From “Wild Child” or “Dictator” to “Watcher”

watcherAbout a year ago I started reading Martha Beck’s 4-Day Win.

It was one of those books I’d pick up and put down, pick up and put down.

Truthfully, I don’t think I was ready for it.

I never really actually did the exercises but rather skimmed through them, not really absorbing everything I could.

But now that I’ve finally gone back, re-read some of it and finished the book, I’ve come to appreciate it on a whole new level, especially in light of giving intuitive eating another shot.

One of the things that caught my attention most was the notion of changing my thinking from that of a “Wild Child” or “Dictator” to that of a compassionate “Watcher.”

If you haven’t read the book, you’re probably wondering, ok, what the heck is she talking about?!

Basically (and I’m wayyyy simplifying several chapters here into one succinct blog entry) the “Wild Child” is the self that feels deprived when on a diet and binge eats or emotionally eats. It’s human; our bodies are designed to fight hunger/starvation.

The “Dictator” is the self that, once one gains weight, freaks out and goes into ultra-restrictive mode: over-exercising, restricting calories … i.e., disordered eating. Anxiety floods you and as Beck notes, “…it’s not surprising that the instant the Dictator is weakened by stress, hunger or environmental chaos, the Wild Child leaps into action and eats like a junkyard dog.”

But the “Watcher”that is the self we seek:  a compassionate part of the brain that isn’t the Dictator or Wild Child, but rather a third realm of consciousness.

To attain this “Watcher” self, Beck recommends offering both the “Wild Child” and “Dictator” kindness–some mantra of well-being or loving-kindness. Like, “My body is my temple,” or “May you be happy and healthy,” or anything you can think of, really, that makes you feel good.

As Beck notes: “While both the Dictator and Wild Child make you want to overeat, your Watcher self isn’t nearly as compulsive. It doesn’t feel either rigidly controlled or totally out of control. In fact, according to some medical psychologists, it’s physiologically impossible for your mind to stay locked in a war of control when you’re engaging its ability to generate compassion and appreciation. It is a place of great inner peace.”

So what does this mean for you, or me?

I think to achieve our “Watcher” selves, we really do need to love ourselves and offer ourselves the same compassion we’d offer someone we care about.

I realize this isn’t easy. And I know it’s something I struggle with all the time. (You read my blog, you know!)

But yesterday, I was thrust into a couple situations where I had to just go with the flow and surprisingly, keeping the “Watcher” self in mind, I was able to just roll with it.

For example, I had an impromptu lunch date with my boss and a client. Several years ago, an unplanned lunch would have freaked me (“Dictator”) out. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s the truth. But today, I didn’t even flinch when she asked me if I was free at lunch.

Likewise, my husband had class last night and I was alone and feeling a bit lonely. Instead of turning to food for comfort (“Wild Child”), I spoke with my sister and parents on the phone, and then hit the gym for some kick-ass cardio.

Being in “Watcher” mode yesterday for me meant not restricting at an unplanned meal out, nor emotional eating out of stress/anxiety.

And while it worked yesterday, I know it’s not something that just miraculously works like a charm — rather it’s something we need to chip away at until it becomes second nature. Given the title of the book, I’m think four days will do it … and I’m stoked to give it a shot. I think this 4-Day Win will be the most relevant for me of all the 4-Day Wins in her book.

I think it’s natural that anyone struggling with disordered eating issues or battling their weight might  find themselves in either the “Dictator” or “Wild Child” role fairly frequently; it’s all we know, all we’re exposed to.

It’s a tough cycle to break, but I believe Beck that, in time, it can be done. It jut requires changing our thinking and our behaviors.

I know the times when I can remain calm and view myself through the “Watcher” lens versus the times I fall into the “Dictator” or “Wild Child,” I feel strong, proud, confident.

And really, isn’t that what it’s all about? Getting to that place where these things are just effortless and natural? One day down … three to go!

Which “self” do you identify most with? Wild Child, Dictator, or Watcher? Have you read The 4-Day Win?


21 thoughts on “From “Wild Child” or “Dictator” to “Watcher”

  1. So funny that this is the topic of your post today. I was *just* listening to the intuitive eating CD that I mentioned in your comments from yesterdays post and I was listening to the “challenging the food police” track. It identified three types of thinking that go right in line with the 4 day win. The rebellious child (wild child) , the adult (watcher) and the authoritative parent (dictator). I have never read that particular Beck book but it sounds interesting and I may put it on my list of must reads. Her other books are still very entrenched in the diet mentality and have set me back in the past so I have to tread lightly in this department. I’m finally getting to a place in my path that I can take what I can learn from and discard the rest.

  2. This element is so important. I`m glad you reminded me. I think I`m generally the dictator and as you said in my down moments the wild child tries to come out. I used to listen to a podcast that discussed compassion and observation of behaviours rather than judgement and that spoke to me. It encouraged you to think of someone you unconditionally love and remember that when you are judging yourself. That may be slightly off topic but I think they are related.
    I too have to be careful of Beck. I have the Beck Diet Solution and I think it was the worst thing I could have read. After reading that I was even more convinced that what I was doing was right. I was completley on a diet. I know the book says it`s not for people with ED. I just didn`t believe it and I kept reading and applying the `rules`. I always thought I was special, like I was just focused and driven in my health efforts. It took me a while to realize that although I am special, I have disordered behaviour and I need to put a book down if it says: If you have a disorder, do not read this. I would be concerned the 4 day win is the same.

  3. Susie, I had no idea that the Beck books say that. I guess that just goes to show you how disordered we can really be! I think I must have just glazed over that part thinking maybe it was my next magic pill. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  4. Will respond to all these comments later but it’s not the same Beck. This is Martha Beck, not Judith Beck (author of The Beck Diet Solution)

  5. I have definitely been all three and striving to be a “watcher” now. In IE I think they call it the “anthropologist”. Going to add this to my list of books to check out!

    1. No problem — I didn’t know either and thought it was the same Beck when I got it — little did I realize!! I like her writing though, she writes for one of the women’s magazines, too. Oprah’s O I think.

  6. There`s another beck? I did not know that. I have never noticed. I see Beck and assume they are the same. Thanks Lissa!

  7. I think I’m slowly but surely heading towards Watcher, which is a good thing. I’m working myself away from my obsessive WW ways (it was good for a time, but there is more out there than that!). I am learning to deal with my less-than-optimal days through patience, not anger.

  8. How many of us are WWers?? Its interesting to me, but not surprising. I think I`ve tried everything in my effort to lose weight. I know WW didn`t make my issues any worse. It was already bad before I started going there.

    1. I am a former WW (iloveglassbeads from the board, though I do not post anymore) but now practice intuitive eating. I don’t think that weight watchers, in particular, made my issues work but I know for sure that dieting did. Dieting just added an additional element to my ED, it gave me one more way to avoid my emotions. If I was wrapped up in my diet of the moment, I didn’t have time to really focus on my real issues. Once I discovered dieting, it was a viscous cycle of diet/binge/diet/binge and I finally got to the point that even a couple of hours on a diet would lead to binging. That was my diet rock bottom.

      I do think that dieting to lose a few pounds can be Ok for some people. I co-exist with a couple of people that only needed to lose about 15lbs, lost the weight and have never looked back. They all, at least from the outside, appear to have healthy relationships with food and dieting did not impact them the way it did me. For me, it just made me heavier and less stable mentally.

      1. I can certainly relate Christie. I`ve been enjoying reading your blog as well and your comments.

        I`m at I know you can`t click onto my blog here but thought I`d let you know because we`ve been in touch.

        I`m so glad to have found some people dealing with similar issues and to see people doing so well is inspiring. I appreciate the honestly of Melissa`s and your blog.

  9. My “wild child” tends to rear her head WAY more often than I’d like – and not just in regards to food. It’s something I’ve worked on with my therapist, but just haven’t been able to reign in. And of course, I think my “dictator” is on a permanent vacation! I really seem to lack any amount of self-discipline that would be associated with that dictator-type behavior, so basically I have no balance in my life in this aspect!

  10. Auntie, remember–one day at a time.

    Glad this post resonated with so many of us. Eventually, I hope to be in a perpetual Watcher state, but it will take time.

  11. dictator all the way here. this book sounds so amazing, it is going on my list NOW. thanks for the info lissa.

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