In my own recovery from emotional and binge eating, one of the last hangers-on of my old belief system was the feeling that I had to be a ceratin weight to be loved and to live a quality life. When I look back, it’s easy to see how that happened. I was brainwashed.
From the time I was a small child, I was told I was not OK just as I was, literally. My mother always struggled with her own weight and therefore was very focused on mine, at every meal, snack, children’s party, etc. She had my pediatritian put me on diet pills (dexedrine) when I was 8 years old! (As has been the experience of many people I know who have had body image and binge eating disorder struggles, when I look back at pictures from childhood I’m amazed that I looked pretty average to chubby, normal size for a growing kid. I kept looking for pictures of that REALLY FAT kid eveyone tormented. They don’t exist.)
My grandfather regularly tried to bribe me to lose weigh; a dollar for every pound. My tall, skinny, unhappy brother called me “tubs” and worse throughout elementary school. I can still recall the shame I felt the day my 3rd grade class passed his 6th grade class in the hall. I proudly said hi to my big brother. He loudly responded back, “Hi Tubs”, in front of both of our classes! Funny what sticks with you all these years later. By junior high, his meanness (or was it shame?) had escalated. He gave me a new nickname; the name of a middle linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. He got several of his friends to call me that name, too, in public, throughout high school. By then, with lousy self-esteem, divorced parents no longer on speaking terms, I was depressed and had a true binge eating disorder…although my family was still trying to get me to diet and use more “willpower”. So I ate more.
Yes, I’d say I was brainwashed, at home and in the world, into believing I was unworthy because I had some fat on my body. I’m certainly not alone. So many of us weigh our self-esteem on the scale. So many of us have trouble embracing the new paradigm; health-centered, weight-neutral, even when we know it’s the ony sane way to live. Our weight-focused/ dieting-is-the-answer brainwashing continues to whisper, ” But if I can just lose enough weight, I can be happy.”
Here’s a great example of brainwashing. It’s an exchange I had yesterday with a client I’ll call Jeff (I always ask permission to share.)
In Jeff’s words….
“Well, as planned, I got on the scale this morning being the first of the month. It has been 3 ½ weeks of mindful eating. I did lose 10.5 lbs. I was sad. I “felt” as if I had lost more, and had expected to. So now I will see how I deal with that. I have been running through the mindfulness skills. My initial reaction, as customary, has been, “I need to cut back on….”. Not good. So, I will allow myself time for extra mindful self-care this weekend.”
I asked him to consider a provocative question…in prep for our next session…
What would happen if you let go of the weight-focus and decided to enjoy the life that happens in between trips to the scale? If you did so, what would that be like for you?
After reflection, here’s how he responded…
“Actually 10.5 lbs is a healthy weight loss for a month…and a nice side benefit of mindful eating and healing. I know what the stressor is….and I am working on it…The stressor is that I want to be a certain weight on my trip to Europe this summer, to the point where I would actually consider delaying the trip. Wow, is that old mindset, or what!? It is really starting to sound silly. “
Most of us have some “un-brainwashing” to do. Even after all of the personal work I’ve done, I still have moments when I worry I’ll be judged by my size, whatever that size happens to be. Through my own recovery work, I realized I could feel judged and judge myself, harshly, no matter how thin or fat I happened to be on any given day…evidence that how I felt in my own skin had very little to do with what I weighed! Today, how I feel in my body, in the world, is a choice…and it’s a choice regardless of how much adipose tissue (body fat) I happen to be carrying around that day. Today I choose to believe I’m much more interesting and have way more to contribute to this world than an idealized body shape and size.
“Un-brainwashing” brings freedom! The work is so worth it!
Note…Here are a couple of ways to get “Un-Brainwashed”. Engage with other Circle Members. That’s what this community is all about! Share your voice with the rest of us! Comment on posts (see “Comment” feature below every post). Engage in our Groups and Forums in the “A Weigh Out Empowerment Network”. Enter the Network through your Member Links Box on the right or through the Members’ Portal when you first Login. When you find yourself having emotional eating thoughts, experiment with reaching out to this community, instead. Experiment…see what happens…
Ellen Shuman is a Life Coach who specializes in emotional and binge eating issues. She is the founder of A Weigh Out & Acoria Eating Disorder Treatment, Vice President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), and Co-Chair of the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size”, email@example.com