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Along with writing books about compulsive, emotional, and restrictive eating, I also teach “Quit Fighting with Food” workshops and provide psychotherapy. Between my individual and group work, I’ve recently been struck by the lack of trust people with eating problems have in themselves. They’re torn apart by wanting to look a certain way (thin!), their natural, normal appetites, and rebellion against childhood eating mandates and current bombardment with information about nutrition and what to eat. No wonder they’re confused. As the saying goes, “What’s a girl—or boy—to do?”
Self-trust is a learned behavior, about food or anything else. Healthy parents act in your best interest by initially making beneficial decisions for you, then, age appropriately, guiding you toward them. When they make good choices for you and gently and fairly lead you toward them, you internalize the process (doing what’s good for me feels good). When they force you to do things that don’t feel right, leave you floundering, or tell you to do one thing while they do another, you internalize this process as well (doing what’s good for me feels bad).
Following your appetite and trusting in your food decisions should bring you pride, while doing the opposite—starving, stuffing, obsessing about eating—will bring you a momentary ping of shame to let you know you’re not happy with your behavior. Even if you never learned to trust your mind/body about eating or weight all these years, you can learn now by using a very simple formula: do more of what makes you proud and less of what makes you ashamed. Of course, that means regularly stopping and reflecting on your behavior long enough to assess its emotional impact on you.
Watch out for false pride which often masquerades as true pride. You’ll know false pride by the thrilling, powerful headiness you get from imposing your will on your eating. Beware too of dwelling in shame when you’re disappointed in how you’ve eaten. Instead, experience and acknowledge the feeling, figure out how to do better next time, and move on. Sometimes you may not be sure about whether you’ve done something positive or negative for yourself. That’s okay too; it will take time to learn honest assessment. The point is to get in the habit of reflecting on whether you feel shame or authentic pride, so that the reaction comes more naturally.
Self-trust is a quiet, satisfied, deeply felt sensation, an admiring pat on the back that makes you want to hold your head a little higher and brings a smile to your face. Self-trust resonates with warmth and good will and feels pure, like white light. You'll know it when you experience it, and it will bring you such pleasure that you'll want that feeling again and again.