Shame often fills every molecule of airspace in my office. It comes in waves off clients describing making small mistakes that are gigantic in their minds, transgressions that occurred years or decades ago that remain alive in their memories today and imagined harm they’ve inflicted on others that under the spotlight of exploration becomes nothing of the sort. To combat dysregulated eaters being shame-based, I focus on pride and what clients are proud of. Prying this information out of them is no easy task.
When I ask clients what makes them proud of themselves, they usually go silent and need to think long and hard to give me an answer. Sadly, some have no idea what I’m asking about—do I mean what they’ve achieved, done well, what others like or praise them for? Pride is the positive feeling of doing something well according to your own standards. Sometimes these standards mesh with others and sometimes they don’t. The point is to feel good about your efforts as well as noted achievements.
Dysregulated eaters often think they can’t feel pride until they’ve gotten to where they want to go. That’s not what pride is about. Feeling proud encompasses the effort you’ve put in and the progress you’ve made, the mistakes you’ve made as well as the times you’ve gone on to correct them, the fact that you had a horrible childhood and are still plugging along seeking happiness and meaning in life, and having made many blunders along the way and insisting on loving yourself anyway.
Especially in the eating arena, it’s crucial to find things to be proud of. Maybe you ate half the bag of cookies rather than the whole bag, got fast-food take out five times this week instead of seven, kept ice cream in your freezer for a whole day rather than gobbling it up as soon as you came home from food shopping, bought a cookbook to begin planning meals to cook at home, didn’t weigh yourself today, told a friend you’re not discussing dieting any more, explained to your spouse that you’re done with her/his nagging about what you eat or weigh, looked into a gym membership or watched a yoga video, or made a therapy appointment.
Think about your entire life and make a list of what you’re proud of. Maybe your list will include things you almost did, then thought better of. They count too. How about all the diets you didn’t go on and times you didn’t overeat or purge. Think of yourself in these roles: parent, friend, colleague, sibling, neighbor, community member, or advocate or activist. Maybe you helped change someone else’s life or your little corner of the world. Have pride in knowing that you don’t need to be perfect to feel proud of yourself!