Body Image -Perception or Reality?

The picture wasn’t valuable, it was just a copy of a painting, but it was my favorite.  It depicted a beach house -not the whole thing, just a partial exterior wall showing two windows and a door.  I loved the colors and shadows.  I felt at peace when looking at it; almost as if I could reach out, open the door and walk into a calm place.

As I took it off the wall to wrap it up, this one last look made me feel a respite from the drudgery of moving a household.  But something seemed different about the picture now, something in the window I hadn’t seen before.  There, almost as big as the window itself was an angel painted in profile.

I couldn’t believe my eyes!  How long had I owned this picture, admiring it everyday when I walked into my bedroom -four years or more?  And I never noticed the angel.  In fact, if I had spotted it before, this art wouldn’t be hanging in my home.  When I purchased it, I was an atheist.  Angels or anything resembling Christian or religious heritage had no place in my house.

But recently, I had recovered my lost faith.  Was this a divine event or a message from God letting me know that the angel was watching over me even while I was an unbeliever?  I wanted to believe this…and in some form, it may have been true.  But in reality, I knew that my perception of the painting was skewed because of my beliefs.  In my atheistic mindset, I didn’t perceive the angel.  I liked the painting and wanted it in my house. Not seeing the angel allowed me to take it home and admire it without compromising the beliefs I held at that time.

We perceive the world based on our mindset and beliefs.  When I was in the throes of an eating disorder, I perceived my body as being bigger than it really was.  In the mirror, I saw a much larger me than reality.  If someone pointed out that my perception was inaccurate, I was convinced they were the ones with the skewed perspective, not me!

My perception of myself was not based on truth, it was based on a feeling.  And that feeling came from a deep-seated belief that I was not good enough the way I was.  It manifested itself in the thought that I had to be thin to be a good person, to be acceptable to society.  I chose to see my chubbiness as a critical defect in my being.

Of course, all these beliefs came from somewhere, some traumatic experience in my childhood or being teased and mistreated because of my weight.  But to me, it doesn’t matter as much how I got them, what matters more is how I changed them.

When I began this binge free journey, my expectation was that I would stop bingeing and overeating which would result in weight loss.  But the further I got into this journey, the more I began to appreciate my body for what it is.  Not struggling with food has given me a new awareness of what it means to be healthy.  I don’t have to be “thin” to be healthy or good looking.  Health and beauty come in every shape and size.

One way I came to terms with my body was to make a list of all the awesome things it can do -like walking, showering, laughing, stretching, even breathing.  All these things may seem mundane, but without a functional body we couldn’t do any of them.  I also found the things below helpful in getting me to appreciate the body I have.

-While looking in the mirror, I say positive things about my body, looking at every part with kindness, not disdain.  I smile while doing this.  I didn’t feel it at first but after a few times, I felt happier in general.
-I take pictures of myself having fun with others.  If someone else takes a picture of me on their phone, I ask them to send it to me.  I look at those pictures with kindness and appreciate that I am having fun.  I don’t criticize my body or tell myself that I need to change anything.
-I don’t make jokes about my size or belittle myself in any way.  If I find myself doing this, I don’t chastise, I just stop the negative talk and go on.

No matter your size, you are a valuable person.  Thin, fat, tall, short, whatever, it doesn’t matter.  If we base our value on our body size, we are missing out on the best part of life. Take a chance.  Be honest.  See the value you hold that isn’t related to your size or what you look like.  When you are open to it, you will perceive it.

First time to my blog? Start here.

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Self Control -It May Not Be What You Think

When I was in sixth grade I had to write an essay on self-control.  I remember turning in a paper that was messy and incomplete and having the teacher say, in front of the class, that I obviously didn’t have any self-control because I couldn’t get my work done properly.  My first guilt trip!

Usually my work was very good, but this week my dad was in the hospital and my mom was struggling.  Despite what was going on in my life at home, I took to heart the response from the teacher and allowed that to define me.  For many years I felt like the one who had missed the lesson in self-control.  I wasn’t even sure what it was, but I knew self-control was hard and something I lacked.

The truth is, I probably had more self-control than most of the kids in my class.  My dad was in and out of rehab many times that year.  My mom was trying to hold down two jobs to keep us from losing our home.  I had to get up, get dressed, feed myself, take care of my dog, and get to school on my own.  One day, I missed the bus and called a neighbor to drive me to school.

But I never saw what I did as being the right thing or the good thing or using self-control.  It was just my life.  Through my eyes, I was different than my friends and my perception that I did not have self-control eventually morphed into self-contempt.

Fast forward 25 years and I still had that sixth-grade mentality.  Thinking I knew what self-control was, I blamed myself for not having any, especially around food.  I could control my food for about a week if the stars were aligned and everything went my way. But one tiny stressor would fling me from that salad into the arms of a waiting chocolate cake.  To keep myself from gaining dreaded weight, I jogged or swam.  When I couldn’t do those things, I became bulimic.

I chastised myself for not having enough willpower or control.  But while punishing myself for that, I was raising three children as a single mom, working 60 hours a week as a business professional and trying to date. Talk about willpower!

I had enough willpower to knock down buildings, and enough self-control to challenge a Buddhist monk.  What I didn’t have was confidence.  The self-loathing of my body and the guilt about eating overshadowed all my accomplishments.  Instead of seeing my self-control, all I saw was self-disgust.

To break out of this mindset meant a change in my perception.  I had to dare myself to love me regardless of how I ate or what my body looked like, stopping all self-criticism until I could learn how to be constructive.  I had to perceive myself as already having everything I needed to be the best person I could be.

It took several more years of struggling with BED before I let all this sink in and stopped trying to control everything I ate.  This doesn’t mean I now eat unconsciously, it means I allow my body to tell me what it wants, and if it happens to want a piece of cake, I allow myself to enjoy it with no guilt, no counting calories or fat grams, no thinking about restricting my next meal or my portion sizes, just pure acceptance and enjoyment of what I am eating at the moment.  The amazing thing is, I very seldom want chocolate cake anymore.  Its not always perfect, but the cravings, struggle and body bashing are gone.

For me, self-control isn’t about forcing myself to eat the right foods and exercise more.  It’s not about making myself feel guilty for eating too much or the wrong foods.  It’s about letting go of the thoughts that say “I have to be like someone else,” or “I am not enough.”  Its about trusting that I have what it takes to love and nourish myself regardless of what anyone else says.

Read More –Binge Free: The Beginning     Take Action – Binge Free: First Steps

 

                                                  I am enough.

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The Vanity of Change

In my early thirties, it seemed like my life was one big crisis after another.  I was newly remarried with small children.  My eating was disordered and I was convinced that I had to take medication to keep myself together.  One time, wanting some sympathy from my mom, I jokingly told her I felt like I was the family drama queen.  Instead of sympathy, she blurted out, “You are the family drama queen!”

The realization that I did things to get attention was devastating.  What others had seen in me for quite some time, I finally saw.  For most of my adult life, I had staggered in and out of programs, religions and philosophies trying to fix myself.  Now I realized that in the quest for a “cure,” I was making myself crazier.

That made me realize I wasn’t in this thing alone, that my behavior affected my family and friends. I didn’t want to be the family drama queen, I wanted to be the wise one, the stoic one, the lucky one, the happy one -anyone but the one you would roll your eyes at when she walked into the room.

I wasn’t sure what to do.  And for a long time, I clung to the belief that things had to be exactly as I wanted them to be and that I had to be thin to be happy.  But little by little, I began to be honest with myself.  I realized that life could be good even if I wasn’t perfect.

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The further I get into this binge free journey, the more I appreciate my life and everything in it.  Finding peace with food has taken so much stress out of my life that it makes me wonder what I could have accomplished if I had done this many years ago. But since I try not to ruminate about my past or base my value on accomplishments anymore, those thoughts are fleeting.  Mostly I just enjoy the moments I am in and let my thoughts meander in and out of my brain.

If my thoughts are disrespectful to myself or someone else, or negative in some way, I let them come and go.  By not worrying about them or chastising myself for having them, they will fade away.  When I first began this change, I used to purposely replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts -and every now and then I still do this.  But mostly I just let the thoughts be what they are, and my mind will flow in a positive direction.

Being content and happy is a good thing but it can lead to something not so good -pride.  And I don’t mean the healthy kind of pride in ourselves that helps us feel confident, I mean the kind of pride that makes us think we are better than someone else -also known as vanity.

Vanity has a way of seeping into our brains and propping us up with lies about our significance.  It validates our worthiness by pointing out the faults of others.  So, when I find myself thinking how great I am because I ate well today, or having thoughts that I must be better off than someone who struggles with food, I have to stop and check myself.  I am the same value whether I have an eating disorder or eat the perfect diet, whether I am thin or fat or in between.  And this is the same for everyone.

So, I find myself feeling good about where I am today compared to my past.  It could be called pride, but it is more a feeling of relief.  I didn’t work to get where I am as much as I just allowed myself to be.  I now allow myself to be content no matter what I am feeling.  This means giving myself the luxury of wasting time, being wrong, or being selfish or boring  – all things I used to try very hard not to be.

In accepting my feelings and unshackling myself from guilt, I have become more compassionate to others and more productive when I worried about these things.  This is still not to say that anyone else’s journey will begin or end like mine. Or that my way is the only way or even he best way to change.

It was the best way for me because I truly believed it was.  I could have taken a different road, but chose this path.  Just as you will choose your path and you will know it is the right one.

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If you are new to my blog, you can read about how I began this journey and the steps I took to make it happen.

 

Power Of Habit or Bad Hair Day?

For the past two weeks I have been fretting over my hair.  It has lost its luster, gets frizzy for no reason and just doesn’t feel the same.  I have wracked my brain trying to figure out what’s causing it.  Am I just getting old?  Is my body chemistry changing?  Am I eating something bad for me?  Am I in the sun too much or not enough?

Deciding to put all these questions aside and take a nice shower, I step into the tub and grab the shampoo which sits on a shelf to the right.  Wait…uh….. this is not shampoo… this is body wash.  For the last two weeks, out of habit, I have reached to the right to pump out a handful of shampoo, but have been slathering body soap on my hair instead!

I see now the body wash and the shampoo have been switched.  How did they get switched?  And more importantly, why didn’t I notice this?

As far a habits go, this is not a big deal.  I can choose to change my routine and reach to the left for the shampoo or put the bottles back in their places.  Seems easy enough.  But what if I had never noticed this and just went around worrying about my hair and how bad it looked?  I could have driven myself crazy trying to find the reason behind my bad hair days.  I could have spent weeks or months worrying and trying to change things that either made no difference or made things worse.  Seems kind of stupid doesn’t it?

Yet, this is exactly what I did when I was trying to ‘fight’ an eating disorder.  I turned what was a habit into a complicated mess of body shaming, food restriction, and bingeing.  I saw myself as a defective person who couldn’t control herself.   I agonized so much that the disorder became my comfort.

Yes, it was comfortable.  Even though it was a devastating and sometimes life threatening habit, it made me comfortable to do the things I did.  Of course, I did not like the aftermath.  It was like using the body wash on my hair but hating the results.  And how ridiculous it seems to keep washing my hair with body wash and then complain about it.  But that’s what I did with the eating and body shaming year after year.  I kept doing the same thing and hating the results.  I kept looking for complicated answers instead of looking right in front of me.

How I changed

When I decided to de-complicate the binging problem, I had to realize that the disordered eating and body bashing were habits.  They did an excellent job of keeping me functioning and getting me through stress.  Of course they caused a lot of stress too -this is what perpetuated them.

Once I realized that my disordered behaviors were not a part of my personality, but something I did in response to my environment, I let go of the guilt.  I made a choice to believe that there is no ‘good or bad’ involved in eating or being any certain weight or body size.  I began to believe deep down that I was a good person, regardless of what I ate or how I looked.  I re-established my rightful place in the universe. (For me, this meant seeing God not as an entity judging me and keeping score, but as a support and encourager in all I do.)

Then I stopped dividing food into good and bad categories.  I allowed myself to eat all foods with no guilt or shame or feelings of eating something ‘sinfully delicious.’  All food became okay to eat for its own time and purpose.  I also began looking at my body differently.  Instead of labeling it as bad because it held extra fat or wasn’t as muscular as I it wanted to be, I started to appreciate it for the good things it did.

Eventually, I could look at myself in the mirror and not fret over the thighs or wiggly belly.  My body stopped being my focus.  It is now neither good nor bad.  It is just one element of my complete being.  It doesn’t define my status, my feelings, my health, or my personality, it doesn’t make me more or less valuable than anyone else.

And even though others may use my body to make judgments about who I am, I can leave that with them and not worry about it.

I believe we create habits out of necessity.  They allow us to perform activities while our mind is occupied with something else.  Sometimes they end up being good for us and sometimes not.  Making and breaking habits can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.

Letting go of guilt and self condemnation was the giant first step in changing my life.  If I can do this, you can too.

P.S. The shampoo and body soap got misplaced by my husband when he cleaned the tub and shower.  (Yes, he occasionally cleans the bathroom, but no, he is not available for hire!)

For more steps on starting the binge free journey click here.

For more technical advice on habit and behavior change, read James Clear’s The Paradox of Behavior Change.   Check some of his other articles on habits.

 

“If you judge me for what I look like, that’s on you, not me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bathing Suit Test

Journal excerpt

July 5

We went to the river today.  I wore my bathing suit all day.  I did not put on a pair of shorts to hide my thighs, I did not put on a large T-shirt to cover everything.  With all my big talk about accepting my body and being nice to myself for the past two and half years, today is the first day I wore my bathing suit without being worried about my body or what I looked like to others. 

When I slipped off the bathing suit to shower, I felt like I had passed a test.  Like I reached some milestone in life.  It’s been easy to talk the talk and say how I feel empowered by eating normally and that I accept myself as I am, but the truth comes in hard doses.

The first truth is that I have gained a few pounds since I broke my ankle. The next truth is that my that my daughter is getting married. We have both been busy making plans and reveling in the joy of it all.  But deep in my mind, a pin prick of self consciousness began to grow.  

I began to think about dresses I would wear, how they would look on me and how I would look in pictures.  I mulled over styles and tried to choose the best one to make me look thinner.  

This began thoughts of maybe losing a few pounds, several pounds actually, for the wedding.  This started me thinking about calories, which led to restricting some foods which led to eating more food which led to guilt about eating some ice cream, which led to…..no, I didn’t binge.  But I did overeat for a few days while sorting all this out. 

And it can be sorted out. It takes some time, soul searching, and some confidence in who I am and what I am about.  It takes reassurance and self compassion. Oh, and it takes faith in myself and faith in something bigger than myself -I call this God.  

These past couple months have brought a whole new perspective on what it is to really accept myself. In the face of a wedding and wanting to look as good as possible for my beautiful daughter, I have had to come to terms with what it means to be my best for my children.  If being my best means that I am skinny, but my mind is constantly on my body and weight, how is that my best?

I will look my best when I feel my best.  And I don’t have to be skinny or even thin to feel my best.

My best is when I am happy and confident in who I am regardless of my body size.

My best is being content with myself so that I can fully participate in the life around me.

I’ve had a difficult time writing for this blog when my thoughts have been about losing weight and looking my best for my daughters wedding…

But I have pretty much resolved this issue. And when I wore my bathing suit for the entire day,  it cemented the idea that I don’t have to lose weight for any reason. I am okay just the way I am. I have passed the test.

Now that my ankle is almost healed and I am able to be more active, I may lose some weight. But I will not force this or dwell on it. For the wedding, I will dress in a stylish way regardless of my size, but I will not think about my thighs or my height or whatever else has kept me preoccupied in the past.  I will be happy for my daughter and celebrate her wonderful day.

Re-think ‘Fake It Till You Make It’

“Fake it till you make it.”  I’ve heard this saying a million times.  And for most of my life I tried to fake it, waiting for that happy day when I could get up in the morning and say, “I made it!”  And even though I am in a much better frame of mind now than I was for most of my life, I don’t think that the ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude helped me at all.

I’m not saying its bad advice. It may be good advice for a rational mind.  A confident person knows it means you don’t have to let your emotions rule you, that whatever your circumstances are, everything will be okay eventually, and you can smile when you don’t feel like it because it will help make you feel better.

But to my broken, irrational, emotional mind, ‘fake it till you make it’ meant I must pretend I am okay so no one else sees the crazy inside me.  So, I pretended every day.  I put on a smile when I felt like a vacuum inside.  I kept hoping to get to a place where I felt real; authentic.  The trouble is, it is hard to be authentic when you are faking it.

I put all my energies into thinking about the size of my body because I thought that being authentic meant being thin. But as my body size changed over the years, whether big or small, I still had that same feeling that I couldn’t be the real me.  No one would want to know the real me because the real me was not a good person.

Then one day I realized that nothing was going to be different if I kept faking it.  I had to change, but wasn’t sure how to begin.  It was about this time I began attending a small church in our neighborhood.  And I’m not saying you must go to church to learn how to be authentic, but for me the timing was right.  I heard something there that resonated with me and started a transformation in my thinking.

The pastor called all the little children to come around him and sit. Then he asked them this question. “What do you have to do to earn Gods love?” All the kids raised their hands and gave answers like, -be good, -obey your parents, or-don’t hit your little brother. The pastor encouraged them and told them all these things were very good, but he was looking for another answer. One little boy in the back of the group didn’t raise his hand, but the pastor called on him anyway. “Jimmy, what do you think?” Jimmy looked at all the other kids like he was trying to think of an answer that wasn’t already mentioned. Finally, he scrunched up his face and asked, “Nothing?”  The pastor bellowed, “Yes, Jimmy, that’s exactly right. You don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love, you have it now, you had it when you were born, you will have it for the rest of your life.”

I always heard that God loved me, but I believed I had to work very hard to earn that love; to be good enough.  The trouble was, I missed the mark somehow.  I just never was good enough for some reason. I held myself responsible for how others thought about me and extended that to God.

When I finally realized that I was valuable just the way I was, there was relief.  It wasn’t like a big rush of liberation, it was more like a pinprick that eased a little pressure.  And each day, a little more tension was released until I truly believed in my goodness.  And with a true belief in my value, I didn’t have to fake it anymore.

Sometimes, now, I smile when I am sad, but not to fake it or hide my sorrow from others. I smile because I know it will help ease my pain and may even help someone else.  And now, I do most things because I want to; not because I force myself to.

Knowing my value allows me to function at a higher level.  It allows my body and mind to be more in sync.  I can acknowledge my feelings instead of hiding them or being ashamed of them, and I know my value is the same, regardless of my emotions, body size, or actions.

I used to think that people who thought they were valuable were arrogant.  But arrogance comes from thinking we have achieved our value only because of our outstanding merits. The truth is, there is nothing we can do, or fail to do, that will affect our value.

We can call this inherent value God’s love or call it our place in the universe.  But the knowledge and acceptance of it takes the need to ‘fake it’ away, and helps us be authentic.

Peace Ya’ll

You don’t have to fake anything.  You are already valuable.

 

Looking For Miracles

Today I will look for miracles.

If I look for miracles, I will find them.

I don’t expect to skip over all the hard stuff in life. But, I know my life is only as good as I expect it to be.

We experience what we focus on.

If we wake up each morning expecting life to feel like a struggle, then our lives will be a struggle. This should not surprise you.

But what if you wake up and look for a miracle today?  The miracle could be as extravagant as healing your disease or as simple as getting a convenient parking spot.  But it will happen. All you need to do is look in the right direction.

In a way, miracles are subject to momentum. They may start very, very small. But once you notice one, the more you will believe in possibilities. And the more you believe in possibilities, the more miracles you will see.

What are you focusing on today?

Miracles happen everyday. But if you don’t look for them, you will miss them.

Expect a miracle.

 

“Just because you have negative thoughts doesn’t mean you have to entertain them.”

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