You are not your Problems; 3 steps to detach and strengthen your true self
Looking back, I feel that I was in denial of my Eating Disorder for so long because I was so fearful and ashamed of the label, Eating Disorder. I hated myself so much for what, I felt I was doing to myself that the thought of being labelled when I didn’t finally open up and ask for help felt too much to even bear. Even when I decided that things had to change, I still refused to accept the labels of Anorexia and Bulimia and did everything I could to avoid having to say the words and created every explanation possible in my mind as to why I didn’t fit in the typical Eating Disorder box. Right up towards the later stages of recovery I still couldn’t say; “I have an Eating Disorder”. This label brought me so much shame, guilt, anxiety and self-loathing.
Now the thing I didn’t consider here was, that, I had to accept I had an Eating Disorder, but, this label didn’t have to define my recovery. And this the problem. Many traditional approaches look to put you in a box and label you and assign a treatment to your label rather than the other way around and look at the person who they are and how they do their emotional eating/ bulimia/ binge eating etc. Now I only made true progress when I first had that understanding of how my mind worked because I could use that information to guide what strategies, treatments I took and what tools I used to recover, I used my mind to influence the approach I was going to take.
This was so much more successful than looking for a treatment to fit my label- which I hated, so this is a slight switch in how we approach recovery, looking at ourselves and what treatment would fit us and not the other way around.
How to de-identify from your food issues or problems
I have spoken before about the idea that, very similar to split personality, all of us have two parts to ourselves. One part is on our side, it is goal-directed, positive and wants to help us overcome our food issues, whereas the other part is working against us, speaking to us through a negative, critical voice in order to hold us back and keep us obsessing around food and weight. I call these parts:
1. Your true self part (who wants to change)
2. Your problem part (who is holding you back)
Your problem part of has been formed and shaped by early life experiences, the ways you were viewed and treated growing up. For example, if you were repeatedly told you were stupid or not clever enough as a child, over time you will begin to believe these things and they will become engrained as limiting beliefs deep down in your subconscious and you will just accept them as the truth. You can also be affected by your environment, for example if you were isolated and lonely as a child you may grow up to feel unlovable, unworthy and turn to food for emotional support.
Now, consider the idea of, ‘where focus goes energy flows’. This also applies to these 2 parts of you. If you are spending most of your time giving your food issues, problem part the most attention, whether that is through worrying, battling in your mind or even giving into its thoughts and feelings, this part of you will become stronger and more dominant over time. The consequence of this is that, ‘what you fail to use you lose’.
Your true self part, the part of you who so desperately wants to change will shrink, becoming quieter and weaker over time until you completely lose your true voice, you feel lost and completely controlled by your food issues part. This is when it can feel like you have no idea who you are anymore and you start living your life as if you were your food issues part.
Even though it may not feel like it right now, but there are ways you can find and strengthen your true self part. Follow these 3 simple steps:
1. Awareness of the 2 parts of you
The very first step is start to view your food struggles or whatever problem you are going through as a separate part of you than your true self.
2. Give the problem part of you a name
To make this separation easier and to help you recognise who is doing the talking, name the problem part of you and visualise what they would look like. This can be anything you want. For me, my Eating Disorder part was called Bec, an emotional little monkey who looked cute (she had a pink bow) but could switch within a second and unleash huge amounts of aggression. Very manipulative. Here are some examples of some names I have worked with along the way:
As you can see, it doesn’t have to be a human name, it can be anything you like- this is completely your choice, there is no right or wrong so just go with whatever first comes to your mind.
3. Start to recognise who is doing the talking
Now it is time to listen. Start by making a note of your thoughts and feelings throughout the day and go back and highlight anything that has come from your food issues part. This is anything negative, self-critical, food or weight related. This will help you to work out which is the true you and which is your food issues part sending you thoughts and feelings around food and eating. Have a look at what you have highlighted. It is common for most of the page to be glowing with colour. This will give you an idea of how dominant your problem part of you is and how much of a role it is playing in your day to day life.
If you continue this journaling exercise for a week and compare each day you may begin to notice some patterns or similarities between the language, words and talking style of your food issues part and when it is stronger or weaker.
This can be a real eye opener exercise as it can feel very confusing and muddled in your heads with all these different thoughts and feelings trying to guide your actions. Start putting the 3 steps into action right now to begin the process of finding your voice again.
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