The first time I went to therapy for my eating disorder, the therapist of course, asked about my life.
I told him about my childhood and remember saying something like, I don't know how anyone could come of that un-scarred but I did. I don't really feel like it still affects me, I really feel fine about it all. I'm over it. Because that's what I truly thought. Besides, I was there to have him make me stop bingeing so I could have abs, not to talk about my childhood. And then I'd proceed to bawl and beg him to tell me why I always made such self-destructive choices, why I couldn't stop punishing myself with food, struggled to connect with people, felt worthless, spent my life chasing acceptance through reaching that "perfect weight" and why I lived with so much anxiety/fear/depression/anger. I'd beg him for answers. He never gave me any.
What he did tell me was that I needed to stop dieting and I was NOT ready to hear that back then.
But he was right. I stopped going to him after a year or so without ever really getting anywhere in terms of recovery but I didn't stop working on recovery on my own.
When I finally realized he was right, and I stopped dieting, everything slowly started to change.
To be clear, there were three very different, very distinct "diet" phases in my life.
When I was struggling with being over weight and trying every fad I could get my hands on that promised "quick and easy". Fyi, this was the least productive phase by a million miles.
When I quit that because I finally realized it wasn't working and I just restricted calories. The weight finally came off but I still wasn't happy.
When I was trying to follow someone else's meal plan while parroting the fitness industry's message of, "It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle. I'm not dieting, I'm eating for my goals." I was still, in fact, dieting. Meal plans for the purposes of weight loss or altering body composition are diets - they just have a superiority complex and like to tell everyone they aren't.
When I finally realized that none of those things were making me happy, I stopped & I got quiet. I stopped being terrified to be alone in my own head and I started listening to ...well, me.
I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted because I realized that I could learn a ton about myself if I stopped judging myself for being "bad" and eating "bad" things and just started figuring out WHY I was making those choices.
I learned that I didn't value myself and was purposely punishing myself with food. It took time, but I was even able to identify many of the exact moments in my life that created the stories I'd been holding on to about why I was worthless. That information was priceless.
As children we're just trying to make sense of the world around us and process information we're presented each day. Our child brains often make pretty ridiculous assumptions (from even the most seemingly innocuous things) that impact how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about ourselves impacts every single aspect of our lives. BUT, identifying the roots of those stories, changed everything because adult me was then able to look at them with a critical eye and realize, they were in fact, ridiculous.
How many times have you been at the bottom of a whole bag of potato chips or at the other end of an entire pan of brownies and been so disgusted with yourself while wondering, "whyyyyy do I keep doing this?!?!"
Part of that happens out of habit, the way our brains end up wiring themselves to respond after years of dieting but it almost always goes even deeper than just that.
I thought I knew my deeper why. I told myself was an emotional eater, I was a sugar addict and had no willpower, but it went so very much deeper than that -- it always goes so very much deeper than we think.
You see, the relationship we have with food and our bodies is a direct reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves. To change it, you have to understand it, understanding it requires learning about it and that requires getting quiet and going inwards.
We have to find the answer to that "why do I keep doing this" question but as long as you're trying to force and willpower your way to "skinny" through someone else's diet rules and as long as you're beating the hell out of yourself 24/7 for it all, you're never going to find them.
If you spilled something on the floor and someone walked up to you, screaming, "you idiot! What's wrong with you?! You're so stupid and pathetic. You always do this! Why do you keep doing this?!"
How would you respond? Likely with profuse apologies, promises to do better, cowering and feeling terrible about yourself.
If someone walked up to you with a rag, asking, "omgosh, are you okay? How this happen? Did the glass cut you when it broke? Can I help you clean it up?" Your response to that would be something much more like, "Thanks so much for your help. I'm fine, I was just turning around and my hand bump into the wall, and the glass slipped."
With that response we get appreciation, an answer and help finding a solution.
That's exactly what's happening in your head. You'll never find answers while you're in that mindset of guilt, shame and punishment. You need to turn that mean voice in your head into one of the helper in our little spilled milk scenario.
Five main mindset switches are required for this to happen and they're the basis upon which cognitive eating is built:
Permission: I can eat whatever I want because I'm an adult and capable of making my own food choices. I know that when I make ones that are not in my body's best interest, it's far more productive for me to understand why I make those choices than to continue to beat on myself and swear "I'll do better next time". That never works.
Acceptance: It sucks to live in the disordered eating world of the diet cycle (or even worse with an eating disorder) and self-pity, frustration, exhaustion, anger, why me's... are all pretty common ways to feel but none of it is a productive use of time and emotional energy. The sooner we can just accept that this is where we are, and that we have the power to change it, the sooner we can get to the real work.
Kindness: There are a million reasons why you need to start being kinder to yourself, starting right now and not the least of which is because you will never, ever find the answers you seek while you're beating on yourself, nor will you ever change. Self-criticism is one of the most sure-fire ways to a low self-worth and a low self-worth is one of the most sure-fire ways you'll continue to struggle with your weight. Be KIND to you.
Compassion: Studies have shown that people who practice self compassion are happier, healthier and even, usually more successful than people who don't. I cannot stress enough how important it is to practice self-compassion. It also helps us learn to be more kind to ourselves. One of the things I used to do when I was struggling with the concept of being kinder to myself (its hard to want to be kind to yourself when you hate yourself) was to picture little girl me. It was a whole lot easier to be kind and compassionate to her, than it was to adult me back then. I'd bring up an image of me at 5 or 6 or 8 or 10 and think about what that little girl needed most in the world -- then try to give it to adult me.
Curiosity: When we give ourselves permission, acceptance, kindness and compassion, when we stop all those obsessive, intrusive and destructive food and weight thoughts and we get quiet the next step is to get curious. Start asking why and exploring everything... that's when the answers will start to come and not a minute before.
Making those mindset switches and giving myself the permission, time, space and quiet required allowed me to do just that and that, lead to recovery and freedom.
Everything you need is already in you, waiting to be uncovered. You just have to learn to find it.