Hello, and welcome to another instalment of our Natural Eating Q&A series.
This week we’re exploring the following question:
“How can I trust my body to know what it needs when, in the past, I always ended up binging? Clearly, I can’t trust myself to just let myself have whatever I want, right?”
Well, actually, your body knows what you need – how much and when – better than your head does. It’s just that your life experience has taught you to ignore and/or mistrust the signals from your body, so instead, you soothe or numb yourself with food or with obsessive thinking and behaviours like restriction and purging.
You use those thoughts of food and restriction to detach yourself from the present reality, which, for some reason, you believe is too hard for you to bear.
Actually, I know the reason. And I’ve spoken about it at length earlier in this series: The True Culprit: Learned Helplessness. Before we get into the basics about the food part of this problem, which really is only about 10% of the issue, let’s explore the trauma and learned helplessness piece. For starters I encourage you to read the article from earlier in this series about learned helplessness.
In addition to that, I offer the following thoughts for you to consider and some tools for feeling more adult, grounded and peaceful for you to begin to experiment with.
You see, whether you are aware of it or not and whether others from your past would agree or not, there were times in your young life when you needed some fundamental basic things like safety, respect, trust, approval, belonging, consistency and reassurance. And you didn’t get them. Not having these basic needs met are traumatic to a child. Frankly, to an adult they are traumatic, too. Just ask anyone whose partner has cheated on them.
However, as adults, we have far more resources and power at our disposal than we did as children. It’s just a fundamental truth of life. So, if rejection from another adult would shake an adult’s foundation, imagine how traumatic and overwhelming it is to a child to have a parent or peer or sibling say or do things that are critical, dismissive or rejecting; or to outright abandon or abuse them. It’s harsh.
And if you didn’t have people in your life to go to for reassurance and to talk with about these painful experiences, you would naturally have internalized those events as being about you and as being very real flaws in you. This made you decide to keep tucked away, lest someone judge you similarly in the future, bringing you more of those very same feelings of agony, of rejection and judgement.
As adults with solid self-esteem, we can handle the criticism and rejection of others. It’s not nice. We don’t like it. We could do without it, to be sure. But we can handle it by grounding ourselves in a few simple concepts:
1. First, we do a reality check: Is there anything in my behaviour in this situation that goes against my morals, ethics, or values?
a) If so, we apologize with the simple steps of a good apology:
i. I am sorry that I….(here we state our understanding of what we did that wasn’t honourable or fair or in alignment with our values)
ii. I can understand that that did not meet needs for….(safety, trust, respect, consideration, reliability, etc.) for you.
iii. I will do X to ensure that I never do that again. (Here you let that person know what you are going to do in your own personal process or out there in the world to ensure that that doesn’t happen again.)
iv. How can I make restitution to you for this situation? I.e. What can I do to make this up to you? (Typically after receiving a sincere apology as laid out above that covers all the bases, your answer will be either: “Just do what you say you will and don’t let it happen again.” Or “Well, it cost me $200.00, so I expect you to pay that bill.” In other words, there will either be no consequence except that you need to behave differently in the future or there will be the natural consequence of you having to atone for the inconvenience or cost or stress to the other person. This is fair and reasonable and is the likely outcome of taking responsibility in this way.) On a side note, if the person isn’t willing to forgive and let you rebuild trust with them, you have either violated a core value and bottom line for them, i.e. by having an affair perhaps, or they haven’t learned themselves how to feel safe in a relationship and don’t know how to let things go and trust that people can change. All you can do is ask if they’re willing to give you a chance for a certain period of time and then re-evaluate. If not, there’s nothing you can do and you should not beat your head against the wall. The problem at this point is not yours alone and so you can’t fix it.
b) If we haven’t done anything that we are aware of that compromises our values or ethics, we simply have a misunderstanding or a difference of opinions. No harm, no foul. Nothing to apologize for or to be ashamed of or fearful of. We either misunderstood each other or we disagree. Here you simply state: “I think you may have misunderstood me/my intentions. Can I try and explain it a different way?” If the answer is yes, go for it! Explain again or even better, ask the other person what they heard you say so that you are clear on what they misunderstood and can clarify more effectively. If the end result is that you just don’t agree with each other, stay open. Tell that person that you don’t agree but if they’d like to find some literature (books, papers, etc.) that support their perspective, you are open to looking at them and to admitting that you are misinformed. (This is a fabulous solution to arguments as it really puts the responsibility on the person who is judging you to prove that their judgement is sound, rather than on you to prove that you’re accurate when you’re already comfortable with your perspective. Just be open to new, peer reviewed data – not just Uncle Jim’s opinion – on the topic. You never know, you might learn something and show yourself to be a healthy, open-minded person in the process. I personally would rather be educated and aware of flaws in my logic than hold steady to my erroneous belief just to prove I’m right. It’s much less stressful, and I learn more and build healthier relationships that way.)
2. After our reality check and sorting it through as outlined above in step 1, we are probably feeling much clearer about what we did and did not do. If you’ve done your best to take responsibility for your part and to seek to understand the other and to clarify your intention and the issue remains, it isn’t you. There’s nothing more you can do. You’re not doing anything wrong. It’s really just a misunderstanding or a values clash, and you have the right to just step back and leave it until that person is more open to discussing the situation. You don’t need to feel anxious or bad or shameful. You can feel peaceful and let them have their feelings. You’ve done your best.
If you can’t just let it go even with the above I’s being dotted and T’s being crossed, you’re stuck in some co-dependent training and you need a little help. Reach out for a counselling session; read the section in my book on Co-dependence vs. Interdependence; or post a message on our web program forum, and someone will help you see things more clearly so you can step free of your burdensome sense of responsibility for other people’s needs and emotions and perspectives.
As for the food part, trust me. Once you’re doing this stuff around relating maturely and responsibly, first and foremost with yourself, you will have much less difficulty trusting yourself and your body.
For the energy that is left over all you need to do is ask yourself:
“Am I hungry?”
If so, what is the most honouring choice I could make right now/what choice could I make that would allow me to have peace of mind and feel good in my body tomorrow rather than heavy or hung over?
If I’m not hungry, what is causing me to feel anxious or overwhelmed (any learned helplessness ??? YES!)? (Use your tools of the List of Stressors and Drill Sgt. Dialogue and 4-7-8 breathing and you’ll see things much more clearly and be feeling much more relaxed.)
You see, the relationship with food is pretty straightforward when you’re not using food to manage stress and emotions. So do what you can to arm yourself with tools to deal with stress in appropriate and life-enhancing ways, and then you just need to remind yourself to eat when hungry and stop when full, which is much, much easier to do when you’re not blinded by all-or-nothing thinking and stressful stories.