Would you rather be safe or vulnerable? Much of the time, I suspect many of us would answer “safe,” and in a way, I think that explains the popularity of diets.
I realize that may sound odd, but hear me out. Although “safe” is not normally the way I would describe diets, consider this. When you’re on a diet, you’re following rules and have a structure. That inherently provides a sense of control and therefore safety. Plus, following an external authority removes any sense of your own responsibility – you don’t have to make hard decisions or worry that you’ve chosen poorly. (You might choose to eat things that aren’t on the diet, but at least you don’t have to guess if you “should” have eaten it or not.0 Additionally, if you’re on a diet, odds are other people are eating the same way as you. Being part of a group always feels safer: what you’re doing is accepted and acceptable, at least to some.
Contrast that with something like mindful eating. In this case, you have no hard and fast rules, no defined structure. It feels like you’re out of control, vulnerable to the whims and vagaries of the day. You have to decide for yourself what you’ll do, take ownership of your choices and learn from them. And unlike dieting, you’ll be eating differently than everyone else, even others who are eating mindfully, because our bodies and our lives are all different. As if all that weren’t enough, seeking to understand our patterns of eating requires a willingness to open inner doors and seek what lies behind them, no matter how far or deep those paths may take us.
All this makes safety seem very appealing, yet if we truly want to change, it seems to me we sometimes have to choose vulnerability and responsibility, to be open to exploration, to risk the possibility of pain – but also the possibility of healing from the wounds that might make us seek safety.
I don’t mean to say safety is a bad choice. At some points in our lives, when so much truly is out of our control, we may need to choose safety where we can find it, to have at least that small area of peace. We may also reach points where we’re comfortable where we are and want to settle into that before adding new complexities or change.
In fact, for a long time I chose safety when it came to my eating. In my case, I felt more comfortable trying what others told me to do, because then when it didn’t work, I could blame them for my failure. I also took a strange pleasure in nursing my wounds, not to heal them, but to keep them fresh so I could feel properly aggrieved and outraged.
Eventually, I decided that life is too short not to take some risks. For instance, some people have told me how brave I am to have shared my story, and further to have been brutally honest about my journey with food and weight.
I won’t lie – it was definitely scary. But here’s the thing: when you open yourself up in that way, make yourself vulnerable, more often than not others will feel safe with you and be willing to open up in turn. When that happens, it’s no longer scary because you realize that even if some disagree with you, or cause you pain, you are not truly alone. Unique, yes, but never alone.
That’s why for now, I will continue down that path of vulnerability, occasionally seeking refuge in safety before moving on. Whatever you choose, I hope it is exactly what works best for you at this time in your life, and that it provides what you need.