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.

And yet so much has changed in the last 30 years.  Perhaps most notably, we’ve experienced the birth and meteoric rise of social media and, along with it, an ever-increasing culturally-driven obsession with appearance.

Sharing platforms are bursting with people, especially young women, compensating for a lack of authentic self-worth by investing solely in their appearance. Their appearance becomes their identity.

While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying how we look, it’s worth remembering it’s only part of our identity.  Identity also includes our personality, character, values and beliefs.

Obsessing about our appearance (something I’m definitely still guilty of at times) can distract us from our real issues, such as uncovering beliefs that limit our personal development and exploring our place in the world.

So rather than avoiding challenging feelings, what if we allow them to point us in the right direction? What if we use the information they provide to get to know ourselves?  And I mean really get to know ourselves – not the person we wish we were or the one we think we ought to be.

Then perhaps, rather than feeling lost, empty, restless, confused and dissatisfied we may begin to find answers to our individual questions of identity and develop a peaceful relationship with food.

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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Expert Insight: Losing Weight Naturally

“When you do start to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full after years of being on one scheme or another, you will most likely go down a size or several sizes.

Unless you have been eating drastically less than your body needs for years, your weight should stabilise at its natural set point, which will be lower than what you’ve achieved through dieting and bingeing”.

Susie Orbach, “On Eating”

When clients first seek help for their emotion-driven overeating issues, they often think if they can sort out their weight, everything else will be OK.

In this way, therapy can be seen as another weight-loss initiative.  There’s sometimes a sense of disappointment that we’re not focusing on weight during sessions and, as a result of this, some clients assume I’m anti-weight loss.

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Are You Committed to Your Destination?

I remember the day I wanted to give up.

I was at home.  It was a warm, bright morning and sunlight was streaming into the study.  I was heading towards the door but, as I passed my desk, something stopped me.

A simple thought.

“This is too hard”.

I’d worked so hard to understand my issues with food and myself but, despite my efforts, I couldn’t make enough sense of them to consistently affect my eating behaviour.  Although my bingeing had stopped, I was still eating when I knew I wasn’t hungry.  It felt like an impossible struggle with no way out.

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Food for Thought: Anything is Possible

“What you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon must inevitably come to pass” – Paul J. Meyer

It’s the adverbs that make this sentence so meaningful.

He could have said “what you imagine, desire, believe and act upon” but that doesn’t have the same power.  Instead, Meyer colours in the specifics – we must vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon.

It’s not enough to hope for the best, plod along, see what happens – we have to want it, believe it and make it happen.

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