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.
I am enough.