In a recent blog post and podcast episode, we talked about finding your body image story. Those short conversations and events that happened early in your life that started to define the way you looked at and felt about your body. Going back is so powerful, therapists have know this for years. It's not about feeling sorry for yourself, or getting stuck in a blame cycle, or living in the past, it's actually about coming to a bigger sense of understanding, and with that, lots of compassion and love towards yourself and whatever issues you have now. It's understanding that you and the people around you are simply human, and it's also the beginning stages of finding true healing, especially when it comes to food, eating and body image issues.
Since we already went on that scavenger hunt to find our body image stories, today we're going on a different ride, we're going back in time to look for specific moments in which we got important cues about food, eating and dieting. We're on a mission to dismantle these, and to build our views about food back up in a more healthy and pleasurable way that excludes punishment or guilt. Doesn't that sound nice? As usual, I'm sharing some of my stories, it's only fair right?
One key factor into finding those first cues we might have gotten as kids or teens when it comes to eating, is going to the first moments we heard the words good or bad, or punishment or reward when it came to food. You'll be surprised as to what you'll discover.
With time, these belief systems start gaining more traction, then we add on the constant messages in the media, magazines and TV. I'm not even talking about body image here (although we all know there's plenty of that too), I'm talking about the constant fear mongering, and how often we click on an article on facebook with a title that reads "stop eating these 3 foods and start losing weight effortlessly", or "5 foods that fight cellulite", or "remove this from your diet and stop cravings". I could go on and on. The word "healthy" is thrown around so much these days, I've recently been feeling the need to make a video with my definition of healthy eating, which I can tell you right now varies greatly from what we're hearing day in and day out.
We are bombarded with messages about food, eating and weight, which only add to whatever foundation we started building with those early messages, but it's with shining a light on those first few, where I like to begin.
Are you ready? Trip down food memory lane starts now!
Can Saturday please come sooner? (or my chocolate story)
Let me start this off by saying that I love my mother. If you've read my personal story here, you know what an amazing rockstar she was, so this is in no way a critique on her parenting skills (or yours if you've been giving your children some of these cues). Most parents have truly the best intentions and I know my mom thought she was doing her absolute best, she did her absolute best and her best was quite frankly awesome. Remember, these back to the past exercises are not about the blame game, they're about building a little map to help you rebuild a stronger foundation and improve your relationship with food.
Ok, "I love my mama" disclaimer over, now on to the story.
Although the words diet, cellulite, weight, or fat were never once uttered in my house (lucky, I know!), my mom had three rules when it came to food. Number one, I was always encouraged to try new foods, and would get a little piece of chocolate at the end of the meal if I tried something new. Number two, other than this mom administered chocolate prize, chocolate could only be eaten on Saturdays and Sundays. Number 3, same thing with soda, only for the weekend.
I had an absolute love of chocolate when I was a child as you can probably tell. It was my favorite thing ever, but I was also striving to be such a good daughter and not cause any trouble at home since we had enough going on with my mother's illness. This created a perfectionistic tendency in every area of my life, something I'm still trying to remove, but in this particular case it meant one thing: not only was chocolate reserved for Saturday, but I was given the chocolate bars to abide by the rules for myself. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I would have those chocolate bars in my possession. I stored them in my little toy fridge in my little toy kitchen. I would go, almost every day, open the packages, smell the chocolate, count the days that remained until Saturday arrived, close the chocolate back up and put it back. Have I told you I was around 5 or 6? Yup!
Watch the quick video below so you can get a visual. It's a slightly different situation, but it illustrates my chocolate in the toy fridge problem to a tee.
My mother told her friends about my incredible willpower and sense of responsibility constantly. She praised it, said it was incredible and beyond that of any kid she had ever seen, and I felt so proud of the fact that she was proud of me. It became the battle of desire vs wrapped up chocolate I couldn't touch, and I never once ate it before Saturday.
What do you think happened when Saturday came around? You guessed it. Choco-coma. If this isn't a metaphor, or rather, a precursor to the perils of dieting I don't know what is.
Food is the best medicine.... against sadness that is (or my milkshake story)
Time for story number two. This one was so powerful it had a deep impact in my relationship with food all my life. It took years for me to be able to find other sources of comfort other than food and overeating.
When I was around 7 or 8 years old, I came down with the chicken pox. My mom, who struggled with a chronic illness and had problems with her immune system, had to move out. My dad was never in the picture, it was just me and her, so this meant that they had to pay my nanny extra and she would live with me for the next 3 weeks until I was fully recovered. For those 3 weeks I couldn't even see my mom, we only had our phone conversations, and this was particularly hard since my mom and I were extremely close, and I had never been apart from her for such a long period of time. In between the fun of not being at school and having more time to play at home, I felt terribly sad. I missed her constantly, and whenever I started to cry or get upset, my nanny made me her special milkshake. It was creamy, cold, and I would sit on the kitchen counter and drink it from a special, tall, colorful glass, while my nanny tried to make me feel better.
This was my first taste of emotional eating, and soon I found myself drinking a milkshake every day, and heading to the kitchen for cookies, cakes or whatever I could find whenever I was feeling scared, bored, anxious or nervous, long after my chicken pox was gone and my mom returned.
I have many more food stories, and even more dieting stories and the terrible effects those had on my relationship with food, but today I thought I would keep it simple, with examples of the two factors that influenced my eating the most:
- The fact that there were rules with eating. That some foods were good and some were bad, and especially, that being perfect with your eating, going by the rules and having willpower and self-control were praised and a source of pride. Such a trap.
- The fact that food can heal emotional turmoil, albeit momentarily, but very effectively.
After years of struggling with dieting, overeating and emotional eating, it has helped me so much to pinpoint where these issues began, where I learned those lessons, and how I could go back as an adult and almost talk to the kid inside of me and teach her a different way of seeing food and eating. One that was all about balance and not deprivation, and one in which pleasure and satisfaction was a part of every meal and every day, not a prize for being perfect, after which all hell breaks loose and I could eat way beyond what my hunger levels were telling me. The way out of restriction and dieting is through a constant rebuilding of these belief systems, and especially through the practice of getting back in tune with our body's signals, but it all starts with that trip. Back to the past.
I would love to hear some of your food stories in the comments, and don't forget to share this post using the buttons below with anyone you know who is striving to find a better balance, quit the deprivation cycle and finally be at peace with food.
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