The Benefits of Bingeing

“Great! How are you??” That’s the socially acceptable answer when someone asks how you are. But when my good friends ask, I can share what’s really going on. “It’s January.” The winter bug-a-boos are a seasonal reality, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cope with them by bingeing. It’s easier to forget that it’s dark and gloomy outside when you’re cuddled up on the couch mainlining entire seasons of television, flipping through stacks of trashy magazines or surfing the internet based exclusively on “click bait.”

Of course, bingeing stirs thoughts of excessive eating (that’s why I used it in the title of this post). But to binge simply means to indulge in an activity to excess. And oftentimes, the experience of a binge can yield valuable insights.

For example, if you were to have indulged in an excess of television during the past month or so you may have noticed the increase in commercials for weight loss products and programs. And when you watch one weight loss commercial after another after another with a critical eye, something becomes apparent. It doesn’t matter if the ad is for a diet program like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig – or if it’s for a gym – or if it’s for a series of workout DVDs – the underlying core premise from which each of these marketers construct their advertising message is the same.

The underlying core premise is this: “Your body’s size, weight and shape are a direct result of what and how much you eat and what you do for exercise. To lose weight and get in shape is hard. You have to eat less (regardless of what your body wants). And you have to exercise more (regardless of what your body wants). This is painful and it is hard (to override your body’s natural impulses). BUT you can USE OUR product, program, or service and we’ll make it EASIER (to override your body’s natural impulses)!!”

Here are just some of the ways we’ll make it “easier”: We’ll give you a certain number of “points” that you can use to eat whatever you want (that way you won’t feel so deprived). We’ll give you a community (misery loves company). We’ll give you pre-packaged pre-portioned food (so you don’t have to think about it). We’ll give you counselors to help you uncover why it’s so hard for you (to override your body and be enslaved to a caloric balance sheet) and provide the emotional support you need (to be enslaved). We’ll give you magic potions and pills (so you won’t even notice that you’re hungry). We’ll give you workout DVD programs that are “fun” and we’ll give you personal trainers to motivate you and hold you accountable. And the list goes on…

Of course I am not saying that advertising is “bad.” I am merely pointing out that every weight loss program or product uses the exact same underlying premise to construct the sales pitches for their ads. (A perspective that became clear as a result of seeing a LOT of weight loss commercials in a short period of time via a television binge. Ergo, the benefit…)

And this underlying core premise (that your weight is a direct result of what and how much you eat and do for exercise – and controlling your weight by controlling what and how much you eat and do for exercise is hard) is not limited to television commercials for Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutri-System or 24 Hour Fitness. It is the “bait” of many internet ads for weight loss pills and potions, and it is the underlying premise for countless health blogs – including “legitimate” ones. Even “intuitive eating,” “emotional eating,” and body image coaches and counselors, writing about how to become present and mindful to heal your weight issues offer up their wisdom and advice from a perspective built upon this same fundamental idea. Their position being that if you can some how heal the inside stuff, you will naturally make “better” food and exercise choices that will then result in weight loss.

This idea (that your weight is a direct result of what and how much you eat and do for exercise – and controlling your weight by controlling what and how much you eat and do for exercise is hard) is such a part of our cultural consciousness that I’ve even seen speakers – medical doctors speaking on the complex nature of the brain – use the struggles of weight loss as examples in their presentations.

And what does all of this do? It simply reinforces this cultural belief about our bodies and our weight.

Now I’ll be the first one to tell you that what you eat is important. And I’m a big advocate of daily exercise. I am not suggesting that you reject the cultural “diet and exercise” model in favor of some metaphysical wish fulfillment approach to easily “manifest” the body of your dreams.

What I am suggesting is that our cultural transaction-based model of “diet and exercise” – where calories are a currency of exchange – is a doomed concept. (Again, that’s a matter of perspective – for the $600 billion weight-loss industry this is a very functional concept that keeps their cash flowing.) It is a doomed concept because by its very nature, it demands that you disconnect from your body to be “successful.” And this strategy will only ever work in the short term (which is why the weight loss industry enjoys over $600 billion in revenue).

The truth is that while you are “in command” of what you eat and what you do for exercise, you are “out of control” of your weight. It is the belief that we can (and should) control our weight through what we eat and what we do for exercise that is the foundation of much of our pain and dysfunction around our bodies. It is the belief that our food and exercise choices are what create the physical results in our body that keeps us stuck (even if our “emotional insides” are healed). It is the belief that because we are responsible for our choices and actions, we are liable for our weight that keeps us silently suffering.

We are not in charge of our weight and our shape – our bodies are in charge. And that doesn’t have to be a scary thing. Our bodies are miraculously intelligent! They can cure themselves of illness and heal themselves of wounds. Our bodies can even create and sustain Life itself! Our bodies know how to create an optimized state of health, vitality and beauty and are always working toward that goal – it is in their best interest to do so!

So it is in our best interest to partner with our body. Don’t worry – that doesn’t mean that we have to “love” our body. But it is in our best interest to listen to our body and to follow its guidance. And this can be challenging in the beginning. You cannot truly hear or trust the impulses coming forth from your body if you’re judging every potential bite in terms of what it might “cost” you. You cannot hear the impulses of your body if you’re constantly criticizing and shaming your body. And you cannot hear the wisdom of your body if you’re continually repeating affirmations, trying to “wish it” into a new form.

Cultivating a partnership with your body is a process and a life-long journey. But at the end of each day, embracing a relationship-based model of weight loss and well-being is more enjoyable – heals painful issues with food, exercise and body image – and creates sustainable health, vitality and beauty.