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In my counseling and workshops, I’m continually saddened by how much shame people with eating problems heap on themselves. No matter how fabulous, talented, bright, and caring they are, the fact that they don’t manage food well colors their entire view of their personality and achievements. I’m not even sure that people who are addicted to gambling, alcohol, or drugs feel such pervasive, corrosive, debilitating shame.
Think about it: do you really need a self-trashing disorder on top of an eating disorder? You’ve gotten into the destructive habit of coming down hard on yourself when you act out with food, but you can change what you think and say to yourself. After all, if shame were going to do the trick and end your food problems, wouldn’t it have don’t it by now?
What exactly makes you so ashamed? Right now you’re stuck with eating issues, but you are not stuck with how you think. So you eat when you’re not hungry or can’t stop when you’re full or satisfied, so you obsess about food and weight rather than live life fully engaged and with imperfection. I’m challenging you here—so what! It’s painful and frustrating, I know, but is your behavior really a cause for the enormous shame you feel? Most of the people I’ve met with eating problems care about and try to be good to other people, they’re frequently self-effacing and willing to take responsibility for themselves (too often, even when the other person is in the wrong), they work hard to improve themselves and the world. There are far worse behaviors that people engage in every day that don’t cause them the shame that eating causes you.
Your weapon of choice is food and most of the pain you inflict is on yourself. You’re not out there hurting people with unkind words and deeds. I’m not saying you’re an angel, but you’re not a demon either. You have an unhealthy relationship with food and are trying to mend it, so cut yourself some slack and stop focusing on how bad you are. Don’t buy into society’s stigma of people with eating problems or weight issues as undeserving of self-esteem because they’re too needy, excessive, or lacking in discipline. You are allowed to have problems—everyone does—and you’re working on fixing them.
If you feel badly about your food behavior in the moment, okay, note what you did wrong, learn your lesson, and move on. Make it a goal to stop feeling ashamed of your eating problems and try and catch yourself every time you start bashing yourself for not managing your food intake well. The ironic truth is that when you start alleviating the shame, you will feel differently—happier, lighter, more empowered, more hopeful.
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