Bodies, Food and Feelings
For many people, especially women, their relationships with their bodies and with food become a daily struggle. There is a constant anxiety of living within a body that is deemed unacceptable and with facing food choices several times a day. For some it becomes a game of balances, eating one day and not eating the next, or eating too much and trying to balance out the calories by excessive exercise.
I was talking to a young women in the process of recovering from 10 years of starvation and over-exercise. Her tears of frustration, blaming herself for being “broken” and her certainty she was unlovable lead to a discussion about the recovery process. I reminded her that it took years to get here, so why couldn’t she give herself whatever time was needed to put on the weight she was fighting daily to gain? It is going to require patience, persistence and forgiveness. Eating disorders are complex and not readily changed.
Recovery is far more than just about being a healthy weight and giving up on diets, or someone else’s idea of what you should look like. It involves developing a relationship with Self. It’s about self-acceptance and self-love, listening to your body, listening to yourself and getting to know yourself. People need to treat themselves like someone they love, not someone they only find fault with.
So many people have lost their voice, lost their ability to choose what is true and good for them. The marketers, advertisers and social media convince people they are not good enough as they are and that by doing things differently, being different, being someone else, buying and using products will make us feel loved. It isn’t so.
Spending time alone, spending time listening to yourself and having fun is where we begin. Recognizing how you are separate and unique from your friends and family, learning what you enjoy and what you don’t, honoring that part of you that recognizes what makes you feel alive and free. And with food, finding out what foods you like and don’t like and what emotions you are trying to calm with food.
There is a deep loneliness within many who try to fill the void with food, sex, shopping, alcohol or drugs. Before you reach for any of these things ask yourself what needs filling? Often it’s the relationship with yourself that has been neglected and leaves a person feeling lost and alone. Have you abandoned yourself? Have you become your own worst enemy instead of your own best friend?
Another step in the recovery process involves boundaries. Boundaries are tricky in the best of times. They shift and change depending on the circumstances, depending on the relationships and ages we are. Noticing how often you find yourself doing things you don’t want to do is a good place to start paying attention to your boundaries. Do you feel obligated, guilty or uncertain? Do you do things for others that leave you feeling resentful or uncomfortable?
I remember going to rock concerts at the King Dome when I was a teenager. It was all very exciting to have tickets, talking about the concert for weeks in advance, being the envy of kids who didn’t have tickets or parents who wouldn’t let them go. It felt very grown up to be out at night with friends listening to some of our favorite bands, but for me it was all too much.
I did not understand that I am highly sensitive and that noise, loud music, lights, crowds and smells would overwhelm me. I wanted to escape the chaos and was certain there was something wrong with me because everyone I was with thought it was great. I didn’t know myself well at all. I had no boundaries or clarity of what my mind and body wanted. I was outwardly focused looking for answers that could only be found within.
Recovery from anything that threatens to destroy us means looking within, paying attention and tolerating the emotions that arise. Emotions need to flow like a river, not get stuck within us. We can use our intentions and our bodies to move feelings through our bodies. Walk up a hill when you are mad, use a journal to express yourself when you feel sad, make a picture, get outside, observe dogs at a dog park, take deep breaths, listen to music or talk to a trusted friend, rub your hands together and generate heat between the palms and then shake them lose imagine sparks flying from your fingertips carrying away whatever energy you are carrying.
It’s really important to pay attention to how we talk to ourselves as our thoughts and feelings carry energy and that energy is felt in the body. Be careful not to pollute yourself with negativity, with criticism and fault finding. Stop comparing yourself to others.
Finally, recovery involves grace. We are capable of kindness, love and compassion to others and it is time to turn those things towards yourself. Finding a therapist can help, reading books can help but mostly being open to loving yourself changes everything.