Perfect Imperfection

Last week, I was looking online for the perfect photograph to use as a background on my computer.  I found a shot of a lake surrounded by snow dusted mountains.  The mountains were ragged and brown.  The lake sat haphazardly at the bottom of the scene and dark clouds loomed over it, allowing only a few slivers of light to shimmer on the water.  I wondered what made this picture seem so beautiful.

Nothing in the scene was painstaking.  I mean, the snow didn’t worry about where it landed.  The mountains didn’t discuss where they thought it would be best to rise out of the earth, and they didn’t agonize about the shape of their peaks.  And the clouds didn’t care that they blocked out most of the sun.  The photographer took the perfect photo, but what the camera captured was imperfection.  And yes, these are inanimate objects, and I am, well, I’m human, but that landscape is proof to me that beauty in nature, including our bodies, is perfect in its imperfection.

I used to aspire to have the perfect body.  I thought I could control exactly how it looked by going to the gym and following the latest diet.  But no matter how hard I tried, it never looked the way I wanted.  And the harder I worked to get it to fit my ideas of perfection, the more out of control I became.  Like many women, this was one of my main thoughts day and night, and it led to bouts of depression, anxiety, bingeing and for some years, purging.

By the time I began my binge free journey a couple years ago, I had already been through body image therapy.  I can remember how agonizing it was for me and all the women in the group to say even one nice thing about some part of our bodies.  I was relieved when the course was over.

For a long time after that, I tried hard to love my body.  But no matter how hard I tried, that did not happen.  I couldn’t make myself love it, just like I couldn’t make myself love a person I didn’t respect.  But once I began to nourish myself and not restrict foods, something in my psyche shifted and I decided it was time to respect my body.

I began by appreciating what it did for me.  I started with things we take for granted, like -my lungs expand and contract allowing air to enter my body, my blood gets infused with oxygen, my heart beats and distributes that blood through my body, then my cells use the oxygen rich blood to nourish themselves.  How amazing is that?!  I don’t have to force my heart to beat and I don’t have to remind myself to breath, (well sometimes I hold my breath, but you get the gist, breathing is natural!)

I couldn’t make this process happen if I tried, its automatic.  And the body does much more work at a deeper level.  So much more that scientists don’t fully understand everything our body is capable of.

This awareness that my body functions pretty darn well without me having to tell it what to do, helped me to trust it to eat when I needed to.  And once I ate with no guilt or shame, I became aware of true hunger cues.  This took patience and practice, and it was imperfect.  But it happened.

My body may have lumps and bumps, but it has kept me alive even when I tried to force it into someone else’s mold.  It is imperfect perfection in its function and design and I appreciate every inch of it.  It is the representation of me on this earth.  And whether it is thin or fat or in between, I love it enough to present it to the world in the best way I can, but I respect it enough to allow it to look and function the way it was meant to.  And most of all, I don’t worry about what other people think about it.

“I believe there is perfection in our flaws, grace in our missteps and beauty in everything that surrounds us. I am perfect in my humanness, no matter what it looks like.” MD

cloudslakemountain

 

Choose To Be Present

Roll call in middle school. The teacher called out names in alphabetical order. When we heard our name, we responded “present.” That may be one of the only times I paid attention in school. Most of my time was divided between talking to my desk-mates, writing and passing notes, daydreaming or doodling in a workbook. I said I was present, but I wasn’t.

A good part of my life was spent trying to improve myself, constantly looking for books with detailed instructions on how to make something happen that I wanted to happen in my life. Mostly it was about losing weight. I thought the weight made me different than others. The only problem was, sometimes I wasn’t overweight, but I still perceived my body as problematic. This was just another way of not being in the present moment.

Mind-drifting and distraction may be a tool that allows us to function in a situation where we feel overwhelmed or unsafe, but we don’t have to stay in this mode. We can choose to live in the present, accepting everything as it happens, even if it is unpleasant or confusing.

When I first tried to be present, I took a hard look at the truth of my life. I saw myself as a person who was just trying to make a decent life the best way she knew how. It was difficult to accept that bad things happen and that I may not be right all the time. I wanted to make everything perfect, not just for me but for my family, for everyone if I could.

I’ve learned that being present is not about trying to be present or mindful as much as it is about allowing whatever happens to just happen. That is, I can allow things to happen without reacting to them or trying to make things the way I think they should be. Even if I think someone else is wrong, I can let them be wrong. I don’t have to judge them, give my opinion or make corrections.

This also means I don’t have to worry about what others think of me. I don’t have to get angry or upset. I can choose to not feel guilty about past mistakes or stupid things I do. The less I react to my behavior and surroundings, the better I can see it for what it really is and make adjustments to bring my life into a healthy state.
I am not suggesting that you can be completely immune to hardship or pain. I am saying you can allow yourself to feel however you feel without determining if it is good or bad. Not judging yourself, or others, is one of the first steps to acquiring a healthy state of mind.

Being in the present is very do-able. But you have to figure out how to accomplish this your way. It’s good to read about how others have overcome obstacles and learned how to be peaceful. But I don’t think there is any one sure way to do this. If you have the desire to live in the present moment, you have already learned most of what you need to know to make it happen. Trust yourself and let it happen.

I used to think that if I accepted myself the way I was at any given moment, then I was settling for something other than my best. But I found I must accept myself the way I am now to find the love and self respect which will push me into my full potential, my best self.

Thoughts on building a core of happiness, click here.

If you struggle with bingeing or overeating – start here

 

It’s not my job to judge everyone, its my job to love them.

beach pixabay

Time For A Thought Check

Do you sabotage yourself for no good reason?  Have you ever said, “Why do I do this to myself?” And then do the same destructive things over and over?  If so, you may have a belief or a script running in your mind that you are not even aware of.  Or you could be aware of it, but not know how to change it.  You may not even know that it is possible to change.

For many years I had scripts running in my head that I never actually verbalized, but I let them color my thoughts and emotions.  I can speak them now because I had to examine them before I could stop believing them.  They went something like this, “I am adopted, my mom gave me up, there must be something wrong with me.” Or “My adoptive dad is an alcoholic, my adoptive mom is verbally abusive, there must be something wrong with me.”  And of course, “I am fat, and I want to eat all the time, there must be something wrong with me.”

I had many more. But they were all used for the same purpose; to allow me to feel sorry for myself and to get others to feel sorry for me. This was the only way I knew to get the attention I needed and wanted.

For years, I was unaware these scripts ruled my thoughts and behaviors, they were so ingrained.  And even though someone told me about them and that I needed to change them, I didn’t get the message until I read the book ‘Feeling Good’ by Dr. David Burns. That was in the early 90’s.  It was my first taste of cognitive therapy and the beginning of the life I wanted to live.

Cognitive therapy was not a complete cure for all my problems, but it started me on the path of taking responsibility for my feelings. I learned that I created my own suffering with my thoughts.  It took many years to delete all the scripts.  But this was only because I had the idea that the process of psychological change was difficult, time consuming and painful.  And even though I went to therapists and programs, I didn’t do the homework.

When I finally made the commitment to become emotionally and physically healthy, it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  I realized I was worth making changes and it became natural to want to change for the better.  I got the courage to question my core beliefs and tell myself the truth about who I was.  And the truth is this -I am a good and worthy person and my value has nothing to do with what anyone thinks about me, what has happened in my past or even how I behave right now.

Knowing this truth allowed me to begin to make a few good decisions.  Making good decisions boosted my esteem and helped me make even better decisions.  This helped me rise up even more.  It’s like getting into an upward spiral.  The more you do the right thing, the more confident you get about who you are, and the more good things you do for yourself.  Then you start to reach out to help others and you almost forget what it feels like to be fearful, weak and full of self-pity.

There is always more than one way to accomplish what you want, but the best way is your way.  Read, listen and learn from others, but sift through all the information and find what works best for you.  You are worth it.

Suggested reading Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns (look for the latest edition) or Summary of Feeling Good by Fastreads

For list of cognitive distortions and ways to untwist your thinking, click here.

For a list of self defeating thoughts and counter thoughts, click here.

 

“We can put ourselves in an upward spiral with one belief. That belief is -Our value is inherent.  It does not depend on our size, shape, color, talent, intelligence, financial or emotional status or past experience.”

palms and ocean

Trying Too Hard?

Just before I entered fifth grade, my family moved to a new city.  It was summertime, no school was in session.  I was an only child and a little shy, so I didn’t make friends right away.  But my parents encouraged me to go out and play and find new friends.  I came back, day after day, having met no one and feeling dejected.  My mom asked me why I hadn’t met any kids and I lashed out with, “But I’m TRYing.”  She just said, “Maybe you’re trying too hard.”

My mom was right, I was trying too hard.  I have tried too hard my whole life.  I struggled with depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, bulimia, and bingeing.  All through those battles I would declare in exasperation, “But I’m TRYing!” Just like a dejected fifth grader.

Even with the knowledge that I made lots of mistakes, though, I don’t regret anything I experienced to get where I am today.  I’m just happy I am here now in this moment.  Of course all the good stuff happened when I stopped trying so hard.  And to stop trying so hard, I had to acquire a new mindset.

This mindset is based on the knowledge that I am valuable simply because I exist.  For me, as a Christian, the realization that God endows every human being with the same dignity, gave me the strength to begin to trust myself and understand my worth.  My genetics, my background, my character –none of these affect my value as a person.

From this foundation, I can simply build the life I want to live.  And by ‘simply’, I don’t mean easy, I mean uncomplicated -that I don’t need to force things to happen.  Knowing  I am worthy makes the process of doing the right thing natural.  I become responsible for my actions and add meaning to my life when I learn to respect myself.

This doesn’t mean I am perfect.  It means I am okay with being me and I accept myself. This, in turn, frees up space in my psyche that was previously used for self-bashing.  And with the extra room in my brain, I can concentrate on making the changes necessary to enhance my life.

Can I learn how to feel valuable when I feel like a failure and do the same stupid things over and over again?

If you’ve read any of my posts, you know I believe wholeheartedly that we can learn just about anything.  So, yes, knowing your value can be learned.  Let me rephrase that –you can unlearn all the bad stuff that obscures your feelings of worthiness.  Everyone is born with self-esteem and a knowledge of their worth.  When we were babies, we were never too embarrassed to cry when hungry, and we learned to walk without giving a second thought to what our thighs looked like or wondering if anyone was talking about us behind our back.  So, the foundation is already there.  Just be honest with yourself about what it means to be a worthy person.

One thing which can be unlearned is believing what others have said about you or to you.  It’s easy to believe someone when they keep telling you how bad you are.  If you had a troubled childhood, it’s easy to believe that what happened to you defines you as a person.  But you don’t have to believe that these things define you.  You can create your own truth.  And your truth is more real than what anyone says about you or how anyone treated you in the past.

When I went through this process, I had to come to terms that my truth had nothing to do with my looks, talent, or accomplishments.  The world uses these things as indicators of value.  But don’t confuse these with your worth.  Your truth and value stands on its own, regardless of your looks, talent, successes or failures.

And if you think you don’t have any accomplishments or talents or beauty, that will change when you see yourself as a worthy human being.  Once I gained the knowledge of my value, I no longer felt like I didn’t ‘fit in’ and was able to stop trying so hard to do just that.  I made positive changes since there was no reason to keep myself down.  I was no longer second rate and began to accept the weird stuff in my life.  I now know that my dignity, as a human being, is no more or less than any other person on this earth.

This does not mean that everyone is the same.  We are each valuable in unique ways. That’s the beauty of knowing our worth. We can share our uniqueness without worrying about what everyone else thinks.  We can help make our lives, and the lives of others, better.  We can stop trying so hard.

Read more about overcoming binge eating:     Binge Free- The Beginning                                                                                                                   Binge Free- First Steps

“Even if I didn’t believe in God, I would have a good case for the significance of life.  We are all made from the same stuff as the universe. Who am I to think that I am any less than anyone else, or even the universe?” MD

flowers-98163__480

 

It May Look Confusing…Just Keep Going

Throughout my binge free journey I have attended therapy and clinics, listened to motivational speakers and read many blogs and books.  I did read a couple of books twice, only because the first time through it didn’t click, and something drew me back for a re-read.  One of these books is called ‘Intuitive Eating’ by dieticians Evelyn Tribole M.S. R.D. and Elyse Resch M.S. R.D. F.A.D.A.  The book describes, in detail, how to learn to eat without dieting and it addresses the phases people go through, based on clients they have treated.

I was attending an out patient eating disorder program when my therapist suggested this book.  Three days a week, I drove to the clinic with the Intuitive Eating book and my food diary in tow.  In the food diary, I kept track of all the food I consumed, and once a week a dietician would examine my diary and make recommendations.

I learned a lot from the program and came out with a better attitude and more appreciation for my body.  But the eating puzzle still didn’t fit together.  If I could eat intuitively, like the book said, why did I have to measure and keep track of my food in the program?  And then there was the paragraph in the book, on page 90- “Beware of the I-Can-Eat-Whatever-I-Want, As-Much-As-I-Want, Whenever-I-Feel-Like-It-Trap,” which basically stated that you should eat unconditionally, but “eating whenever you feel like it, without regard to hunger and fullness, might not be a very satisfying experience and might cause physical discomfort.  Attunement with your body’s satiety cues is an important part of this process.”

Okay, now, I was really confused. There was a condition to ‘unconditionally.’  It just didn’t add up.  I was expected to learn to eat what I want, but it cannot be what I really want, it must be the best thing for my body and it must be enough to satisfy my body, but it can’t be too much or too little.  And it has to be when I am hungry, and I have to stop when I am satisfied. OMG!

I graduated from the program, ditched the book and looked for a food plan I could live with.  I checked out the overeaters anonymous food plans, the paleo diet and whole 30 plans.  I tried them all.  I kept journaling my food.  I played tennis more and rode my bike and joined a gym.  The bingeing lessened, but I struggled with it and still didn’t know what satisfaction with a meal felt like.

I need to skip some of the story here, which I will write about later, but let’s just say, two years elapsed and some things happened, and I finally made the decision to forget about the food plans, the diary and the scale.  I stopped exercising just to burn calories and began playing tennis and riding the bike for fun.  I cancelled the gym membership.  I began to do the one thing I have been wanting to do for years… that is –eat without guilt.

Despite the warning in the book, I decided to eat anything I wanted, any where I wanted, anytime I wanted, with no guilt.  Read that again, with no guilt.  That means I ate with no thoughts of dieting in the future to make up for it, with no thought of having to exercise to ward off the calories, no thought of eating less or ‘better’ tomorrow.  I stopped reading food labels.  I didn’t eat out of entitlement, and I didn’t give up on myself, I just ate what I wanted and what tasted good.  I knew this was the only way I would come to terms with myself.  So, I went all in.

For the first few months, I occasionally overate.  But it was only in guiltless overeating that I learned how to eat normally.  I did gain a few pounds during that time, and almost went back to dieting for this reason.  But I stuck it out, and within a few more months, I was eating and feeling satisfied and not overeating.  Bingeing seemed like a foreign language, I didn’t even understand the hold it once had over me.  And the book, which I read two years earlier made a lot more sense.  When I re-read it, I saw myself and understood it.  If it hadn’t been for that one warning paragraph, I may have tried this sooner.

The point is, when I try to control what, when, where or how much I should eat, my body sees this as a warning that there is something wrong with the food source.  So, it goes into craving mode to ensure I eat more food to thwart the coming restriction or whatever is wrong with the food source.  And when I become desperate to not overeat, my body fights harder to get more food now.  Suddenly, I want to eat anything that looks scrumptious.  And the only things that appear scrumptious are sweets and high fat foods which, as my smart body knows, are calorie dense.  And calories are what it is looking for to continue to function while the food source problem gets straightened out.

Of course, there was no problem with the food source.  The problem was me, giving my body a false signal.  As smart as my body is, it can not interpret my restriction of food as a good thing.  Why?  Because I wasn’t eating to nourish my body, my desire was to eat less to lose weight to be a better person, to feel like I fit in.  I did not honor my body, how could I expect it to honor me?

We must work with our body and not against it.  And the best way, I have found, is to allow myself to eat with no guilt or thoughts of restriction.  This way, my body is satisfied that there will always be food available, it will settle down and stop the cravings.

The hardest part for me, in doing this, was trusting myself.  Even after I made the decision, I second guessed myself several times, but I persevered.  Then my body began to honor me by only wanting to eat at the usual meal times.  It stopped craving sweets and fatty foods.  And now, when I do feel like eating cake, I don’t need a whole cake or even a whole piece, usually a couple bites satisfies me.  The key is allowing myself to eat, and choosing what I feel like eating and not what I think I should have based on calories or fats or macros.

So, I eat what I want, where I want, any time I want.  I eat when I am hungry and stop when I am satisfied. (Yes, this is a real thing you can acquire.)  Sometimes, if I think I am full, but want a few more bites, I take them, and its okay.  Some days I eat more than others, but over a week’s time, it evens out.  I don’t force myself to eat more vegetables or healthier foods, but I eat them because I prefer them now.  And even though weight loss was not my goal, I have lost the weight I gained initially and have remained at an even weight since then.

So, I did exactly what I thought the book, in that tiny paragraph, told me not to do.  Maybe there are some people who actually want to keep overeating or bingeing and not worry about it.  But I will give my readers credit for being smart enough to know that it is not a trap that someone else ensnares you in,  it is will-full self destructive behavior.  And we’ve all had enough of that.  What we want is behavior that enhances our lives.  I figure if you are reading this post your goal is to nourish your body, satisfy your psyche and live a happier life.

I recommend you read the book.  It may not make sense the first time around, but let the information just sink in.  And don’t worry about the disclaimer, just eat.  Eat what you want, when you want it, without guilt or shame.  The more you do this, the more sense the book makes.

“It’s not the thought of eating everything in sight that is the problem, it’s the thought of restricting food to lose weight that makes you want to eat everything in sight.”

bw valleyandriver

A New Normal

Week 43 -Monday 6AM
I open my eyes. I want to jump up and run downstairs to weigh myself. I want to validate that I am doing something right. I will not go downstairs, I will stay in bed. If the number on the scale is higher than I expect it to be, I could be disappointed and mope around the rest of the day trying to decide if my new lifestyle is working for me. If the number is less than what I expect, I could go all vain and ignore the other good changes in my life. If the number is exactly what I think it will be, I will be validated…
Oh, that’s right, I’m not supposed to be using the number on the scale to tell me if I am worthy. After working on this concept for 43 weeks, the same time frame as a pregnancy, you would think I wouldn’t have to re-remember this every morning. Its not the digital blue number that is the problem, it’s the way I interpret it. I infuse it with meaning about respect and pride and love and worthiness. The scale doesn’t just tell me how much I weigh, it tells who I am, it predicts who I could be, it shows me my failures and celebrates my victories. Shouldn’t I want to know the reality of my weight? Its 6 am and already I’m overthinking. I feel like this is part of my DNA or something.

The above was an excerpt from my journal over a year ago.  I usually go to my journal only when I want to get ideas for articles, but sometimes I see an entry that defined me and I wonder how I even made it through that time.

I am in a completely different mindset now.  I haven’t thought about my weight in months.  I haven’t binged in two years.  My life seems almost boring compared to the times when I actively struggled with food and my body. I am what I always dreamed of being, a normal eater.  And, like many things we aspire to, its not as glamorous as it seemed.  But I am happy and content, which is something I never thought I would say.

Sometimes I wonder if I am too confident, if something will happen that will break me down and send me running back to food.  But my life is not perfect, in fact sometimes it downright stinks, and I haven’t used food to soothe my soul yet.  I don’t even want to.  Now that I can eat anything I want anytime I want, eating doesn’t hold the mystique for me it used to.  It’s a normal function of everyday life. Ho hum.

When I first realized that chocolate cake didn’t really turn me on anymore, it was a letdown.  But I have learned to do many other things to bring fun and enjoyment to my life.  One of those things is to accept and love myself, not in an arrogant way, but in a…well, a normal way.

If you struggle with food or depression or anxiety or self pity, or any other thing that you want to change in your life, just know that you can change to create a new normal.  But first you must accept yourself the way you are at this very moment.  Instead of trying to change what you don’t like about yourself, like everything about yourself and change those things that don’t fit in with the person you want to be.

 

“Instead of trying to change what you don’t like about yourself, like everything about yourself and change those things that don’t fit in with the person you want to be.” MD stmaryseditedaaaaa

Stop Coping, Start Living

I used to think I had to cope with my problem behavior, whether it was overeating, drinking too much alcohol, or being depressed and anxious.  I went about my life, going to school, working, getting married, having kids, all with a coping strategy running in the back of my mind.  Sometimes the coping didn’t work, and the bad feelings and behaviors would come to the forefront. They would take out a few months of my life and I would have to regroup. But for the most part, my unwanted feelings and behaviors became something I learned to function with.

The problem with coping is that it never ceases.  By telling myself I had to manage my depression, anxiety and eating issues, I gave them more power than they should have had in my life.  Notice, I even called it my depression, my anxiety, my eating issues. When in fact, they weren’t ever mine, they were just symptoms of an erroneous thought process.  I considered myself flawed compared to others, like I had a burden to carry, so I resigned myself to living and performing with these issues.

This burden almost felt good, at times, like I deserved this depression or anxiety, bulimia, binge eating or whatever else I was dealing with.  So, year after year, I stayed in survival mode, saying things like,

“I’m hangin’ in there,” or “I’ll manage,” or “I’ll get by.”

To me, these were positive statements. They were proof that I would get through and live for another day.  But in reality, they were mistakes in my thinking.  As long as I had the notion that all I could do was ‘hang in there,’ I stayed in victim mode.  I saw my defects as something that happened upon me, maybe from the way I was raised or from my genetics or for whatever reason.  And as long as I was merely coping, I took no responsibility for my actions. I just tried to quell my behavior and fit into life the best I could.

So, how do you get out of coping mode and into living?

Once I decided to overcome my issues and not just cope with them, things began to change. The very first attribute I acquired was a sense of value. I had to know that I was a good person regardless of my behavior. This doesn’t mean I congratulated myself for bad conduct, it means I became aware of my value as a human being.  I realized that nothing I could do or not do determined my value as a person. A faith in God helped me, but even if you don’t believe in God, you can still believe in your inherent worth.  You are as human as anyone else on this earth. You weren’t born with depression, anxiety, or eating problems.  And if you had a traumatic past or believe you are genetically predisposed to these problems,  it still doesn’t mean they have to manifest in your life.

Understanding and accepting my value gave me a reason to be happier and change my behavior.  And it came in this order – being happy comes first.  Being happy is not as hard as I thought it would be, but it wasn’t natural either.  My perceived failures gave me something to focus on and talk about.  It was an easy way to get attention from others.  I went to therapists and clinics and even in-patient treatment programs.  I took medicines and talked to others who had these problems.  I made a lifestyle out of working on my ‘issues’.

When I started to believe in myself, I didn’t want to just cope anymore, I wanted to thrive. I decided it was okay to have bad feelings and that things did not have to be perfect.  The bad stuff didn’t go away immediately, but the power it had over me did.  On days when I woke up with that tight, anxious feeling in my chest, instead of worrying myself into a full blown panic attack, I would acknowledge the feeling and make no judgement about it.  Then I got up and went about my day.  After a couple hours, I would forget about it.

In the case of depression, I realized that when I felt the most despondent, I thought everyone hated me and I felt sorry for myself.  I performed a reality check on the thought, “Everyone hates me” and realized that even if not everyone liked me, it still was highly unlikely that everyone hated me.  So instead of trying to stop the depressing feeling, I acknowledged it, made no good or bad judgement about it and decided not to have a pity party.  I soon found myself doing interesting things and reaching out to others.

Binge eating behavior was the last big hurdle.  I had overcome the darkest aspects of my life, but couldn’t seem to shake the eating problem.  It was only when I stopped feeling guilty for eating and stopped trying to restrict food that the insatiable hunger went away and was replaced by natural hunger and satisfaction with normal meals.

When I condense my life changes down to one page, like this, I wonder why it took me so long to become the person I am now happy with.  It could be that it takes time, maturity and experience.  But if we all wise up and get happier as we get older, all old people should be ecstatic and not cranky and depressed, as some are.  But whether you are young or old, you can bring about positive changes in your life.  It starts with an understanding of your inherent value.  We are all worthy whether we know and believe it or not.  And this inherent value supersedes genetics, past events, character and behavior.  Once I realized this, I stopped coping and started living.

How to realize your value click here

How to start a binge free life click here

Featured photo from pixabay.

brake-clipart-13309573511112670181decorative-lines-2_large-hi“You don’t have to entertain every thought that comes into your head.” MD
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