While the diet industry is busy feeding us ineffective one-size-fits-all quick fixes, they fail to address the root of our struggle with food: our food story. Our story is made up of experiences dating back to early childhood. It’s based on family beliefs around food and body. It’s is based on the way we interpret societal messages about body image. It’s based on the way our peers talked about and indulged—or didn’t— in food. We bring all of these experiences, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs with us into our adult life. Our relationship with food has very little to do with our rational adult self and everything to do with a lifetime of societal pressure, misinformation and unintentional messages from the people who shaped us.
We all have a food story. Even the rich and famous end up in the vicious cycle of self-loathing perpetuated by the media, fad diets, and every other crazy standard we hold ourselves to.
For some of us our food story stems from something seemingly mundane, like an off-handed comment from a crazy uncle; for others, it’s more extreme.
Ricki Lake was just 19 years old when she hit 200 pounds. She was molested as a child, and though she didn’t realize it at the time, she is now open about how the trauma affected her relationship with food and her body. By societal standards, that kind of weight on her 5’3” frame was unacceptable. It was her heavy frame, however, that landed her the role of Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, and it continued to work for her on the television show China Beach and later in the movie Cry-Baby. So long as society—or Hollywood in this case—accepted her weight, she didn’t have a problem with it. In fact, for a season, she was admittedly proud of it.
But, when the roles stopped coming in, she turned to the only solution she had ever known: extreme dieting.
Ricki’s mother was always on a diet—even when she was pregnant with Ricki. In a 2011 interview with ABC, Ricki said even while her mother was pregnant, “She was on a cantaloupe diet. She gained 11 pounds," Lake said. "I was a full-term baby, and I was 5 pounds.” It’s no surprise that when Ricki felt she needed to lose weight to land more roles, she opted for extreme dieting and exercise.
Losing 100 pounds in just over six months, she sacrificed her health but regained her career—once again placing her worth in what she looked like, only this time it was on the opposite end of the scale.
Ricki went on to get married, have babies, and get divorced. After the birth of her second her child, she lost the baby weight and an additional 30 pounds. The media was thrilled with her svelte shape. The coverage continued to validate her weight and the obsessive behaviors that got her there.
Even after her impressive post-baby weight loss, she has continued to struggle with her weight publicly. She admits she still has an obsessive relationship with food. As recently as 2017, she told Oprah that she struggles with the idea of losing weight. “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,” she said.
When you look at Ricki Lake’s story from the outside, it makes sense. It’s not uncommon for young victims of sexual abuse to subconsciously want to make themselves unattractive. It’s not surprising that when she landed prominent movie roles, she was more accepting of her rounder shape, and when she stopped landing them, she was desperate for change.
Hollywood was telling her what she needed to look like, and she conceded without regard for how she wanted to feel.
While she is public about her story, it’s obvious—in the rise and fall of her weight and her admissions about her tumultuous relationship with food—there are parts of this story still influencing her relationship with food and her behaviors around it.
When we start to examine our relationship with food we begin to see it’s more about feelings than the actual food we are eating. Bad days—or bad decades—may drive us to eat more (or eat emotionally).
This sets the insane diet cycle where we diet to make us feel better about our bodies, but the dieting itself makes us miserable.
In this process, we never think about how we want to feel and why we aren’t feeling that way right now, but what if we did?
What if we figured out how we want to feel in life and let that guide the choices we make about food? What if we worked on healing the parts of the story that got us into this mess to begin with and that was enough to put an end to emotional eating?
If you’re thinking, that might work, I would love to talk with you. I’m offering FREE emotions & eating assessments this summer. Click here to book yours.