On a Zoom call last week, a friend asked if the work I do with people who are exhausted from feeling out of control with food is just about self-acceptance. The answer is yes and no, and I didn’t do a great job of explaining it to her then, so I’m giving myself a second chance to explain it here.
The answer is yes, insofar as self-acceptance is a by-product of doing this work. It’s inevitable that being released from the prison of food obsession leads to a more expansive feeling of inherent okay-ness inside yourself.
But making self-acceptance the primary goal when, after the kids have gone to bed, you routinely find yourself in the kitchen inhaling leftover pasta like you’re carbo-loading for an ultramarathon? That’s like putting a warm washcloth on the forehead of a person giving birth: it’s kinda nice, gets cold fast and ultimately in no way addresses the cause of what’s going on.
So what do I do with clients, then, who have tried everything they possibly can to get their food under control and yet still find themselves breaking the rules, eating emotionally and eating past the point of fullness?
I get curious, and I help them to get curious, too.
First, I want to know what the problem is for the person I’m working with. What exactly is it about your body and your food that is causing the distress? (This is important, because you cannot tell just from looking at someone what their deal with food is. A relationship with food is an internal state, a narrative that we tell ourselves when we think about food, shop for food, prepare food, eat food, and how we feel about ourselves after we’ve eaten.)
Next, I want to see if we can explore how food rules, dieting, etc. have actually served you as a coping mechanism. This seems counterintuitive, I know. But disordered eating is an anxiety response, so I’m curious to know about the role that anxiety in your life and how food rules helped you deal with it. Doing this is especially important for folks who are feminists or involved in social justice movements, because there can be an intense layer of shame about not just “loving your curves” or being at peace with your body at all times. Exploring the ways dieting served as a coping mechanism can help loosen up that sense of shame; this is important because, otherwise, shame can keep us frozen in inaction.
Then there’s a little bit of teaching that goes alongside the coaching where we talk about the psycho-biological reasons for why we binge (hint: if we restrict, we are inevitably going to binge) and the science behind embracing weight-neutral approaches to health. We talk about neuroplasticity and tools we can use to rewire our brains and change thoughts that we inherited at very early ages from extremely unreliable narrators.
Finally, we talk about the socio-political context our bodies inhabit, including the ways in which the BMI, for example, is a relic of racist patriarchy that endures because of its power as a tool of oppression, rather than as a useful metric of actual health.
In other words, my work as a coach is about exploring spiritual, emotional, intellectual and political facets of change with my clients.
And then we rinse and repeat, working together as your new, freer relationship with food and your body unfolds. You bring me questions, fears, and challenges, and I listen, provide support and coach you through the stubborn knots. In the end, you access a deep well of self-trust, and arm yourself with a profound understanding of your body as the instrument of your life.
And yes, you also get self-acceptance as a bonus.
Sound intriguing? Terrifying and amazing all at the same time? Book a call with me so we can discuss the possibilities of us doing this work together.