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We’re Always Faking It Til We Make It

A debate that comes up frequently on my Food and Feelings message board is whether telling ourselves things we don’t believe—that we’re lovable or deserving—is foolish self-deception or the way to encourage change in thinking or behavior. This is another way of asking if, as the AA saying goes, it works to fake it til we make it.

Truth is, all learning is through "faking it til you make it.” Do you think I told my initial psychotherapy clients how uncertain I was that I could help them because I lacked clinical experience and often felt as if I had no clue what I was doing? As you were acquiring your job skills, did you admit to customers, clients, colleagues (or your boss) that you were flying by the seat of your pants? As a salesperson, would you tell prospective buyers that you have no proof and only hope that a product you’re pushing will satisfy them? As a teacher, would you tell students you have little confidence that you can control such a large, unruly class?

I rest my case. Of course you don't say these things. You simply take whatever you do know and run with it to the best of your ability, assuming you’ll gain competence as you gain experience. You cheerlead yourself along by saying you’ll manage and hope you grow into skill and confidence. Whenever you’re out there doing it as you’re learning—whatever it is—you’re faking it til you make it.

Eating and body acceptance are no different. Many of you insist on seeing "the truth" about your eating and your weight, but this truth is an illusion. Instead, there are only the “stories” which we repeat to ourselves. Insisting on and reinforcing your limits guarantees that you will never succeed. I'm not suggesting that you lie to yourself about your eating habits or what you see in the mirror. However, if you're fat, why would you need to say that particular fact over and over? If you frequently binge, what’s the point of reinforcing the image of yourself as out of control? Do you constantly remind yourself that you have blue or green eyes? Of course, not.

Stop telling yourself who you don’t want to be. Instead, tell yourself that you’re becoming a “normal” eater and pursuing a healthier lifestyle. Let negative thoughts slide away and tell yourself who you want to be. Or do something active that changes your focus. You're fat—so what. You’ve been a binge-eater—so what. There’s a strong desire in you to change and it is as true as any of the other things you tell yourself. Remember, fake it til you make it is how you’ve been learning all along.