By Geneen Roth
For many years, I was convinced that by changing my body, I would change my life. Because I was certain that my suffering was due to my size, I believed that when the weight disappeared, it would take old wounds, hurts, and rejections with it. I thought that changing the shape on the outside would alter the feelings on the inside. Silly me.
Consider a milk carton. No matter what you do to change its shape--switch the spout to the other side, round the corners, cut off the top--you know that what's inside is milk. Not apple juice, not vegetable soup, but milk. But somehow we don't know that changing how we look on the outside--shedding pounds or cinching in our waists a few inches--doesn't change what we are, either.
We mistakenly believe that altering our bodies will fix everything. That's because we think that body size is the cause and, therefore, the healer of all wounds. Perhaps our worst mistake is believing that being thin equals being loved, being special, being cherished. We couldn't be more wrong.
Think of the women who live in Samoa. Legend has it that a woman there is not considered attractive unless she weighs more than 200 pounds. Size is relative: Samoans might equate being fat with being cherished, and being thin with being miserable. (Forget about booking a one-way trip to Samoa. It's too expensive.) The truth is that beauty standards vary from culture to culture, but no matter where you live or how big your body is, some things remain the same. We still have to find a way to live comfortably inside our bodies and make friends with and cherish ourselves.
A woman once came to retreat after she'd lost 100 pounds on a fast and then gained back 50. "They lied to me," she said. "They said my life would be great when I got thin. That I would be happy. That I would love myself and be loved. But that's not what happened. Sure, I liked being thin. I liked wearing clothes in smaller sizes. I liked that my body felt lighter. But I still felt like a fat person--unworthy, unlovable, damaged. I was so disappointed and felt so betrayed by everyone--beginning with my parents, who had always promised that things would change when I got thin--that I started to eat again."
In Into Thin Air, a book about a climbing disaster on Mount Everest, author and adventurer Jon Krakauer writes: "The summit is really only the halfway point...I stayed on top of the world just long enough to fire off four quick [photographs]. Then I turned to descend."
It is exactly like that with your weight. You fantasize about what it will be like when you reach the long-awaited goal. You dream of being thin, and you work hard to get there. You postpone your other dreams, certain that when you arrive, the struggle will have been worth it. Then, at last, you find yourself there; but your new size, like the top of the world, is just another place, and that's all. Being thin is only the halfway point. You have to keep moving.
This lack of finality--the fact that your relationship with food and body size is an ongoing process, not an end point--is the most elusive insight to sustain. Even people who've lost weight 5, 10, or 20 times and always gained it back continue to believe that next time, it will be different. Next time, they will keep it off. Next time, being thin will finally fulfill its alluring promise of everlasting happiness, joy, self-worth, and, of course, love.
But if it's happiness you want, why not put your energy and attention there rather than on the size of your body? Why not look inside? Somewhere in there are the clues to what would make you happy right now.
I often get letters from people who say that when they start my program of intuitive eating and pay attention to their inner lives, they quickly discover that losing weight is not their first priority. It takes them by surprise because they've focused their entire lives on becoming thinner. But when they begin to take even small amounts of time for themselves, when they allow themselves to rest or do nothing for 5 minutes a day, they realize that it's what they wanted most of all. They want permission to slow down and to live like they are special, valued, and belong here. This is what they thought being thin would give them; now they realize that it is something that they need to give to themselves.
I don't mean that you should accept being fat. Attaining your natural weight is a fine goal. Besides making life easier by allowing you to fit the cultural standard, losing weight also enables you to be more physical, to take stress off your heart and joints, to choose from a wide variety of clothes, and to fit into one chair. There are many good reasons to be thin, but to be cherished should not be one of them. Why? Because it just won't work. The truth is that you deserve to be cherished and should cherish yourself no matter how much you weigh or how you look.
Being thin will never do what you think it's going to do. But you can have whatever you believe that being thin will give you, and you can have it now. The only way to do it? By starting to live as though you love yourself. By making a commitment to be kind to yourself and by not letting anything stand in your way. By setting aside time for yourself daily. By being vigilant about acting on your own behalf. By beginning today.
If you enjoyed reading this article, I invite you to join me at my next retreat, May 23-28, 2017 , in Watsonville, California.
No matter how sophisticated, wise, or enlightened you believe you are, how you eat tells all. If you want to understand and change your beliefs about abundance, scarcity, deprivation, relaxation, kindness, and what you deserve to give yourself, the world is on your plate.
End your struggle. In this retreat, you will learn the tools of inquiry, body-sensing, meditation, and Geneen's Seven Steps to Freedom with Food that are the basis of the journey itself. Live the life you truly want.