What does Equipoise mean?
Equipoise refers to a counterbalance of opposing forces; to oppose or balance one side with an equal weight or force on the other.
The balance achieved in equipoise is like a tug-of-war, where there is tension between the two sides, but the opposing forces offset each other to maintain a balanced status quo.
Why is “Equipoise” the name of our practice?
Our approach to the treatment of emotional eating and other unwanted behaviors is based on a model of equipoise. The idea is that these behaviors are caused by an attempt to correct an imbalance between two essential, yet incompatible needs: the need to belong and the need for autonomy. Since these needs are both essential yet mutually exclusive, they normally coexist in a state of balanced tension.
On one hand, as social beings, we need to affiliate with others and to feel accepted. This requires us to behave in ways that align with social norms and perceived expectations. However, this limits our need for autonomy and to feel free to make our own self-determined choices. To satisfy both needs, we manage this conflict by balancing them in a state of motivational equipoise, without sacrificing too much of either need.
However, when someone feels they’ve sacrificed too much of their autonomy to comply with social demands, it creates an imbalance between these needs. To restore balance, they may reassert autonomy by rejecting those social pressures and act contrary to them.
That’s what we believe happens when someone regularly diets due to societal pressure to lose weight. No one diets because they enjoy it; restriction for weight loss is a sacrifice to achieve a goal. When the objective of weight loss is for appearance, the goal is social acceptance. This demand may feel unfair, but it’s seen as a necessary price of admission.
When people feel that their normal eating instincts must be suppressed in order to gain acceptance, their initial response is to comply, and later, to rebel. with a defiant show of independence. This allows a false, yet briefly reassuring, sense of autonomy. This soon leads them to regret their defiant behavior and to return with a renewed commitment to dieting, creating a vicious cause-and-effect cycle of dieting and binge eating.
We don’t have the power to stop the diet culture, but each person has the ability to reject its message that the value and acceptability of a human being depends on appearance. Without the disrupting effect of that message on the balance between belonging and autonomy, the motivation to counterbalance it becomes unnecessary.