There’s a giant crime at the heart of the way women feel about themselves and their weight. Want to know what it is? The conventional weight loss industry, a titanic failure. Not a failure at making an obscene profit, mind you, but a failure at delivering what they promise. And to make matters worse, the weight loss industry has convinced millions of American women that they are the failures.
You may have shown up for meetings, signed up for coaching, bought meal plans, and possibly even taken prescription weight loss drugs. And when it doesn’t work, you think, “I’m lazy, I’m greedy, I’m a glutton who’s unskilled at this whole process. What’s wrong with me?”
In my work as a therapist, and in the course of my research for my new book You Can’t Judge a Body by Its Cover, I have yet to interview someone about weight loss whose motivation to lose weight is not interwoven with this kind of negative view of themselves. And the conventional process of weight loss, which does not address the hunger beneath your hunger, actively colludes with your bad feelings about yourself, creating a vicious cycle of failure, abjection, and when you start to feel a little bit better about the whole thing, the desire to go back for more.
Let’s break down the response: I don’t like myself and What’s wrong with me? The first one, I don’t like myself, I call an assault, and the second one, What’s wrong with me? I call shame.
I don’t like myself does not just mean “I’m not content with my appearance.” It also means I don’t like myself. It’s inside. It’s internalized. So that means women are walking around with an inner voice that is beating them down as they look in the mirror, get dressed, try on clothes, or go out in public. It’s an assault. You don’t look good. Look at you. You’re not attractive. How come you still haven’t lost weight? You should lose weight. Your belly is still bigger. You tried to lose weight, then you didn’t lose weight. It’s an inner violence.
And then you could say, Oh, I should lose weight. I should follow this new program or I should go back on that other program. That isn’t inherently a bad thing, except nothing in you is witnessing this decision in a loving way.
Here’s what I mean: When your inner voice is bashing you, nothing inside you is saying Ouch, that hurts. Don’t talk to me like that. This is not helping. You’ve been telling me that for weeks, months, years, decades. It’s not helping. That loving witness is missing. In that way, it’s an abuse scene without a witness.
Sadly, as children,a pattern is often instilled within us that primes us for this way of life. A parent (or teacher, or neighbor, etc.) attacked us verbally when we were small, and that’s bad enough, but then, another adult who is looking on, or who learns about it, doesn’t stand up for us.
Every person’s hurt matters. Every person is worthy of protection, especially a vulnerable child. If a child isn’t told, “Your hurt matters and you’re worthy of protection,” then that child starts to believe, “This is the way I am. I deserve hurt. I don’t deserve to be protected. I don’t deserve to be loved in those fundamental ways.” That belief system transforms into shame.
It manifests inside us as adults in the form of a cruel inner voice without a loving witness. In my work with clients, I model the loving witness – one that sees the assault, cares about the hurt, and believes in the deep intelligence that truly moves you (often using the method Respect, Relate, and Radical Belief). As my clients heal and become more self-loving, guess what they start to do? They start to want protection from the voice that’s telling them they’re no good. They stop wanting to buy in to dieting programs that collude with the self-assault and shame that no longer dominates their self-talk. They are the dieting industry’s worst nightmare, and they are their own best friend.