Today, I’m sharing part two of my interview with the amazing and always insightful Ellen Frankel, LCSW, who’s specialized in the treatment and prevention of eating disorders for over 15 years. She’s also author of the recently published novel Syd Arthur (see the synopsis below).
Here, Frankel talks about the common belief that weight loss will complete a person’s life, how to cultivate a healthier relationship with food and the meaning of true contentment – something that the main character, Syd, searches for in Frankel’s book.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the last part of our interview. (Check out part one if you haven’t already!)
Q: In the beginning of the book, Syd tells her friends that “We all have so much going for us in our lives; we have everything! All of us could be so blissfully happy if we just lost weight once and for all.” I’ve heard many people say that their lives are almost complete, but the missing piece is weight loss. What’s your response to people who take this stance?
A: I think it’s really important to go deeper and ask what in their life feels incomplete. Losing weight has become a code word for so many things, but it has become so accepted at face value because as a society, we have equated weight loss with nirvana.
I would wonder with someone who insists that losing that last 5,10 20 or 50 pounds would fill the missing piece in their lives, about how he/she imagine their life would improve. It’s a hard question for many people to dig under, because so many people are convinced that it really is about the weight.
But after some deep questioning, what typically emerges hidden in the fantasy of weight loss are very important yearnings. Often they deal with wanting to have more self-esteem, to be more in the center of life if they feel they’ve been living on the periphery.
Many talk about how they’d be more engaged in various activities; more physically active, more social. All of these things can be focused on without putting dieting and weight loss into the equation.
The questions to ask them are more direct: What things can you do TODAY to help you get to where you want to be. If you want to take a dance class, go bike riding or skiing but have been hooking those options onto “when I lose weight,” lose the hook. Go dancing or biking or skiing now, enjoy those activities today regardless of the number on the scale.
To those who imagine themselves being more social at a thinner side, the question to ask today, is what is getting in the way of being more social? What can you do to help yourself engage more with others NOW, versus when you lose those pounds?
For others who say that once they lose weight, they’ll be happy buying beautiful new clothes, go buy those beautiful new clothes TODAY. The point is, buying into the idea that the only thing standing in the way of you and perfect happiness are those pounds allows the person to simplify and concretize more abstract feelings and concerns in their life.
It’s like a young child’s fantasy…if I just get that new teddy bear, I’ll be happy. When a person says, “If I can just lose 10 pounds, I’ll be happy,” it has a similar ring. There’s more to it…and pinning your hopes on complete happiness through weight loss is precarious.
What happens if weigh is re-gained? Do you lose your happiness?
Much better, I believe, to spend the time and energy decoding the equation of weight loss=happiness, and find ways to make yourself happy today, regardless of weight.
In addition, holding fast to the idea that until weight loss is achieved, you won’t be truly happy or fulfilled is a bit of a cop out. It allows you to put any disappointment in your life, or things you are dissatisfied with and throw them into the “need to lose weight,” theme.
In the short-term, it serves as an easy excuse. In the long-term, in may cost you the path to true happiness.
Q: Dieting and weight play a major role in your book. Many of the women have unhealthy relationships with food. What are the best ways we can cultivate a healthier relationship with food?
A: The best way to cultivate a healthier relationship with food is to cultivate a healthier relationship with yourself and an honoring of your needs. Let’s face it, we need food to live; it’s an integral part of our lives day in and day out. And, lucky for us, it’s delicious (well, I don’t like Brussels sprouts, but most foods to me our delicious)!
If you think about it, this unhealthy relationship with food that so many of us struggle with is so counterintuitive to our body wisdom. It’s reflective instead, of a culture that is conflicted about satisfying needs and engaging in pleasure.
Hunger is a natural need, just like breathing and sleeping. Can you imagine living in a culture that told you to try not to breathe so much? Or to refrain from sleeping on the weekdays? That would be ludicrous! So why, when we are told to deny our hunger (i.e., diet) do we accept this?
To cultivate a healthier relationship with food, we have to retrain and reorient ourselves to our natural nature. When we are hungry, we eat. When we are full, we stop. There is no judgment here, no going on a diet or breaking a diet. There is a signal for hunger, with a particular type of food we are hungry for, so we do our best to match the food we choose with that particular hunger, and feel the physical and emotional pleasure of satisfying that need.
By moving away from the bizarre notion of dieting to an attuned/intuitive way of feeding ourselves, trusting our own inner wisdom, we can move into a healthy relationship with food, our bodies and ourselves.
In Syd Arthur, I quote the words of Lin-Chi: When hungry eat your rice. When tired close your eyes. Fools may laugh at me, but wise men will know what I mean.
Q: Our culture (mainly the weight-loss and diet companies) teaches us that true happiness and fulfillment are only a few pounds away. Your book tackles the topic of true fulfillment. Where do you think true contentment lies?
A: I think true fulfillment lies in knowing and living out your name. This is the process Syd Arthur goes through as she embarks on a spiritual path. What do I mean by knowing and living out your name?
It means knowing and sharing your true, authentic self in this world. It means following your own heart as a compass, rather than acquiescing to what society or others in your life say is right for you. It means putting your gifts front and center, showing up fully and letting your spirit shine, rather than shying away from your own power.
The weight loss and diet companies tell us we must shrink ourselves to know happiness. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Marianne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
As we move into the fullness of our truest self, it is simply impossible to place emphasis on weight loss as a measure of worth. We are all too big, intricate, interesting, creative and passionate to reduce ourselves to mere pounds and judge ourselves on such a basis.
It’s important to note that following your internal compass, sharing your gifts with the world, and living out your most authentic self is free. No company can sell you the voice that speaks in your heart, the soul that whispers your truth, or the spirit that you set free.
With no product to sell, and no company to gain financially from your own fulfillment on this path, there are no commercials or advertisements encouraging you on this journey.
The diet and weight industries are counting on you to ignore your heart, soul and spirit so that instead they can sell you their bag of faulty tricks.
Syd Arthur Synopsis:
Prince Siddhartha, raised behind palace walls and showered with every extravagance, abandoned his protected life to embark on a spiritual journey. He ultimately reached enlightenment, and became known as the Buddha–which means one who is awake–and spent his life teaching that everyone has the potential to awaken…
2,500 years later in the cloistered world of suburbia, meet Syd Arthur! Syd is a middle-aged Jewish woman who is potentially awake, but likes to start her day with a strong cup of coffee, just in case. Her daughter has just left for college, and her diet is once again off track.
While for most of her life she has been convinced that happiness can be attained by a magical number on the bathroom scale—or a really great shopping day at Bloomingdales—she finds herself in the grocery store with an empty shopping cart wondering if there just might be something more. After a tragic accident shakes her town and stirs up long buried pain, Syd finds herself questioning the meaning of her life.
When East unexpectedly meets West, she embarks on a journey as a spiritual seeker ignoring her Mah Jongg groups’ insistence that this is merely a midlife crisis.
Soon Syd is in over her chakras as her search takes her from the yoga studio, to the meditation hall, to the ashram’s gift store and to the pages of the Zensational catalogue. But once she discovers how to sift through the fluff and reach to the core, nothing can stop her journey toward Nirvana, not even the hottest sale at Nordstrom’s.
Follow Syd as she finds her bliss and discovers a richness that rivals a Godiva truffle, making for one delicious enlightenment.