Dieting is Playing Small

It is common that if you want to change your body that you often think about what life would be like when they arrive at your goal weight. You might buy cuter clothes, start dating, go after a job or promotion, go back to school, be a better (parent/partner/lover).

Have you ever stopped to wonder what you could achieve in life if you didn’t diet?

In my field we call negative body image and body thoughts ‘the great distractor’ and there is good reason why. Often we find that a negative body image thought is distracting someone from an emotion that needs tending to. Ongoing negative body image thoughts that lead someone to a place that makes them feel that they need to do something about the way that their body looks can be a distractor from what needs tending in their life as a whole.

Dieting takes a lot of mental energy and often time. Looking up recipes that fit your diet, learning substitutions for “bad” foods or ingredients, counting, tracking, weighing (your body and/or food), measuring (again, your body and/or food), thinking about the next time you will eat, figuring out how a surprise meal or snack fits in, figuring out what to order at a restaurant, how to get a workout in, staying vigilant about not “messing up” your diet, being upset when you do “mess up,” and talking about your diet to others…always talking about your diet to others, are you tired with me yet?

It’s a lot ya’ll. It’s a lot to keep up with and do. It takes up a lot of space in your brain and life. What I want to know is, if that space was empty, what would you do with it?

In her book Playing Big, Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead by Tara Mohr talks about how fear can affect our ability to play big (p. 66). She explains that Rabbi Alan Lew in his book Be Still and Get Going shares that in the Hebrew Bible one of the words for fear, yirah, has three different meanings:

  1. It is the feeling that overcomes us when we inhabit a larger space than we are used to.
  2. It is the feeling we experience when we suddenly come into possession of considerably more energy than we had before.
  3. It is what we feel in the presence of the divine.

I think that when women diet, it is us playing small. Our achieving a smaller or “better looking” body by societies standards is a small achievement when we think about impact on the world around us. It’s a really small achievement when you put it in context of what God wants to accomplish in this world through you. Dieting can help us feel like we are accomplishing something that diet culture has convinced us is a worthy cause. It is a distraction from what we could be. Because when we diet, we can’t think or do a whole lot more. The space to do what really makes us come alive is taken up. If you have a long history of focusing on changing your body, it can be scary to let go of that easier sense of accomplishment and create that kind of space in your life. The magnitude of what could be and that you don’t have to wait to begin can be scary.

The truth is that you can go after what you want in life in the body that you have right now. You can buy the cuter clothes, start dating, go after a job or promotion, go back to school, be a better (parent/partner/lover). I recognize that letting your body be and moving that energy elsewhere means that you will most likely have to work through the uncomfortable feelings that you have about your body and I know that that is scary. For those of you that have a body that diet culture deems too large to not diet, you will have the additional pain of dealing with the discomfort brought on by other people’s biases, and that is its own kind of hard but there are ways to get support to navigate that from a more confident place. The beauty of doing this uncomfortable work is that you can start really living while you do it, you will have created space for yourself to do so.

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