I often talk about dieting in terms of a cycle of restriction and deprivation that leads to hunger and obsession about the foods we can’t have. For many of us, this eventually leads to eating these restricted foods or ‘breaking’ the diet, followed by guilt and shame that fuels us to start another diet. The two sides of this cycle – dieting vs. eating with abandon – could also be viewed as two ends of a seesaw, where we move up and down, from one to the other. When we are ‘up’ we can restrain and control our eating, and when we are ‘down’ we rebel and eat with abandon.
Yet neither end of the seesaw is pleasurable.
Rather than a gentle rise and fall, we experience the dieting seesaw with a jarring thud when the seesaw hits the ground and you feel the shock of pain through your body. We use this pain to motivate ourselves to push the seesaw so the opposite side is up.
Yet this approach involves pain at both ends, and considerable effort to switch from side to side. On one side, we feel the pain of aspiring for perfection and restricting ourselves of pleasure, and on the other side we experience the pain of overeating and eating in a way that doesn’t nourish our body and make us feel good.
If we ride a seesaw in this way we not only experience pain, but it requires considerable effort, and most importantly, the ride is neither smooth nor enjoyable.
If we consider our relationship with food as a seesaw, what is more enjoyable is when we achieve a balance on the pivot point between both sides, rather than jarring between the extremes. Perfect balance may not always be possible as our life circumstances change. However, we are better able to right ourselves when we start to tip one way or the other.
In this state of balance our relationship with food is not painful, but enjoyable. It doesn’t require immense effort to maintain, but rather an attunement into the sensations of balance and an awareness of the pull of gravity to rebalance ourselves.
This analogy sheds light on why aiming for a specific outcome or goal that is extreme or a considerable distance from our pivot point (known as our ‘set point’ weight range) can tip our balance. If we want to achieve a balanced relationship with food, rather than imposing unrealistic or extreme rules on ourselves and tipping our balance, a far more enjoyable and sustainable approach is to tune into your body.
Through tuning into how our body responds to what we eat, why and how we are eating, we can calibrate ourselves based on how our body feels, rather than from external rules or a perception of how others may perceive us. This balanced state will differ from person to person and is likely to change throughout the day, week, month or years, and therefore require us to constantly tune into our body and why we are eating. For this reason, mindful and intuitive eating practices can enable us to calibrate our eating for a balance we can enjoy and sustain throughout our lives.