As a therapist, I work with a lot of people who struggle with compulsive eating and body image issues. Many of my clients have been on many different diets, and have lost the same 10, 30, 50 lbs. over and over again.
We are a culture that is obsessed with appearance, and many people set out to lose weight so that they can look better. The diet industry is a $60 billion per year industry because it targets emphasis on food and weight as the problem. As a result, millions of people are literally at war with themselves, struggling to deal with their food compulsions, beating themselves up on a daily basis for “having no willpower.” It is this ongoing war, strengthened by images in the media and cultural messages, that produces a culture of self-loathing people.
For most, the belief behind the war is “once I am thinner, I will feel the way that I want to feel about myself and my life.” What most people fail to recognize is that our relationship to food and to our bodies is a microcosm of our relationship with ourselves. To be human is to struggle with some feelings of inadequacy and fears that we are not good enough. Yet in our culture, we are not taught to examine these deeper feelings. In fact, most people try to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions by either attempting to overcompensate for their feelings of inadequacy, or in some way numbing themselves to the feelings. For many, the choice to numb lies in their relationship to food. In order to deal with eating and body image issues, one must be willing to directly address their uncomfortable feelings, rather than using food as a way to mask the discomfort.
Here are 5 steps to help combat eating and body image issues:
1. Ask yourself What are you really hungry for? When you sit down to eat anything, get yourself present by taking 5 deep breaths. When you are present, notice if you are hungry. If you are not hungry, ask yourself what it is that you are really using food to soothe. Allow yourself to really look at the answer, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.
2. Stop punishing yourself: Over eating can be a way to punish oneself. Be willing to examine your beliefs about your limitations and inadequacies. Do you have beliefs about yourself that are keeping you stuck in your life? Be willing to question the validity of these beliefs.
3. Stop buying into the belief that you can’t be happy until you reach your goal, whatever that goal may be. When you are always focused on the future and “getting there”, you miss your actual life, because your life only occurs in the moment you are in. When you are focused on the past or the future, you are in your mind, not in your life.
4. Stop focusing on what’s broken: Everyday we experience aspects of our lives that are not broken, but we are so focused on the parts of our lives that don’t fit our exact picture of the way it should look, that we miss those parts of life that are actually working very well! Focusing on what is broken causes chaos in our minds, and robs us of the peace and contentment that we crave.
5. Practice self respect right now! When you wait until you have reached your goal to show respect to yourself in your thoughts, beliefs and actions, you will never learn to show yourself respect because there will always be the next life goal you need to achieve before you can respect yourself. Pay attention to your thoughts, beliefs and actions and ask yourself whether they are reflective of being self respectful. If they’re not, CUT IT OUT!!!
The bottom line here is a willingness to examine your emotional pain, rather than avoiding it, this is the key to coping with overeating and body image issues.