For most of my adult life, I've felt highly intimidated by the idea of learning a new language. And while I've often romanticized the idea of being bi-lingual or even multi-lingual, the fear that I'm just not smart enough has always prevented me from even trying. The best way I can describe my experience of mandatory high school Spanish is "paralyzing" and I failed that class with flying colors.
Spanish wasn't the first class I'd failed, and it certainly wouldn't be the last. In my book, Raising Intuitive Eaters, I talk a lot about the critical messages I internalized as a child that really shaped my self talk and body image. One cruel message in particular that I consistently received from my teachers was, "You'll never make a difference in the world, because kids like you don't make it." (Let's just say, I was a lot to love, as a child.) That tape recorder still plays in my head, sometimes. And it definitely gets louder when when I fail at something, or push myself to try new things.
Fast forward 15 years.. I've decided to do this language-thing again. And not just try, but go all in. Along the way I have noticed some incredible parallels between learning a new language and Eating Disorder recovery:
We are bombarded by messages DAILY, both implicit and explicit, to start up the body project. The obsess-about-food,-eat-clean,-30-day shred-cleanse-detox-lose-unwanted-pounds-this is going to be a new start body project. These thoughts are echos of the culture around us. Sometimes the body project is handed down from well meaning parents like a relay race baton, "You gotta watch your figure!" Other times, these nasty, hurtful thoughts seem to sprout directly from our own brains, "You're so fat and ugly, tomorrow is the day you're turning this around."
It is sheer torment to live with these self-critical thoughts. Sometimes, it seems like the only way to get some peace is to do what they say: to engage in self-punishing exercise and food avoidance. Because then I'll get some relief, right? Perhaps, temporarily. But this voice is never satisfied for long. And it comes back with a venom that takes your breath away, speaking words wouldn't dream of saying to someone else. The truth is, living in the body project brings us pain. It wastes our resources, drains our energy, and takes us out of the meaningful life's purpose we are on this Earth to truly serve.
So, how do we live with these toxic messages swirling around us -- but not get caught up in them? It begins with a fundamental shift in our narrative, replacing the lies, e.g. "I'm unworthy and undeserving of love." to the divine truth, "I am enough. As I am in this moment. I am lovable, and deserving of care." You do not need [XYZ] to be enough, you already are.
5 ways to cope with the self-critical voice
1. ACKNOWLEDGE that your pain is part of the greater human experience, and part of a much bigger fabric of injustice: weight bias, body politics, fat-phobia, patriarchy, diet culture, capitalism, and violence against women. Educate yourself. Stay in the stream of body liberation discussion! Attend workshops, read books, listen to podcasts, join FB groups, follow IG posts, make friends with other advocates.
2. REJECT DIET CULTURE in all its forms. Move your body for fun. Eat for pleasure and to feel good. Break every single rule the eating disorder ever made.
3. BE CAREFUL ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA. Comparisons abound, even if you're looking at someone's perfect shiplap walls, it can make us feel inadequate! Follow content that brings your humor, joy, love, connection to others. I prefer funny memes, videos of cute babies and puppies, Game of Thrones content, rock climbing videos, and other things that make me happy.
4. FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT. I read a love-letter that I wrote to my body nearly every day before I leave for work. There are some days I don't believe it. But I believe that I did at one point, and I can get back there, again.
5. SURROUND YOURSELF with body-positive, non-diet community. It makes all the difference in the world to be hanging out with a crew of friends who never. shame. their. bodies! And never shame their food!! Yes, those people are out there. Find your bopo bubble.
It is possible to live with our self-critical voice. To shrink it down like a teeny, tiny speaker. To make it soooo muffled that you can barely hear it sometimes! For the days when it gets loud and abruptly in your face -- make sure you have a support system, whether that is friends, family, partners, therapists, or non-diet-itians.
The reality is that we live in a culture that makes it nearly impossible to love your body. And this work of practicing self acceptance, intuitive eating, and weight-neutral self care -- it entails swimming up the proverbial stream. A million and one little fishies will say you're going the wrong way! But here's the thing, it's probably going to be hard work either direction.
Dieting and being in constant war with your body is toiling, agonizing, life-stealing work. Alternatively, the journey to be at peace with your body is hard. A long and winding road, full of twists and turns; our bodies are constantly changing so the journey to be at peace with them is never really over. Long ago, I realized that it was going to be a formidable challenge to love my body in spite of all the nasty things I'd believed and internalized about it. But at least this path had the potential to be life giving, rather than robbing me of experiences, pleasure, flexibility, time, and energy for the people I love.
If you aren't sure which way to go, today, I would invite you to think about who you might be as a person & how you might be affected by letting go of the thin fantasy?
What has the thin fantasy promised you? Example: "I will be happy if I'm thinner."
((Love? Peace? Happiness? Contentment? Control? Relationships? Success? Mental health?))
Let's dig deeper into this belief by using 4 questions from Byron Katie's "The Work"
1. Is that thought true? (yes or no?) "I will be happy if I'm thinner."
Yes / No You may only answer yes or no. Resist explaining or adding conditions. Yes, but...
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
Yes / No Is there any way this thought could turn out to be untrue?
3. How do you react? What happens, when you believe this thought?
What happens in your body or mind? Do you feel better, worse? How does this effect how you eat or move your body? (Example, "I feel disgusted by my body. This is why I'm so unhappy. I shouldn't have
eaten [that food] at lunch. I've blown it today.")
4. Who or what would you be without the thought?
How does this thought serve you? How does this thought hurt you?
Now, turn the thought around. List several opposite thoughts. As you visualize the situation,
contemplate how each turnaround is as true or truer. (Example: "I will still be unhappy when I am
thinner." "I will be happy when I am bigger." "My weight will not effect my happiness."
As Byron Katie writes, "I discovered that when I believed my thoughts I suffered, but when I didn’t believe them I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that."
What would it be like not to believe the thought that you'd be a more worthy / lovable human if your body looked better?
Having picky eaters has taught me so much as a parent. I have endured an agonizing amount of dinners where my children refuse the food I've prepared, and push their plates away and whine for something different. And each time, I've felt a gripping fear that my children would never learn how to eat, and ultimately that I'm a bad mother for not raising better eaters.
Oof, it hits like a punch to the stomach.
Our journey to peaceful family dinners has been harrowing, and hard won. I've made plenty of mistakes along the way: short-order cooking, begging, bargaining, and forcing them to take bites... usually this ended in tears (for me and my children). But after what seemed like the hundreth time of serving carrots and having my children whine, in a moment of sheer exasperation, I managed to finally raise the white flag and say, "You don't have to eat it. You're the boss of your body." From that point on, dinners were different. Better. As I wrote in my book, Raising Intuitive Eaters, "the tension left our dinners like air out of a tire." AND paradoxically, the more I let my children take ownership of their intake, the better eaters they became!
These days, if you were a fly on the wall of our family dinners, you'd probably hear us tell our kids over and over, an obnoxious amount of times:
"You don't have to eat that -- you're the boss of your body."
"Your brother doesn't want you to hit him -- remember, he is the boss of his body."
The phrase that began as a white flag-- a zen mantra that calmed me at every dinner-- as evolved into a message about body empowerment, consent, and autonomy. Hopefully, my kids are learning that they get to have control over what happens with their body, with food and physical touch. And that nothing should happen without their consent. When diet culture seeps into my kids lives, I want them to have the wherewithal to say, "Hey, I'm the boss of what I eat. Not you."
Now the phrase, "you're the boss of my body" rolls off my tongue so easily, I've said it to several of my clients in session. "It's okay if you don't want to try [that] -- you're the boss of your body!" I wish I could describe the mixture of reactions! It's such a basic concept, but I don't think people are used to hearing this, at all -- especially not from their health care providers.
Do you know you can refuse any type of medical intervention (like getting weighed) that feels uncomfortable? You are the boss of your medical care.
What does that even look like to be the ultimate authority on what you need, what feels good, and what does not? To determine you'll allow, where you'll draw boundaries. To feel into what is pleasurable, energizing, nourishing; versus what is painful, triggering, or unproductive?
Being the boss of your body is being the expert owner of your physical vessel, and the compassionate shepherd of your sacred soul.
Were you allowed to be the boss of your body growing up? Were you allowed to determine what/how much you ate? Or were there stipulations and rules around food: "finish your veggies if you want dessert."
What life experiences have impacted your ability to trust your body? How has this shaped your relationship with food? Movement? Self care?