The movie, “The Big Short” (Paramount Pictures, 2015) opens with the epigraph:
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. – Mark Twain
While apparently this quote is misattributed, it’s still a great quote. In my opinion, people get in trouble when they believe the untruths handed to them by people in authority.
Growing up in our culture, women are fed a whole bunch of misinformation and lies about eating, weight, and weight loss. Most compulsive overeaters have to sort through a lot of, “What you know for sure that just ain’t so,” in order to come to some semblance of peace with our eating and our weight.
We are taught that thinness is the key to good health, an amazing marriage, and a fulfilling life. We are taught that, if we weigh more than the women we see in advertisements, in the movies, and on magazine covers, we need to focus on losing weight. We are told that, if we are overweight the key to success in weight loss is high intensity work-outs, restrictive diets, and exact control of our food intake.
When compulsive overeaters start to gain weight in childhood and adolescence, many end up on extreme, unhealthy diets which result in quick weight loss and subsequent weight regain.
This was my journey in middle school. When I was 16, I wanted a bike. I was told in order to earn it I needed to lose 10 pounds over the next month and keep it off for a month. I went on the Stillman water diet, an extreme high protein diet that included only meat, seafood, non-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Nothing green or growing was on this diet, not even lettuce.
My hunger went away almost immediately and I lost weight very quickly. I gained it back in the following month but then lost it once more in order to reach my goal weight by the end of the second month.
This started me on a road to yo-yo dieting that lasted over 20 years.
Many people can lose weight on diets over the first six months. But, most gain the weight back over the following year along with an addition 5 to 10 pounds. After 4 or 5 diet cycles over the course of the next ten years, dieters end up substantially heavier than when they first tried to become thin.
I do not believe the lie that compulsive overeaters are lacking in self-control. In many other areas of their lives, they can be quite disciplined. I believe that, until they get to the roots of why they eat when they’re not hungry, they will continue the yo-yo diet cycle and regain all the weight they take off plus more. I believe that until these underlying issues are addressed, there is not enough discipline in the world to keep a compulsive overeater thin.
And, worst of all, compulsive overeaters blame themselves for the fact that their diets don’t work. “If I’d just had enough discipline, enough self-control I would be able to lose weight and keep it off. The fact that it didn’t work shows I am not good enough.”
Feelings of shame and hopelessness then set in, frequently resulting in isolation, avoidance, and depression. The negative effects of being overweight are magnified many times by the negative self-feelings created by unreasonable expectations leading to self-recrimination and feelings of worthlessness.
What were you taught about eating and weight when you were a child? Are you still living by those rules? How are they working for you?
Would you like to get to the bottom of what’s eating you? Set up a free 20-minute phone assessment by calling Tory Butterworth, PhD at 412-841-9872 today.