The Fear of Being Slim and the Kylie Syndrome
About 17 years ago I read a book that saved my life. Perhaps not quite so literally but it brought me back from the metaphorical ledge I was about to jump off from after the break-up of my six-year relationship with the Englishman. It was called When your Partner Leaves and written by the German psychotherapist Doris Wolf. I will never forget the night when I remembered this book which had been given to me by a friend many years before. That night I read it back-to-back and started a journal, both of which ultimately kept me from falling back into the deep black hole of the depression I suffered from during my teenage years. Fast forward five or six years and I was facing yet another break-up when I, again, remembered the book and this time I really got to work with it, doing ALL the exercises and also starting another journal. I got over that break-up a lot quicker and was so amazed at my own success with it that I even translated the whole book and created a workshop around it, helping others who had been left by their partners. Anyway. What does all this have to do with my current weight loss journey?
Well, Doris Wolf wrote another book (actually, she wrote many) on Losing Weight the Natural Way. It was published in 2005 and this was my first foray into Intuitive Eating. Given the success I had with her relationship book I was all gung ho when I got this one and convinced that I could now also address and resolve my weight issues. 2005 is the year when I got married and subsequently moved to New England. We renovated a trendy condo on Main Street in Northampton, MA, and after a bit of a rough start (overstaying our welcome at a friend's house during the construction, homesickness) I went into 2006 with high hopes and this book. I advertised in a local paper to find like-minded women and we used Losing Weight the Natural Way as the basis for the group that we founded. Yes, I translated this book, too! If anyone is interested, you can peruse the archives of the blog I created at the time, it makes some fascinating reading. If you look at that blog you will see that I quit the group after seven months because I could no longer reconcile the resistance I was feeling with facilitating the group. It fell apart after that and the only person who succeeded at losing weight was the one who had joined Weight Watchers.
Looking back at this time I am not surprised that my trust in myself is so low. I mean, I had even gone through the effort of translating a book and forming a real-life group and I still failed! Reading back some of the entries I keep thinking: wow, I really thought I had this. And wow, these are some great insights. And wow, I learned so much. Alas, the old ways eventually won me back and the weight kept piling on steadily over the next few years.
It would be easy to blame New England for this because I was rather miserable there during the first few years. I loved my husband and I had happily agreed to moved back to the US with him so that he could be with his young son from his first marriage. For all intents and purpose I looked at this as a welcome fresh start and as you know, I love moving so this was a no-brainer for me. Alas, the transition was a lot harder than I ever expected and between feeling homesick and going from an active to a more sedentary lifestyle took its toll on my weight.
But ultimately these are just excuses. My emotional eating tendencies and my resistance to making lasting changes go way deeper than this. Intellectually I get it. I know, mostly, what's at the root and I know what I need to change, and even how. But there is obviously something missing, that key ingredient that makes it all come together and work.
Ironically this is something that Doris Wolf addresses in her book, at the very end. In the last chapter she acknowledges that some people lose weight and seem to embrace their new lifestyle only to 'lose it all again' and return to their old ways and thinking. We have all been there, some of us multiple times, right? Doris Wolf calls this the fear of being slim. And she goes and lists a whole array of reasons why, deep down, we are afraid to lose the weight for good. I translated that chapter for the blog and you can read it here.
The reason that resonated most with me was #18:
I will stay healthy if I eat a lot (as long as I can eat lots I am not sick).
Oh yes. My good old fear of being diagnosed with a terminal illness. I have had this ever since I was a little girl, no idea really where this comes from as I had never witnessed a close relative through sickness or experienced any major ailments myself. Add to this my anxieties about wars and natural disasters and I guess you end up with a nice little neurosis. Something that, by the way, runs on both sides of my family. In my case this fear of something really bad happening manifests itself in what I call The Kylie Syndrome. Let me explain:
“Kylie (Minogue) had it all. Good looks, great figure, thriving career, gorgeous boyfriend, loving family. Then she got cancer.
What goes up must come down. In other words, if everything goes well, something bad is bound to happen. If something is too good to be true it probably is.
Take 7/7/2005 in London. The United Kingdom was on a high. Successful Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, G8 summit in Edinburgh, winning the hosting of the Olympics 2012. People were celebrating and July 7th started out as a particularly happy day. Then 4 bombs blew up in the heart of our capital, killing more than 50 people and leaving 100s injured. Within an hour three underground trains and a bus exploded, turning London’s guts inside out.
My point is that sometimes I am too afraid of 'having it all' because then something bad is bound to happen. Why would I want to get to the top of the mountain if it’s a probable free fall down the other side?
Of course the terrorists didn’t plan their attacks for when England had a feel-good week. And Kylie didn’t get cancer because she had it all. I know that. But my twisted mind thinks that if I have enough other things to worry about then the really “big” bad thing won’t happen. By flying under the radar and staying in the “not-have-it-all” zone I stay safe. It’s quite irrational.
I wonder if this is what is at the root of my self sabotaging attempts when it comes to dieting. I am scared of achieving a “have-it-all” body because then something terrible is bound to happen, see Kylie.
If I think about this rationally then I know that the opposite is true. If anything terrible was to happen then I am more likely to cope better if I am healthier and fitter."
I wrote this in August 2005. Sometimes I feel that I have gotten so close and I certainly seem to have a pretty good grasp of my mind's wicked workings. I have lived with these anxieties for a long time and in some ways they are almost like good friends and maybe I don't know who I would be without them?