Expert Insight: Questions of Identity

“In my work with women who experience despair and conflict in their relation to food, I have found that in the first hour they talk about eating.  By the second or third hour they tell me they feel confused and do not know what to do with their lives.  They have little sense of who they are or what they believe.  They are lost, empty, restless, confused and dissatisfied.  They are struggling with all the questions of identity their mothers also faced”.

Kim Chernin, “The Hungry Self”

In many ways, little has changed since Kim Chernin’s book was first published over 30 years ago.

In my work with clients with overeating issues today, I’d say the majority are struggling with questions of identity.  They also feel lost, empty, restless, confused and dissatisfied.  If food is an escape, it’s the discomfort of these feelings they’re often attempting to escape from.

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What Do Other People Think Of You?

It’s a beautiful, sunny day and you’re taking a stroll.  A group of girls approaches. As they pass you, they burst into a fit of giggles.

“They’re laughing at me” is your immediate thought, as grey clouds descend in your mind.

You’re having a meal at your favourite restaurant.  You look up mid-mouthful and catch the eye of a fellow diner who’s frowning.

The food instantly turns bitter in your mouth, preceded by the thought: “He thinks I shouldn’t be eating this because I’m fat”.

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Food for Thought: Knowing Yourself

“You’ve got to know yourself so you can at last be yourself” – D.H. Lawrence

We know when we meet someone who’s at ease with themselves.  They know who they are and they’re comfortable in their own skin. There’s no need for them to impress, play games or apologise for themselves.

If all we’ve ever experienced is disharmony within, we might envy them. “I wish I were like that”, we think.  “Life must be so uncomplicated for them”.

The irony is that in order to be ourselves we often believe we need to be someone else entirely – someone better.  Or, at the very least, we must “fix” what we believe is “wrong” about us.

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What Mask Do You Wear?

As I was showing her into the room for the start of her session last week, a client asked “how are you?”.  I launched into an extensive account of what was going on in my life, including my concerns about my cat’s digestive issues and my feelings about Brexit.  Half an hour later, she got to talk about her stuff.

Of course, this didn’t happen.

Although I strive to be authentic and transparent in my responses to clients, it would be highly inappropriate and unethical for me to talk about myself in this way.

I simply replied “I’m fine, thanks”. Continue reading “What Mask Do You Wear?”

What Did You Learn About Food Growing Up?

Lunchtime had ended at my primary school.  I sat alone in the dining hall, apart from two teachers who stood over me.  They stared resolutely at me, while I stared forlornly at a plate of cold cottage pie.  Everyone else had gone out to play and I could hear the familiar noises of the playground in the distance.

I was told I couldn’t leave until I’d finished my lunch.

At 10 years old, I truly loathed cottage pie.  It was My Completely and Utterly Absolutely Worst Food in the World Ever, apart from my Mum’s curried egg (sorry, Mum).

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What’s The First Thing You Say to Yourself in the Morning?

The alarm clock goes off.

Your eyes flutter open.

Still drowsy from sleep, you turn over and glance up to see someone who looks remarkably like Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket” standing over your bed.

He stares down at you, face like stone, eyes cold and unblinking, as he barks:

“RISE AND SHINE, SCUMBAG! TODAY YOU WILL EAT HEALTHY FOOD AND NOTHING BUT HEALTHY FOOD!  YOU WILL EXERCISE FOR PRECISELY ONE HOUR – I DO NOT GIVE A HOOT ABOUT YOUR SO-CALLED TENDINITIS!  YOU WILL COMPLETE EVERYTHING ON YOUR “TO DO” LIST, INCLUDING TAKING YOUR CAT, KATY PURRY, TO THE VET BECAUSE SHE’S TWO MONTHS OVERDUE FOR HER WORM TREATMENT!  I DO NOT CARE IF YOU DID NOT SLEEP WELL OR THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE A CASE OF THE SNIFFLES, THERE WILL BE NO EXCUSES AND NO COMPLAINING!  YOU WILL COMPLY WITH THESE ORDERS BECAUSE YOUR ASS IS MINE!”

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Why Am I Doing This To Myself?

After I’d finished yet another secret binge.
After I’d made myself feel sick from the vast quantity of food I’d eaten.
After I’d told myself how weak and pathetic I was.
After I’d said I hated myself with utter conviction.

As I sat alone in physical and emotional pain, this is the question I would ask over and over again.

Continue reading “Why Am I Doing This To Myself?”