Inspirational writer and teacher Geneen Roth has made career out of offering people – women in particular – an alternative to dieting for natural weight loss. Roth herself struggled with her weight for years. By her own admission, she gained and lost a thousand pounds, over ten years, with yo-yo dieting. She was anorexic and underweight, and a few years later, she was eighty pounds overweight. In her late twenties, Roth decided that dieting never had and never would work for her – in fact, that dieting leads to feelings of deprivation that are anathema to weight loss in the long term. So she went through the ritual of burning all her diet books, and ever since then she has been eating what she wants, and counseling others to do the same. That, she argues, is the best way of breaking free from compulsive eating and all of the weight problems it engenders.
Geneen Roth is also interested in examining the psychological causes behind weight gain. One of them, which applies especially to women, is an inability to say ‘no’ to things that we don’t really want to do. Women, says Roth, are conditioned to be agreeable. We are loathe to decline social invitations, or propositions from men. We take on more work than we should, both at home and in the workplace. And we do it because we have the idea that it’s somehow ‘not nice’ to say no.
One of the reasons why women gain weight, then, is so that the weight gain itself will somehow ‘say no’ for us. Being overweight or obese is one way to make sure you don’t get unwanted advances from men, for example. Being overweight and a woman in today’s world is a good way of being invisible – overweight women don’t get nearly as much attention when they are out in public, and they are likely to dress in colors that make them look all but invisible. If you find it hard to say no, it’s likely that you’re letting your weight speak for you.
Why else, Roth argues, would we feel compelled to eat compulsively in a way that is likely to cause weight gain? We engage in behaviors that are adaptive, not maladaptive, as a rule. If being overweight is the way that we have of feeling safe, that’s likely what we will do, because everyone needs to feel safe. Putting on pounds is actually a way in which your subconscious tries to take care of you, to meet your needs, to allow you to say no (or take away the necessity).
Unfortunately, gaining a lot of weight, like smoking or drinking, is also a self-destructive behavior. As everyone knows, being very overweight is detrimental to your health. You are more likely to suffer from one of a whole range of health problems if you are overweight. These also extend to psychological problems, because despite what the behavior is saying, no one really wants to be overweight. All of us want, deep down, to be happy and healthy, and to form healthy relationships with a wide variety of people.
So, to stop falling into this trap, learning to say ‘no’ loud and clear is a great basic tool. Say no to invitations, propositions, pick-ups, and requests – unless, of course, you really want to say yes. Many women feel that they aren’t being nice or nurturing by saying no. Actually, saying no can be a great way of nurturing yourself, which is something you need to do in order to really be able to help anyone else. There is an old saying that you can’t water a garden with an empty watering can. In order to be of service to others in you your family, or to help out a friend, or serve your community or workplace, you must first of all be willing to take care of yourself. Saying ‘no’ when you mean ‘no’ is a great start. It won’t solve all your problems, of course, but it’s a simple step that takes you closer to caring for yourself.
On a basic level, saying no buys you some time. On a deeper level, it helps you establish a stronger sense of self and a knowledge of what your needs really are. All of these are steps to a healthier outlook, which includes maintaining a healthy weight.
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