When I was really in the weeds with screwed up eating and body image, I remember how desperate I felt to find someone, anyone, who could say that they had been where I was and found a way through.
I just wanted someone to tell me exactly what to eat and not eat. As things got worse, I fantasized about being locked up. I couldn’t be trusted within a ten mile radius of cookies or ice cream or steamed broccoli if that was all that was around.
Part of the trouble was that my beliefs about what it meant to be free of food and body obsession were as rigid and disordered as my behaviors.
When I was twenty, I went to a therapist who disclosed that she herself was in recovery from a history of eating disorders. I asked what her recovery was like and she shared that she felt really normal about food. She then said that had emotionally eaten a pint of Ben & Jerry’s a few weeks back and she hadn’t felt bad about it. She’d gotten to the heart of what was bothering her and moved on.
I was horrified. I didn’t go back.
Never mind that I was so anxious on my way to the appointment that I had stopped at the donut shop to wolf six donuts and purge in the bathroom. I was not about to take advice from someone who ate an entire pint of ice cream. Ever.
As much as I would have told you(and meant it!)that I would do anything to stop the obsession, the truth was that I wasn’t looking for a way through.
I was looking for a way out. (A magic wand.)
A way out of being myself. A way around all the stuff that led me to eat and think and feel the way that I did.
I was neither willing nor able to see that I was acting out with food my beliefs about life- about worthiness, deserving, rest, connection.
Bingeing did for me what I couldn’t do for myself, it stopped time and gave me the illusion of a break. Sweet foods replaced the sweetness that I did know how to receive. Obsessing about what I had or hadn’t eaten alleviated the groundlessness and unpredictability of life, relationships, choices.
If my life wasn’t shaping up the way I wanted it, I could always blame the eating disorder.
When I couldn’t find a fix, I tried again. Harder. New therapist, new way of eating, new self-help book.
This is what my friend Kate calls the hamster wheel of self improvement.
I see this in my clients when they first come to me, full of hope and resolve. They think I have their answers.
They dive in wholeheartedly. They do the work. The food stuff gets much, much easier.
And then, inevitably, it becomes clear that I am not going to fix them.
(This can be an enormous disappointment.)
I am not a quick fix coach and the clients that come to me are incredibly brave, willing to stay put and get to the truth.
And we do. They do. They arrive at the truth, awareness by awareness. And the truth (Nothing to fix. Not broken.) is so much better than what they thought they were looking for.
Nothing to fix. Not broken.
This is not an intellectual exercise. You cannot think your way to wholeness.
As long as you believe that your answers lie in a book or another person or a new diet or exercise plan, you will abdicate responsibility and live life on hold.
You will continue to choose the rotten comfort and false protection of distorted relationships with food and your body over the discomfort of life on life’s terms.
Carl Rogers said “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
When you accept full responsibility for your life and your healing, you become a magnet for the help that you need.
The clincher is that your desire for freedom must be stronger than your desire for comfort.
Healing is not hard (let’s face it living in the torture of obsessive thinking and planning the next diet and bingeing and exercising and never being present is hard) but it sure as hell can be uncomfortable.
It helps to respect that these behaviors were born out of a desire to keep you safe. That they did, at one time, provide a sense of protection and control when life felt chaotic and terrifying. Rather than feel the unbearable, you learned to eat. Or not eat.
The problem is not the food or the weight. You know that. Once you start to feed your body according to your body’s cues (there is a learning curve here but everyone can do this), you will arrive at your natural weight.
You will still not be exempt from life, the whole unknowable gorgeous mess.
If you are willing to stop running away from it, your problem with food (your problem with anything)becomes a path you can follow all the way home.
I know this for sure.
That person I was so desperate to find, who had been where I was and found a way through?