Really? I’m really not over-dramatising as I link giving up dieting/restricting to the grieving process. This is where (in my opinion) most people go wrong. You shed the old before you can transform into and embrace the new.
Wondering what the heck I am talking about? Let’s dive in…
Why letting go is crucial
Whenever we start a new chapter of our lives – in this case, food freedom – it’s not as easy as just deciding we don’t want to weight cycle, restrict, binge, purge or yo-yo diet anymore… It doesn’t just happen that effortlessly. The process can be simple but from my experience, it’s not easy. And nor should it be. Growth and transformation only happen when we face our fears.
Almost every coach that I’ve come across that teaches intuitive eating doesn’t address the absolute root cause as to why the client turned to restriction in the first place. There’s also a difference between intuitive eating and food freedom. I use intuitive eating principles but what I teach is different. I also focus a lot on body image trauma, and fatphobia, how these affect the client and how they can overcome these.
In order to TRULY live in food freedom and body love, we MUST fully say goodbye to restriction and our “fantasy bodies”. If we don’t, we will always be hanging on (either consciously or unconsciously) to those and therefore we’ll be holding ourselves back. A key part of my coaching is supporting clients through letting go of their past smaller bodies or their future fantasy bodies. When they do that, there is then space to create and step into the version of them that is already living in food freedom and unconditional body love.
Your Book Of Life
A great way to understand what I mean by this is to imagine a book that is a quarter to a half-written. This is the book of your life so far. You have unknowingly written each chapter. With you being the main character in this story, you’ve decided what characters play which part.
I am certain that in each chapter starting from the age of around 9, there will be words written about body shame, food control, food shame and not feeling good enough etc. Most likely these words have taken up more and more of your story as the chapters go on. Look back to your last chapter. How much space did sentences about body shame, food control, food shame, not feeling good enough etc take up?
Now imagine trying to write on top of those already written words, sentences about food freedom, self-love, body acceptance, confidence, gratitude, pleasure, body love etc. It’s hard to read what you’ve newly written right? Because the previous old words are stopping you from seeing them clearly. That’s why you need to start a new chapter on a fresh page… without the sentences about body shame, restriction etc. You cannot write on top of what is already there and clearly read the words. You cannot truly live in food freedom and body love without first letting go of what’s been holding you back for __ years.
THAT’S why it is SO important and crucial to fully let go of restriction and body goals first before you can be fully free and happy. That’s what I support my clients with, in a number of different ways because there are always reasons WHY they’re holding onto these and it’s my job to help them to discover why and then heal and shift that.
Today I want to visit each stage of grief and speak to each from the context of grieving restriction, food control and body goals.
Who developed the five stages of grief?
The five stages of grief model was developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and became famous after she published her book On Death and Dying in 1969. Kübler-Ross developed her model to describe people with terminal illness facing their own death. But it was soon adapted as a way of thinking about grief in general.
Do the five stages happen in order?
The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are often talked about as if they happen in order, moving from one stage to the other. You might hear people say things like ‘Oh I’ve moved on from denial and now I think I’m entering the angry stage’. But this isn’t often the case.
In fact Kübler-Ross, in her writing, makes it clear that the stages are non-linear – people can experience these aspects of grief at different times and they do not happen in one particular order. You might not experience all of the stages, and you might find feelings are quite different with different bereavements.
The five stages of grief in context to grieving restriction & body goals
For me, denial looked like…
Still believing that “one day” I’ll find a diet that “works” for me and”one day” I’d be living in my ideal body. That hope and fantasy I had been chasing most of my life wasn’t going to go away just like that. I started my food freedom journey and it felt like I was on a “permission-granted long binge.” I knew in my head that restriction didn’t “work” after 20 years of suffering but it was hard to believe that I would never pursue weight loss again.
When I first truly grasped that in order to live in real food freedom and unconditional body love, I had to completely give up restrictions of any kind and the chase of my body goals. That meant of course that I was giving up the fantasy of having the perfect body and what that meant to me… being desired, admired, praised, lusted after, loved, accepted, powerful etc. THOSE were what I was really giving up. And that made me angry AF! I wasn’t only angry about having to give up all of those things if I wanted to be free but I was also angry that restriction/dieitng didn’t work for me anymore. I was angry that even if I wanted to, I had somehow lost the ability to diet and successfully restrict. That really pissed me off. I felt like the biggest failure there ever was. Even though I KNEW all the patriarchial BS behind dieting and beauty standards, I still felt drowned in shame that I couldn’t do it anymore.
I also felt angry about all the time I had wasted on dieting, restricting and living with different eating disorders. There was SO much I missed out on due to my fucked up relationship with food and how much I hated my body. It stopped me from doing things or being able to enjoy what I was doing. I was angry at society, diet culture and beauty standards for keeping me a prisoner for so long.
I was also angry at how much I hated my body and WANTED to restrict, in order to feel safe and desired even though I knew it was wrong. I was angry at other people who could successfully restrict. I was angry at people who had a naturally slim set-point weight. I was angry at anyone who had the body I wanted! #alotofanger!
When we are feeling shame about how our bodies look, it’s sometimes hard to accept that there’s nothing we can do to change things. Bargaining is when we start to make deals with ourselves. We want to believe that if we act in particular ways we will feel better.
“If I only eat chocolate at the weekends then my set point weight might be lower. I’ll still allow myself to eat as much as I want but it might help keep my weight down if I’m not eating it every day.”
“If I just don’t have it in the house then I can’t eat it. I’m not restricting, I”m just controlling my environment.”
“If I keep myself busy then I won’t be thinking about food.”
“If I just lose the weight first, then I’ll start my food freedom journey.”
It’s also common to find ourselves going over and over past diets that “worked” for us (temporarily) in the past and asking a lot of ‘what if’ questions, wishing we could go back and change things in the hope things could have turned out differently.
“If only I had not lived on takeaways for weeks when I moved house, then I wouldn’t have spiralled out of control. That diet I was on before then was really working.”
“If my mum hadn’t been obsessed with weight loss when she was raising me then I wouldn’t be either.”
Sadness and longing are what we think of most often when we think about grief. The immense longing for a smaller body, the pining for validation and to be desired. That shit is painful. It’s that pain that makes us want to run back to restriction. But it’s crucial that we learn how to feel and process these emotions and explore WHY it is so painful for us with a professional who has walked this path before.
This pain can be very intense and come in waves over many months. Life can feel like it no longer holds any meaning, especially if the eating disorder has been your identity for so long, which can be very scary.
That’s why it’s really important to get support through this from a talented professional as the core desired feeling and unmet needs you’ve been searching for via restriction (which are usually the seeking of feeling good enough and being loved) CAN be felt and your needs CAN be met WITHOUT being in your fantasy body. That’s the best part about living in food freedom and body love… you really get to have it all!
Honestly, the only thing that I would say I don’t experience now compared to when I had the “perfect body” is lots of outside validation and admiration for the way my body looks. And that’s fine by me now because I honestly don’t care anymore… it means WAY more to me now if someone compliments me on how kind I am other than how insane my body is.
Being validated and admired might mean a lot to you know but I promise it won’t if you fully immerse yourself in this journey and get coached by me (shameless plug)! During this transformation your values change, your identity changes and therefore your whole reality changes.
Ahhh acceptance. 😌 Once I truly experienced acceptance and therefore surrender, my life quickly got better. I felt more at peace in general. Quiet in my mind. I had stopped fighting and stopped wishing things were different… especially my body. I fully accepted that dieting doesn’t work for me (nor for 95% of people) and I believed it. I fully cut the cord to my fantasy body and how I’d make that happen. I was free.
I didn’t like the way my body looked at this point but I was in acceptance. Neutrality. And that’s such a beautiful freeing place to be after a lifetime of resistance and striving and chasing and forcing and not feeling good enough. It felt like a big exhale that had been waiting to happen for 20 years.
Acceptance is a moment-to-moment state of being which is also a CHOICE. Eventually, it becomes your most natural state and you don’t have to think about it but to begin with, you have to keep choosing to accept and let go of resistance over and over and over and over again. You might experience all the different stages of grief in the space of 5 minutes (I did!) but keep coming back to acceptance. Only you can choose to accept what is and stop fighting with yourself and reality.
You may not like the way your body looks but that’s ok. After acceptance is reached, you can start your journey to body love and self-love.
Just to reiterate, this grieving process cannot be skipped. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in quasi-recovery or micro-dieting for the rest of your life and who wants that? Fuck that! With me we go all in, there’s no half-arsed food freedom and body love, if we’re going to do it, we’re doing it fully.