I was having my hair highlighted recently. My colorist rents one of those tiny salon spaces with just two chairs. The colorist introduced me to her other client and told this woman what I do for a living.
Then, as a captive audience in hair foils, I listened to this other client give me her opinion about why people eat too much and what they “simply” need to do to “gain control”. People just need to “…use a little discipline”, she said in numerous ways…
My ego, my patience, and my emotional regulation skills were put to the test.
She had that air of all-knowing-ness that in the past I would have assumed was because she was “naturally thin”, had no understanding about eating disorders, no empathy, and very little emotional intelligence. (No judgment on my part, huh?)
I tried my best to calmly explain that, often, it’s NOT that simple. I attempted to educate about emotional and binge eating; how some people overuse food to self-soothe and avoid uncomfortable feelings, people, tasks, etc. I might as well have been trying to get through to the chair she was sitting on. So, I just stopped talking.
At first, I felt dismissed, frustrated, angry, and trapped. My internal dialog went something like this, “Hey, I’m the expert; the researcher, the founder of an eating disorder program; a coach with decades of experience in this field and you don’t have a clue. Why aren’t you listening to me?”
Then, I stepped back and observed my own thoughts and feelings. I quieted my ego, my judgments, my need to be right. I decided to just be present; to listen to her with my heart…not easy, as this is a loaded subject for me… and, at that moment, I didn’t like the woman. But here’s what I heard.
I heard her talk about her own very rigid food and exercise rules. Then, she started talking about depression; saying “women need to fend for themselves, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”. Then, she went on to say”…depression is all about women in a man’s world, in the wrong job”. A few minutes later I asked her what she did for a living. She spoke openly and honestly about how frustrated she is with the male power base in her corporate job and about all the politics at work.
Now, I was truly hearing her story. This woman was actually sharing her own defenses, her own pain, how she used rigid food and exercise rules; “weight control”, to manage her own depression, dissatisfaction, and disappointment with her career! In truth, what I was sharing about emotional eating challenged her survival strategies. So, of course what I had to say was of no interest. My insights were not welcome; likely they were even threatening to her…at this moment in time.
Looking back, I’m so glad I stopped trying to get her to “hear” me. I learned something very important. She wasn’t interested in what I had to say. Not everybody is or will be :-). She was in her own pain. She just wanted to talk about her own pain…
Knowing that… and removing myself from the equation, was very freeing…
I wished her well!
I’m Ellen Shuman and like everyone reading this post, I am a work in progress! I am also a pioneer in the field of binge eating disorder treatment; a Coach who specializes in helping people overcome binge eating, binge eating disorder, emotional eating, compulsive eating, and food addiction. I am the founder of A Weigh Out Life Coaching & Members’ Circle, Acoria Binge Eating Disorder Treatment (1993-present), and a Past President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (2011/2012), firstname.lastname@example.org, 513-321-4242.