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.”