Ever feel afraid to make mistakes? You can’t expect yourself to do something perfectly the first time around. In fact, you won’t be perfect (i.e. never make mistakes) right out of the gate (or ever for that matter). If you expect that or believe that there are others who are able to do that, you will sabotage yourself and you will never move forward. If you carry the belief that you have to be perfect and that if you can’t be perfect and guarantee that you’ll not make a mistake you’re not even going to bother trying something, not only are you going to experience a very stifled and rigid existence but you’ll probably feel anxious and on the verge of a breakdown most of the time. That kind of thinking is supreme all-or-nothing thinking and it is what is keeping you stuck in all areas of your life, guaranteed.
If you use food to cope, you likely had a primary caregiver or mentor in your life who did not allow mistakes, someone who shamed, blamed, criticized or judged you for not doing something perfectly – or rather the way they thought it should be done.
Children have no clear sense of self as separate and okay as they are; no solid ego to sustain them through criticism or humiliation as healthy adults do. Healthy adults do not like shaming criticism or humiliation. They are not likely to continue to remain in friendships or other environments where non-constructive criticism and humiliation and blaming are a part of the connection, and instead, will actively seek to avoid the people and places who dish it out, often by ending a relationship, or moving away. That’s a strong statement and a lot of effort to go through to avoid those experiences. So clearly, shame and judgement do not sit well with healthy adult humans. Now, if a grown up, who is free to exert her power and remove herself from situations is hurt or angered by the shame or blame of others, or would simply prefer not to have do experience it as a regular part of their life, imagine how a dependent little person feels? Devastated and terrified…..walking on eggshells. The approval of their primary caregivers and, later in life, peers, is paramount to survival for a child and thus any sense of disapproval from those caregivers is truly traumatic.
So, if you have someone key in your life as you’re developing your sense of self (your esteem) who judges and shames you every time you make a mistake; who tells you you shouldn’t have spilled the milk on your first or second try to pour it out of the big jug; who humiliates you for peeing your pants when you’re seven and too excited to leave the fun and make it to the bathroom on time; who laughs at you for how you speak; who tells you you should have done better on a test or at a sporting event; you will feel traumatized, struck, deeply pained and afraid every time you hear those kinds of statements.
And, because of where you are developmentally, you will truly not be able to understand at that time that it is the adult who is wrong and not you. It is the adult who is steeped in all-or-nothing thinking and who can’t let go of their own story about “right” and “wrong” and how things should be long enough to open themselves to see why you did what you did and what might be good about it; to recognize that you are child, you are learning, you did your best; to see how they might support you to see life as a place to learn and grow rather than come out of the womb knowing how to do everything perfectly the first time. You will just feel traumatized and bad and wrong and you will either turn against yourself and start shaming and blaming yourself right along with that adult or you will withdraw from them, often turning to your peers and into a life of drug abuse, promiscuity and self-harm that way. Either way will lead to the use of food to cope.
As my favorite parenting author Barbara Colorosso says: “Life is for learning.” Mistakes are not bad, they are for learning. Children must be supported to make mistakes and second chances must be given in order for children to learn how to learn. It is through the making of mistakes that children get to feel and experience the results of their actions and to develop their own sense of what works and what doesn’t. If children are criticized when they make a mistake, they will become afraid to try anything for fear of not doing it perfectly the first time. Goodness do I know that one!
It is ridiculous to expect yourself to do anything perfectly the first time. It just is. When you start a new job your supervisor doesn’t say “Screw up once and you’re fired!!” No, they say, “Here’s Georgette, she’ll train you, ask her any questions you have and don’t worry, we understand it takes a good six months to really find your stride in a new position.” In other words, we know you’re not perfect, we don’t expect you to be, and we want you to let us know the limits of your knowledge so we can educate you further and we all win. If you had key adults in your life who shamed or blamed you for making mistakes, it quickly became unsafe to let anyone know what you didn’t know. Unfortunately that approach to life usually leads to more mistakes, not fewer. It certainly leads to great anxiety and distress and a sense of isolation that rarely leaves us because we are afraid to let anyone in.
Second chances must be a part of life. Life is for learning. That means we aren’t going to know what we’re doing much of the time; we learn as we go and sometimes (more often than we’d like) we learn by what didn’t work rather than by what did.
I have had many clients, who, at the start of our work together, were resisting taking action on their career or relationship or a new activity because they weren’t sure they’d be able to do it perfectly right away and they wouldn’t do anything if they weren’t sure they’d be the best at it right out of the gate. What kind of a life is that? It’s a stifled, watching from the sidelines, fear-based life.
And what are you afraid of? Someone ridiculing you? Someone being better than you? If so, if that’s what’s stopping you from living your life you’ve completely missed the point of life. Life is for learning. Life is for you. Life is about you becoming the best you can be. That’s what brings you joy and passion and happiness and peace.
Life is not about being better than anyone else. Life is not about stifling yourself so others don’t judge you. That is the mindset of the traumatized child and if you’re over the age of 16, it’s time to learn to let that go. You deserve to begin living fully now.
“I can’t ever make a poor choice or eat when I’m not hungry because if I do I’ll never succeed with this process.”
That is all-or-nothing thinking all right.
Let’s explore that a little bit with an exercise I call “ATM” also known as “and that means….” This exercise helps you to identify when you’re in all-or-nothing thinking and why, and allows you to be in a position of choosing to step free or to continue thinking that old all-or-nothing thought.
Here’s how it works:
1. We start with the first half of the statement (before the: but; and; because; or else; etc.):
“I can’t make a poor choice or eat when I’m not hungry.”
2. And we insert at the end the revealing little phrase “and that means…”
“I can’t make a poor choice or eat when I’m not hungry and that means…I’m screwed! Because if I can’t even make it half a day now, I’m never going to make it the rest of my life!
3. Now breathe! Take a look at what you’ve written. You’re saying you’re certain you can’t make it half a day without binging or purging or restricting and because you can’t make it half a day now you’ll never ever be able to have a life that’s free of food and body stress. How’s that for all-or-nothing? You can’t do it now the way you want so you’ll never be able to? Have you never learned a new trick; developed a new skill; learned new information that made an old belief seem silly or out-dated?
I remember when I was 17, living on my own in Edmonton, and was offered a job at work that required me to know how to type. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to learn how. I resisted going as long as I could and then finally, at the last minute went and though I had to really push myself to practice the first few weeks, because I was sure I’d fail, I actually figured it out, and now, as you know, I type to beat the band! I did the same thing with driving, with going back to school, with learning to kayak, etc., etc., etc. I approached everything from that “I can’t” attitude until I learned why I was doing that and let it go. Now it’s your turn!
Okay, so now you take the statement you came up with in point ‘2’ and take it even deeper to help you get really clear on where the all-or-nothing thinking is (just in case you can’t see it yet) and to free yourself to choose to believe it or not.
“I can’t make a poor choice or eat when I’m not hungry and that means….I’m screwed! Because if I can’t even make it half a day now, I’m never going to make it the rest of my life!!** and that means…my life it totally going to suck, I’m never going to be happy, I’m never going to feel good about myself and free to just be me and relax, and that means I’m always going to be preoccupied and feel like something is wrong with me…”
**(Now clearly the fact that you can’t make it a half-day now doesn’t prove that you’ll struggle the rest of your life. It only proves that up until now you’ve only been able to go a half a day without needing your old coping strategy which makes perfect sense if the problems that created the old coping strategy in the first place are not resolved. This is an important distinction as it reminds you that there is actually a reason that you can’t go a half-day that isn’t about you being flawed or incapable.)
4. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. You can see clearly that for you, not being able to make it half a day without using food to cope is absolute proof that you’re a failure and always will be. That’s just more of that old “if I’m not perfect then I’m a failure” training you had way back when. How inspiring is that? How true is that? How on earth are you supposed to find motivation to seek help; to grow; to change; to heal; to thrive; to live a passionate and fulfilled life from that way of thinking about yourself and your problem? No wonder you’re stuck, stuck, stuck.
Inherent in this statement you’ve written is the belief that it is absolutely impossible to be happy and relaxed and to feel good about yourself if you’re anything other than the perfect weight for your body. That in itself is a humungous all-or-nothing story which clients of mine disprove in a week. And freeing yourself from that story allows you to have more energy, stamina, hope and inspiration for applying your new tools and for moving forward freely and successfully.
But, back to the statement:
“I can’t make a poor choice or eat when I’m not hungry and that means….I’m screwed! Because if I can’t even make it half a day now, I’m never going to make it the rest of my life!!** and that means….my life it totally going to suck, I’m never going to be happy, and that means I’m never going to feel good about myself and free to just be me and relax, and that means I’m always going to be preoccupied and feel like something is wrong with me.”
And add “and that means…” and we get the following:
“I can’t make a poor choice or eat when I’m not hungry and that means….I’m screwed! Because if I can’t even make it half a day now, I’m never going to make it the rest of my life!! And that means my life it totally going to suck, I’m never going to be happy, I’m never going to feel good about myself and free to just be me and relax, and that means I’m always going to be preoccupied and feel like something is wrong with me. And that means…I may as well not even try. I may as well just give up now and get really fat and just not give a shit.”
And guess what? You’ve just talked yourself into not trying (for now) and into allowing yourself to use your coping strategy. Good job! But…wait….that’s not what you wanted to do? Or is it? Of course it is. If you’re overwhelmed with certain aspects of your life, or all of it for that matter, and you don’t know how to even begin to sort it out (usually because you’re stuck in all-or-nothing thinking) it’s going to feel like the only choice you have is to numb out or, put another way, focus on something else….like food and body image.
And all this is happening unconsciously. All the time. You begin to imagine not using your coping strategy and immediately some part of you kicks in with the above litany of thought (or some reasonable facsimile) and before you’ve even consciously examined making a change, you feel defeated and stuck and you’re binging, purging or restricting and hoping (without much conviction) that the next time will be different.
So now you know that when you hear yourself saying: “I’d so like to be able to eat normally.” There is a wagon-load of thought as old as the hills that begins to careen madly downhill, and unless you become adept at catching it and applying the brakes you, and every other human in your predicament, will end up repeating that old pattern of feeling overwhelmed by the task (being perfect right out of the gate, forever) and giving up before you’ve begun.
It is very common for people to arrive in my office for the first time with a statement something like “You’re my last hope. I’ve tried everything else.” And by that they mean they’ve tried, and often re-tried, every diet there is and some of their own creation in an effort to get a grip on food. But they weren’t successful and no one can be when they try to solve the symptom and not the problem. It’s akin to what used to happen to me with migraines. I used to get these terrible migraines. My doctor put me on these intense migraine drugs and even those didn’t work really, they certainly didn’t prevent the headaches. Then I realized a correlation between me eating (binging like crazy) dairy (yogurt, ice cream, cheese, whipping cream….you get the picture) and getting a migraine.
The headaches couldn’t go away because the underlying problem – my dairy allergy – hadn’t been attended to. Once I realized the relationship between dairy and my headaches and gave up the dairy (or toned it way, way down), I stopped getting the headaches. I didn’t have to do anything about the headaches. They took care of themselves once the underlying trigger was resolved.
I am here to assure you that, regardless of what you think or what you’ve read or what you’ve done until now, your relationship with food is just like my migraines. It’s a symptom. If you put your efforts into identifying the underlying cause and resolving that, I guarantee that you will cease to feel overwhelmed and stuck in your relationship with food and you’ll be able to start eating naturally. It’s very easy to be a natural eater. It’s maintaining the disordered eating that’s a lot of work and takes a great toll on all areas of your life.
Trust me, you don’t have to be perfect right out of the gate, you just have to turn the balance in favour of being able to handle life without using food to cope. Once you achieve a place of more-often-than-not, this process takes on its own momentum and becomes easy-peasy!
The occasional experience of eating when you’re not hungry will make you normal, just like everyone else who eats naturally and sometimes overeats because they’re enjoying the food; it’s a rarity; they want to; they’re choosing to, rather than feeling out of control. Natural eaters do this, but only every now and then, and as such it’s not a big deal when they do it. A natural eater doesn’t beat themselves up over eating movie popcorn when they weren’t hungry for it; or grabbing a cookie off the tray at work; or having a second helping of a dinner that they really like. That’s because they know that overall they eat well, they eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full and most significantly, they know they can choose to eat or not to eat at any time. They are in charge of their relationship with food rather than feeling completely out of control of it.
So, what you’re reaching for is not a state of being where you never ever overeat; where all your meals are completely in balance calorically and nutritionally (can you say Ugh!!?). That old way of being is too stressful and has never and will never lead you to freedom, peace and true happiness.
Through working with The CEDRIC Method and the concept of natural eating, you are creating a state of being where you listen to your body for the naturally-occurring cues about hunger and fullness and energy level, and you make choices about what to eat and how much and when based on those cues.
All other stresses, strifes, and old all-or-nothing stories are attended to appropriately with tools that identify and shake loose those old stories until your natural default thought when you are trying something new is: “Is it harmful or life threatening? No! Well all right, I’m in!!! Let’s go!”
And that’s when you truly start living!
Whether you prefer one-on-one counselling (in-person, by phone, or email), our intensive and transformative workshops, the self-help approach with the book, or our Food is Not the Problem Online Membership Program, take action today to have a stress-free relationship with food. Sign up for our free newsletter today (see the left top side of your screen). Newsletter subscribers receive exclusive product discounts and are first in line to get on all the latest new at CEDRIC.
© Michelle Morand, 2010