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On Life: Why Control Doesn’t Work (and robs you of the body and life you dream of)

Updated: Jun 26, 2019

In the realm of food and body, there is nothing more prevalent than the search for the perfect body, and no better way this is encouraged of us than under the auspices of control.  The billion dollar diet industry is built on this never ending search for tighter abs, firmer thighs and perkier breasts.   It’s the underlying pulse of every work-out and food tip ever offered in women’s magazines and every new weight loss gimmick or women’s fashion advertising we see plastered all around us.   We've been taught that willpower, more control and more monitoring are the keys to the body and happy, free lifestyle we seek.

Maybe for you its counting calories, tracking the number on the scale, counting reps or tracking minutes on the treadmill.  No matter what you are focused on, if those numbers dictate how good (or bad) you feel about yourself, then the numbers are controlling you.  As I see with so many of my clients, a good or a bad day is often dictated by any one of these numbers.

Or maybe you don’t allow yourself anything but Diet Coke & salad the day after you “indulged” in your favorite dessert because you feel the need to keep your appetite under control.

Maybe you absolutely cannot leave the house without putting make up on, or you can’t have sex with the lights on, or will only have sex in certain positions so you can maintain how you look to your partner and thus, always be in control.

For many women, the idea of being in control doesn’t even register as anything out of the ordinary, and certainly not as a problem. We live in a diet culture, so we're used to restriction or feeling guilty when we don't restrict.   And it doesn't just stop at the perimeter of our food, appetite or body.   Control is actually something that has been applauded and encouraged in our cultural norms for women.  Controlling our emotions, our bodies, our response to things has been the way to “act like a lady”, to appear appropriate and agreeable.

Control has been the way to achieve the ideal of perfection we have been sold when it comes to getting what we want.   Being wild, out of control, allowing ourselves to be taken by what life brings us, those are signs of weakness in most cultures.

Whatever method you use to keep youself in control when it comes to appetite, body and food  (or anything in life) are the very reasons why other things in your life feel less than pleasurable.

We think it's control that is going to bring us the joy and pleasure we seek.  We think that if we just work more at getting things in line (and I’m not just talking food and body here) then everything we want will fall into place.    That once everything is "under control", we'll be able to relax and really enjoy, really feel pleasure in our lives.

Control isn't a light switch that can be turned on, arrange everything just perfectly, and then turn it back off.  You have to constantly be monitoring when you are working under the idea of control, because, if you've tried to be in control, you know, those damn things you're trying to control keep moving around.  The number on the scale.  The cleanliness of the house.  The emotions or desires or appetite you have just won't keep still.

Here are a few general questions to see if control has snuck into your daily routine::

Does your house have to be immaculately clean before you can feel at rest?

Do all the emails have to be responded to before you go to sleep at night or have an intimate exchange with your partner?

Does your appearance, clothing and makeup have to be flawless for you to feel good about yourself?

Do you have to maintain a certain weight, calorie range or exercise routine to feel confident and worthwhile?

If so, you’re living a conditional life where having control over these things is more important than experience, pleasure and true nourishment.  The trap to this way of living is that nothing is really ever under control, it's a mirage.  Control is an idea that has us think we are in charge, that we can "will" things to go just as we want them.  But that isn't how nature, or life, works.   It is in the letting go, in the surrender and in opening to true pleasure, joy and the ever changing nature of reality that we find that satisfaction we're seeking (especially with our body and appeite).

Our bodies crave pleasure, nourishment and to be fully engaged.  You cannot fully, truly savor pleasurable food, embodied movement or hot sex if you are managing circumstances and juggling details so everything is just right and you never lose your footing (or god forbid, be out of control).  But a deeper trust of life, of letting go, is possible.  And oh so very worthwhile.

Maybe this isn’t even obvious to you, maybe your habits around control are so deeply ingrained they don’t even register.  I know for me this is the case.

What often happens is that my desire will ring in my head “Oh pizza sounds really good for dinner tonight” and then the control critic in my head chimes in, “but you had carbs for lunch”  or “you have that date this weekend, do you really want the bloat from the carbs to be hanging on for the date?”  And slowly, control begins to whittle away at my simple, basic desire for something as innocuous as pizza.   Luckily for me, I can spot it now.  And as the control voice crept in this week, I was able to stop it and steer toward my desire, not toward control.  And by doing that, I let pleasure win.  With each win, the muscle for pleasure, for feeling good, for letting go becomes stronger.   And it is a MUCH more rewarding way to live than constantly boxing myself in, forcing standards that feel exhausting to always measure up to.  It feels good to be at peace with myself and what I want.  To allow myself to feel what I feel in each moment, to eat what I want when I want it, to allow my appetite to lead.   To not be run by guilt, shame or some external idea of what makes me a good woman.

What makes us ALL "good" women is letting the deeper pleasure, desire and appetite be our guide posts.  It is absolutely counter to what we’ve been taught, but it’s time for a change.  It’s time to trust yourself, to nourish yourself and to do what your body truly craves.  It’s time to let go.

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