Whatever body type you reside in, you’re likely to hear negative cultural messages.
“You are too fat – you must not care about your health! Don’t eat that!”
“You are too thin – you must be obsessed with your health! Eat a sandwich!”
Compound this mindset with our love/hate fascination with huge portions and our love/love obsession with fad diets. Throw in whopping doses of food morality and fat stigma, and you have a big ol’ mess.
Given our cultural double bind about bodies and food, it’s no wonder that weight loss is such a loaded topic. The weight loss industry is huge – approximately $60 billion dollars annually. And there is zero proof that the War on Obesity is working.
Let’s stop making the problem worse by taking cultural problems and assigning the blame to individuals.
I have already called a War on Shame-Based Approaches designed to “help” people with disordered eating. It started when I quit work I very much needed, which was to help people who ate compulsively. I needed this work because I was in the part of my therapist torture training known as the clinical internship. After graduating with my bright shiny master’s degree, it was a whomp upon my head to learn that it was not an easy process to obtain the 3,000 clinical hours needed for licensure.
So when an opportunity opened up to lead therapy groups in the area of compulsive eating, I was excited. This topic was right in line with why I went to therapy school in the first place, and I already knew a lot about the topic. This was my main area of professional interest, and I had already completed core training in treating eating disorders. Stoked!
And then they started the training process for new facilitators.
And then I had to quit. Before I even got to the point of seeing clients.
I could not ethically continue to participate with a program that did not correspond to the research literature. Clients were to spend a year in this program, focusing on how broken they were, and how much shame they have over eating.
If you came into the program without a ton of shame, not to worry. You would definitely feel it as the program continued.
There was no awareness that our culture, with its impossible beauty ideals, coupled with its unabashed hatred of fat, is the main source of the problem.
By treating eating like an addiction, they failed to take into account the fact that yes, the reward centers of your brain light up with food, just like with cocaine. However, those same reward centers also light up when you listen to music. Treating eating like an addiction ignores competing research demonstrating that intuitive eating can help people overcome trigger foods, among other things. (Ironically, it is our attempt to have huge willpower and stay away from certain foods that actually creates trigger foods. It’s like, “Don’t pay any attention to the pink elephant in the room.”)
The trainer lamented the sad, sad fact that we need to eat to stay alive. She likened eating to having to “let the tiger out of the cage three times a day.”
That was the last straw for me.
The treatment program demonstrated no comprehension that:
- Weight is a poor proxy for health.
- The stress that fat people feel in our thincentric society explains at least some of the health issues that have been incorrectly attributed to weight.
- Weight loss programs typically lead to weight gain in the long run.
- Dieting behaviors induce a restrict/overeat/restrict/binge cycle.
- Dieting creates the preoccupation with food that is then attributed to the individual’s damaged inner psyche.
Sadly, in the end, disordered eating treatment programs like this keep people believing that they are somehow at fault when they don’t feed their bodies enough, and then their underfed bodies make them eat. Programs like this perpetuate the myth that deep inside, there is a thin person waiting to emerge, if only we exercise enough/eat far too little/feel enough shame.
The results of pathologizing programs like this are likely to be:
- Continued external focus on counting calories or points.
- A disregard for diversity of body size.
- A fear of food, and a belief that you can’t ever be around certain “trigger” foods.
- Preoccupation with weight and body image
- A white-knuckle attempt to control overeating, instead of learning to honor body cues of hunger and fullness.
- A belief that you are to blame for your tortured relationship with food and weight, instead of an understanding that most of it is culturally created.
Thankfully, there are alternatives. The Health at Every Size Movement provides a weight-neutral, culturally-aware framework to health. Mindful eating and intuitive eating are also nonpathologizing tools to change your relationship with food.