You’ve probably heard that diets don’t work and that the true solutions lie within figuring out why you overeat.
And, well, I agree with a really important caveat. For many women, the torturous relationship with food goes beyond what is happening on their plate and the emotional context of their eating. For those women (myself included), the problem is actually the cycle of dieting/food rules followed by an intense period of rebellion.
And, while focusing on the “why you overeat” or “what’s eating you” piece of the puzzle is important, what is more important is looking at it through the lens of the whole cycle that is happening. Because that is where the solutions lie – in resolving the whole cycle – not just a part of it.
When you focus your energy on the whole cycle, you will see the whole picture pretty quickly.
In other words, you aren’t trapped on the diet and rebel roller coaster because you are a bad person with no willpower.
It isn’t because you “aren’t trying hard enough” or that you “don’t want it bad enough.”
And it isn’t because you are destined to sabotage yourself.
The reason you are on the diet roller coaster is that you are human and you have needs.
In fact, every single action you take is an attempt to meet a need.
All of them.
This includes emotional eating, yes. But it also includes going on diet after diet. It includes quitting diet after diet. It includes beating yourself up about food, body, and weight (or anything else, for that matter).
It even includes “self-sabotage.”
Perhaps right now, your needs are either unconscious or, maybe, you simply don’t know how to get them met in ways that actually work and are sustainable for you.
There are as many ways that this could play out as there are people, but here is an example:
You wake up one day, get on the scale and see that you’ve gained three pounds. You start telling yourself that you are never going to get your weight under control and that you are destined to be the fat girl.
You decide right then and there that you are going to start Weight Watchers. Again. Even though you just quit Weight Watchers yesterday.
So, you log on and start calculating to your heart’s content. At first, it feels good. You feel empowered. You can really do this, this time.
But, maybe weeks, days, or hours later, you find yourself finagling and bargaining with the rules. Eventually, you find yourself eating the very things you aren’t “supposed to be” eating or blowing your carb, calorie, point, fat gram quota.
Before you know it, you have fallen completely off the wagon. You are eating everything in sight and can’t seem to stop.
And then, the cycle starts all over again.
Most people focus on why they fall off the diet and the action of overeating, emotional eating, and trying to force themselves to not eat off plan foods.
But again, that is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to see the whole picture, you have to look at the first part of the cycle – starting with weighing yourself and then deciding that a diet is the next best action.
Let’s look at the cycle a little more closely through the lens of True Hungers…
In the first part of the cycle, there are at least three Universal Needs (what I call True Hungers) at work, and maybe more.
But the ones that stand out most are the need for safety – which shows up as the desire to be healthy and/or the need to control. The others are the need for love and the need for belonging – which are technically two different needs but show up in very similar ways, like wanting to fit in, or feel confident, or please other people.
In the second part of the cycle, you start to feel good because you, at first, believe that you are capable. In other words, you start to think that those needs for safety, love, and belonging are (finally!) going to be met.
Then part three happens – the part that most people call sabotage or lack of willpower.
Similar to the first part of the example, there are a couple of needs that stand out most and those are the needs for sustenance and autonomy. Sustenance is about being nourished – it goes beyond just food and water – but on a very primal level, we are wired to seek food because we need it to live. And that survival instinct trumps all. But also, the need for autonomy, which is all about being self-governing and independent.
As you can see, what is really going on here is a conflict of needs, kind of like a conflict of interest.
You believe that losing weight and going on a diet will make you feel safe (healthy, in control) and like you belong (acceptable, like you fit in, confident). But, at the same time, you also want to feel autonomous (make your own rules, self-govern, be sovereign) and, quite frankly, not like you are starving (sustenance).
This conflict is at the core of why you oscillate between dieting/food rules and rebelling.
As a human, your brain is wired to want all of your needs met. You want to feel safe. You want to feel loved and accepted. You want to feel autonomous. And you don’t want to feel hungry all the time. And you want all of those things simultaneously.
Without balance amongst your needs, you will find yourself oscillating between extremes, like food rules/diets and rebellion.
And once you begin to practice achieving that balance proactively, the “need” to diet and rebel falls away automatically.
The truth is that you deserve to have all of your needs met. There are no conditions you have to meet in order for that to be true.
If the diet and rebel roller coaster aren’t doing that for you, you can get off. You do it by figuring out what it is that you are really hungry for and feeding that instead of all the false promises.