For years (YEARS!), any minor distress I felt was automatically converted into a dislike of my body. In the early days of my eating disorder (once I had awareness that I had an eating disorder and couldn’t deny it anymore), I coped with any minor stress in life by engaging in a disordered behavior with food or exercise. Then as I chose to start moving my unhealthful food/exercise behaviors to more healthful ones, thoughts of disliking my body took over when I couldn’t run away from my distressing thoughts to the false safety of my restricting/overeating/overexercising behaviors. It wasn’t that my body was drastically changing size…it was that I didn’t have any effective coping mechanisms in place to handle distress.
I can look back on all those years now and see so clearly how I was choosing to numb away from the emotions I didn’t want to feel by pretending my body was the problem. Something I’ve been exploring on the blog lately is how blaming your body is taking the easy way out. A lot of times it is easier to blame your body size than to address the underlying dissatisfaction you are feeling. (For my readers in larger bodies. I don’t know what it feels like to have to live in this fat phobic culture in a larger body. But I’d love if you could help me understand what it feels like to be you. Please comment and start a conversation about this if you feel so called.)
I really do believe the only problem food can fix is hunger. That said, YES, food does and should provide comfort, pleasure and a complete celebration for our tastebuds. And it also can be used for emotional eating / overeating and those are things that happen and it’s an option for taking care of yourself and an option I utilize when I need to. But when you realize the only problem food can truly fix is hunger…it might lead you to a reaction of, “crap dangit?! Food isn’t as overwhelmingly comforting (even if that comfort was fleeting) as it once was. How am I supposed to care for myself now?!” (It’s also worth noting that deprivation and restriction don’t fix/solve any problem.)
It’s a frustrating thing to have your favorite coping mechanism taking away from you. But when that coping mechanism is preventing you from living the life you want to live, it’s probably a coping mechanism you need to phase out a bit. Examples of unhealthful coping mechanisms include: drugs, alcohol, restricting food groups, going on a new diet, over exercising, TV watching, being a bully to your body, and so on and so on.
Fast forward through 8 years of eating disorder recovery, an exercise compulsion and doing body image work…I’m sitting in my kitchen last night as Andrew made us omelets & french fries for dinner (i’ve been getting better in marriage with expressing what I need, “hey, I’m working late so can you make us dinner?” To which Andrew goes, “Sure. No problem.” There’s this part of me that still hates asking for help <– any therapists who want to analyze me, GO FOR IT!). Back to my story about last night.
I’m sitting in our kitchen around 7:30pm, it was a good day filled with an interview with a magazine I never could’ve dreamed being interviewed by and a full day of client sessions, yet I was feeling drained, exhausted, I’m still having knee pain that is more frustrating on some days than other, and dissatisfied for no reason in particular. When my mind wandered to the thought of, “it’s weird and still new-ish feeling when you can’t blame your body anymore for your unhappiness and you can’t go to food to fix you unhappiness either.” And then I just feel my feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, and tiredness. I know all those feelings have a purpose and I don’t need to judge them or try to change them. They are normal feelings that are part of living a full life.
In life, I’ve spent a really long time thinking I was doing something wrong if I felt boredom or any distressing emotion. Now, on a weekly basis I pursue boredom. It’s a normal feeling that I should be able to tolerate. So when I’m bored, instead of reaching for my phone to distract myself. I sit and be bored for a bit…tolerating the feeling and knowing it will pass. For me being able to be bored is a emotional development milestone for me and the realization of “I’m bored” leads to curiosity of why it’s so hard for me to be still rather than thoughts of how can I become un-bored. Learning to sit with and tolerate normal, discomforting emotions was huge in my recovery from disordered eating, exercise and negative body image thoughts.
Just to be clear, I think being bored and dissatisfied are normal feelings that we could all benefit from tolerating. You being a bully to your body isn’t something you should tolerate. Spending your life pouring your energy into trying to change or control your body size will always lead to an unfulfilling life.