Last week I published a blog entitled "The Advantages and Benefits of Being Overweight", which was re-published on several other news sites (albeit in a more controversial format). To say I was bowled over by the response is an understatement. Some of the angry replies reminded me of just how narrow our perceptions and views of weight and thinness really are. Being overweight is so frowned upon that many people don't even for a minute consider the up-sides of carrying extra weight.
The upside of weight
I cringe with horror when I read titles such as '5 easy steps to a flat stomach' or 'Get your body bikini ready'. Not just because I don't need a flat stomach or a bikini body or because of the inherent message that thinness represents a desirable standard for which I should be striving, but also because it overlooks a whole other meaning behind weight that is relevant for many people. There are many not-so-obvious benefits that can make it very difficult to let go of extra weight. It surprises many people that being overweight can serve a function.
The examples I gave of why people hold onto weight are actually quite common among my Heyday clients. But they're not openly discussed, perhaps partly because there is so much panic and judgement around obesity, defined in the media as a 'crisis', an 'epidemic' or a 'war on obesity', and so the notion that there could possibly be any benefits to being overweight is nonsensical and infuriating. "Why on earth could anyone enjoy looking that fat and disgusting?" was one response I received. I am not suggesting that people enjoy or are happy being overweight. But while a part of you feels bad about being overweight and despises having extra weight, there may be another part of you that is holding onto that extra weight.
A new slim body means a smaller version of yourself- you are smaller physically. You no longer have the fat armour to protect you. You may feel more fragile and vulnerable. Having extra weight has protected you. Without it you may feel exposed. That is why partly many people who lose weight regain it. If you are not aware of the benefits for them of being overweight, of what's in it for you, you will find it very difficult to let go of your extra weight, because part of you is still firmly holding onto it.
It is crucial that we step back with awareness and give ourselves space to understand what our extra eating and weight is all about. It is challenging to do that in the midst of panic and judgement from both others and ourselves and in an environment that emphasises diets and 'easy' steps to a flat stomach or bikini body. But I remind Heyday clients that no amount of diets/food plans will make a difference until we start to look within and take the time to understand our relationship with food and weight.
Self-care, not weight loss
For many people the idea behind weight loss is simple- burn more calories than you eat. But if it was that black-and-white then it would not be such a struggle for so many of us. Eating and weight are about so much more than diets and food plans. We turn to food because eating is a powerful way to find temporary relief from many of life's challenges. If it didn't work so well, no one would do it.
I can relate to Heyday clients who say they want to lose weight but another part of them is sabotaging their weight loss efforts, or who describe themselves as "good" during the day but morph into a "bad" person once evening arrives, as they numb out in front of the TV with packets of biscuits or self-medicate with family size packets of crisps. I routinely ate when I felt anxious or overwhelmed, and after inhaling a packet of biscuits (which when down easily when dipped in tea!), I then felt guilty and annoyed with myself. To stuff down the guilt, I then ate more. Then feelings of shame and hopelessness set in. I had no recollection of why I had started eating in the first place. After all the eating nothing had changed and the initial anxiety was still there, along with a layer of negative emotions. Every night ended with the promise (or threat!) that "tomorrow WILL be different".
Another diet was clearly not what I needed and not what a lot of people who struggle with their weight need right now. What if I said you don't really have a weight or eating problem? But you possibly do have low levels of self-care and that is manifested through your weight and eating. Can you consider your weight in terms of caring for yourself and meeting your needs? To manage my eating, I stay conscious and aware of every bite. While food was my way of disconnecting from reality, of checking out when I was bored, anxious, now I am awake. I focus on being fully alive, present, and engaged, connected in every area of my life. Right now.