Mimi was proud of the ten pounds she had lost on her new diet and exercise regimen. It was easy and enjoyable. A few days later Mimi was part of a decision making team at work. Arguments and insults flying around made her afraid of giving her opinion. Right then Mimi sensed something was missing. She grabbed a pillow and put in on her abdomen. What a relief! During that stressful moment Mimi missed the ‘padding’ that her fat had provided. The cushion blanketed the messy feeling. Driving home she felt demeaned and diminished. Why was it okay for her colleagues to vent, but leave no space for her views? Anger frothed up. Her rage felt like a ball of sharp nails ready to lacerate her insides causing a bloody hemorrhage.
She stopped at a store and bought a quart of chocolate ice- cream and a large bag of potato chips. That combination was the her most trusted and true numbing device. Those sharp nails became frozen with layers of reassuring and calming comfort food. No chance of any disgusting leaks of weakness. Keeping her cool was rewarded by yummy admiration and scrumptious respect. The Bad News Mimi’s body weight represented both the burden of her undigested emotions and those she swallowed from others by choosing not to be assertive. Mimi believed that she kept her close relationships with friends and family by being an ever absorbing sponge for their awful feelings. They perceived her as tough and indestructible. Keeping it all in was a badge of honor. Emotional constipation was Mimi’s sign of power and resilience. She dealt with overflowing gunky confused emotions by converting the trash into fat. That weight smothered her instincts to express her individuality. The heaviness paralyzed her so she couldn’t take risks with being herself.
Her weight went up and stayed up despite her punishing splurge with personal fitness gurus, coaches, nutritionists and all the advice in the best diet books. The good news Eating anesthetized slimy feelings. The weight she carried acted as armor against feeling abused, taken advantage of, and dismissed. Her fat was the one part of her she could trust. Her fat camouflaged her need for love, support and acceptance. Life was a breeze when she didn’t have to ask for those basic things and risk rejection and ridicule. Yo-Yo weight games Mimi was successful with diets when she felt strong and an equal player in the world. As soon as that fragile mood was threatened by words of conditional love, put downs, and a dismissal of her opinions Mimi felt naked and vulnerable. Food was the comforter and the weight she gained became a shield against the abuse. The thicker the armor the less chance there was of being destabilized and out of control. The armor plating was solid enough to deodorize the stench of her own chaotic and stinky feelings. The armor did such a good job that she couldn’t distinguish between her own mess and that of others. It also bypassed her emotional thermostat so that she never knew when she couldn’t take any more of other people’s trash. Food was the best way of resetting the switch and lowering the temperature. Mimi’s quandary: Looking good or feeling strong? Did she focus on feeling physically attractive by losing fat, or feeling emotionally strong and protected by keeping the fat? Either way, she had to abandon one part of herself - a no win situation.
Tips on Avoiding Mimi’s Dilemma 1. Trust your first signs of anger as a signal to protect yourself. 2. Re-cycle your angry energy into motivation to get heard and acknowledged 3. Use the motivation to risk saying what you feel as you become aware of it 4. Feel the validation of taking that risk rather than the weight of keeping it all in 5. Build emotional strength from the validation 6. Digest your experiences by owning only what is yours, and discarding the rest 7. Ownership means responsibility for getting in touch with your needs and satisfying them. That takes courage and strength. 8. Re-write your dialogue from one of self-punishment to one of self-care.
These tasks are difficult to do alone especially when you are drowning in unpleasant feelings. Friends and family may be part of the problem. They have a vested interest in maintaining the image they have of you as the tough cookie who can cope with anything they throw at you. Collaborating with an objective psychotherapist may be your best bet for losing the weight your emotions create, and for going down a clothing size.