I call this mental exercise "Becoming the Watcher." When I first learned it, I never suspected that one unprepossessing visualization would free me, and many of my clients, from the hellish roller coaster of rebound dieting. Going on the fad diet du jour may—temporarily—change you from a caterpillar into a thinner caterpillar. This exercise can turn you into a butterfly: a different body, no going back.
Hold out your right hand, palm up. Imagine that standing there is an inch-tall version of yourself—the part that insists on losing weight. We'll call her (or him) the Dictator. The Dictator wears a uniform, carries a whip, screams insults and orders—the things you tell yourself when you're feeling fat: "You'd better stop eating now, you disgusting blob of &*%$!" Let these words, and the Dictator's hostile energy, fill your consciousness.
Now notice: Do you want to eat more, or less?
Both Lisas, along with everyone else I've ever guided through this exercise, respond, "More."
Now hold up your left palm. Standing on it is another tiny version of you; the animal part that isn't verbal or logical, and doesn't understand what the Dictator wants. I call this the Wild Child, because it's like a kid who's continually assaulted by the Dictator's attacks and privations. The Wild Child is tired, afraid, and frightened. Notice: Is she planning to obey the Dictator in its effort to starve her? No?
Now hold out both hands. See the Dictator in your right, Wild Child in your left. This next part's tricky: Notice that both mini-yous are essentially good. The Dictator gets frantic when you gain weight just as you would if you saw a toddler wandering into traffic. It screams and yells, pushes and forces, because it's trying to save you from a terrible, fat fate. And your Wild Child isn't remotely malicious, just devastated, confused and afraid. Consider both perspectives until you can empathize with them.
At this point, it's time to realize that the Wild Child and the Dictator deserve compassion. Offer it to them. Say this: "May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering." Repeat it to both Dictator and Wild Child, until you mean it. Take your time.
All right, now answer the following question: Where are you in this picture?
The only reason you can "see" both the Dictator and the Wild Child is that you're not either of them. You've moved into a third realm of consciousness, in a different part of your brain. I call it the Watcher.
The wisdom traditions of every culture teach techniques (meditation, prayer) for aligning with this compassionate, observing self. Monks who do this regularly have unusually abundant neural activity in brain regions associated with happiness. The OCD patients Schwartz treated used similar techniques to change their brains. In short, the unassuming visualization you've just done is a portal leading away from futile conflict—including the diet wars—to a place of peace.
Notice: When you feel genuine kindness toward your Wild Child and Dictator selves, do you feel more compulsive about eating, or less?