It’s About Feeling Good, Not Being Good
By Camerin Ross, PhD
In my coaching work, I witness many people struggle with the Being Good trap.
In our weight-centered culture, we’re inundated with messages about being good around food and eating habits, which leads to the false assumption that if you’re good enough, your body will magically follow. Realistically though, the assumption that being good enough will lead to having a good body, one that fits culturally prescribed ideals, doesn’t hold true for most people (Mann et al., 2007). Instead of recognizing the assumption is flawed, we live in a culture that tells people they just didn’t try hard enough and locates the problem in the person who is unable to sustain changes in their body shape, size or weight, holding them personally responsible.
The following chart illustrates points I generally see with clients. It is not meant to explain all aspects of everyone’s experience. I encourage you to think about and create your own chart to discover the salient factors that keep you trapped in diet mentality and diet culture.
The Being Good Trap
The well-touted assumption that your weight, size and shape are in your control—if you just work hard enough—hurts the minds and bodies of people in all sized bodies in different ways and to varying degrees. Studies are evaluating the effect of standard weight-normative interventions that have traditionally prescribed diet and exercise to improve or maintain health. Findings are confirming that positing thinness is equated with health can be inaccurate. People in larger bodies seeking medical attention are often over pathologized as high risk because of their size, whereas people in smaller bodies may be under diagnosed because their body fits within the cultural ideal and, therefore, are assumed to have low risk for certain diseases. In contrast, an alternative paradigm, a weight-inclusive approach, directs attention to improving health access, reducing weight stigma and focusing attention to increasing behaviors that are health-promoting, without focusing on weight loss. Data reveals that improvements in health outcomes (physical, behavioral and psychological) are found with weight-inclusive approaches, which fosters the pursuit of health and well-being, independent of weight (Tylka, et al., 2014). Studying the impact of weight stigma, bias and discrimination is in its infancy in the research literature compared to the plethora of studies on weight loss interventions, despite the very low rate of long-term effectiveness with weight reduction. Current research proposes an association between weight discrimination and increased mortality, as well as negative effects to physical and psychological health and well-being (Sutin & Terracciano, 2015), which confirms the experience professionals in the field have been witness to for decades.
Since being blamed and stigmatized for body size is such a shaming experience, it’s not surprising that people in all kinds of bodies and intersecting dimensions of diversity internalize this painful experience and feel they should Be Good by trying to change their body over and over, or defend against the threat of this experience by Being Good and participating in diet culture.
As a licensed Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating program facilitator (amihungry.com), I talk with my clients about the difference between feeling good and being good. I ask what good means to them when they’re being good versus when they’re feeling good in their bodies. Their descriptions illustrate part of the potent draw diet culture has on our minds. We discuss that in the past they learned how and when to stop eating through lots of different rules: what and how much you should and should not eat, good foods versus bad foods, and the right amounts. This rule-based eating is associated with Being Good. Some describe being good as feeling accomplished, energetic, disciplined, relieved, proud and eventually a word like worried comes up. Being Good works for a while and for many chronic dieters, the fear that they won’t be able to Stay Good haunts them because of past experiences with weight regain and weight cycling. They’ve internalized that Not Being Good puts them at risk for shame and blame. So, better to be trying to lose weight than be perceived as giving up all together and suffer humiliation.
Alternatively, the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating program introduces the idea of eating to feel better when you’re done than when you started (May, amihungry.com). This is accomplished by learning to connect with your body and rebuild the trust you had with eating as an infant. Babies cry when they’re hungry, and push the breast or bottle away when they’re satisfied. When we let go of all the rules and have an intention to satisfy our physical hunger with foods we enjoy, our bodies knows when, what, how, and how much to eat. We learn how to pay attention to our eating, which is what mindful eating brings to the table. Living a in diet culture keeps us up in our heads worrying, should I or shouldn’t I, instead of connecting with the natural instinct we were born with and can all find again with practice. When my clients describe feeling good, they use words like engaged, compassionate, serene, centered, calm, restored, nurtured, and free. These words describe the peace that comes from adopting a weight-neutral, sustainable self-care plan that may include learning to eating instinctively and mindfully.
Below is an outline of steps to feeling good in one’s body. Like the Being Good Trap chart, the Feeling Good Solution steps are one explanation. Explore components that are important for you to feel good and at home in your body and make it your own.
The Feeling Good Solution
About the author:
Camerin Ross, PhD, works from a collaborative coaching model with clients who have struggled with food, eating and body acceptance. Informed by her background in clinical psychology, she provides referrals for clients needing a higher level of care and for whom coaching is not recommended. She is licensed with Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating programs to work individually and facilitate group workshops in Sausalito, CA and remotely by phone and videoconferencing. Camerin utilizes a nondiet, Health At Every Size® framework, which respects intersectional dimensions of diversity, including size, shape and weight. She passionately believes people can find a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies through awareness and community.
Please visit her website to learn more:
CamerinRoss.com | (415) 937-0403 | info@CamerinRoss.com.
Mann, T., Tomiyama, A. J., Westling, E., Lew, A.-M., Samuels, B., & Chatman, J. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62, 220–233. doi: 10.1037/0003-066x.62.3.220
Sutin & Terracciano (2015). Weight Discrimination and Risk of Mortality. Psychological Science, 26(11), 1803-11. DOI: 10.1177/0956797615601103
Tylka, Annunziato, Burgard, Daníelsdóttir, Shuman, Davis, & Calogero (2014). The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss. Journal of Obesity, Article ID 983495. DOI: 10.1155/2014/983495