The sneaky thing about dieting?
It distracts you from the 90%. It makes you think the 10% will change everything.
It won’t. Not by a long shot.
I had always believed that my struggles with my body image and years (and years and years and years) of dieting were actually all about my body. Turns out, not so much. Turns out there was a lot more hidden under that belief. As I have been on my personal journey away from dieting and towards a saner approach to life, I have uncovered what was at the core of that obsession (because that’s what it was). Turns out it wasn’t the size of my jeans. Turns out it was about icebergs.
You have probably seen that picture of the iceberg that shows the small top of the iceberg above the water line and the massive rest of the iceberg under the water, right? You have likely also heard the statistic that explains that picture. It turns out that you can only see 10% of the iceberg. 90% of the iceberg is underwater.
Dieting is a good example of a day-to-day iceberg. Dieting is just a surface-issue. It doesn’t feel like it, but it is. You may think your body is the all-consuming problem in your life, but it isn’t. It’s just the 10% you choose to focus on– the part above the water line. The 90%, well, that’s where the real problems hide. The sneaky thing about dieting? It distracts you from the 90%. It makes you think the 10% will change everything. It doesn’t. Not by a long shot.
As I have written about before, I quit dieting about a year ago. And I was not able to maintain the weight loss I achieved through over-exercising and eating 900 calories a day once I quit over-exercising and eating 900 calories a day. Go figure.
Because of this weight gain, I have been dreading the change of seasons– the move from summer into fall. Last year at this time all of my clothes were loose. Totally baggy. I needed belts. I could actually put my pants on without unbuttoning some of them. I was very happy about this. I wasn’t very happy about anything else in my life. But I needed a belt. Go, me.
Anyway, the point is that when I put away my winter clothes last year, I was quite a bit thinner. As fall started to roll in, I started to panic about how everything would fit. I had been doing really well with seeing myself as more than the size of my body. But I was worried that if I had out-grown all of my clothes, this might derail me.
To my relief and surprise, I didn’t actually out-grow all of my clothes. I out-grew the ones I bought when I was skinnier. But the ones that I have had for a while? They just actually fit now. Well, some fit and some were tighter, but they were decidedly wearable. I wasn’t in a position to have to buy all new clothes. At least physically. Emotionally? That turned out to be a whole ‘nother ballgame.
Here’s what happened. Instead of being happy that I could still basically wear all of my clothes, I was frustrated and upset every time I got dressed. All I could think was, “The last time I wore these, they were not tight. I needed a belt.” Or, “The last time I wore this outfit, I was in Italy and you could see my collar bones. And I needed a belt.” Or, “The last time I wore these pants they didn’t look like this. AND I NEEDED A BELT!”
Then, because I know what I am supposed to do when this type of thinking starts to emerge, I played the voice of reason. “Megan,” I would say to myself, “they fit. So what if they are tight. They are skinny jeans. They are supposed to be tight. Chillax (yes, I use that word) and move on.” This usually at least stopped the incessant trying-on-of-clothes and got me dressed. It got me out the door.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop the constant stream of negative thoughts that would follow me throughout the day. All day long I would be aware of and focused on how my clothes felt. How they didn’t feel the way they used to. How they were tight and sometimes uncomfortable. The way things were fitting triggered all of those things I used to say to myself when the size of my body was my primary concern. One thought lead to another and that lead to an even meaner thought until I was drowning in self-recrimination and vicious judgement about how much of a failure I was for not being able to just “maintain”.
At this point, you are probably thinking the logical response is to just buy new clothes. And if that is what you are thinking, you are right. But, as so much to do with body image is totally illogical, it took me a while to get there. Technically, I didn’t NEED new clothes. They mostly fit. I told myself I needed to buck up and be a grown up and stop being so negative. I tried this. No beuno.
The reason why it was no beuno was because I was still making the negative spiral all about my body. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what was going on in my brain was bigger than the jeans (metaphorically speaking). The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I resist letting go of things that no longer fit in ALL areas of my life. I realized that there was an important lesson in the jeans.
Here I was, holding onto these jeans that were no longer comfortable for me– physically and emotionally. I was resisting doing the very reasonable thing that would create more comfort for myself. I was going to make those jeans work come hell or high water. But I don’t only do this with jeans. I have done this all throughout my life with beliefs and thoughts I have about myself. I have held onto beliefs that no longer fit for me– that were actually painful, negative, and downright mean– and I have held onto them to my own detriment.
Here are some examples of my own negative thoughts and self-limiting beliefs (sounds like therapy-talk, I know) so you can get a feel of what I was dealing with:
- If you aren’t thin, you cannot be happy, successful, or loved.
- When you are thin, everything will work out the way you want.
- You aren’t capable of doing what you want, so why try.
- Nothing you have to say is unique or important.
- You aren’t unique or important.
- If you can’t be the best, what’s the point.
- If you don’t do it perfectly, it’s not good enough.
- You never do it good enough.
- Gaining weight is proof that you are pathetic.
Yep. Not a pleasant list of beliefs about myself. They are thoughts that I have worked long and hard to eliminate. Therapy, meditation, mentoring, and self-help everything– but they have not been eliminated. And they haven’t been eliminated because “eliminated” isn’t really a useful goal. It is actually a fairly unattainable goal. Lessoned is a good goal. Even significantly lessoned is a doable goal. It’s a goal I’ve actually achieved. But what I know about myself is this: when I am struggling or afraid or insecure, these are the negative thoughts that surface every time. The difference at this point is that I don’t let them make camp in my head. I kick them out and then walk/run away from them as quickly as I can. Some days it is a slow crawl. Somedays it’s an Olympic sprint. Olympic sprint days are my favorite.
Thoughts and beliefs like these are the like the jeans that don’t fit. They make us uncomfortable. They make us feel like crap. They ruin days and steal enjoyment. The keep us focused on the negative. They just plain-old don’t feel good. AT ALL.
And here is where we come full circle. The jeans? They are just the 10% of the iceberg. Below the water line is the 90%– the self-criticism, the judgment, the meanness, the negative beliefs that flooded me all day as I fretted about the tightness of my jeans.
I have made a personal commitment to myself to no longer “wear” the thoughts that no longer fit, that no longer feel good, that no longer serve me. If it doesn’t fit into the life I want? It doesn’t get to be in me head. If it makes me feel badly about myself? It get’s an eviction notice. I have consciously chosen to don the thoughts that nurture me, support me, and make me feel Hot-Damn Fine.
So, in the spirit of feeling Hot-Damn Fine, I bought new jeans. All new jeans. Some were the same size as the ones I already had. Some were bigger. But now, every morning when I get dressed, I am starting fresh. My new jeans didn’t ever fit differently– there’s no emotional baggage– so it eliminates all the comparison and judgement associated with the old pants. Simple solution. Colossal results.
Bottom line– we need to release the things that contaminate our thinking. We need to be willing to let go of that which no longer serves us and we need to consciously buy-into the stuff that does. We need to wisely choose the beliefs and thoughts that help us feel good– that make us feel Hot-Damn Fine. And, sometimes, we need to buy new jeans :o)