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I’ve heard that one of many people’s greatest fears is public speaking. It even trumps death for a lot of people! It’s the fear of exposure and ridicule. But I suspect there’s another contender that would feature pretty highly on many people’s list of fears these days: the fear of gaining weight. It doesn’t have the same immediacy as standing up to speak in front of an audience, but it can be just as powerful, gnawing away at us in the background of our lives. 

I lived with this fear for most of my life. As soon as I became aware that being thin placed you higher on the social pecking order, I fell under its spell. The impact on my life was huge. Every time I had to put on clothes, the fear was there, lurking. Every time I ate, there it was again. And when I stepped on the dreaded scale, it was inescapable. 

When people identify themselves as having an eating disorder or a problem with body image, this fear is very obvious. However, I think the problem goes much wider than that. Many people who wouldn’t describe themselves using such labels are living with this fear without being fully aware of it. It may just manifest in a low mood after eating something, a sense of urgency about going on a diet, feelings of inadequacy when confronted with people who are thinner than you or nervousness about sexual intimacy. And often this fear is considered inevitable: an aspect of being a responsible adult who cares about their health; a reflection of wanting to please a romantic partner; a sign of self-control without which we would all fall into the depths of gluttony and apathy, never to emerge from a sea of sugar, salt and fat! 

I thought I needed this fear to be healthy, attractive and worthy of attention and desire. Fortunately, it turns out I was wrong. It’s a very good thing to be wrong sometimes, especially when what you’re wrong about is making you miserable! We don’t need fear of gaining weight to live a good life. We don’t need it to keep ourselves in check. There is another way to be healthy. When we start to value ourselves for who we truly are beyond our appearance or any other metric, we naturally make decisions that serve us well. 

We are not designed to live in chronic fear, and it takes its toll. When everyday activities like eating a meal or getting dressed turn into reminders that you might be about to fall off the cliff of loveablity, life becomes a lot less fun. It’s hard to relax when taking another bite of food might relegate you to a lower rank of human being. 

When I was released from the grip of this fear, I had a whole new experience of life, and a much more pleasant one at that. We all do better when we feel safe. I invite you to explore the possibility that the fear of weight gain is based on a set of beliefs that you once unconsciously opted into. It is not an intrinsic part of life. You don’t need to be ruled by it, even if many people around you are. Nobody else owns your mind. You have the power to wake up from the spell this fear has cast, and opt out of all the pressure to be different from who you are in this moment. And in so doing, you will help others free themselves too.

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