How Masculine Metaphors are Sabotaging Your Weight

Tomorrow is Election Day. And America is on life-support. Pre-packaged sound bites, just like pre-packaged foods, have diseased America. Both contribute to a tired and wounded discourse that requires an intervention of sensibility. I wonder if the over- 65 Tea Party crowd on Medicare and receiving Social Security have dementia from our government-subsidized cheap carbs or from a fast-food diet of Fox News?

While parts of America are in a food coma, other factions are on the extreme opposite end, where food choices define their identity. Yet being a judgmental vegan doesn’t make you more spiritual (oh the irony!). Eating raw isn’t a one-way ticket to dodging a cancer diagnosis, and any diet that shelves self-inquiry will negate the self-awareness you need to stay on track.

The majority of America’s mainstream institutions, nutrition industry included, are based on a patriarchal model. Rarely (or barely) factored into these information silos and reductionist views are the emotional, intuitive and inter-connected realities of nutrition and life. In Taoism, an Eastern philosophy, these domestically under-valued qualities are considered yin, or feminine.  To embrace a balance of yin and yang or masculine and feminine energies is to accept paradox, not absolutes. Note: yang/masculine and yin/feminine are unrelated to gender. One is not more superior than the other, rather they are different.

Eastern philosophies don’t require faith. Rather, by observing the whole, the long-view, paradox is obvious. Sayings like “what you resist persists” and realities of “accepting your extra weight for lasting weight loss” originate here. It’s predictable, not comical, that as a country, the more fanatical and controlling we are of our food and bodies, the more our waistlines and diseases expand.

What no politician or nutrition “expert” trying to sell you on the challenges we face will admit: there aren’t clear-cut answers.  You and I have to dig in on our own to find the brilliant insights that come from embracing nuance. Without ushering in the feminine to create balance, you, our country and I will be left asking the wrong questions and seeking misguided answers.

Health-care offers a prime example. The excessive-masculine approach has given us a forty-plus year war on cancer that is at a high casualty stalemate (unless you are the chemical companies who also “conveniently” make certain cancer drugs). Fighting fat and food has dramatically increased chronic disease, heart-attacks, diabetes, and auto-immune conditions. And those left standing who are restricting and depriving themselves on diets are emotionally wounded.

Embracing and valuing feminine qualities transform these ideas into more effective, pleasurable, and thus, sustainable processes. One refreshing beginning in healing the design of a self-inflicted diseased patriarchal system is the creation of an empathy chart doctors must measure for themselves at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. Studies have shown empathy from doctor’s can improve their patient’s outcomes. At Columbia University, medical students take a narrative medicine class. They learn that the patient’s story is an important part of a diagnosis. And in the book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink highlights studies that show how soothing surroundings help patients heal more quickly and with less medicine. Not only are empathy, emotion and beauty feminine qualities, but these foster a partnership relationship with the medical system. The patient and her/his body are given a voice and responsibility.

On a micro level, I experienced this eight years ago after a long fight with my body as I faced an insufficient medical system. By finally being curious and understanding my symptoms, I was able to see the interconnected physical and emotional nature of my acne, asthma, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), depression and 30 stubborn pounds. And the main contributor to my success? Food. Real Food. From whom? Mother Earth.

I’m not the exception but rather the rule with this integrated approach. Here is just a snap shot of my client’s stories with femininity as a theme in their successes. You’ll see in their stories the feminine is already there. It’s not something you have to try, buy, or earn. It’s more about losing the masculine excess.

Now, I’m not expecting this shift from Congress and definitely not from Rush Limbaugh. But, I hope you want this shift for yourself. While you can’t outspend the Koch brothers, you can start today to bring the feminine into balance in your own life. This includes men who suffer too from not having the feminine in their life. Bringing more balance benefits both sexes and political parties.

The first step is to change the metaphor in your mind around food. Stop battling food. Accept no food as absolutely good or bad. Call a truce, understanding you are dealing with all of you, not just nutritional facts.

Start with one food habit. Give yourself space; curiosity often goes further than certainty. If you know sugar makes you anxious, how do you benefit from your anxiety? Can you overeat at Thanksgiving, reveling in the pleasure of home-made traditions and avoid over-exercising the next day?

Soften your judgments. Embrace the inter-connected nature of food, emotions and life. Wonder. A special hint: you can’t storm yourself into a loving relationship with yourself overnight. This is true, not popular.

Change is beautiful and bumpy. With a feminine poise, food becomes meaningful, simple and joyful. Balance is the new radical. You aren’t the majority anymore, Limbaugh and Akin. It’s time to embody your own advice: pull yourself up by your bootstraps and adapt. Except don’t look for your boots. They’ve been replaced by TOMS shoes. With empathy, compassion and great design interwoven, walking in these shoes will begin to transform your dis-ease and symptoms of ignorance and excess anger. Plus, the exercise will help you take responsibility of your health.

For the rest of you, everyday, elect yourself. Both sides.

Did this resonate? Disagree? Let me know in the comments. I love respectful conversations.

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Image Credit: Sacred Spiral.

12 thoughts on “How Masculine Metaphors are Sabotaging Your Weight

  1. I completely understand what you are saying in this piece and normally I would need steps in how to make something happen. In this case, however, I see it as recognizing the masculine elements and “backing up” to see the issues in a more feminine light. My question is, what if it’s quite easy to be in this feminine light and nothing really happens, or what provides the “spark” to effect change?

  2. Thanks for sharing! It’s so frustrating to see politicians talk about improving America and leaving out all the large corporate lobbyists that continue to set us back. Happy for the optimism & motivation!

  3. @Kim: something always changes when we turn on compassion, empathy, room to think and vulnerability. These traits are some of the strongest out there. The story in our society is these are weaknesses but everything changes when we embrace this in our situation. I’ve found especially with weight and food, it’s a much more powerful spark. The paradox here is that more gets done by doing less. It requires unlearning some of what we’ve been told! I’d try it with the situation you are thinking of and see how things change. And remember, it’s always a balance…sometimes that masculine energy is necessary although I find most people have an excess.

    @Julie – my pleasure. I know that you care a lot about the environment and how Congress has thrown us under the bus. No matter what you deny or try to legislate, nature is more powerful – and now we are paying the price in terms of emotional and financial damages from so many storms. That’s why I love the Tao….it flows regardless of politicians power!

  4. Beautifully written, Ali! I like that you say “change is beautiful and bumpy.” Why do we resist it so much? The more confident we are in who we are, the more happily we can get into the flow of life and trust that with patience, thing WILL change for the best. I truly believe that those who yell the loudest are the most insecure, and I think it’s important to avoid toxic people in our lives who constantly challenge our inner peace. It’s hard to be patient, but it’s wonderful to read blogs such as yours who awaken the optimist in us all! Thanks, Ali, for a refreshing and though-provoking article. Cathy

  5. Insightful post that really resonated with me. I think you really illustrared the dichotomy that exists between the mainstream medical approach and the hardcore preachy nutritional philosophies. I especially like “balance is the new radical” it would make a great tshirt slogan! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. I agree, this Election Day and always, elect yourself! I’m in:)

  6. @Cathy – the people who are the loudest usually are the most insecure. It’s as if they yell, they’ll convince themselves. And unfortunately in mainstream media, the more sensational, the more ratings….at least with a certain demographic. As Mark Twain said, when you are on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect! I think the blogosphere as a media channel is gaining in popularity because more detailed and varying view points are expressed.

    @Amy – So glad it resonated. I think as women it’s important that we know we can be successful being women, not a version of a man. When I worked at GE, the women who were successful had to really embody being masculine at the expense of their women’s wisdom and strengths. But we see that changing as women starting their own businesses are outperforming male-run businesses (AMEX did a report on this) and seeing that if they do things their way (or men can easily succeed by bringing in these qualities), everyone wins.

  7. Thanks Ali! Your posts are always a bright spot in my day! I read a book recently called The Happiness Advantage. It is a book targeting bosses and employees to show how much being happy and positive can change outcomes. The book focuses on the power of our brain to make real changes in our lives. Even though it targets our work world, the lessons can be applied to all areas of our lives, including our eating. One study quoted in the book, which is somewhat related to this subject and which shows the power of our brains, was a Yale University study which took maids from seven different hotels. They were split into two groups. One group being told how much exercise they were getting every day, how vacuuming was a cardio exercise, etc. The other group was told nothing. After only a few weeks, the group who had been told of all of the exercise, had actually lost weight and lowered their cholesterol. The control group had not. The only difference was in the brains of the people doing the work. Pretty amazing!

  8. Ali, this is wonderful and made for much reflection on my part. I love the whole emphasis upon the yin and yang, feminine and masculine. I never thought of its influence in the medical world and in nutrition, but I can see the wisdom and the need for this balance in our personal lives as well as in the world.Thank you for offering me a new perspective via your very thoughtful newsletter.

  9. Ali, Fab as always! Politics aside, we ALL need to take responsibility for ourselves. We have become a nation of “someone else will do it, it’s not my responsibility”. Including our nutrition. Once I took back my power and made MY choices for myself, it all came together. It wasn’t easy, sometimes lonely and painful, but always joyful. Amazing what you can accomplish when you become responsible for you!

  10. @Amanda – that study is fascinating. The interesting thing about the mind: no one knows where it is! It really is a combination of our thoughts and body. And it’s more powerful than we know, lol.

    @Mary – that is what I love about Yin/Yang…once you know to look for it, it’s everywhere!

    @Gina – I love your point. We do all need to be mindful and responsible, including how we structure the systems in our country. While I am all for personal responsibility, we also need an environment where people know how to take responsibility. I’m so happy you took back your power. It can be those range of emotions but paradoxically (given the theme!), those lonely and painful times makes us feel more complete and strong. Congrats to you. So happy to hear you are doing so well!!!

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