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Develop a Positive Identity

Sometimes I can just tell when clients are about to make a big change before they actually do. This was the case with a client I work with who recently mentioned that she was plum tired of thinking of herself as a “struggling dieter” or a “binge-eater.” She said that she just wanted to be a normal person who had normal people’s problems.

What I heard in her statement was that she no longer wished to obsess about food, and was ready to get on with life. For decades her identity had revolved around food and weight. For most of her youth she was a dieter and agonized about every pound and every morsel she put into her mouth. Then she catapulted into binge-eating and obsessing about being overweight. She was miserable “because of the shame of it,” health problems, not being able to do the activities she wanted, and because of her intense self-hatred for not being able to get her eating problems under control.

Now, she insisted, she wanted to rid herself of this identity and simply be a person who ate for sustenance, then went on to do other things. She wanted to clear out the real estate in her head that was preoccupied about what to eat and what not to eat 24/7 and make room for more fun and passion. She didn’t know yet what those interests might be and that excited her. She said it was like waiting for a baby to be born, knowing it was coming and that it would change her life but not knowing exactly how.

Many of you haven’t been able to let go of thinking of yourselves as dieters or overeaters. Even when you’ve followed the rules of “normal” eating for the most part, you’ve been waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop, anticipating that next binge and bracing for it to happen. Or recovery has consumed your every waking moment with questions: Am I eating intuitively? Will I lose weight? Is this “normal” eating? How can I improve myself? What can I do with my emotions? Can I succeed?

Although I’m all for self-reflection and acquiring self-knowledge, let’s remember that we are not fix-it projects, but ever-changing versions of ourselves. Rather than define yourself as a disregulated/troubled eater, how would it feel to call yourself an “almost ‘normal’ eater” or a “person becoming a ‘normal’ eater?” What would it be like to remind yourself that your appetite can guide you and that you don’t have to think so much any more about food any more? I sense that many of you have had trouble shedding this troubled-eater identity. Switch gears and think of yourself as becoming healthy and whole and eating “normally” and you will have a better chance of doing so.