Excluding how you look, who are you? Take a minute to think about it, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Are you drawing a blank? If so, you’re not alone. Generally, people with overeating issues have little or even no idea who they really are. They’re so focused on what’s outside of them – their appearance – that they rarely consider what’s going on inside. They’re also very quick to dismiss their positive qualities and yet are world champions at identifying their supposed “defects”.
Identity and self-esteem develop in childhood. A vital part of parenting is to help children acquire a sense of themselves, to enable them to understand and accept who they are. Children should see themselves accurately reflected back in their parents’ eyes. Sadly, this is frequently not the experience of people who binge eat.
Perhaps you had a parent who was unpredictable, abusive, depressed or emotionally needy. Perhaps you took on the role of family “caretaker” or “peacekeeper”, constantly trying to smooth things over so everyone else was OK. Perhaps your mother or father saw you as an extension of themselves, rather than a person in your own right. Perhaps you were overlooked in favour of a sibling or treated as the family scapegoat.
When parents are unable to love and accept you in the way that you need, you’re left with very little idea of who you are, beyond perhaps “defective”, “bad” and “unlovable”.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that you end up with a negative image of yourself. But if you want to resolve your problems with food, it’s important to develop a more realistic picture of who you are, one which includes your qualities, strengths and personal attributes.
If you don’t know who you are there’s a danger you’ll allow others to define you. And that makes you susceptible to unfair criticism. You’ll assume that whatever someone says about you is true, simply because they’ve said it. Harsh words will hit home and they will hurt. And what do you do when you feel hurt? My guess is you withdraw and turn to food.
However, if you know yourself well enough to acknowledge and accept your positive qualities, you’ll be able to look within yourself for a second opinion when negativity comes your way. For instance, if someone accuses you of being lazy but you know you’re a hard worker, you’ll be able to reject their criticism and it won’t have an impact. You’ll then be able to consider their motivation. Are they projecting unwanted parts of themselves onto you? Are they having a bad day? Do they need to lash out at someone?
There’s another really important reason why you need to know who you are. We’re happiest when we’re acting autonomously, in tune with our own feelings, preferences and values. When we’re not in harmony with ourselves, we’re more likely to experience anxiety, dissatisfaction and restlessness – feelings that will have us burrowing our way through a party size bag of Doritos before we know it.
Now, the thought of getting to know yourself can be scary. What if you don’t like who you find? In my experience, this is never the case. What people tend to discover is that they’re not the shameful, bad, defective person they fear they are. Quite the opposite. Often they discover they’re incredibly caring, considerate, kind, inquisitive, resilient, empathic, sensitive, courageous, determined and absolutely worth knowing.
Hands up if you immediately answered “I am fat” to the question “who are you”? If you’re overweight, believe me that’s not all you are. Being fat doesn’t wipe out all your wonderful qualities. Likewise, losing weight doesn’t change your character. You’re so much more than a dress size or a number on a set of scales. You have so much more to offer than just the way you look. It’s never too late to find out who you really are and it’s always worth it. Somehow, I don’t think you’ll believe me.
Maybe it’s time to find out for yourself.