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I can’t recall where I learned about it, but somewhere I read a while back about successful people being attuned to themselves. There was a study or bunch of studies which came to this conclusion (having no citation, you’ll have to trust me on this one). Right away I thought about my clients—which ones were more or less connected to themselves and how they related to their progress in eating disorders recovery.
Clinicians learn and generally talk a good deal about attunement in terms of how connected/in sync parents are to their children. When a parent on a long car ride finds her child crying, he might respond with understanding that children get fidgety strapped into car seats and need distraction. When a child comes home from school saying she’s fine but looks anxious and anger, an attuned parents asks if things really are okay.
Parental attunement to children requires time, energy and focus. If mom and dad work two jobs to take care of the five of you kids, there may not be much attunement going on. Or if parents aren’t connected to their own feelings, they may be blind or deaf to what’s going on in their progeny. We learn attunement. It doesn’t just happen.
One of the places that learning occurs is in therapy because it’s a therapist’s job to be as close to 100% attuned to a client as possible. That means, of course, clinicians must be able to identify and stay tethered to their own feelings. This is where re-parenting comes into the picture which teaches the client how to self-attune.
You will not reach “normal” eating without self-attunement, being in touch with what you feel pretty much all the time: what feels pleasant and unpleasant, what and who brings you pleasure or pain, what’s too little, too much or just enough (of everything). It also involves knowing when you’re tired or thirsty or simply feel out of sorts. It requires that you mentally keep tabs on what you’re feeling—disappointed, helpless, invalidated, bored, lonely, confused, etc.
Being self-attuned gives you crucial information to change behavior. For example, it’s vital to know if you’re too hot or cold so that you can do something about it. Attunement involves curiosity rather than judgment. It’s simply what’s up for you. To say that most dysregulated eaters are unattuned to themselves around food is an understatement. But lack of attunement is what also gets them stressed, stuck in abusive or neglectful relationships, doing too much for others, and not taking effective care of themselves. Focus on self-attunement and you’ll see amazing improvement in your life with food and everything else.