The BMI Backstory

It happens quite frequently.

Posted on | Ramani Durvasula, PhD | Comments ()

It happens quite frequently. 

Clients come to my practice wanting to talk about food, weight, body image and the like. 

And so we do. We talk about the frustrations of weight loss, the hundreds of diet plans, trainers, nutritionists, crystal healers, pills, surgeries, starvation plans, laxatives, and other abuses to which they have subjected their bodies.

And they chose the wrong route.

Eating is a behavior. Thus, it is about the mind.

Often, after a few weeks or months of food diaries and tracking, my clients apologize for not wanting to talk about food anymore.  That’s a good day. The metaphor of food opened up discussions about love, intimacy, sexuality, success, anger, loss, frustration, fear and hopelessness. This isn’t about eating a precise balance of poached eggs and wheatgrass.  Or about finding out what fish will make you lose weight. 

This is about the heavy lifting you can’t do in a gym.

Once the stories start getting told – the cupcake becomes less interesting. We flow organically into a new conversation about what the food was doing. As the backstory opens up, the food loses its power. 

That doesn’t always make the weight loss easier. Even after the intimacy returns, chocolate chip cookies are still more compelling than kale. Even after the person learns to become more assertive at work, pasta is still more appealing than peas. But the seemingly “out of control” drive – that food has a life of its own – sometimes starts to fade. 

The depth of these issues varies by person. Some folks will need a psychologist to make this journey, to guide them through this conversation, while others may be able to get there on their own. 

It is about realizing that food is very primitive and can really inform us about other things in our lives. Food is mom. Food is love. Food is comfort. 

But at the end of the day, food is food.

There are as many meanings to what the food and carrying the extra weight (or not enough weight) have as there are kinds of food. We like to oversimplify this – saying that people carry extra weight to avoid intimacy, keep people at a distance, or eat to numb feelings. That may be true – or it may not. Don’t force these quick armchair interpretations; figure out your own story.

Food, diet, weight, exercise – all of it is a mind game. No trainer yelling at you to do more reps will address this. No dietitian talking to you about 4-ounce portions of protein will address this. Understanding healthy diet and integrating exercise are important building blocks, but getting at the story of food, the story of weight – that is the real workout. 

Once you let the cookies out of the closet – they lose their power. Try it.  

The worst thing that will happen is that you may understand yourself a little better.

Blog written by Ramani Durvasula, PhD
Dr. Ramani Durvasula has over 15 years of teaching, clinical and research experience. After receiving her doctorate in clinical...