Most of my clients are really good at what they do, whether that’s being a loving partner, raising a beautiful family, managing a high-flying career or juggling all three. They’re impressive, collected and outwardly successful, with an effortless air about them. They’re the kind of women you catch sight of on the Tube, at a yoga class, across the table at a meeting and think with a sense of awe – ‘She’s so together!’ – followed by a familiar sinking feeling as the comparison mindgame begins.

Let me tell you a secret. Although you compare yourself to these women, the chances are high that, if you’re reading this article, you’re one of them, too. Looking objectively at your life from the outside, as a stranger might, you might be able to recognise a lot of this in yourself. If you are really honest, can you imagine people saying, ‘Look at her career/family life/relationship/wardrobe/figure – I don’t know how she does it!’ about YOU? 

I can hear your protests already. ‘OK, but they don’t really know me! It’s just a front! They don’t see what goes on behind closed doors or inside my head…’ And herein lies the problem. You see, there’s a curse associated with this level of high achievement. It seems to plague successful women more than any other group in society. I know because I’ve worked with so many of them and, once upon a time, I was one myself. 

I appeared to ‘have it all’. I was good at everything, or so people thought. But most importantly, I was a ‘good’ dieter. I was controlled and controlling. I scrutinised, measured and weighed myself every day without exception, and the number on the scales and the tape measure and the size and shape of the reflection staring back at me determined my mood and my mindset for the rest of the day. Underneath the polish and poise there was a dark voice at work, ready to scream in my ear how fat, hideous, disgusting, failing, lacking, just plain wrong I was, if I let go of control for just a moment. So, I did my best to keep that voice quiet -I didn’t let go.

In a society where self-control – particularly women’s self-control in relation to their appetites  (physical, mental, sexual and spiritual) – is praised as a highly desirable quality, it can be difficult for a woman to even recognise this as an issue. Being ‘in control’ makes you feel powerful, like you’re doing something right, it places you in an advantageous position in the comparison and competition race with other women -it makes you feel that you are somehow better than them, that you are succeeding where most of them are failing. {I know that this sounds really harsh, but please don’t judge yourself if you recognise any of the above within you. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad person, it just means that you have been taught that being ‘better than’ is the only way to be good, worthy, enough at all. It’s the conditioning we have all received that is the problem, not you.} 

Everyone around you feeds that back to you as well; compliments, admiration, even envy are huge ego boosts and very hard to give up -they are truly addictive. This is the reason why the population that is least likely to reach out for help with their eating and body-image difficulties are women who restrict successfully, whether that is chronic dieting, self-imposed starvation, healthy eating and exercise that has turned into an obsession, or a combination of the above. In the language of psychology, these types of food and body issues are described as ‘ego-syntonic’, meaning that they make you feel better about yourself, because they are in alignment with the image that you have, or want to have, of yourself -even though they, in no way, cause a real or lasting increase in your self-esteem. This is what makes change in these cases so difficult; change would mean that you would need to let go of the only way you have found to feel ‘good’. 

It is no surprise that women who are toward the other side of the spectrum, or somewhere in the middle, struggling with difficulties such as binge-eating, emotional (over)eating, yo-yo dieting or diet-bingeing, are much more motivated to get help and will more readily engage in the work -again, not because they are ‘better’ in any way, more mature or more determined, but simply because their own symptoms make them feel helpless, powerless, out of control, and they desperately want to get out of that state as soon as possible. These conditions are called ‘ego-dystonic’; conflicting with one’s (desired) self-image and making one feel ‘wrong’. 

What can be difficult to understand and appreciate is also what holds the key to transformation here; the same amount of pain and suffering is involved in being a ‘good dieter’ as in being a ‘bad’ one. The root of the issue is exactly the same, no matter how differently or oppositely it manifests externally. What lies at the root of both is the wound of not being ‘enough’, of having to fit into a certain image or ideal to be accepted or acceptable, the pressure to show and develop only the parts of oneself that fit into this ideal, and hide, suppress, disown the rest. 

It is the frustration following several failed attempts to do that that leads ‘bad dieters’ into looking for a different way, a way out. That frustration is their wake-up call and, eventually, their saviour, because as painful as it can be, it opens the way to their healing and freedom. 

But in the case of the good dieter? This frustration is not there. It’s not there for a very long time. The curse of the good dieter is precisely her apparent success in eliminating all her ‘bad’, unwanted qualities, both in her body and life, to the point that she actually believes that she can and should do that forever. She convinces herself that this is who she is, it becomes her identity. 

But let’s take a look for a moment at what you have to sacrifice, to maintain this ‘perfect persona’… 

~ The ability to relax and truly enjoy a single meal, without constantly calculating calories in your mind and monitoring (rather, policing) your bites. 
~ Your physical health; low energy, fatigue (including adrenal), dizziness are among the first symptoms to manifest after prolonged restriction, no matter how ‘healthy’. Your peace of mind even outside meal times; not much space is left, nor tranquility, when your mind is preoccupied with food and exercise, plans and routines ALL.THE.TIME. 
~ Spontaneity and freedom; weight-controlling activities come first, anything else needs to fit in around them. 
~ The richness of your emotions; you cannot suppress your huger and appetite, without at the same time suppressing and toning down all your other body’s signals, including your feelings, your emotions, your desire -essentially, your drive for LIFE.
~ Real, authentic, vulnerable connection with other people. It is a very lonely place to be in, when you constantly have to keep in check and hold back any part of your physical, emotional and mental self that is less than ‘ideal’. Relationships, even the most intimate ones, are bound to stay at a surface level. It is so hard for anything to penetrate that external shell…
~ Any opportunity for inner peace, acceptance and appreciation of yourself as a whole; even when the same part of yourself (the ‘strong’, disciplined one) wins consistently, you are nevertheless still caught up in an inner battle against the whole rest of you, and that takes up more psychic energy than you may realise. Until you put an end to this battle, you will continue feeling ‘bad’ inside, ‘wrong’ at your very core, in need of fixing. Constant, relentless fixing. And no amount of fixing will ever be enough.

This is a very high price to pay, don’t you agree? Take a moment here to ask yourself, is it really worth it? Let yourself sit with it for a moment…feel the discomfort and the limitation…everything that this way of living is robbing you from…let the frustration build up…it’s a different kind of frustration to the one your ‘bad dieter’ sisters face, but serves the exact same purpose; it’s your wake-up call, your lighthouse to freedom. 

You see, for as long as you remain in this restrictive place, the problem has not been solved -it has been band-aided. 

My heart aches as I write this, but, as a successful dieter, you are sentencing yourself to a life that only sees half of you. That half is celebrated and appreciated by the world, I know. That half makes you feel powerful. But that half is not all that you are. In fact, your most treasured qualities, your passion, your creativity, your uniqueness -your gold lies in that other half. Just like Carl Jung has said, the gold is in your shadow; the part of you that you have neglected. 

There is so much more to life than calories consumed and calories burnt. There is so much more to YOU than toned abs and cellulite-less thighs. You are more than a perfect body, a ‘good girl’, a ‘good soldier’. Oh my God, you are SO much more than this! And you deserve to see it, feel it, claim it and let others see it too. Only then will you be really free, only then will you be whole -all you can be. 

I want to leave you with this question:

‘What would you do with all the freed up time, space and energy, if dieting and restriction did not rule your life anymore? Who would you be without it?’ 

—–

‘People change when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of changing.’

~ J. Michael Zenn

If the pain of staying the same is getting bigger and bigger for you, I would be deeply honoured to support you in breaking through the confines of dieting and body-loathing. 

Because we need you. Desperately. ALL of you. Free.