This morning, when I was cleaning out my office, I came across this postcard:
It is now on the wall of my office, where it should have been all along! It is one of the best pieces of mail I have ever received, sent to me by one of my very pleased and (very wonderful) clients.
It’s so appropriate that this postcard has resurfaced in my life at this time of year, when the media is awash in “health information” that so many of us internalize into really negative, judgmental, painful resolutions. This time of year, when new seasons of shows like The Biggest Loser, so calculated to feed on our collective guilt and shame, make heroes of obnoxious, diet pill hawking trainers. This time of year, when we’re told that our merriment of a few weeks ago is over and it’s time to “stick to a plan”, “get back to the gym”, “get our bodies ready” for the swimsuits that are waiting for us in our closets, taunting us until their use can throw us into more guilt and shame.
In other words, “Repent ye sinners! For ye have been cast from Eden for the sin of drinking the egg nog of the Tree of Knowledge! Now drop and give me 20 squat thrusts and hand over that cupcake!”
And when ye of little faith replieth (because repliething is how you do things) that you know not how to do as the wrathful god of dieting bids, you will hear this answer:
“Useth your willpower!”
I’m sure there’s a plaque somewhere, maybe at Weight Watchers headquarters, honoring the advertising genius that came up with willpower. It’s one of the most disempowering words in the English language. So full of false hope and shame, it’s an advertising dream. When I hear it, it’s mostly from women who feel like failures for not having enough of it. “I just have no willpower,” they always tell me, defeated.
So now, I’m going to lay some truth on you about willpower: Willpower is a myth, and you don’t want it anyway.
Let’s say you’re on a diet. (I have lots of reasons not to diet, but let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that you are.) According to the diet, you can have only 1200 calories a day, let’s say. Let’s say you had breakfast and went out with your coworkers for lunch. Let’s say it’s almost dinner time, and you think you have about 500 calories left to work with, but your coworker calls you, in horror, to reveal that she looked up the calorie content of the sandwich you both had for lunch and she was shocked to find out that it was about 500 calories more than you had both estimated. You hang up the phone. Your stomach growls. You are really hungry. You think about all the machinations possible — waiting until midnight, your new calorie day, to eat, but you were told that eating late at night is bad. You could make something low calorie, like shrimp with some greens, but then you’d be over the limit anyway. Or you could try to distract yourself, read a magazine featuring emaciated models, watch some t.v.
If you have “willpower,” you go to bed hungry. Right? You do it because you are “committed” to your “plan.” You are so committed, so “good”, that you’ve learned to ignore your body’s hunger signals in order to stick to your diet. You have sublimated your will, your body’s will, for the will of the diet. You have learned to ignore your own body’s basic signals in favor of a diet that, supposedly, knows what’s best for you.
Congratulations, say the diet companies! You are on your way to a healthy life!
In other words, if you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ve got willpower. You’ve got loads of it. You’ve learned to ignore your feelings of hunger and fullness, you’ve learned to ignore your cravings, your needs, your desires. You’ve learned how to do as your told, because someone, who was lying or didn’t know any better, told you it was good for you.
Now, the trick is, to unlearn all of it and start fresh. Start small. Start to listen to yourself again and trust that you know best. That is the essence of intuitive eating.
You can do it. I don’t believe in willpower, but I believe in you.
Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. To learn more about Golda and her work, click here.
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