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Dieting is a form of short-term starvation“.

The forward to this book includes the following: “Through Intuitive Eating, they [clients] have learned to trust the wisdom that has always been within, but had been blunted by years of self-doubt”. That last phrase, “years of self-doubt” echoes strongly with me.

As a child I never had an eating problem. You ate what was provided, like it or not, and children’s menus didn’t exist. I remember my mother stating that we had potatoes at every meal until I was 7 because she couldn’t afford to feed us all otherwise. I don’t remember feeling unhappy about my weight until after I’d had my first child. Subsequent to that other confidence issues began to take over my life.

Even then I didn’t really recognise a problem. As a child I had enjoyed cooking and was perfectly competent. My ex-husband enjoyed cooking and gradually took charge in the kitchen having decided that I couldn’t cook. I didn’t really mind this slur as I was quite happy not to cook. I have since completely lost my joy in cooking and really struggle with the simple act of providing food for my family.

Although I hadn’t a problem with food as a child, my mother did, as I touched upon briefly before. I watched her from the age of 7 onwards fight a battle with food. Living abroad didn’t help with all the cheeses she loves and other wonderful food. She struggled with different diets when we got back to England and her weight swung up and down. I think she’s fairly stable now, but quite overweight. I tried to provide emotional support for her as no-one else was going to and I think I had years of her self-doubt reflect on and influence me so that I was burdened with her weight issues before I gained my own.

Furthermore I now begin to realise how much emotion is attached to food. My parents would spend hours discussing food: what to cook, where to buy from, how to alter the recipe,did it need another ten minutes, was it good, should they do it differently next time… It seemed endless. I was once asked how Christmas could be improved and my answer was simply ‘stop spending the whole day talking about the meal’. Celebrations are about having a big meal. Not about having the family round the table for a long chat in each other’s company accompanied by food, but by a meal which is the focus of the gathering and after which we all leave. This makes me angry now, thinking of all the time wasted and conversations (or fights) not had because of the focus on food. My parents somehow saw food as the glue that helped us stick together – ‘the family that eats together, stays together’ was often quoted by my father even though he didn’t really understand what was meant by that. He took it literally.

Going back to the book, diets don’t work. People fail to adhere to them, fall off the wagon and put the weight back on coupled with guilt. One of the symptoms of “diet backlash” is “having little trust in self with food”. I feel a lack of confidence with my ability to eat well anymore. I don’t think I eat badly but too much. Diets help break the direct feedback you have with your body over food by trying to impose the dietary rules on you (you can’t be hungry: you had a limp lettuce leaf an hour ago). Your metabolism becomes sluggish if you diet too much; I don’t know if I suffer from this as I don’t know what having a normal metabolism feels like, but it’s worth remembering.

One interesting fact is that according to studies the growth in commercials for dietary products has a parallel trend in eating disorders. Obviously there are lots of other similar pressures: women’s magazines (which I don’t read) but also newspapers and other media always identify and equate the body beautiful with a slender one even if they’re discussing whether it’s a valid comparison. My father kept telling me to lose weight until I finally said that I had confidence issues and please could he shut up. Listening to friends talk about their diets is also pressurising. Just the fact that clothes shops have larger quanties in the smaller sizes adds to the pressure.

I think of the parallels between this approach and that of quitting smoking. When I stopped smoking almost six years ago I read Allen Carr’s book on how to quit smoking and while I didn’t put out my last cigarette whilst reading it did show me the degree to which I had to change the way I thought about smoking before I could stop without masses of will-power. It took me over a year to turn it all around in my head, but then I stopped with very few cravings and have rarely thought pleasurably about smoking since. Dieting seems to be me to be that equivalent of quitting eating (well, mostly) without changing the way you think about food. The fact that you’re not stopping entirely but are trying to find a balanced way forward makes it much more challenging than quitting smoking. And I’ve done that.

Quotes are taken from “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

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