Food for Thought

Food Fight
by Andrea Wachter, LMFT

From eating disorders to body image issues and dieting–and beyond–two local authors explore what lurks beneath the actions we take around eating. (And not.)

Don't Diet, Live-It!
I often say that trying to overcome food and weight issues in our culture is like trying to recover from the flu while you are living in a petri dish of germs. We are surrounded by unnatural messages about food and unrealistic images of what we should look like and the happiness it would bring if we could only achieve that look. We are encouraged to restrict our food, eat huge portions and listen to diet books and diet doctors rather than our own bodies. It's no wonder that disordered eating has reached epidemic proportions. In my psychotherapy practice as an eating disorders counselor, I treat clients as young as 6 years old who are already dieting and hating their precious bodies. I also work with seniors who have no memory of taking a guilt-free bite of food in their lives, and I treat every age in between. Food and weight issues have no age limit in our crazy culture.

I started my first diet when I was 12 and this began a full-time career of: yo-yo dieting, sneak eating and, eventually, 10 secret years of bulimia. It's tragic to say that I thought about food and weight more than anything else. I was painfully self-conscious about my body and even when I briefly landed at a weight that was considered healthy, I never felt good enough, attractive enough or enough of anything.

Today, I no longer diet or overeat. I no longer have several sizes of clothes in my closet, and I can honestly say that I feel comfortable in my body. And if I can do it, you can too.

In our book, The Don't Diet, Live-It Workbook, my coauthor and I teach the four components of a Live-It, our alternative to a diet. Here is a brief summary of each:


We were all born with the ability to know when we are hungry, what we like to eat and when we have had enough. We were all born with natural desires to move our bodies in ways that feel good and to rest when we are tired.

But here, in our culture, those natural connections are stolen from us. We are taught that certain foods are good and bad, we are encouraged to drink caffeine if we are tired and we are told how many sets and reps and minutes of cardio we are supposed to do. It is not easy to strike all this from the record, but it is possible!


In the same way we are taught that there are good and bad foods, many of us are taught that there are good and bad feelings. We are generally not encouraged to accept and express what we feel.

Over time, you can learn how to better identify what you are feeling and what you need when you are in distress and, eventually, all that excess food and dieting will no longer be needed.


Think about how many silent, self-critical thoughts can take place in the course of five minutes: I feel fat. I hate my thighs. She's so much happier than I am. I shouldn't have eaten that. I shouldn't have said that.

It's no wonder so many people try to comfort themselves with food and dieting. We have no choice about the fact that our mind will think thoughts all day long. That's its job. It's not always a problem. It's only when we camp out on the unhealthy ones or believe the cruel ones that we get into trouble and misery.

We basically have five possible places where our thoughts can land at any given moment:

  1. FUTURE: Fantasy or Hope
  2. FUTURE: Fear, Worry or Dread
  3. PAST: Longing or Wishing
  4. PAST: Resentment, Rehashing or Regret

  5. And now, drum roll here -
  6. The Present Moment

The present moment entails what is actually and factually here. Most of us spend the majority of our time thinking about the future or the past. It's like living in a dream or a nightmare rather than in the here and now. Luckily, we do not have to believe everything we think. We can retrain our brain and learn to live more in the present moment.


Cultures where there is little or no evidence of disordered eating have spiritual practice and meaningful rituals built into their daily lives. Our rituals seem to center less around spiritual matters and more around weight loss schemes and anti-aging creams.

Imagine if we lived in a culture that teaches us we are worthy, no matter what we look like. Imagine a culture that values compassion and kindness more than the number on a scale. Imagine a culture without scales, clothing sizes and mirrors, but rather with the goal of connecting to what is around you and within you?

It is possible to live a full life that is about more than the size of your thighs or the amount of carbs in your day. I wish this for you ...

Reprinted from: Good Times Santa Cruz - February 17, 2011

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