Intuitive eating isn’t giving up. It’s letting go and there’s a big difference.
January 13th, 2020 by Sara Upson
Imagine you’re standing at the edge of canyon and on the other side of the canyon is diet culture, your eating disorder, or your history of dieting/disordered eating (aka a monster).
Between the two of you is a long rope that you’re each holding in your hands in an ongoing game of tug of war.
As you pull on the rope the monster on the other side starts to move closer to the edge of the canyon. You pull harder and harder tying to get the monster to fall in and end the game. But suddenly the monster starts pulling harder and you slide toward the edge of the canyon. Sand and rocks under your feet begin to fall down the cliff. Scared, you pull back even harder. You feel like you mustn’t lose this game of tug of war and that you must win at all cost.
The game has gone on like this, back and forth, for some time now. Every time you think you get ahead- the monster pulls harder. You’re beginning to feel tired, want to quit the game, and can’t honestly even remember why you started the game or what you were hoping to get out of winning. Back and forth, back and forth you go.
You want to stop but how do you get out of the game?
The monster (Diet culture, your eating disorder, etc)- says the only way to get out of the game is for you to win the game of tug of war. Ironically it’s the monster telling you this answer, and the answer keeps you stuck in the game.
But there is another way…
You let go of the rope.
You stop playing. You walk away from the cliff and explore the rest of the world, your whole life waiting behind you- when you stop playing the game- when you recover or quit diet culure. You engage in all the other things that life has to offer besides this ongoing, back and forth battle on the edge of the canyon.
Letting go of the rope isn’t giving up. Giving up would be that you stop pulling on the rope and slide into the canyon.
It’s letting go- walking away- choosing a life that you’re actually present and engaged in.
Diet culture/the monster wants you to feel like the only way end the game is to win- but this just keeps you trapped and playing the game. Diet culture/the monster want you to feel like walking away is a failure they lose if you stop playing. It ends their game and when it comes to diet culture- it hurts their bottom line
There’s an underlying belief or fear in diet culture that dropping out of diet culture or becoming an intuitive eater is “giving up.” That eating what you want and responding to your body is “letting yourself go.” These beliefs couldn’t be further from the truth though.
Quitting diet culture to become an intuitive eater is reclaiming you, reconnecting with yourself, valuing yourself over what the culture says you should value. It’s being brave, discovering you, reconnecting with your body, looking internal instead of external, and giving up on all the lies, false promises and dysfunction of diet culture.
Letting go of the tug of war with diet culture or disordered eating isn’t giving up- It’s choosing a different life. It’s letting go of the diet culture values and rules that have kept you stuck.
Here are some things to keep in mind about the game of tug of war with diet culture:
1. It’s a trap- the game is designed to last forever. Why? Because diets are a cycle of futility, they lead to short term weight loss, followed by weight gain.
Research has repeatedly shown that 95-98% of people will gain the weight back and that 66% of people will gain back more weight than they lost. In fact, the biggest predictor of weight gain is dieting. This of course- keeps you stuck in the “game.” But, it doesn’t even stop there..
When the diet doesn’t work, diet culture then blames you, reinforces body shame and makes you feel like you have to diet again. It just creates a pattern of weight cycling. As a result you keep playing “the game” over and over believing that this time will be different- you will win and pull that monster into the canyon. But it’s all a trap.
Consider: How has diet culture, dieting, disordered eating, or your eating disorder kept you trapped?
2. It’s a distraction. Playing tug of war is a distraction from everything else in life When you’re playing tug of war with the monster it becomes the sole focus of what you do. It changes where you go, what you do, who you spend time with, what you choose to let in your life- well beyond food. It’s actually a huge distraction from living a life consistent with your true values.
Imagine standing at that cliff playing tug of war- you’re pulling and going back and forth- but everything else in your world is behind you and you have your back to it. You can’t be fully present and engage in life when you’re distracted by the tug of war.
Consider: What has diet culture, dieting, disordered eating or your eating disorder distracted you from or what have you missed out on because you were so busy playing the “game”?
3. It’s based on lies. You start the game seeking something- more acceptance, love, health, confidence, attention- and diet culture promises it will solve all your problems once you’ve lost weight or won the game. In reality playing the game keeps you stuck, never delivers (see number one) and then makes you feel even more like a failure.
The truth is, to reach your deepest desires or whatever it was that you were seeking- you don’t have to play the game, lose weight or change your body. Everything you’re looking for is available to you in your current body- you just don’t believe it is or maybe even have been told it’s not. It’s not about weight loss or your body- even though diet culture will say it is.
Consider: When you lose weight, how do you think your life will be different? What do you believe that you’ll achieve or? What will you do differently? Write down your answer(s). Then ask yourself what is one step you can take to meet that goal- your true goal or desire- right now.
4. It’s the monster that says you’re a failure. It’s the monster trying to keep you in the game and makes you feel like a failure when you quit. It’s gaslighting to the extreme, harmful and a trap.
Diet culture knows that there’s not much chance for long term success and has created an entire industry based on your failure. Then, when you do fail, it blames you even though the system was designed to fail. It’s one of the most harmful, insidious, evil industries that I know of- and it’s all accepted.
It’s ironic that people even get mad and say things like “just grow up, accept responsibility for your choices, this is @#*% stupid.” (Seriously comments that I delete from my posts on social media about diet culture.)
You haven’t failed though- and that little voice within you that keeps saying you’re a failure or that something is wrong with you is the monster taunting you- not you!
Consider: What thoughts do you have when you feel bad about your body? Where do those thoughts come from? Who said that? What part of you feels that way?
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish- but those thoughts aren’t you- they’re a part of you- the monsters voice reverberating within you- but not you.
5. It might feel easier to play the game than to focus on other stuff in life. As established in number 2 above, the “game” is a distraction. A distraction from fully living life- but also sometimes the distraction is a coping skill to help you get by in life. Sometimes it feels easier to play the game than to focus on all the other stuff that you have going on- stress, grief, loneliness, loss, sadness, anxiety, abuse, trauma (the list could go on and on).
It’s important to recognize this because playing the game then is serving a purpose to help you to get by. When putting the rope down and stopping the game feels worse than playing the game- why would you ever want to stop?
Knowing this doesn’t mean that you’re stuck. It just means that you’ve identified another reason why it’s hard to walk away from the game- even if you want to. It’s also recognizing that what you’ve done has been to help you survive and honors you- that you’ve been doing the best you could. As you learn more- then you’re able to take different steps- to seek support- to get your needs met in a way that truly supports you. This is also where a therapist is so important in your healing and recovery process.
Consider: what might you have to feel or focus on if you weren’t so focused on your food, weight, or body?
6. it might feel wrong to let go because that’s all you know. Just because it feels wrong doesn’t mean it is wrong.
Whenever you do something one way for a long time and then change- the change feels wrong because your brain is still reminding you to do it a different way- even though you don’t need to do it that way anymore. It will feel wrong- but feelings are not facts. Just because it feels wrong, doesn’t mean it is wrong!
Consider: what else have you done that felt wrong even though it was just different than what you’d done before?
So even though it will feel wrong and you’ll find yourself feeling like a failure- remember that it’s the monster (aka diet culture) that makes you feel this way.
Letting go isn’t letting yourself go- it’s letting go of the trap that’s kept you stuck from being you, from fully engaging. It’s letting go of diet culture and choosing a different life.
There’s life outside of the never ending game of tug of war- waiting for you- you just have to let go & walk away.