Jenny is currently offering an intensive group coaching program called “The Eating Empowerment Series.” You can find more information here. Note that this is an affiliate link and Women Eat will make a small commission if you purchase. We only promote programs we believe in.
Humans are born with an innate sense of embodiment. Babies move around marveling at their kinesthetic abilities and practice these new accomplishments relentlessly. Much to my chagrin, my own babies relinquished sleep in lieu of standing up and sitting back down in their cribs over and over.
Toddlers are unabashed in their exhibitionism. They delight in their various body parts and learning what feats they can accomplish with them.
Somewhere along the way to adulthood however, this sense of wonder and appreciation comes to an abrupt halt. Sadly, for many, it is replaced with shame, loathing, and desperation to change what is on the outside in order to fulfill the false notion that it will fill the interior with love, worthiness, and acceptance.
Like many girls, this was my trajectory as well.
The Road to Dieting Isn’t Paved with Good Intentions
I can’t pinpoint how, or specifically when it happened, but I know I was hit hard. I have a few vivid memories of this period: a letter I wrote to my mother from camp, as a 9-year-old, excitedly telling her I decided not to have peanut butter for a week, and I weighed 99 pounds! Wearing a big, bulky jacket all the time, even indoors to hide my body. My mother telling me in the car one day not to worry about my weight because someday I could get liposuction if I wanted.
All these experiences, and so many more, drive us to one message: We are not good enough, and we must change our exteriors by any means possible. In my research about body image, I’m learning that sometimes that message comes from home, other times from school and peers, and sometimes from media and society itself.
For me, the message created a lifetime of chronic dieting that always resulted in the same cycle:
- Obsessively restrict calories or entire food groups
- Over exercise
- Feel miserable and hungry
- Lose weight
- Get a lot of compliments
- Feel worried that I can’t maintain the rigor to keep it off
- Start to gain weight
- Ignore it for several months
- Gain a lot of weight—even more than when I started
I call it déjà vu dieting because I always had a sinking feeling that I had been here before. Of course, I had. Many of us follow the same journey.
I guess this topic was pretty charged for me because I ended up working as a health educator for 13 years, helping people to lose weight. As an employee of the company, I was expected to subscribe to their dieting culture and to stay thin. The pressure was insurmountable, and I often berated myself, even during my three pregnancies, for not being able to sustain my weight-loss efforts. I felt judged not only by the staff, but even by the patients I aimed to serve and support.
It wasn’t until I returned to the same sense of embodiment that I must have felt as a baby that I started to heal.
The Path to Healing
My healing process started with finding an exercise plan that I enjoyed and looked forward to doing: Kettlebell training made me feel strong and capable, and yoga made me feel calm and grounded.
Before then, exercise was only a means to an end—to burn calories and lose weight. By focusing instead on embodiment, I got back in touch with my sensuality, and I felt even more sensual when I wasn’t constantly dieting. I was able to fall in love with food again, savor each bite, and notice nuances of flavor that were lost to me in my decades-long dieting haze.
A close friend of mine, who is a figurative nude photographer, noticed the positive changes within me and begged me to pose for her nude to heal even further. I obliged with trepidation, but it turned out to be the most exhilarating experience of my life.
The next step is my healing process was refusing to weigh myself, which was both frightening and freeing at the same time, especially since I had to weigh in each week as part of my job.
The last nail in the proverbial dieting coffin came when I finally quit my job and opened my own eating psychology practice, helping other women and men heal in the way I did.
I decided to never diet again.
But would there be punishment for this audacious act? Would there be consequences and repercussions? I willfully decided to de-indoctrinate myself from the dieting culture once and for all. It had been my life—my profession even—and I was letting it all go.
It Wasn’t Pounds
Here’s what I gained from giving up dieting:
- Empowerment and freedom
- Increased sex drive and sensuality
- Full enjoyment of parties and vacations, without guilt or anxiety
- Greater creativity and energy to pursue other hobbies and interests
- Freedom to listen to my body to determine what, when, and how much to eat
- Expression of my deepest self, unfettered from a fear of judgment or feelings of being unlovable or unworthy unless I weighed X amount.
Powerful stuff. Most girls and boys will dutifully fall in line with our societal structure by subscribing to and endorsing the dieting culture, and they will try in vain to live up to some subjective body ideal. My life’s work is now heading them off at the path early and often, and paving a new path for them, and so many more, who are fed up and exhausted from years of dieting.
There are days I feel a creeping sense that I need to start dieting. If I have a wedding coming up or at the start of a new year, I begin to plot my next diet or feel lured in by the false dream that diet plans give us. After a few minutes, though, I remember that I don’t have to do this and heave a sigh of relief. I immediately feel lighter and freer.
The anti-diet movement is gaining steam, yet we must learn to reverse decades of negative messages and behaviors to have even a fighting chance of feeling the same embodiment, unconditional acceptance, and joy we felt as babies and toddlers.
Let’s start peeling the layers one day at a time.
Jenny Eden Berk
Jenny Eden Berk works with people to move beyond weight loss to get to the root of their eating and body concerns, using her own Beyond Weight Loss method. She holds a masters in counseling psychology and is a certified Psychology of Eating Coach and is certified in Mindful Eating. She is also the author of the best selling book, The Body Image Blueprint – Your Go-To Guide for Radical Self-Reverence. You can learn more at Jenny Eden Coaching.