ETR 193: Dieting as a Coping Mechanism (Body Image Series)

SummerBody Image, Eat the Rules, Self-Love, Self-Worth

Podcast on Dieting as a Coping Mechanism

In this episode of Eat the Rules, talking about why dieting and body shame can often be used as a coping mechanism, as part of the Body Image Series.

I also explore why that can make accepting your body so hard and how they distract us from getting at the real issue and keep us turning to diets for an answer.

In This Episode, I Chat About

  • The concept of “emotional dieting” and “emotional weight fixation,”
  • How emotional dieting is a coping mechanism that distracts us from getting at the real issue and keeps us turning to diets for an answer,
  • That it’s normal for life to feel out of control sometimes and there’s not always a quick fix or way to control it,
  • That we’ve been conditioned to think that our bodies are a problem, so it’s no surprise when that becomes our way of thinking about ourselves or processing emotions,
  • Some common triggers for diet fixation,
  • The importance of identifying where your sense of fulfilment is not being met in life,
  • Why this makes accepting your body so hard,
  • How freeing it is to get comfortable experiencing the messiness of being a human being,
  • Why the pandemic has been so hard on people’s body image,
  • How to separate from these things in order to truly move forward,
  • That you should lead with curiosity and know that your body is not the problem,
  • Plus so much more!

Stream it Here

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Links Mentioned in Show


This episode of eat the rules is brought to you by you on fire you on fire is the online group coaching program that I run that gives you a step by step way of building up your self worth beyond your appearance. With personalized coaching from me incredible community support and lifetime access to the program so that you can get free from body shame and live life on your own terms. Get details on what’s included and sign up for the next cycle at summer forward slash you on fire. I’d love to have you in that group. This is eat the rules, a podcast about body image self worth, anti dieting, and intersectional feminism. I am your host summer Innanen. a professionally trained coach specializing in body image self worth and confidence and the best selling author of body image remix. If you’re ready to break free of societal standards and stop living behind the number on your scale, then you have come to the right place. Welcome to the show.

This is episode 193. And in this episode of eat the rules it’s another edition of the body image series and I’m talking about why dieting and body shame are often coping mechanisms. Why that can make accepting your body so hard and what to do about it. You can find all the links and resources mentioned at summer forward slash 193. I want to give a shout out to Sarah sparkles 1111 Who left this awesome review awesome podcast for anyone who has a body I just discovered this podcast and it is a game changer. The discussions are profound. The guests are amazing. And the topic is vital to those of us on the road to radically changing how we as women encounter the world after deciding to take our body power back muscle. Listen. Thank you so much, Sarah, I really appreciate that. That’s such a such a kind thing to say. And it means the world to me, you can leave a review for the show, it helps others to find the information that you’re learning here. And you can do that by going to iTunes searching for eat the rules, then click ratings and reviews and click to leave a review. If you’re not sure how to do that, I have a highlighted story in my Instagram, which I’m just at summer Innanen on Instagram that shows you how to do that. And also don’t forget I have a brand new version of the 10 day body confidence makeover that came out at the beginning of March 2021. If you don’t have your copy yet, you can go and grab that at summer forward slash freebies with 10 steps to take right now to feel better in your body. Okay, I’m going to apologize in advance for the nasally sound of my voice. I am getting hit hard with spring allergies. And I don’t even I don’t I don’t think I ever had allergies like I just never had allergies as a kid and then just been in the last few years. I don’t know if it’s like this weird over 40 And you start to get allergies. I don’t know. Anyways, or where I live now. I don’t know. But it is it is pretty bad. And it was so lovely out yesterday. I was like oh maybe I’ll go for a walk. And then I did and then I had like the worst allergy attack afterwards. And and you know, I didn’t want to take anything because it just like makes you so drowsy. So I was just like suffering with all this congestion and sneezing and eyes watering and I’m like, This is what people put up with. I just never had allergies. I feel so bad for allergy sufferers now. Because I would say minor still pretty minimal. But wow, is it ever annoying? And like, I wish there were better options for having I’m sure there are and I just haven’t looked down into them that are non drowsy options. And there must be I just I just haven’t looked into it enough anyways. Okay, let’s get started with the show. So one of the most common struggles I see when I’m working with people is really struggling with urges to diet that come up when we’re experiencing shame or anxiety about our body. So you can probably relate to this if you are waking up in the morning and then you look in the mirror and you immediately feel a sense of body shame. And therefore your mind starts to kind of go into like, okay, how can I fix this? Like, oh, can I maybe cut some carbs out today or I can try to work out more and we start to battle with that diet mentality and these urges to engage in dieting behaviors to try to relieve that sense of, of body shame that we have. Or I often see this with people that are a little bit further along in this process where they’ve been having some more days where they feel neutral and then they get hit with a you know a big setback where they feel like they’re back at the beginning fixating on their body thinking about diets again, and all that is totally normal. But I want to to unpack one of the reasons why this happens today, and that is that we turn to diets as a coping mechanism and, and body shame, as a way to often deal with other emotions or displace other emotions. So what I’m going to talk about is the concept of what I call emotional dieting and emotional weight fixation, how they distract us from getting at the real issue, and keep us turning to diets for an answer, why this makes accepting your body so hard, and how to separate from these things in order to truly move forward. So let me just put this into context of a story for you. And I really, I honestly, can’t remember if I’ve told this on this podcast before or not. I’ve definitely spoken about it in other interviews that I’ve done. But, you know, I’ve obviously been, I’ve been, it’s been a long time since I died. And I think I think it’s been like nine plus years now. Since I, since I really quit dieting, and and well kind of hit my rock bottom and wasn’t able to physically diet anymore, I was told I needed to eat more and everything else. And so that’s when that healing journey for me started. And so after having done so much work around my body image and, and self worth, I, you know, I really, I feel mostly majority of the time very neutral in my body, you know, like, we’ve probably heard me say, you know, I’ll look in the mirror, and sometimes I like it, and sometimes I don’t, but I just go on with my day, I really just, it just doesn’t occupy any kind of an emotional real estate in my brain anymore. And, and that’s obviously what I want for everybody else too. But the body shame was always like a coping mechanism for me. And after a very long stretch of time where I really hadn’t thought about my body. When my dad died in probably about I guess a year, I guess it was a year and a half ago now. So when my dad died suddenly a year and a half ago now, it was sudden, it was really shocking, there was a lot of things revealed to me that were like, just blindsided me about the situation. And it was pretty, like just being overwhelmed with grief and confusion and anger and all these other things. And I remember like, just starting to kind of, I don’t know, I’m waffling about those. That’s how I cope, looking in the mirror and starting to kind of like fixate on my body again. And I and and just thinking about like, okay, like I need to I need to start to you know, maybe I should just watch what I’m eating or whatever. Just those sort of like little little diet mentality thoughts kind of flickering in and out. And I remember I was standing in the shower, and I was like, oh my god, like, I’m doing this because I’m experiencing all these emotions, like this is not about my body, like my body’s not a problem at all right now. It’s because I’m experiencing all of these really heavy emotions. And this is my coping mechanism. Like, I all go back to fixating on my body and thinking about dieting, as a way to kind of suit those emotions. And obviously, that’s like a more extreme example, because those emotions were pretty significant. But even on a more general basis, you know, if I hear from clients, and I’ll share some sort of examples throughout this, but just, you know, if they’re experiencing a lot of uncertainty at work, for example, or there’s something really going on in their family relationships, or their child is really struggling with something. And so oftentimes, it’s like things that we feel like we don’t have a lot of control over. And they we consequently start to fixate on our body. And so it’s one of the things I always do when people are coming to me talking about how they’ve had a setback, or they’re having like, really intense body shame is to look under the surface and see what else is going on. And so that’s really the purpose of this episode. And I just wanted to share it in a story, to put it into context for you. Because a lot of the time, it’s really hard for us to connect those dots for ourselves. And sometimes we don’t want to like it’s just it’s easier to think our body is the problem, because then dieting is the solution. Whereas oftentimes what we’re really experiencing doesn’t have an easy solution. And so several years ago, I wrote a wrote a blog post about this and I and I use the concept I talked about it in the context of emotional dieting and emotional weight fixation. And so we hear a lot about emotional eating. Like there’s like so many books on emotional eating and courses on emotional eating, and how we use things like food to comfort ourselves and to numb our emotions. But honestly, what I see more often than not, is emotional dieting, stemming from a fixation on our weight due to the culture that we live in. And also due to you know, these unrealistic expectations of perfection that we can never live up to and that you know, we should just be free of all emotional discomfort. And so therefore, you know, we turned to dieting as a way to help ourselves try to feel better. So I think our culture has a bigger issue with dieting to soothe emotions than eating, eating to soothe emotions, we turn to dieting as a way to cope with emotional discomfort. And this This can then real quick sidebar on emotional eating. Emotional Eating is often a compliance compensatory, am I saying that right response to restriction. So you know, sometimes people do really eat to soothe and mask emotions. And sometimes what I see is it’s kind of actually just a response to restriction that we’re thinking is emotional eating, because it just feels really out of control. And it is kind of soothing and urgent way. But that’s not the purpose of this episode at all. I just wanted to talk about that. But anyways, the real issue I see again, is that, you know, we use dieting to soothe our emotions. I think it just, actually I’ll unpack why in a bit. I’m not going to jump out. But I want to see where this really came from. Because this wasn’t like a brilliant thing that I thought of, I wish. But it really came from this concept that I read one of the very first books that I read nine years ago by Jane Hirshman and Carol Munter, called when women stop hating their bodies, which I will preface by saying, I have not read that book in nine years. I don’t know if there’s fat phobic stuff in there, there might be so I don’t know if that book holds up. But this concept in that book was the one that like really, like kind of blew open my brain at the time, and really connected the dots for me. And they talk about how we turn to body hate in an effort to distract ourselves from emotional discomfort. They say, quote, we turn our bodies into metaphors for all of our bad feelings. They go on to say that bad body thoughts involve displacement, they say you are attacking your body instead of allowing yourself to feel or think something else. So in other words, we become preoccupied with our weight to comfort ourselves, and look to dieting as the solution to soothe those feelings. And because dieting and hating our bodies is so normalized and widely encouraged in our culture, it’s no wonder that we don’t connect those dots and recognize that we’re turning to those things for comfort. And so, one a really relevant example I want to throw in here is just the pandemic. So I think I just said that money, the pandemic, pandemic, pandemic, even, you know, we’ve all been trapped in our house during a global pandemic, we’re feeling anxious and isolated, and there’s so much uncertainty, maybe not so much. Now, depending on where you live, you know, where I live. And those are all really intense emotions. So isolation, uncertainty, like all these different balls were dropping every day, we didn’t know it was happening. There hasn’t been a lot of great leadership in my country in Canada, either. And these are all like, intense emotions. And we, and there’s not a lot of solutions, right? Like, in our brain wants a solution. Like anytime there’s like emotional discomfort. It’s like, what can I do to fix that? Like, how can I make that better. And we often do that to other people, too. Like, if we see somebody suffering, we want to like jump in and try and fix it for them. Because we’re so uncomfortable with with emotional discomfort. And because those things don’t really have solutions, like there’s a lot of uncertainty associated with, you know, living in a pandemic, we really just, we start to displace them onto our body, we start to fixate on our body more, and perhaps like really struggle with a lot more urges to diet or the diet mentality or playing around with fantasies about dieting even. And, and I think that a lot of people listening can probably relate to that I know a lot of my clients can, can totally relate to that. It’s something that’s come up so much, it’s one of the reasons why like negative body thoughts have been heightened over this last year is because of everything that’s been going on. But when we actually dig under the surface, and look at what’s truly going on what we’re really experiencing, we can see that it’s actually all these other emotions and fears that are the issue, it’s not our body, you know, being thinner isn’t gonna, isn’t gonna, like take away that feeling of isolation or anxiety, it might give us a temporary hit like it might kind of temporarily sue that. But it’s really just pushing it under the surface. So dieting is not not going to address those root emotions. It can give us that temporary feeling of control and certainty, but those feelings are still underneath. And that’s why weight fixation and dieting are really good coping mechanisms because they do soothe they really do. I think we can all relate to that, that feeling of like, power and control and hope that we get when we think about diet or when we start to diet or restrict food. And so they distract us from getting at the real issue and keep us turning to diets for an answer. So we try to control our emotions and destiny by fixating on our weight. Because we believe that being thinner will make everything better, but we like I got and we know that’s not true. It’s not going to take away the pandemic.

Life gets really hard and feels out of control. Sometimes that’s normal. We’re all going to experience that but we start to a lot of us started Don’t fixate on her body, because it has a familiar solution we can turn to, you know, feeling bad about ourselves and our body is is more familiar and easier to sit with, than other big feelings like loneliness or grief or anger or anxiety. And when we play with the idea of dieting as a way to make ourselves feel better, it gives us that momentary sense of purpose or control. And it can give and give us a sense of hope, like it does fire up that dopamine in our brain, that makes us kind of excited and like it has that anticipatory feeling. And it becomes this way that we can soothe and try to bypass our real feelings. And it just, it doesn’t, but it doesn’t actually fix things at all, because like losing weight is not going to take away loneliness, or any of those other hard feelings or grief or anything like that. And that’s how we’ve been conditioned to believe, sorry, let me let me rephrase that, you know, it’s easier to think that our weight is a problem, and we’re living in a culture that discriminates against fat bodies. So you know, we’ve been conditioned to think that our bodies are a problem. So it’s, it’s no surprise that that’s kind of a go to way of thinking about ourselves or processing emotions. You know, there’s this belief that like, well, if I can just lose weight, then you know, I’ll be protected from emotional harm, because I’ll just be so happy, and everyone’s gonna love me. And I won’t have to feel any of these uncomfortable feelings that I have, that I’m trying to avoid. And while a lot of the time, this is not true, because we’re all we’re still going to face, we’re all going to face emotional discomfort, it doesn’t matter, like we’re all going to face hard emotions in this life. But if you do experience discrimination, then it would be true for those circumstances. Like if if you, if you were in a smaller body, you wouldn’t experience that. And so there is a lot of there’s, in that circumstance, there’s a lot of validity to that belief. Whereas for other emotions, like I keep using grief and loneliness, clearly, those are the ones I have the most issue with myself. But like rejection, or anxiety, or hurt, or shame, those are things we’re all going to experience regardless of you know, regardless of our size, like even if you’re in like the perfect ideal body, you’re still going to experience those things. Losing weight is never going to take away those emotions, because we’re emotional beings. And it’s normal to experience the spectrum of all those emotions. And so but we think that dieting will protect us from those things, because diet culture is sold us this like magical thinking about what happens if we lose weight, and, and has placed a lot of value in the social currency associated with being in a smaller party. And so we think that dieting will protect us from feeling any anything negative. And so we kind of start to then try to like, numb ourselves out by planning our next attempt at weight loss. And, and it gives us that sense of hope and control. And so sometimes when I dig into this with clients, we discover that, you know, they’re totally burned out, that’s a really common one super common trigger, if you’re burned out, you are much harder on yourself. They have a ton of stressors in their life, they don’t have a lot of pleasure or fulfillment in their life. So in those circumstances, I’m like, well, it’s really no surprise that you’re fixating on your body and really struggling with urges to diet, because it’s giving you that sense of control. And it’s like, it’s harder to deal with all that other stuff. It’s much harder to deal with burnout and a lot of stress that you don’t maybe don’t have control over. And that’s another one of the reasons why one of the five foundational things I do when I’m working with people is looking at the big picture of what truly brings them fulfillment and purpose in life, to not only know who they are outside of their appearance and quest to lose weight, but to really understand why they might be experiencing more moments of body shame, like where they’re not getting the fulfillment that they need, where their needs are not being met, where their wants, where their sense of fulfillment is not being met, whether they you know, are feeling like purpose, purpose, Lis or purposeful, because when those things are not being met, and they’re out of alignment, we tend to really then turn to our body again. Because we think that it just gives us that sense of like control and purpose. And we think it’s going to give us fulfillment, but it doesn’t. And we know that fixing our body is not really going to give us those things ever. And it’s not the issue. So let’s I want one of the other things I want to talk about here is just why using our body as a way to cope with emotions makes accepting your body so hard. It makes it so hard because it’s a go to coping strategy, and it presents us with an easy solution. You know, it’s like, well, I just need to lose weight. Like if I just lost weight, then everything would be better. So it’s easier for us to kind of stick with the familiar of what we know like that familiar solution, even when we know intellectually that diets don’t work. So that’s what I see often is that the person’s like, I know diets don’t work, but I just like I just need to lose weight. Like if I just maybe if I just did this thing. And they’re really kind of straddling the line between the two spaces and it’s hard to really let go, because we’re kind of letting go of that hope that and that sense of control that it gives us and this idea that like everything will be better if we can just lose weight. You know, we don’t want to lose Just that feeling of control. And again, it’s a perceived control because we don’t actually have control. But that perceived control is so powerful. And a lot of times people don’t even realize that that’s how they’re using it. Like they don’t even realize that dieting is really just equated with this like sense of control. But I think we can all relate to that feeling that you got, you know, before you start a diet, where you’re planning and committing and fantasizing about how it’s all going to work out. In this time, you’re finally going to lose the weight once and for all, it feels really good. You know, it’s a good feeling. And, and that’s hard to let go. Like to not have that and to maybe have to sit with some uncomfortable emotions are to really look at, like what’s truly been going on in your life or what’s what are some of the things that maybe you’ve been avoiding, it might mean that we have to accept that there’s some some hard stuff there. But if we don’t learn to look at that, like, if we don’t learn to really look at what’s going on underneath, like look inside that box, then it just builds up and we will never truly feel at peace we got stuck in the same cycle we’ve been stuck in which is never going to learn lead to freedom. So sitting with those feelings that we’ve maybe avoiding or learning how to just notice them even so that’s you know, that’s what I do with people is like just starting to notice them, okay, starting to like, just try to try to be with it a little bit, you don’t have to go away into it. Just something that feels safe as a way to start processing them. It’s amazing what that can open up for people. Because when you’re pushing these things down and pushing these things down, it can have like a significant impact on your life. And that’s why doing it in a supportive environment can be so helpful, because you realize you’re not alone. And you can learn to process those emotions in a way that doesn’t feel too overwhelming. I do a lot of emotional processing with clients. And it’s amazing how powerful that can be, you know, when we are able to really look at what’s going on, and then be with those feelings and try to process them and be with ourselves through them. It opens up so much more mental space that was preoccupied with fixating on food and your body. And it can just lead to a lot more peace. I know it seems weird, because you’re like, Well, if I open those feelings up, I’m not going to be at peace, but you actually it does. Because you just get comfortable kind of experiencing the messiness of being a human being. And you reclaim so much by letting go of that dieting and weight fixation as a coping mechanism, even if it does mean temporarily feeling some hard stuff. So how to how to kind of do this with yourself and how to separate these things in order to move forward is is just being really curious, like if you have an urge to diet, or a time where you’re really fixating on your body, just starting to be curious about that. And like I said, this is one of the reasons why the pandemic has been so hard on people’s body image is there’s just a lot of mental stress. And it’s then normal to turn to our body as a way to process that discomfort. And so sitting with the emotions, and thinking like getting support, that’s really important. And try not to overthink it, like I can’t just lead with curiosity and know that your body is not the problem. And losing weight is not going to take away those difficult emotions. And that the purpose of doing this, again, is not to try and fix all emotional discomfort. Rather, it’s to be able to really connect with what we’re feeling and learn to process and care for ourselves. When these emotions come up. Instead of using an unhealthy coping mechanism like dieting, we want to be looking for really compassionate ways to process and deal with the discomfort of life. And I’m not saying that this happens with a flip of a switch, I think it really takes a lot of support and work. And it can take a long time. But once you’re able to really then start to kind of catch yourself and understand these things and understand the root of why you’re feeling what you’re feeling makes it so much easier to start to change those patterns and be compassionate with yourself and move forward. And so that’s what I wanted to talk about today. I hope you learned some stuff. It’s one of my favorite topics that sounds weird.

I just think it’s like a really interesting concept that is applicable to a lot of situations. Not every single one but a lot. And and I think it can be really helpful to to know this because for me, it was like such a game changer. And it is for a lot of my clients too. So if you want to get the links that I mentioned in this podcast, then you can go to summer forward slash 193. If you enjoy the body image series, then you’ll be happy to know that I have a web page now at summer forward slash body image series where all the episodes are listed there and you can have easy access to them to see every episode that I’ve ever done on the body image series and what was covered within them. And you can go and just listen to those ones specifically. And that’s it. Thank you so much for being here today. Thank you so much for listening. Thank you so much for all your kind words. I really appreciate it and I will talk to you soon rock on Hi. I’m Summer Innanen And I want to thank you for listening today. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook at summer Innanen. And if you haven’t yet, go to Apple podcasts search, eat the rules and subscribe rate and review this show. I would be so grateful. Until next time rock on

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