When I was in high school, I had an eating disorder. I was a compulsive overeater, meaning that I binged as a way to help me cope with my feelings.
However, I didn’t consciously know any of this back then; I just thought I was fat and lacked discipline.
As my bingeing habit grew, so did I. I began to gain weight – which, as a teenage girl growing up in the beach-body obsessed culture of southern California, was excruciating. I felt so much shame, embarrassment, and self-hatred at how I perceived myself.
I judged myself as a lazy person who just couldn’t get her act together. I criticized myself constantly, telling myself that if I weren’t so undisciplined I’d be a skinnier (i.e., better).
During this time, I also felt totally alone. I didn’t know how to ask for help. I felt like if I told anyone about my bingeing, they’d just judge me as lazy or undisciplined, too – exactly the same way I judged myself.
CHALKY DIET PELLETS
So instead of talking about it, I put my poor 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” every other day for two weeks. On the non-pellet days, I could eat real food, but only stuff like rice cakes and celery. On the pellet days, I could only eat those 20 chalky pills. It was horrible. And while I did lose some weight on that diet (because I essentially starved myself), I gained it all back pretty fast.
THE BULLY INSIDE
However, the absolute worst part of this time in my life was how I spoke to / related with myself internally. It was like a big bully lived right there inside my head, and she would never let me be: “Ugh. 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?”
This self-loathing and eating cycle went on for most of high school. It not only affected how I felt about myself inside, it affected my outer life, too. I hated going to school because I hated the way I looked. I even stopped wanting to hang out with my friends because I felt like such a loser. At one point, I even contemplated killing myself because I felt so stuck in a cycle that I didn’t know how to get out of: hating the way I looked, which led to starving myself, which led to bingeing, which led to hating myself even more, which led to starving myself again, which eventually led to bingeing again, which led to hating myself even more.
One day, a few months after high school ended, I was in a Barnes & Noble bookstore (during that time of my life, I often found solace and comfort in retreating to the non-judgmental aisles of bookstores). I was looking for a book to help me get out of the hell I felt like I was living.
I happened upon this unpresuming little book called Overcoming Overeating. It sounded appropriate for what I was going through, so I bought it.
I began reading. Nothing life-changing, but it was good. Eventually, however, I came to a chapter in which the authors were talking about cravings. In this particular section, they said that if you loved chocolate milkshakes and just wanted a chocolate milkshake, rather than depriving yourself and then berating yourself for even wanting one, consider instead allowing yourself to have as many chocolate milkshakes as you want, but just don’t berate yourself for it.
WHAT?!?! Now hold up for just one minute there, partner. Did you say not criticize myself?
Now, you have to understand something. Up to this point in my life, 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. And, 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; it only made me less motivated and more depressed.
HEALING FROM THE INSIDE OUT
So, for the first time ever, I entertained the idea of actually being nice to myself.
At first, this was NOT easy. It felt strange, awkward, and totally fake.
But slowly, almost imperceptibly, as I started to soften my attitude toward myself, things began to shift.
I started actually noticing when I was being mean to myself (which was often). Then, after noticing this, I began changing my inner dialogue, trying to say nicer things to myself rather than being so critical. This felt totally fake and awkward at first, too, but I knew it couldn’t be any worse for me than how I had been talking to myself. And as I stuck with it, I actually started feeling differently toward myself, about myself.
In this way, I slowly began to cultivate a different relationship with myself — from the inside out. As a result, I felt less compelled to punish myself, and therefore less compelled to binge.
OUR WOUNDS ARE OUR MEDICINE
My journey with food has definitely been a “teacher” on my path. Because of my challenges with food, I began a 20+ year path of personal growth and inner investigation that continues to this day.
I’m grateful that I can now honestly say that I feel blessed to have had this challenge as part of my “spiritual curriculum” in this lifetime, because if it wasn’t for what I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
ONE THING I KNOW FOR SURE
One thing I know for sure is that criticizing ourselves is one of the least effective means of changing anything about ourselves or our lives. In fact, changing things on the outer level is actually much easier (and more fun) when we love and care for 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.”