After years of weight fluctuations and yo-yo dieting, I discovered that pushing and prodding myself to lose weight was, paradoxically, a weight gain strategy.” – Alison Ross, LMFT

It’s January, the month of dieting. You signed up for a diet, got to the gym, shopped the perimeter of the market where the lean meats and produce are and spent the time to chop up and prepare a nutritious meal. Let me be the first to congratulate you on a job well done!

Making your nutritional needs a priority is no small feat.  Especially when it’s a struggle to find time to brush your teeth! A “congratulations” might seem like a little thing. So little, in fact, that you didn’t realize you needed it. Sure, you went bonkers for the sweet, crayon scribbles that your daughter made. And you showered compliments on the co-worker who helped with that colorful graph. You generously validated and praised those around you. But were you on the receiving end of your own kindness?

Most dieters get into a bad habit of acting with disregard or even cruelty toward their bodies. They rage at themselves for wanting cake, deny themselves food when hungry, tug at their sides to see if they’re still curvy, push themselves into pants that are too small, avoid social situations or other activities until they reach their goal weight and put themselves on the scale to measure their worth.

At the Center, I have been reminding my clients all month that the mindset of pushing, prodding, counting, calculating, weighing and bullying that so often accompanies dieting is the reason that most diets fail before the Valentines candy replaces the 50% Off Christmas candy at the drug store.

You wouldn’t put your daughter on a scale multiple times per day and call her worthless if you didn’t like the number. And you wouldn’t scream, “ugly, fat, disgusting!” at a dear friend who ate a cookie. But when you do it to you, you push yourself into spiritual and emotional deficits that are guaranteed to perpetuate an internal war, trapping you in yo-yo dieting patterns and sabotaging your health.

There is a more effective way. After years of weight fluctuations and yo-yo dieting, I realized that pushing and prodding myself to lose weight was, paradoxically, a weight gain strategy. So I shifted away from criticism and control and into self-care and trust. I started with a simple theory – “My body is wise. If I listen to it and respond to what it needs, it will find its balanced, healthy place.”

I began to think of my body as a daughter or a dear friend. And I shifted my self-talk and behaviors into those that would nurture her. Instead of raging at myself for wanting sweets, I took the time to decode the language of my food cravings. Was I physically or emotionally hungry? Was it food and nutrition I needed, or encouragement, understanding, companionship?

Instead of raging at myself for “being too fat”, I started to acknowledge the insecurities, worries and fears expressed beneath the idea of “fat”. And I developed internal and external resources that enabled me to get the validation and acknowledgement that I hungered for.

Good self-care brought a sense of satisfaction and balance that released my mind from its craving state. Free of emotional eating urges, my body came to its healthy weight range and stayed pretty consistently there. It surprised me to realize, that my body actually likes to stay at a lower weight range than it did when I was a chronic dieter/emotional eater.

The relationship that we have with self is directly related to how hungry we feel and how often our best efforts will be overwhelmed by food cravings. In this New Year, I encourage you to remember that when you properly nourish your emotional self, eating right becomes easier and more pleasurable. So, congratulate yourself on any effort that you made to get healthy today. And start the year by resolving to honor and feed your innermost hungers while practicing loving, kindness to yourself and your body.

Want help making the shift into a healthier mindset and body? Join us at Center for Eating Recovery for an 8-Week Eating Psychotherapy Group, Heal the Hungry Brain, or for Repair Your Reflection, our monthly, body image workshop where you will update the lens through which your see your body and start to build body esteem. 

Alison Ross is the founder of Center for Eating Recovery in Agoura Hills, California. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in eating and body image. Alison was inspired to start the Center after healing her relationship with food and her body. Her mission is to help others rise above the obsessive and self-hating diet mentality in our culture to find true health through empowerment, awareness, love and self-care. The Center offers treatment for eating and body image problems across the spectrum including food addiction, binge-eating, emotional overeating, yo-yo dieting, bulimia and anorexia.