD FOR YOU?"
Let’s unpack these fears a bit.
No matter the exact words, these are the core fears:
1) I will gain weight
2) I will become unhealthy
Fear of weight gain makes sense if you’ve lived your entire life in western culture. Everything you have ever learned about “being fat” or “being overweight” or “obesity” is negative and scary. If you’ve been in a larger body you’ve suffered enormous trauma – both macro and micro. If you haven’t, you have witnessed it and been disciplined by it – you have learned its dangers and taken measures to prevent becoming bigger.
Because of our viciously fat-phobic culture, the fear of fatness taps into our deepest lizard brain -- our evolutionary impriting -- the fear that we will be cast out. For a small child -- or for a pre-modern human -- being rejected by family or clan meant DEATH.
We live in a culture that teaches us, consciously and subconsciously, to equate fatness with death.
No wonder we are afraid.
I can’t tell you that if you stop restricting, and start eating intuitively, you will not gain weight. People do. I did. Your body has a natural set-point that is determined by genetics, the environment you grew up in, and a variety of social determinants. If you’ve been restricting (or using exercise) to keep your weight below that set point, your body will find its way to it.
The work that is deeply liberating and transformational is the work of confronting that fat-phobia, of deconstructing it, and then consciously deciding if it aligns with your values.
You will have to take into account the costs, the losses, the pain, the suffering, that you have endured in efforts to lose weight or maintain a small body.
Maybe you’ve “gained and lost the same XX pounds a dozen times,” as one of my clients recently reported. Or maybe, like me, you’ve lived in a smaller body because you have never allowed yourself to be free.
What has it cost you?
And what do you fear will happen if your body gets bigger?
Will it really happen, do you really believe the fear?
Does it align with your deepest values to live a life driven by fear? And let’s say it does happen – the thing you are afraid of. It probably won’t kill you and it may even make your life better.
(I have to pause here and give a shout-out to @thelindseywolf. More than anyone I have come across she has viscerally communicated the freedom, the joy, the POWER of letting go of fear. She is awesome).
I do NOT recommend confronting these fears alone. This is NOT small stuff. It's not a DIY proposition. It’s deep, it’s terrifying – because our culture terrorizes people in larger bodies. Truth.
Find a coach, a counselor – someone who is HAES and IE aligned. You need someone to hold space and create safety for you -- the fear goes that deep.
There are some great books out there – but reading a book is not enough. Anyone can get this intellectually, cognitively. But you won’t feel safe to let go until you do a much deeper dive into the raw emotion of the fear. Until you really see it in all it’s scary ugliness. Until you shine a light on a dark place so that the shadows can fall away.
Don’t do that alone!
I offer free 1/2 Zoom consultations to see if working with me would be a good fit.
In the next post I will address the second fear – that you will become unhealthy. Stay tuned.