HeartFor so many women, the desire to exert strict control over our weight, body size, and food is all too common. We convince ourselves that reaching that magical number on the scale would allow us to finally have it all together.  Or that eating “perfectly” and adhering to the EXACT meals we plan for the week will enable us to control the external stress we may be feeling. Or that dieting to fit into those skinny jeans creates a sense that other areas of our lives are more manageable.

Unfortunately, this sense of control is an illusion. Life is messy, life is complicated, and sometimes, life is just hard. There is no way to escape the trials and tribulations of life. Not even by controlling our food, our weight, and our body. When we don’t know how to navigate the stresses and nuances of life, attempting to control our eating is an “easy” and often familiar path we’ve travelled down. We convince ourselves that by adhering to that “perfect” food plan and maintaining that “perfect” number on the scale, we would feel more in control of ourselves, our bodies, and our lives.

But controlling our body size and food intake has become a precarious substitute for real control in our lives. For many (women especially), the body is the arena to express dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It is the physical manifestation of internal struggles. Instead of dealing with financial woes, relationship problems, career dissatisfaction and other life stressors, we attempt to transform our bodies and control our food. We feel out of control emotionally, so we fight to establish control over food and weight.

Focusing on strict diets, reaching a number on the scale, or exercising obsessively allows us feel “in control” of other feelings and emotions that may seem overwhelming. For example, restricting calories is a way to feel more in control of life and to ease tension, anger, and anxiety.  If something in our lives is overwhelming and we don’t know how to deal with it-whether it’s work, a relationship, a family issue, etc, obsessing over every last morsel that goes into our mouth can give us the illusion that we’re in control.  When we focus obsessively on what to eat, demanding that we adhere to our food plan, and fanatically working out in the gym, we don’t have to focus on the real issues in our lives-the issues that demand our attention.

How do we gain a sense of control not based on body size or food intake?

Allow yourself some “wiggle” room: If you plan out your meals for the day, week, or month and expect to eat EXACTLY what you intended, with no deviations, you are setting yourself up for failure. Having a general outline of meals and snacks you might eat for the day is helpful, expecting yourself to eat precisely what your mind dictated with no exceptions is not. Situations we can’t foresee often arise. Your coworkers may want to get a drink after work. Someone may have brought in cookies to the break room. Or you may just be craving chocolate after a meal. Allowing some wiggle room in your diet enables you to indulge and enjoy a dessert, snack or drink every so often.  If you plan out your meals, leave some room for those unforeseen circumstances that occasionally come up.  This wiggle room applies mentally, as well. You may have planned out five strict days of “perfect” eating, but allow yourself to mentally relax about the food plan you outlined. If you ease some of the mental stress around it, it won’t feel so restrictive and obsessive.

Be kind to yourself. You may have told yourself you would NOT eat dessert when you dined out with friends. Or you would absolutely stay away from eating after 7:00 pm. Or you wouldn’t eat carbs to lose five pounds by the end of the month. Inevitably, though, all of us fall off track. We eat a slice of pie. We are starving at 8:00 pm and have some cereal. We had a stressful few weeks and didn’t lose as much weight as we had hoped. When you deviate from whatever food plan your mind has dictated for you, be easy on yourself. We are only human and fall off the bandwagon every so often. An 8:00 pm cookie fiesta doesn’t need to turn into days of eating unhealthy. Forgive yourself and get back on track the next day.

Explore ways to manage your stress and emotions. When we feel more in control of our lives, the desire to maintain rigidity and order in our bodies and eating falls away. We can learn to manage the “real life” issues and not use our preoccupation with size and weight as a substitute for gaining control.  Do you have ways in which you deal with difficulties that arise? When life gets tough-a parent becomes sick, your desire to find “the one” hasn’t manifested, you feel lonely in a new city, or you’re working 60 hour weeks-how do you manage the stress, emotions, and feelings that come with these situations? When you have tools to cope with life, you’re likely to feel more in control. There are a multitude of ways to manage stress and emotions-writing in a journal, talking to a therapist, calling a good friend, spending time in nature, prayer or meditation…or any other activity that allows you to connect to yourself and brings some inner peace.

Beginning to release some of the control around food, body size, and weight is immensely freeing. When you relax the patterns of control and find ways to manage your stress and emotions, the desire to maintain rigidity and order in these areas falls away. How are you releasing control in your life? Share below 🙂