To overcome food addiction, be kind to yourself instead
If you’re like many people with food and body-image issues, you may believe that relentless self-discipline is the only thing keeping you from being obsessing about or binging on your food fix.You’re tough on yourself when you “make a mistake.”
But it’s painful to berate yourself. Think of how society stigmatizes people who are living in larger bodies and how much fat-shaming goes on in the world. Anyone with food or body image issues knows the embarrassment of being ridiculed by family members or others about their size,shape, or eating choices. This is a form of cultural trauma that you probably know all too well. When you beat yourself up or berate yourself in the hopes this will change your behaviors, you may not realize that you are doing to yourself what society has done to you for so long.
Not only is it painful, it doesn’t work. The negative self-talk and body hatred that goes along with the diet mentality does not in any way address the underlying problem of food addiction. This issue is rooted in personality traits such as impulsivity and compulsivity, adverse childhood experiences like trauma and abuse, and reward deficiency syndrome, which involves genetic predisposition and brain changes that affect the way you see and feel about food and your response to highly palatable (comfort) foods.
Being shamed only makes problems with eating, body dissatisfaction, and food – including reward deficiency syndrome –worse. Interestingly, researchers have found that frequent exposure to stigmatization is associated with greater psychological pain and more severe obesity. Amplifying the pain by shaming yourself in your own mind is the last thing that will help you heal from food addiction.
The key to overcoming your struggles with food and body image is to learn to treat yourself with kindness, not harshness.This isn’t just for the sake of being nice; it’s truly more realistic. There is no amount of whipping yourself into shape that will change your genes or erase trauma or childhood neglect. There’s no amount of using food to numb your emotions that will do that either. It’s time to approach the problem differently.
Food addiction is chronic. It’s deeply rooted in genetics, personality, and neuro chemistry. For all of these reasons, it is a long-term issue. It won’t be fixed by any diet. You have to work at it overtime.
This may seem discouraging until you think about how much time and energy you’ve already put into trying unsuccessfully to get rid of your food addiction. What if, going forward, you focused on doing what really works: healing the pain of the past and treating yourself with compassion? What if these efforts led to significant, lasting change? Would that make it worth it to you?
You may not have thought of this, but there has never been a better friend to you than your body. Your body has stood by you through difficult times. Your body has tried to share its wisdom with you and will continue to do so. Your body supports you in a sometimes painful world. When your heart is broken, your body-heart beats on to keep you going. For all these reasons and more, being gentle with your body will help you to heal from food addiction. If you’re not sure about this, ask yourself how your method has worked for you so far.
Think of it this way. Suppose you had a close friend who’s made a mistake or two in life. Being kind and supportive will be more likely to help her grow and change as a person. That doesn’t mean you ignore her mistakes. You can give feedback without being cruel or negative.You can let her know how you feel about the abusive boyfriend, for instance,without saying things that tank her self-esteem.
If you’re unaccustomed to being kind to yourself, you may be wondering how exactly to do it. Here are three ways to get started.
Practice self-awareness. Become aware of your most habitual negative thoughts or beliefs about yourself. For each one, see if you can come up with a gentle, kind alternative. For instance,if you sometimes call yourself stupid when you do something you regret, you could remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes; you’re not the only one,and maybe you could give yourself a break.
Practice self-regard. Psychologist Carl Rogers defined unconditional positive regard as basic acceptance and support of a person, no matter what that person says or does. Rogers believed that each of us has the capacity to change our self-concept, attitudes, and behaviors by extending unconditional positive regard to ourselves. No matter how you feel your body has failed you, no matter what your thoughts tell you about your body, you can declare that your body is worthy of respect. When you notice the ways your body is wise, strong, and capable, you lay the foundation fora new way of relating to your body.
Practice self-care. If you struggle with food addiction, you may feel that your body doesn’t deserve to be treated well. Ask yourself how berating yourself or having negative self-talk has worked for you? Has it stopped you from overeating or obsessing about your food fix? Has it made you feel happier? Ask yourself how you would care for your body if you cherished it. You can turn things around by getting a haircut, wearing a beautiful scarf, taking a nap when you're tired, making a doctor’s appointment to take care of a painful problem, or just drinking a glass of cool water when you’re thirsty. You deserve to be comfortable.
Notice that all three of these strategies start with “practice.” At first, self-awareness, positive regard, and self-care may not be things that resonate with you. Even so, they are things you can practice doing. With sincere practice,you will see changes that you can track in your journal to validate your progress.
Every living organism grows better and is happier in a climate that nurtures its growth. Your body is no different. Letting go of the need to control may seem counter intuitive, yet it will nourish the part of you that wants to heal. The wounded aspects of yourself do not need to be whipped into shape. Rather, they need kindness, love, and compassion to fill the hole left by painful life experiences. It’s up to you to give yourself just that!
Congratulations on being willing to consider treating yourself with kindness. You will be surprised at how this will change not only your internal dialogue, but also your behaviors. This is the beginning of a kinder, gentler relationship with the only body you’ll ever have – the one you have right now.