Do You See What I See
My job as a psychotherapist is to crawl inside someone’s head and look out at the world through their eyes. Through that process, I’ve learned that many people with eating problems are hyper-self-conscious and -self-critical about their food intake because they assume that others are as focused on and negative about it as they are. The same holds true for many overweight people and those who fear weight gain who, hating fat, assume that they’re being judged in the same pejorative way that they judge others. It usually comes as a surprise when I tell them that there are folks out there who don’t care very much about what others weigh, and that the majority of people don’t pay much attention to what others eat or don’t eat. Those kinds of things are not even on their radar screen!
One of the limitations of life is the lens through which we see the world. When we grow up surrounded by routine criticism of how we (or family members) look or eat, we’re likely to internalize the view that eating or appearance are fair game for harsh judgment. Coming up without such critiques, we might not think to pay attention to eating behaviors or weight in others; or, we might notice but feel neutral. If you were raised in an environment in which people observed and judged your (or each other’s) weight or eating, you probably have a similar focus and attitude today. Imagine if you’d come up in a milieu in which people didn’t make a fuss about food or weight. You probably wouldn’t either. What we’re talking about is learned, not innate, behavior.
Perhaps you wrongly suppose that others judge you as you judge them. If you typically see someone and think right off, “Oh, too fat” or ,”Wow, I wish I were that skinny,” you might assume that other people see you and click right into rating your appearance. But, that’s not necessarily true. The fact is, most people are far more concerned with how they look than how you look. If you tut tut at what or how much other people eat, you probably imagine that they’re checking out your food intake as well. Another false assumption. Although your family may have spotlighted eating and weight when you were growing up, the truth is, everyone out there today does not think or act like your family!
If you worry a great deal about what people think of your weight or eating behaviors, it’s time to pop in a different lens. Recognize that not everyone is obsessed with weight or eating. Call a halt to critiquing other people’s bodies and eating behaviors and remind yourself that they may not be critiquing yours. Find a neutral place of acceptance towards others, and you’ll start to feel better about yourself.