Are diets the right tool when we want to lose weight? They tend to be the only one we use, but what if there’s an alternative? What if diets are actually contributing to the suffering we experience about food? And what if there were an alternative way to approach resolving an overeating habit?
- What is the cause of our suffering when we want to lose weight?
- How our thoughts are at the root of so much trouble for us
- Why diets are like putting gasoline on a fire when it comes to weight loss
- What if food cravings come from a wise place within us?
Transcript of episode
Hello Explorers, and welcome to Unbroken Q&A episode 42. I’m Alexandra Amor. Today I’m here with just a quick introduction to an audio that I’m going to attach to the back of this introduction.
This is an audio track that I recorded recently for Insight Timer.
I’m going to be teaching some classes over on that app. It’s a really great, great app, if you haven’t heard of it, I haven’t had that much exposure to it. I’ve been having a lot of fun creating, just recently creating some material for it some classes and some audio tracks. It’s all audio based. And you can listen anywhere, of course, anywhere as long as you’ve got your phone, and an internet connection.
The audio track is called: Why do diets fail us?
And it’s about why diets don’t work and the psychology behind them and the reason that that is. I hope that if you’re a regular listener to this podcast, or if you’ve read some of my books, that you’ve started to see that diets are trying to answer a problem that doesn’t exist. And they’re the wrong tool for the job, which is something I bring up in this audio track.
If you have been around for a while, and you’ve listened to the podcast for a bit, or you’ve read some of my books, I think this will be a really nice overview or kind of review for you of the things that I talk about all the time. And it’s always good to listen and to stay in the conversation, as we say, as much as we can, as much as it is fun and interesting for us.
Insights can happen at any moment. I often found and I still find as I’m exploring this understanding, I can listen to something more than once and get something different out of it each time and maybe have some new insights no matter what’s going on. So I hope that’s the case for you. And yeah, I hope you enjoy this audio track and that you were doing well and taking good care.
I will talk to you again next week. Please enjoy.
Why do diets fail us?
Hello and welcome, I’m Alexandra Amor, coach, podcaster, and author of several books, including The Secret Language of Cravings.
Let me ask you a question: have you had a diet fail you? In other words, have you had a diet make promises it didn’t keep?
Given that you’re listening to this, you may have answered yes to that question and I’ll say me too! Over and over again.
And it wasn’t for lack of trying on my part. Perhaps you can relate to that as well.
So…what’s happening when a diet fails us? Is it that we lack will power or stick-to-it-iveness? Our culture seems to tell us that this is the cause, doesn’t it?
What if the reason diets fail us because they’re the wrong tool for the job?
When we are using a diet or wanting to use a diet, what is causing that impulse?
The obvious answer you might offer is because we want to lose weight. That’s not rocket science.
Given that this is the case for most of us, what’s happening is that we’re suffering, correct?
What is the cause of our suffering?
Your first impulse might be to say that it is your body that is causing your suffering. It is the “wrong” shape or size and you want to change that.
But what if we looked in a slightly different direction? What if it’s the thoughts about your body and the thoughts about food that are the root cause of your suffering, not your body itself?
As surprising as this is going to sound, your body – no matter how it looks or what size it is – cannot actually cause you to suffer. Your body is just doing its job; pumping blood and growing new cells and taking in oxygen and letting out carbon dioxide and, yes, using the food you eat for fuel and/or reserving stores of that fuel.
Our bodies are doing all this and more, but they cannot directly create suffering. Now our thoughts about our bodies – they can create real suffering
In order to explain this, I’m going to use a couple of examples.
Here’s the first one: Think about how it’s possible to hear someone make a really judgmental statement about their own body, or a part of it, and to find yourself thinking, “That person’s body is perfect.” Or, “Their weight is absolutely fine.” Yet the person who made the comment is really suffering about how they look.
If it was that person’s body that was the direct cause of the negative thoughts then we would have those same thoughts about that body. But we don’t. One person might see that person’s body as beautiful, another might be completely indifferent to it.
So the body itself cannot be the cause of the negative or judgmental thinking. The math just doesn’t add up.
Here’s another example to illustrate my point: Have you ever had the experience of feeling good about your body one day and then not feeling good about it the next.
If our suffering was coming from our bodies themselves, how could this happen? It’s not possible. Objectively, can you see that if the thoughts that cause suffering came directly from a person’s body – the way that orange juice comes from an orange, or the way sunlight comes from the sun – then we would feel the same way about our bodies at every given moment.
And of course, that isn’t true.
So if the thoughts that are causing our suffering are not coming from our bodies, where are they coming from?
What I’m going to propose is that our thinking is like the weather. It is energy flowing through us, rather than something coming into us from the outside, like oxygen. And that when we understand this it brings us closer to our innate state of well-being and calm, and this in turn can melt away our food cravings. No will power required.
Innocently it looks to us as though life works like the oxygen coming into our lungs – that is, from the outside in. We see a body – perhaps our own – and we have a thought about it.
But if our thinking worked that way, then, as I illustrated in the examples above, how is it possible to have one type of thought about something on one day and a very different type of thought about the same thing on another day? If life worked from the outside in, then we would have the same thoughts about that thing every single time we saw it.
This is the first point that I want to propose – that our thinking comes from the inside-out, not the other way around.
Now, let’s discuss the specifics of what’s going on with our thinking when we have an overeating habit.
When we feel we are not the “right” body size, and we have an overeating habit, it’s easy to observe that we have a LOT of thinking about that situation.
I know for me, one of the recurring thoughts I had about my overeating habit was why does it seem like this is not an issue for other people? And yet, it feels like such a huge issue for me. In other words, why have I spent all this time and energy and effort trying to fix this situation, and I’ve completely failed for 10, then 20, then 30 years.
My thoughts also went to things like:
- why can’t I even manage something simple like portion control
- why am I so hopeless at trying to eat properly.
- why am I sabotaging myself if losing weight is something I want?
And of course with all the visually focused social media apps and all the messages that we get from the media, I had lots of thinking about how my body wasn’t “right” and how I didn’t measure up and how I wasn’t perfect. There was lots of suffering going on, because of my thinking.
Perhaps you can relate to all of this as well.
Now let’s look at what diets bring to this situation
Of course diets and self-help programs that teach us how to eat, and apply rules and structure that strive to help us to change our eating habits, seem like a solution.
If we’ve got a situation where we’re overeating, and then someone proposes a way to eat less, and we are promised that we would be changing the situation that feels like it’s a problem, then, of course that looks like a solution. And absolutely it did for me as well, all those years ago, and up until just a few years ago.
However what I see now is that diets contribute to the thinking we’ve already got about food and weight and body image. In other words, they add more thinking into that mix.
What I mean by this is that we’ve got all the thinking about our overeating habit that I mentioned earlier. And then when a diet or a new eating plan comes along what we end up doing is layering more thinking onto the thinking that’s already there. The metaphor I use to describe this is that our thinking becomes like a snowball rolling downhill.
The original snowball is all our thinking about ourselves and our bodies and our unwanted overeating habit.
Then we start to diet or we find a new eating plan and we think it’s a solution. And we may even feel some relief for the first few days. But what we’re actually doing is rolling that snowball downhill, and adding more and more thinking to that situation.
The diet adds new thoughts like what can I eat and what can’t I eat? And if I slip up what does that mean about me? If my cravings return, what does that mean? We have fearful thoughts about staying on the diet.
And of course, in my case, and maybe yours too, eventually (or quickly) I would fail with the eating plan. And that just added more and more thinking to what was already there: Why can’t I figure this out? Why is this so hard? What’s wrong with me that I can’t do this? Why don’t I have any will power?
So that snowball of thought is rolling downhill, adding more and more snow to the original ball.
Now, it does need to be said that we do this because it’s all we know. It’s the way that our culture is focused. When we don’t see any other way of doing things, of course we innocently try to find a solution to our overeating habit and diets are the one that are most popular. Naturally, we are trying to ease our suffering. We want to feel better.
Here’s where things get interesting.
Now that we’ve explored what it is that is causing us to suffer when we have an overeating habit we’re going to go back to the original question posed by the title of this track: why do we fail so often at diets?
What if we looked at our thinking about food and our unwanted overeating habits as though they weren’t a problem. I know that can sound like a ridiculous proposal but let’s explore it.
What if we considered that our food cravings are actually coming from a very wise place within us?
Diets tend to demonize cravings. We think of food cravings and an overeating habit as something we need to control, manage, eradicate. Which is where that snowball rolling downhill comes into effect. But what if our cravings are trying to get our attention? What if they are actually pointing us toward or alerting us to the quality of our thinking?
If our thinking is NOT coming from outside ourselves, as I outlined earlier, then we are living in the world of our thinking, not in the world of our circumstances. Therefore our internal experience of life isn’t coming from outside of ourselves, it is coming to life within ourselves.
From this what we can see is that the feelings that we have – like food cravings – can be seen as a reflection of our thinking in that moment.
If I’m feeling a really deep, urgent craving for some kind of food, what that’s telling me is that my thinking is insecure and stirred up.
You already know the way the feelings in your body reflect what’s going on in your mind; when you’re excited about something you might have a feeling like butterflies in your stomach. When you’re scared you might have a tight chest or throat.
The only way that our innate wisdom has to get our attention about the state of our thinking is by offering us these feelings.
Our natural state is one of peace and calm. We are designed, it seems to me, to return to that state naturally. We return to it without effort or force of will.
When we see this, we can also see that our feelings – including our food cravings – are like little mindfulness bells that go off, that let us know about the state of our thinking in any given moment. They let us know when we have stepped away from our natural state of calm.
The desire in us to go on a diet is actually proof of this.
What do we think will happen when we go on a diet and lose weight? Consider that for a moment. You might respond with thoughts like: I will feel better about myself. I will stop worrying about what I’m eating. I will accept myself and others will accept me too.
Imagining those things feels good doesn’t it?
That good feeling is the one we’re always looking for. It is the calm and quiet state that is our innate design.
Unfortunately, diets take us further away from that feeling because they add to the whirl of busy thinking that we’re already living within.
So when it comes to resolving an overeating habit, I’d love you to consider this: what if it wasn’t that you have failed at following a diet in the past. What if you’ve been sold the wrong tool for the job?
We do we fail at diets? It is not because we lack will power. We fail at diets because they compound the busy, insecure thinking within us. Diets are like adding gasoline to a fire. This is why they don’t work for most of us.
The alternative to diets is looking upstream, toward the nature of thought and how it moves through us, from the inside out. And how, when we see our thoughts for what they are, we connect to our innate well-being and return to our the state of peace and calm that already exists within us.
Thanks so much for listening today. Bye for now.