One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I often default to a state of vigilance…or rather my nervous system defaults to vigilance. Whether through nature, nurture, or trauma my orientation toward my world can be perpetually scanning the horizon (however far off and however out of my control) for incoming threats, or worse, impending doom.
This sounds more ominous than I actually experience it, but I’ve learned that my mind and body like to grip tight in fear and cycle over all the ways that I could prevent or avoid whatever thing in life could go going.
It was surprising to me to discover, years ago, that not everyone is like this. Some people don’t fret that much about the future. Some people default to assuming everything that can go right will go right. Some people move through world trusting that they are and will be safe. Some people don’t grasp for perfection or doubt their belonging. Some people don’t view their humanness as something to fix.
I feel a lot more like these people today than I did for most of my life and that’s in large part because I work with my mind.
Let me take you back for a bit. I used to live a few blocks from a house that hosted a weekly meditation sitting for twenty-somethings. Many Wednesday nights I would walk over, stroll through the prayer-flagged gate, up the rickety wooden stairs stairs and into this sanctuary. After slipping off my shoes and finding a comfortable seat on the living room floor, along with other young sitters, I would meditate.
The ‘sits’ were led by one of the members of the house who took responsibility for tracking time, ringing beginning and entry chimes, providing tea, and often reading a passage of some Buddhist text.
On one particular night the host read an excerpt from Thich Naht Hahn’s Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life. Our host opened with the question, “Can you smile at the non-toothache?” What a curious question. My ears perked up and he read on:
“The foundation of happiness is mindfulness. The basic condition for being happy is our consciousness of being happy. If we are not aware that we are happy, we are not really happy. When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant. There are so many things that are enjoyable, but when we don’t practice mindfulness, we don’t appreciate them. When we practice mindfulness, we come to cherish these things and we learn how to protect them. By taking good care of the present moment, we take good care of the future. Working for peace in the future is to work for peace in the present moment.”
So “Can you smile at the non-toothache?”
Back then if I were to answer the question: no. I rarely smiled, let alone noticed the happiness of the “non-toothache.”
Today the “non-toothache”, the general absence of intense searing pain in my life, and the presence of much goodness is with me.
Over the years since that Wednesday night sit I’ve learned that thoughts are often just thoughts and that future (or past) tripping is made up of stories that take me out of experiencing my life as it is happening here and now. Doesn’t mean I don’t get caught up back there or out there, it just means I know more clearly when, why and how to bring myself back to here.
One of the main practices that supports this is savoring.
Savoring is a mindfulness practice.
Savoring is about living in the moment. It’s about taking in what is already here — feeding on the feast right in front of you.
Savoring is about gratitude and sensuality.
Savoring is all about sinking into and pausing to enjoy the non-toothache.
I noticed over the past few months I was starting, once again to approach my life from an anxious place. I noticed I was focused on fixing and judging more enjoying and allowing. As I looked at what little time I have left this year I knew I wanted to turn the tides.
So I created Savor as a way to practice, just for these last weeks of the year, simply being in my life (and my home, my relationships, and my body), enjoying the good that is here now, appreciating instead of nitpicking, and trusting instead of vigilantly scanning the horizon. And I know I’m not the only one who is hungry for this kind of grounding and support. I’ll be offering Savor each holiday season so be sure to sign up for the newsletter for updates!
I believe dieting is a violent act.
I don’t feel neutral, or calm, or indifferent about dieting. I feel quite clearly that dieting is a violent act that (predominantly) women are encouraged to perform against themselves.
I find diets to be physically violent, often leading to exhaustive cycles of weight loss and gain and sometimes insufficient calories (i.e. energy) and nutrition.
I find diets to be psychologically violent, often leading to mental obsession, increased stressed, shame, disempowerment, disembodiment, and a general sense of failure when the diet inevitably results not in weight loss, but weight gain.
I find diets spiritually violent, often severing the most sacred of ties between ourselves and the wisdom of our body. I can think of few things as holy as the act of feeding ourselves and this is exactly where diets wreak their havoc.
I have come to believe this about diets after my own stint on Weight Watchers (which fueled the start of my anorexia) at age 20 and a range of other diets in the years to follow. I have come to believe this about diets after a decade of thoroughly researching and formally studying the science and ineffectiveness of diets. Most of all though I have come to believe this after spending years on the frontline of healing women who arrive at my doorstep deeply wounded from years, often decades, spent dieting.
Dieting isn’t all that different than other forms of temporary soothing. Like eating, drinking, or shopping in order to numb out, for the person doing it, at first, it feels relaxing. It’s a bandaid solution that almost always leaves us feeling worse off.
Violence means destruction and that is what I know diets do. They destroy our natural ease with food. They destroy, albeit temporarily, our ability to listen to and honor our unique physical cues about what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. They destroy adult women’s sense that they are capable of feeding themselves without external controls.
The majority of people in the western world, including most of our medical establishment, believe that diets are an obvious and even healthy response to overconsumption of food and possessing a body size above what is deemed acceptable.
It’s just not true though. In fact it’s bullshit. Diets don’t improve our health and they don’t result in weight loss (never mind that there is nothing inherently unhealthy or wrong with weighing more or having a larger body).
It’s understandable that a woman would go on a diet, given the amount of money spent each year across various industries to sell her on the idea that she can’t be trusted around food and that she isn’t desirable unless she is thinner. I understand this. I bought into it too long ago. Yet given what I know, I believe firmly that diets are a violent act.
A word, or two, on the experience of holding a radical point of view: it’s scary.
For women, historically, our very survival has depended on being likable. To feel disliked, judged, and rejected, to women…to me…can induce panic. It is for this reason many women default to silence when their voice, however necessary, might run against the status quo.
So I share this most radical of beliefs knowing that you might not only disagree, but that you might criticize, unfollow, and reject me as a valued voice in your life. I know that my beliefs about dieting are radical. I also know that a lot of normal ideas were at one time radical. I also know that it’s the truthful but less popular ideas that need champions.
As long as it takes I will tell my story, stand for the truth, and call for peace—the peace that diets rob us of. I’m happy to put in the time, however long, until we see a cultural sea change happen.
If you share my view on dieting but feel alone this is me reaching my hand out to join yours. We may be a minority but from what I can tell that is quickly changing and a new paradigm is emerging.
That said while there is a growing awakening happening, there remains a lot of work to do. Case in point: Oprah Winfrey and her recent investment into and spokeswomanship for Weight Watchers…
Have you heard the term “The Oprah Effect”?
This phrase was coined to describe the success that resulted for a person, product (especially books), or business from a single appearance on her television show. And even without her television show, it’s a common belief that Oprah remains the single most powerful woman in the world. And her success is deserving. Oprah, without question, has improved the lives of millions of people.
As a woman, a fellow human, I have a tremendous amount of compassion for her long struggle with food and body loathing. But as a public figure, I believe her endorsement of Weight Watchers, while being a prudent business move (netting her $45 million on paper), is unethical. Simply put she has invested in and endorsed a product proven to fail in the long run.
If Oprah had come out endorsing the Volkswagon cars with faulty emissions readers we’d be up in arms. We’d be cross-eyed and confused.
“Why would anyone endorse a product that doesn’t deliver on its promises?!” we’d say.
“Why would anyone support a company that lies to it’s consumers?!” we’d exclaim.
When I learned that Oprah was coming out with a rousing endorsement of Weight Watchers I felt outraged, but more than that I felt and still feel utterly heartbroken by the incredible missed opportunity that Oprah represents. I’m pained by the incredible number of women who will, I believe, thanks to Oprah, feel a green light to diet.
If you feel drawn to dieting because you feel out of control with food and unhappy with your body please know there is another way. A more effective way. It’s entirely possible to make peace with food and your flesh without the “help” of rigid rules. If you haven’t read Intuitive Eating, please do. If you’re want support I offer 1:1 coaching and teach everything I know in my biannual masterclass, Feast.
Dieting might be the only way you’ve ever known to relate to food and your body, but it’s a violent way and peace is available, this much I know.
What I’ve shared in this post is more about my general view on dieting. Others have written brilliant and likely more measured responses to the Oprah-Weight Watchers scandal. Do check them out: