When I was in high school, I had an eating disorder. I was a compulsive overeater; I binged as a way to help me cope with what I wasn’t able to feel or deal with emotionally. But, I didn’t really know any of this consciously back then. I just thought I was fat and lacked discipline.
As my bingeing habit took over, I began to gain weight – which, as a teenage girl growing up in the beach-body culture of southern California, was excruciatingly painful. I felt so much shame, embarrassment, and self-hatred.
I felt like a lazy person who just couldn’t get her act together enough to get skinny. I criticized myself constantly, telling myself that if I weren’t so undisciplined that I’d be a better person.
During this time, too, I felt totally isolated and alone. I felt like if I told anyone about my bingeing habit (problem), they’d judge me as lazy or undisciplined… exactly the way I was judging myself.
CHALKY DIET PELLETS
So, instead of talking about it, I just put my poor little body through an array of strict diets. I remember one of them very clearly: it involved eating nothing but 20 large, dry, chalky diet “pellets” (they seriously reminded me of horse vitamins – or what I assumed horse vitamins would have been like) every other day for about two weeks . On the non-horse vitamin pellet days one could eat real food, but only stuff like rice cakes and celery (needless to say, it was a very depressing & deprived time).
However, the worse part by far of my binge-starvation-binge cycles was the über harsh, critical inner dialogue that constantly ran in a loop in my mind: “Ughhh. You’re so fat and disgusting. No one will ever like you. Why can’t you get your act together? Why can’t you just be disciplined? What’s wrong with you?”
I remember always telling myself that while I wasn’t skinny/pretty NOW, once I achieved “skinniness”, THEN I’d be happy.
This self-loathing cycle went on for most of my high school experience. I hated going to school because I hated the way I looked. I even stopped wanting to hang out with my friends because I hated the way I looked and felt (inside and out). At one point, I even contemplated not existing anymore because I felt so stuck in what felt like an endless addiction — to eating (and as anyone who’s struggled with food addition knows, unlike alcohol or other vices, we can’t just give up eating).
A few months after high school ended, I was in Barnes & Noble one day looking for a book to help me with my food struggle. I happened upon an unpresuming little book that wound up being revolutionary for me, in that it introduced the concept of actually being kind to myself and accepting myself no matter what.
I remember one chapter where the authors were talking about cravings: they said if you love chocolate milkshakes and just want a chocolate milkshake, rather than depriving yourself of them and then berating yourself for even wanting one, allow yourself to have as many chocolate milkshakes as you want – just don’t berate yourself.
HOLD UP JUST ONE MINUTE THERE, PARTNER… WHAT?!?!?! Not criticize myself?
Now you have to understand this: I had always criticized myself for something.
I was either telling myself I was too fat, too shy, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not popular enough, not good enough, etc. (the list was endless). And at that point in my life, I believed that the only way I’d ever change was by being strict and demanding with myself, using judgment and criticism as my motivation. But the thing was, being critical of myself NEVER got me to where I wanted to be; I only grew less motivated and more depressed the more I beat myself up.
HEALING FROM THE INSIDE OUT
So, for the first time ever, I entertained the idea of actually trying to be nice to myself. Like consciously nice!
At first, this was NOT easy. It felt strange and awkward, not to mention extremely fake.
But slowly, almost imperceptibly, things inside me began to shift.
I began to feel differently toward myself. I slowly started to first notice when I was being mean to myself, which was very often. Then, after noticing how mean I was to myself, I began experimenting with saying nicer things to myself (this is what felt so fake at first). But I stuck with it, and slowly began to notice a softening toward myself, from myself. And I can’t even tell you…. this shift was huge!
In this way, inch by inch, I began to cultivate a different relationship with myself — from the inside out. And as a result of that, my eating habits and eventually my body began to change as well.
OUR WOUNDS ARE OUR MEDICINE
My journey with food has definitely been a teacher. It started me out on the 20+ year path of personal growth and inner investigation that continues to this day.
Today, I can honestly say that I feel blessed to have had this challenge as part of my “spiritual curriculum” in this lifetime, for if it wasn’t for what I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
I know first-hand what it’s like to feel alone, ashamed, isolated, depressed and unsure of how or if I’ll ever “get there”. I also know what it’s like to have a very harsh inner critic, and because of this, I know how to help others embrace and overcome their own harsh self talk and self-sabotage.
We don’t have to criticize ourselves in order make changes in our lives. In fact, it’s much easier (and much more fun) when we love ourselves first!
As Lucille Ball put it, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”
I agree whole-heartedly.