Over the last few weeks I’ve had a handful of dinner dates with girlfriends and to my surprise three of them, all on separate meetups, revealed to me that they were dieting.
That might seem normal in our current culture but I somehow believed that my friends knew better and that my teachings had been transmitted to them, directly or indirectly, over the many years we’ve known each other.
As I lay awake a few nights ago I began to ask myself:
Is it that my friends don’t understand what I do? Or better said, in my most indignant huffy voice: “After all these years don’t they agree with and trust my authority on this topic!?”
Is it that my friends are human and just susceptible to the overwhelming amount of weight-loss propaganda we all face?
Is it that in the face of weight gain they just don’t know what else to do? Is it that dieting has become such a knee-jerk response to too-tight pants that we don’t question it, even if our wiser self knows better?
Is it that our world feels like it’s spinning out of control and being on a diet feels safe and secure?
Likely, it’s some combination of all of these factors and more.
But I want to say to them and to anyone who wakes up and feels the siren call of dieting:
Hang on a minute!
Wait! Before you commit to that diet or start researching Whole30 or reactivating your Weight Watchers account take a breath.
First, because it can’t be said enough: diets don’t work in the long-run and most often ultimately result in weight gain.
“But I’m not doing a diet!” you might say, “I’m just eating clean” or “I’m just watching my portions” or “I’m just giving up sugar.”
If you can mess it up it’s a diet.
If you’re making food choices predominantly with your brain rather than your body, it’s a diet.
If you have to follow rules to get it right, it’s a diet.
If you can google your specific new approach to eating and find a printable meal plan, it’s likely a diet.
When I say diets don’t work I mean they don’t result in long-term weight-loss, but they do have an impact.
Diets are a violence we perpetrate on ourselves no matter the seemingly benign or holy justification we offer up.
They leave us more disconnected from our hunger and fullness cues. They wreck havoc on our bodies. They treat grown adults like children. I could go on. Diets are bad news and best avoided. Oh, and if you’ve been on the diet train for a day or a lifetime, it’s never too late to get off.
Of course, your body is yours. It’s not my place to tell you how to feel about your body or what do with your body. This is an essential truth. And there are other ways than dieting to respond to your body’s increase in size (real or imagined) than restriction, especially when we know it doesn’t work.
A few other key things to remember before I offer up some suggestions:
Weight fluctuation is normal.
Bodies naturally come in a whole range of sizes.
The size of a body says nothing about the person, including how healthy they are.
Many, many people don’t have any accurate sense of their body because of some level of dysmorphia.
Our world is pretty sick and twisted when it comes to how we view and treat body fat and fat people.
Part of how we heal this on a global scale is by individual person after individual person opting out of thin supremacy, dieting culture, and weight stigma.
Many times the urge to diet is more about anxiety management than body size.
If you’ve gained weight recently or just unhappy with your size and you’re open, or even eager to doing something other than diet, here are just a few constructive responses:
- Work with an Intuitive Eating, Health-At-Every-Size-oriented coach or nutritionist. If you’d like a referral for your specific needs, shoot me an email.
- Read Intuitive Eating and work through the new workbook.
- Add some body-positive voices to your social media feeds.
- Delete body-negativity from your social media feeds. Unsubscribe. Unfollow. Be ruthless.
- Throw out, give away, or put in storage any clothing that doesn’t fit the body you have right now.
- Ditch the scale too.
- Buy a few pieces of clothing that you feel great in, including underwear and bras.
- Go have fun. Do something, in this body, that makes you feel alive.
- Explore size-friendly yoga. Like with Anna, Jessamyn, Dianne, or Dana.
- Spend some time in nature. Notice how the trees never care about what you or they look like.
- Cook or buy something that’s a 10 out of 10 on the delicious scale. Eat it with gusto. See if you can notice the moment your body says “Thank you, I’m done for now.”
- Download this hunger scale app. Play around.
- Do nothing. Sit still. Hang out with the discomfort. Get curious.
- Let your body write you a letter. Write one back.
- Ponder body dysmorphia. Are you 100% sure that what you’re seeing is accurate?
- Go look at diverse images of the human body and behold the beauty in everyone.
- Ponder thin supremacy and how it might be related to your urge to diet.
- Ponder patriarchy and how it might be related to your urge to diet.
- Ask: if I never lost an ounce again, could I embrace myself and live my life fully?
- Ask: What does dieting distract me from?
- Join Feast.
- Reflect on past attempts at weight loss. Notice that they never ‘worked’.
- Ask: What in my life might be causing me to feel anxious or out of control?
- Listen to as many episodes of Food Psych as you can.
Dieting might feel like the logical response to feeling out of sorts in your body, or when your jeans don’t fit, or when eating feels out of control, but it’s a dead-end in the long run. The good news is that there is help and there are other ways that result in feeling better in your skin, more at peace with food, and more available to live your meaningful and full life.
A final note: this stuff is messy and multifaceted. Don’t believe anyone who tells you it’s simple or 1-2-3. What I’ve written here is just a first pass and not a one-size-fits-all directive. It’s complicated to have a body. It’s complicated to be a woman (cis or otherwise). It’s complicated when the world you live in tells you that because of your body or what your body might become you’re not worthy. It’s complicated, or it can be, to come back to your body when so many forces have driven you from it. I have so much care for all this complexity and the real and diverse human experiences that make up the body liberation/positive movement.
For many many years I’ve been fortunate enough to practice something called Wild Writing with Laurie Wagner. Each Friday morning when we’re in session I pack up my notebook and drive across the Bay Bridge to Alameda where myself and a handful of other women gather around her dining room table and spend two hours in practice.
I wish every woman in every community had a regular Wild Writing group. It feeds such a potent mix of hungers. The hunger for connection, for truth, for hearing your own voice, for laughter, for space and slowing down, for time away from screens, for emotional release, for inspiration and new discovery. For me, it’s often been a powerful support to my mental health. I could go on.
For some time now I’ve felt the call to lead my own group in my own version of this practice and so I am.
I’m calling it Sift: a writing practice for being human.
Let me tell you a little bit about what this practice looks like and who I’m inviting to join me.
First off, this is, right now, just for women in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’ll be meeting in-person at my home.
I have space for 8 women in total. [NOTE: ALL SPACES HAVE BEEN RESERVED, EMAIL TO GET ON THE WAITING LIST FOR THIS AND FUTURE GROUPS]
We’ll meet Wednesdays September 6th – October 11th (side note: the last week we’ll actually meet on a Tuesday, October 10th) from 10 AM to noon. Yes, for now, this is for folks with flexible weekday schedules.
This is a practice. Like yoga or painting, it’s about showing up and being willing meet yourself where you are.
This is not for people who want to be better writers (though you can want that too), it’s not for professional writers (though you can be that too), it’s not really about the writing at all. It’s about what this practice helps us access and about doing it together. You need no prior experience to participate. Just a willingness to show up and be honest.
Personally, I practice to tell the truth, to be human with other humans, to hear my stories, to make sense of myself and the world around me, to make space for my contradictions, to find the words, to reveal, to relax, and to be a little messy.
The practice essentially goes like this:
You’ll arrive. Get a cup of tea. Settle in.
I’ll read a poem and when I’m done I’ll pick a line or two for us to use as our writing prompt.
Then we’ll write, unedited, pen to paper, not stopping for 10 to 20 minutes. We don’t try to sound smart. We don’t try to write well. This practice serves to help us get around our perfectionist and performer.
When the time is up we go around the table (myself included) and read our writing. No feedback is given. We don’t discuss what’s written. We just witness each other. Sometimes there is laughter. Sometimes there are tears. It’s all welcome.
Then we repeat.
If it sounds simple, it is. It’s also profound.
If it sounds exhilarating but also scary. You’re not alone.
The cost to participate for the six weeks during this initial run is $200.
If you want to reserve your spot at the table send me an email expressing your interest and I’ll send you an invoice for your deposit. [NOTE: ALL SPACES HAVE BEEN RESERVED, EMAIL TO GET ON THE WAITING LIST]
If you don’t live in the Bay Area, Laurie, my brilliant teacher, teaches Wild Writing online in small groups and it’s very powerful in that format too.
To hear me read this post use this audio player:
This is just to say we have two ears. One for listening to our own hearts and one for listening to the hearts of others.
This is just to say that the juxtaposition is striking
as we put the chocolate cake in the oven, or scan for cheap flights for the upcoming holiday, or press the wrinkles out of a dress, iron steam wafting in our face
all the while the threads of our democracy are fraying and police can murder black people.
This is just to say Philando Castile.
This is just to say Philando Castile was murdered and it was legal.
This is just to say this morning’s oatmeal wasn’t quite as creamy. Was is too much water? Not enough milk?
This is just to say that fat people are not before pictures.
This is just to say if you care about the ravages of white supremacy then you should care about the ravages of thin supremacy.
This is just to say some of the least woke people call themselves feminists.
This is just to say the plants on my balcony are outgrowing their pots—crawling out of the soil like a child does last year’s shoes. This is just to say that I wonder “Am I outgrowing my soil?”
This is just to say it’s not Flint, Michigan that doesn’t have clean drinking water, it’s the human beings in Flint, Michigan that don’t have clean drinking water more than 1,000 days later.
This is just to say I tried one of those online clothing resale sites. I got a sweater. I think I overpaid. It’s warm and perfect for summer in San Francisco.
This is just to say my cycles have been irregular and it’s unsettling.
This is just to say I think I’m still trying to get what I needed when I was eight. You too?
This is just to say that we have two ears and many people have known for a long time how to listen out of both. The Syrian parents who throw birthday parties while bombs drop around them. They know that we need both ears open wide. They know that it’s a privilege to listen with only one.
This is just to say that we have two ears and one of them is to hear our own life. Through it we get the call, we find the switch to lift us out of the gray. Through this ear our hungers point loudly north, we discover how to start our day, the name of the chapter we’re in reveals itself. Through this ear we find the detours around our resistance and pleasure, and the urge to make, and the imperative to be together. This is the ‘follow your bliss’ ear. The ‘well-fed living’ ear. The ‘live your best life’ ear.
This is just to say the other ear is to hear the babies crying. Through this ear we hear injustice so it makes, wakes and shakes us towards our one mouth. This is the ‘we’re all in this together’ ear. This is the ‘privilege isn’t a choice’ ear. This is the ‘talk less, listen more’ ear. This is the ‘blindspot shattering’ ear.
This is just to say thank you.
Thank you to those fighting today and to those whose shoulders today’s teachers stand on.
Thank you to Shaun King, Kelly Diels, Desiree Adaway, Melissa Toler, Linda Bacon, Ragen Chastain, Jes Baker, Janet Mock, Cecile Richards, Ethan Nichtern, Ijeoma Oluo and Sonya Renee, and and and…
This is just to say you deserve to eat. You’re allowed to eat. Food is not the enemy. You are not the enemy. Your body is not the enemy. The enemy is anyone or anything that tells you to mistrust yourself, to shrink yourself, to override yourself, to cover either of your two ears. The enemy is anyone or anything that tells you that trading ease for the illusion of control is a good deal.
This is just to say Sandra Bland.
This is just to say Kalief Browder.
This is just to say go register to vote. Go now.
This is just to say that one time at a dinner party, many years ago, the woman seated next to me casually mentioned that she and her husband saw a therapist for general relationship maintenance. I cried. Right there. The ache for a partner willing to do the work was so deep in me. Listen for this ache. You have two ears too.
This is just to say you’re not alone.
This is just to say that Greta, my niece, learned to crawl this week.
This is just to say I want to circle around the fire with you.
This is just to say that the week our president took office my face broke out in a rash.
This is just to say that the cake is almost ready to come out of the oven.
This is just to say your faith can be as simple as believing in your own worthiness and our interdependence.
This is just to say white nectarines are my favorite of all the summer fruits.
This is just to say we have to hold both.
This is just to say the juxtaposition is striking and we’re not supposed to feel comfortable.
This is just to say that we all have two ears and one mouth.
This is just to say I struggle to listen too.
Last week I met with a new client who struggles with perfectionism and she mentioned that she had recently decided to watch a movie late on a “school night”, even though she “knew better” and when she found herself tired at work the next day her logical conclusion was “I’m bad.” I’m bad as in, “I’m irresponsible, I’m not trustworthy, I make bad decisions” etc.
Hearing the order of events (watch a movie late → feel tired next day at work → conclude badness) it felt like she took a huge stratospheric leap between step A and C. And yet, this is a leap I hear women make all the time. Every week they lay their sins at my feet as evidence of their personal failings.
Here are just a few of the things that women I’ve worked with have told me is evidence of their personal, innate ‘badness’:
- I ate the second box of cookies even though I knew I wasn’t hungry
- I lashed out at my partner who was just trying to help me.
- I missed an important deadline at work.
- I’m fat.
- Unbeknownst to me, I used an offensive term that hurt someone.
- I talked down to a friend of mine.
- My kid hit another kid at school.
- I bought a new pair of shoes when I don’t really have the money for them.
- I went on a date with someone I really liked but then they didn’t want to go on a second date with me.
- I’m (insert age) years old and I still haven’t (insert life achievement) yet.
- I don’t know how to ask for what I want in bed.
- I didn’t speak up at my annual review and ask for the raise I know I deserve.
- I was sexually assaulted and didn’t report it.
- I just quit a well-paying job and don’t know what’s next for me.
- I don’t want kids.
- I didn’t vote in the last election.
- I haven’t saved for retirement.
- I’m, according to my doctor, ‘obese’
- I just had to buy a bigger pants size.
- I tried to do Whole30/Weight Watchers/Paleo and fell off the wagon.
- I laid on the couch all weekend watching reruns of Seinfeld.
- I have a partner who earns enough that I don’t have to work and so I don’t work.
- I had work to do but I took a nap instead.
- I slept with the guy on the first date even though I didn’t really want to.
- I have a to-list a mile long and instead of doing anything productive I went to the movies
- My house is filthy
And so it goes. On and on.
As you can see it’s pretty easy, by these measures, to be ‘bad’
So what’s wrong with labeling ourselves as bad?
It’s a dead-end.
It asks of us no curiosity or compassion. It leaves no room for nuance or humanity.
And importantly it doesn’t engender a different outcome, should you want that, next time.
There is nothing that inspires me less to make changes than feeling bad about myself. I have never and will never change my behavior in a lasting and wholesome way as a result of feeling like I’m not enough or because I berated myself.
Nevermind that it’s not true. “I am bad” is not an accurate description what’s going on and why we act the way we do.
So if we’re not bad then what are we? What’s the alternative?
We are human and the alternative is to look at ourselves through the lenses of compassion and curiosity.
When self-compassion has seeped into our bones and we’ve found ourselves nestled firmly amongst the family of bumbling humans something extraordinary happens: “because I’m bad” either ceases to be an option for explaining anything or it scarcely makes an appearance. (I’ll get into what replaces it down below.)
If “I’m bad” or some variation of it still show up on your list of possible explanations for your behavior, choices, life, experiences, or appearance then today I’m inviting you to, at least temporarily, in the name of experimentation, remove it. (Seriously, what if you couldn’t explain anything with that?!)
If you ask me what my work is about I will mention “hungers” and “women” and “feasting on your life”, but at the root, my work is really about how we relate to ourselves. When we are in an allied relationship with ourselves we trust our hungers and seek to feed them. When we are in an oppositional relationship to ourselves we mistrust our hungers and seek to numb, deny or minimize them.
This most essential relationship, the one we have with ourselves, also determines the lens through which we view all of our actions. If we’re not on the same team as ourselves, if on the inside we’re both the ‘good guy judge’ and the ‘flawed bad guy’ then “I’m bad” is a common conclusion to make.
When we’ve come to see that all parts of ourselves are welcome, that all parts of make sense, that there is no bad guy, and that we’re no better or worse (though equally special) than all humans we no longer find “I’m bad” on the list of ways to explain our actions.
So what happens when “I’m bad” isn’t an option?
What you find is a whole host of doors open up. You find immense compassion not just for yourself but for every human who is also wading through the muck of life.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a get out of jail free card. This isn’t how we justify behaving badly. This is how we see nuance. This is how we get to the root of what’s going on and what it means to be human. This is how we gain deeper insight into our own patterns and increase our sense of choice.
So, you might be wondering: “If I’m not bad then what’s going on?”
The most common answer, in my experience, is nothing.
Nothing is going on because the action is something any normal, imperfect human might do. Try it on for size: “I did X because I’m human. The end.” In these cases the only thing that needs to change is us embracing our own humanness, seeing ourselves within the family of humans, and holding ourselves to more human standards.
This one most often comes up around productivity and rest. The need for more sleep.The never-ending to-do list. The dirty house and unfolded laundry. All of these are typical areas for women to label themselves as lacking, when in fact, they are just human. Regular human, not superhuman. Join the club.
Other ways you might explain or interpret your behavior that don’t assign core not-enoughness include:
- Because…I’m hurting and I didn’t know a better way to cope with it. (humans hurt sometimes and we don’t always use or have a robust coping toolkit)
- Because I’m scared. (humans get scared)
- Because I was checked out. (humans do that sometimes)
- Because I wasn’t informed/awake. (humans have blind spots)
- Because I was/am struggling to balance two or more competing needs. (humans have a lot of layers and often our needs rub against each other)
- Because I was caught in my own illusions. (being human = egoic illusions that need to be worked through)
- Because I was chasing love/safety and part of me thought I could find it if I did X (humans need love and safety and will do a lot of stuff to get any semblance of it.)
- Because I was trying to live up to an unrealistic, inhumane standard. (humans, especially women humans, are expected to live up to a lot of impossible stuff)
- Because I goofed. (humans goof up)
- Because I was triggered (humans get triggered)
- Because I was tired (humans get tired)
- Because I behaved badly. (humans do that sometimes)
I’m not saying that given a do-over you wouldn’t, sometimes, go back and do some things differently. I am saying that there needs to be room for you to be human and for your very human actions not to be interpreted as you being deficient, bad, lacking, or not enough in any way.
Who you are is not what you do. What you do is a result of being an imperfect human with the level of consciousness, connection and healing you have at a given moment.
This means I can reject your behavior and not be rejecting you.
This means you can behave ‘badly’ and not be ‘bad’
This shift in lenses also means, again, that we can have a better understanding of why we behaved in a certain way and then have more space, thanks to compassion, to either accept ourselves or make a different choice next time.
There is no part of you that’s the enemy, that can’t be trusted, or that’s out to get you. There are just parts of you to be understood better, listened to more deeply, possibly healed, and ultimately, and always, loved.
If you want to know where to find these unwelcomed parts of yourself, here are a few places to look:
- Where do you feel less than other people or commonly compare yourself only to find most often that you rank below others?
- If I asked you to tell me all the ways you’re not living up to where you should be, what would you say? Where would you say you fall short? (I hope it’s clear I would never seriously ask you this question)
- Straight up: in what areas are you a bad mother, wife, friend, daughter, employee, etc.? (again, not a question I would ask because I disagree with the premise, but a good one to spark your awareness)
Your answers to all three of these questions will shed light on places you might offer some more compassion towards, you might let go of superhuman expectations, find a loving motivation to make changes, or simply seek to understand before you condemn.
I highly recommend the following books if this is a topic that feels alive for you:
“Get into extended triangle pose, Utthita Trikonasana” my yoga teacher says.
Everyone in the class moves to assume the position.
“I say each asana in Sanskrit because we believe that the poses, in their original language, have energy” she explains.
And so it goes, every Sunday morning that I get myself there, first in English and then in Sanskrit. One way so we understand, another way so we feel it.
Life coaches are sticklers for language too. We’ve learned that our words have power. We’re trained to listen for the subtlest energy behind the words our clients speak.
This past week I was having a one-on-one session with a Feast student and she told me she was struggling with mindfulness. She said she was planning to start practicing on the coming Monday when she finally had a break in her busy life.
(An aside: yes, this does sound a lot like “I’ll start my diet on Monday”)
As I listened I noticed that every time she said mindfulness, a word I had not used in my teachings, it felt sterile and heavy, burdensome even. She talked about mindfulness like I might talk about taxes, root canals, or going to the DMV. If she was selling mindfulness I was not buying.
Mindfulness isn’t a word I use a lot for this very reason: the concept and practice have become an aspirational buzzword and measure of moral ranking. It’s now common belief that like exercise, morally superior people practice mindfulness.
I want no part in that.
Don’t get me wrong. The years of mindfulness study that I’ve undertaken through the Insight Meditation community, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Zen Buddhism, and via the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, Cheri Huber, Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg, Pema Chodron (just to name a few) has transformed me, my heart, and my life.
But the word generally doesn’t connect with me.
So I interrupted her and said: “What if we replaced ‘mindfulness’ with ‘experiencing’ or ‘engaged experiencing’?”
With that simple switch, everything shifted for her.
She felt lighter and excited even. After all, she wanted to experience her life, her food, her emotions, her relationships. She wanted to experience what was happening. Yes, this is what mindfulness practice is all about, but by changing the verbiage a resistant student became an eager student in a matter of minutes.
This got me thinking about what other words I shy away from or have found more resonate alternatives for. Here’s a short list of my favorite switch-ups:
‘But’ negates everything that comes before it. ‘And’ honors what comes before and it allows you hold two, sometimes opposing, truths. ‘But’ divides. ‘And’ includes.
My math teacher assigned exercises. Exercise feels militant. Exercise feels rote. Exercise feels like it has a right way and a wrong way. Exercise reminds me of all the physical education and compulsive workout trauma of my past. ‘Movement’ feels spacious. You can’t do movement wrong. Movement sounds fun.
Contracted: Overweight or Obese
Expansive: Fat, Larger-Bodied, Plus-Size
Over what weight?! Who says what’s over and under? ‘Overweight’ implies a problem and ranks bodies, yet healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. ‘Obese’ and ‘obesity’ have become weaponized words, after all, we’re at ‘war’ against them, right?
If we want to live in a society that respects all bodies without stigmatizing, moralizing, or shaming then these words need to go. Within the size-acceptance community there are still disagreements about what terms are acceptable, but the alternative words I’ve listed above are a good place to start. Yes, you can call someone ‘fat’ without it being an insult. Fat is not a bad word.
Expansive: Could, Want to, Feel obligated
If I have a ‘should’ you can bet I’m going to resist doing it. In addition to inciting rebellion, ‘should’ also carries with it judgment: “If you’re good, you’ll do the ‘should’, if you’re bad you won’t.” Should also doesn’t feel empowered. The hope is, whenever it’s possible, we move from a place of choice, of desire, of hungers seeking to be fed. My response to clients who feel a ‘should’ on their shoulders is “But what do you want?”
Contracted: Food & weight numbers
Expansive: A vague description with no numbers
When we share how many minutes we ran on the treadmill, how many cookies we ate, our new pants size, or how much weight we’ve gained/lost we too easily incite comparison. In a society obsessed with achieving control over our body and under the illusion that if we only apply more discipline we can shrink, harden, and purify our flesh specific numbers are fuel for the fire. Good thing we don’t need them. We can easily tell the story of our morning at the gym, our experience at the pastry shop, or what happened in the clothing store fitting room without including specific numbers.
How about you? What words feel heavy, antiseptic, or robotic to you? What words feel layered with judgment, assumption, and morality? Lastly, what word swaps could you make that would free up energy, create forward momentum, and feel more respectful, more aligned with what you values?
Hop on over to my Facebook page to join the conversation.