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Being authentic may be a foreign concept to many dysregulated eaters. You may not understand exactly what the term means, not know how to be genuine, or find it difficult to connect to your deepest emotions. (A great read on the subject is The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller, a psychology classic.) You may wonder if you have to be authentic all the time and if the word applies to actions as well as emotions.

A person is authentic when they are in touch with their true feelings. Being authentic means connecting to your feelings on a deep level, acknowledging what is up for you in the moment, and not chasing that feeling away. Examples of being inauthentic include denying feeling hurt to yourself or others, doing something you adamantly don’t want to do or that isn’t in your best interest only to please others, convincing yourself to feel one thing when you feel another, and covering up genuine emotional reactions because you believe you are wrong in having them

Infants illustrate authentic feelings very well. When a baby is in distress, it cries. It doesn’t worry about what people will think of its outburst, if anyone will be hurt or upset by its crying, or even whether crying will make it less likely that its needs (for food, a new diaper, or human presence) will be met. Baby just wails away as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. And, in truth, it is. Being authentic means being natural and eliminating the artifices that society places on us. Of course, we can only be this natural as infants, that is, until we realize that what we are feeling may be causing us to behave in ways that are unacceptable. This happens early in childhood when, through obvious and subtle ways, we learn that not everything we feel and do is pleasing to others.

When childhood caretakers cause us to believe that our feelings are not natural, that what is going on inside us is not okay, we start to become inauthentic. Not only do we try to hide our emotions from our caretakers (eg, make believe we’re fine when we’re not, try to please them at the expense of ourselves); worse, we suppress our genuine feelings in the hopes that they’ll go away. This is the process that gets us into trouble. By getting used to denying authentic feeling to yourself, you begin to lose touch with what is real and natural, and after a while, your reaction to authenticity starts to feel more real than your initial (authentic) feeling.

Learning to be authentic after decades of covering up emotions is a difficult and painful process, but it is the only way (the only way) to be a “normal” eater.

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