The Psychology of Eating Podcast Episode 47: Body Image Holds Her Back
Bethany is in her 30s and has been hating her body since she was 10 years old – right around the time she went on her first diet. Though she truly loves to move, dance, exercise and be outdoors, Bethany has deliberately held herself back from doing what she loves most because of self consciousness about her body mixed in with some soul crushing perfectionism. She knows its time for a change, but doesn’t quite know what to do. Tune in to this fascinating podcast session as Marc David, Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating helps Bethany finally find the tools and insights to have the breakthrough she’s been looking for.
Below is a transcript of this podcast episode:
Marc: Welcome, everybody! I’m Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. And here we are in the Psychology of Eating podcast. I’m with Bethany. Welcome, Bethany!
Marc: I’m glad you’re doing this. I’m glad you’re here.
Bethany: Yeah. Me, too!
Marc: And for those people tuning in and listening in for the first time, let me tell you exactly what we’re doing and how this is going to work. So Bethany and I are going to have a session together. And we’re going to have sort of the one session to end all sessions, meaning we’re going to try to drill down and get to the heart of whatever you, Bethany, want to work on. And we’re going to condense that into less than an hour and see if we can help you have an opening, a breakthrough, a way to get where you want to go.
So this is a little bit of it unusual situation. I’m looking at taking four, five, six months of work or more and just distilling it into one conversation. So, Bethany, if you can wave a magic wand and get where you want to go and get what you want from our time together right now, what would that look like?
Bethany: Any kind of good questions that open the door for work in me. Really, truly that’s really what I want out of this. Obviously, life is a journey. So it’s a matter of opening the door and asking the hard questions. So an hour is going to be a very, very small snapshot into the work that I have to do.
Marc: And what is the work? Give me the specifics.
Bethany: Okay. So the work is pretty significant body image issues. I’ve experienced them since I was, gosh, probably in junior high, high school.
Marc: So for you, tell me what those body image issues look like or sound like. How does it show up for you?
Bethany: Okay. So I remember even actually pre- junior high, my mother was a dancer. So she thought it was a good idea for me to dance. So ballet was it. And I remember being in my tights and leotard and thinking, “Wow. I’m bigger than the other girls. This is really uncomfortable. My legs are bigger.”
So it started pretty early on. And I felt like I really held myself back. I was comparing myself to all the other girls. Even in sports, I always looked at them and said, “Gosh, I’m not as small as them. I’m not as quick as them,” just really critical of myself.
And when I was thinking about doing this interview, I was thinking, “There’s really no reason for me to believe that” because both my parents were very supportive. All my friends were very supportive and encouraging. And it was just my own inner dialogue that really held me back. Even now, I’m thirty-one years old. And I’ve had my issues with eating disorders and all that jazz.
But even now, I’ve had a tough time getting into my profession because it makes me sit a lot. So I’ve gained weight. And I realize it’s opening up Pandora’s box again. I’m like, “Ooh. Okay. There’s some major work that I have to do here.” So it’s deep.
Marc: Yeah. How old do you think you were when you first started having those thoughts of, “Wait a second. My body doesn’t look like their bodies.”
Bethany: I was probably about ten.
Marc: Wow. And you just kind of came up with that on your own. Were people saying things to you? Were kids saying things to you? Were your parents saying things to you?
Bethany: No, my parents weren’t, not at all. I developed much quicker than my peers. I was much taller and much heavier than my peers. And you wouldn’t notice that now because I’m pretty petite, as a person, anyway. Yeah, I was larger. So I was looking at myself. I’m like, “Wow. I feel freakish. And I’m really big compared to the other kids.”
Marc: So you would consider yourself petite these days?
Marc: So when you think about that, how do you reconcile, “Wow. That’s what I think when I was maybe ten years old. And I kind of look in the mirror. I know I’m petite now. But I still have this body image thing.” How would your body look different if you can sort of have what you want?
Bethany: Well, I guess it would be the golden standard where it’s toned and thin and pretty close to perfection. I’m kind of a perfectionist, which has been really great in some aspects of my life and not so great and other aspects. It’s funny because I get a lot of feedback from people, positive feedback. Not only do they see my inner me, but they also see the outer me. And they compliment you on a regular basis. And I’m like, “Who are you talking to? Because it’s not me.”
Marc: So are you in a relationship? Are you married?
Bethany: Yeah, yeah. I’m two and a half years into my marriage.
Marc: And what does your husband think about all this? How does he relate to how you relate to your body?
Bethany: He was so excited to hear about this interview. He and I have a relationship and discussing what it is we have issues with in terms of how we feel, how we look. Both of us struggle with our issues with food or dysfunctional relationship with food at times. He loves me regardless of my weight.
Marc: Tell me about your relationship with food. How would you describe it? We’ve talked about your relationship with your body. How does it work for you to eating?
Bethany: I listened to some of your modules. So food is the enemy at times. It’s makes me really anxious because I’m constantly thinking, “Okay, am I going to stay late? Am I going to feel bad?” I don’t really know what works for my body and what doesn’t. I have an idea. But it’s not solid.
For a long time, I’ve had a really controlled relationship with food. And lately it’s been very haphazard. It’s been very roller coaster. It’s like anything goes. Anything that sounds good, I’m just going to eat it. So I sort of attribute that to my work. I’m a therapist. So it’s tough work. And I have a tough clientele. It’s new. So I’m just sort of adjusting. And it’s been an interesting ride.
Marc: So if you have what you wanted, what do you think would be different? How would life be different? How would things change if you could just push the button, have perfection, what would it look like? Not physically, but how would life look for you?
Bethany: Hmm. Life would be lighter. It would be less heavy. I would have more desire to participate in things that I’ve always wanted to do. You talk about embodiment. And I haven’t been doing that lately. I do love to dance. It sort of feeds my soul. I do love to exercise actually. I know a lot of people don’t. But that drives me. I love it. Lately I haven’t been because I haven’t felt good and I’m sluggish. And I guess it would just be lighter.
Marc: You would be lighter. Life would be lighter. You would participate more. You would do more of the things that you want to do but you don’t do. Is that a good paraphrase of what you just said?
Marc: Yeah. That makes sense. When are the times for you that you tend to feel best about your body? Are there moments, days, experiences where you go, “Wow, I feel pretty good about myself.” Does that happen for you?
Bethany: I’m sort of embarrassed to admit it’s infrequent. It’s infrequent. I would say that in the mornings I feel best because I’m sort of empty and I feel just—I don’t know—normal, I guess. I don’t really know how to describe it. Usually towards the end of the day, I feel bloated and heavy and just unfocused and tired and blah. But in the mornings, I usually feel pretty good.
I would say I feel best when I’m in nature, when I’m out hiking, when I’m walking with my dog, when I’m kayaking. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. But nature really just is good for me. And I haven’t been able to connect as much I used to.
Marc: Now when you say by the end of the day you could feel sluggish or bloated, do you actually feel bloated?
Bethany: Yeah, much of the time.
Marc: Yeah. Have you ever worked with any kind of doctor or nutritionist or specialist in terms of your digestion?
Bethany: No, actually. I’ve had digestive issues since I was a baby. And my mom actually…So I’m adopted. And she couldn’t breastfeed me. So she put me on formula and did whatever she could, goat’s milk, because I did have an allergic reaction to dairy.
But I always feel like it just won’t go through me, like I can’t get food to digest. So, no, I’ve never really seen a specialist. I’ve seen naturopath doctors and chiropractors for various other things. I had acne as a teenager. But not for digestion.
Marc: Got it. So when do you tend to feel physically best?
Bethany: Physically best? The earlier part of the day. So the morning to probably one o’clock.
Marc: Got it. Got it. Got it. Do you want to have kids?
Bethany: No. I’m pretty happy. And I have a stepdaughter. And she is amazing.
Marc: How old is she?
Bethany: She’s nine and a half.
Marc: And how is her relationship with her body?
Bethany: As far as I can tell, really good, which is exciting and happy and good to see. She’s also in ballet because she wanted to be, which is what I felt was important. But she plays. She dances. But she’s never really made any comments or anything. She’ll prance in front of the mirror and just love on herself. It’s pretty cute.
Marc: Isn’t that’s amazing how kids, when given the right environment or however it happens, they’re easy. And they’re natural. And they can run around naked. They don’t care. No shame in their game, usually until a certain age.
Marc: So I think I’ve got the information I need right now to start giving you some thoughts and ideas. There’s a few things. I think first from just a baseline of where to begin with your body image, one of the challenges that a lot of us have is we have long-term symptoms that have become normal for us. And a lot of us have a certain toleration for what we think is normal. It just kind of becomes normal.
So when you say, “Gosh, I’ve has digestive issues all my life. In fact, this started when I was a baby,” which, for a lot of people is very true if you weren’t breastfed, if you were given food or infant formula in particular that you are sensitive to. And most of the infant formula on the market isn’t that healthy and isn’t necessarily good for an infant’s body. So it wouldn’t surprise me that you might be feeling with lifelong digestive challenges, which means that got microbiome is off. It’s imbalanced.
As I want to say that as goes digestion, so goes the mind, meaning the two are very connected. Like if my digestion feels great, I feel great. If I’m constipated, we often think of constipated people as mean and cranky. It’s sort of true. If you’re constipated, yeah, you’re going to get mean and cranky. It sort of makes sense.
If there’s disturbance in the belly, it easily translates into a little disturbance in the mind. We can’t fully focus. So I would love to see you start to get some help there because it’s not going to solve the problem around image. But it’s a step towards dropping into your body more and handling something that’s been with you for a long, long time that I just want to say has an impact on how we think, how we feel, how we believe.
If I’m walking around the world in chronic pain because I have a back injury and I’m always in pain, the world is a little bit more of a painful place. Or it can be. It’s easier for it to be that. Is and what is…And you sort of mentioned this. I don’t remember the exact words that you used. But you sort of alluded to how you don’t quite know what’s best for you in terms of food, which to me by the way makes perfect sense because in… I don’t want to say in an ideal world. But in a normal world—whatever normal is—you should be able to eat. You should be able to digest. You should be able to excrete. And we’re done with it on that level. It should feel okay. It should feel good.
You don’t have to sit around right now worrying about breathing. “Okay, let’s see. How do I breathe in? How do I breathe out? Oh, my God. It’s not working.” It’s just natural for you. You’re not thinking about it. You’re not worrying about it. If you had asthma, that’s a different case. If you had a respiratory condition, that’s a different case. And that’s not going to be so much fun.
So once you start to manage that… And I would suggest going to either to a naturopath or a good functional medicine doctor, find someone if it’s at all possible in your area who has some knowledge of working with digestion, especially working with probiotics, especially working with cleansing the body, replenishing the gut. There’s a lot of people with that skill set right now. It can make a huge difference in your life because otherwise, this challenge of, “I don’t know what to feed myself” is always going to be there when our body doesn’t feel right. And your body is literally not feeling right. So it’s going to be hard for you to be comfortable in your own skin, even if you love your body. Make sense?
Marc: So having a long-term digestive challenge, oddly enough, makes it a little harder for a lot of people to relax into a positive body image. So that’s a place I’d love for you to start. Would you consider yourself a fast eater, moderate eater, slow eater?
Bethany: I’d maybe say moderate to fast.
Marc: So I would love for you over the next few months to really, really, really see if you can train yourself to become a slow eater. And you know when I say slow eater, I don’t mean boring eater. I mean sensuous. I mean present. I mean relaxed. I mean, “Here’s me with the food.”
Being with your food and eating quickly might be no different than being with your stepdaughter and saying, “Okay, hurry up. Finish your sentence. Let’s finish our time together now because I have to go do other things.” That’s not the way you want to treat someone. You want to give them your attention. You want to give them the right pace. A lot of kids are little bit slower. You have to explain things different. You have to really work with their rhythm.
Same with your body. Digestion is all about slow. Assimilation is all about slow. It takes the body time. So what’s happening is there’s a good chance that being a moderate to fast eater can make whatever digestive challenges you already have worse because the body is not optimally designed to digest and assimilate when it’s eating quickly. Eating fast to the brain is considered a stressor.
So you’re going into a stress response, which will give your digestive system some amount of partial shutdown because the body is not designed to digest food when it’s running from a lion. It’s designed for survival. So your body thinks it’s in survival when it’s eating. So it’s going to get more upset because it’s moving fast. And on top of that, you’re just not giving your body the benefit of being with you. There is a place where you’re kind of being ahead of it and not taking it along for the ride.
So my guess is there is a place where you were two or three steps faster in your mind that you are with your actual body. Does that make sense? You kind of laughed when I said that.
Bethany: Oh, absolutely! [Laughs] Yes.
Marc: So if you’re that kind of person who is a few steps ahead of yourself, it’s more of a life lesson to slow down and to get present with yourself. And now is as good a time as any to do that. What happens is… I’m going to guesstimate for you that you’re at a time in your life when—and this often happens once we hit around thirty—what I’ve noticed… And if you study life cycles, because there’s a lot of research that looks at seven-year cycles: age seven, fourteen, twenty-eight, thirty-five.
Right around the transition from the twenty-eight to thirty, finishing up that seven-year cycle, we start to naturally kind of take stock of who we are and where we’ve come from and what works and what doesn’t. Age twenty-eight through thirty is often a powerful transition time. On the other side of that, it’s like right at the beginning of your early thirties, we have a little bit more ability to look at the patterns that we’ve brought with us from early life. We have more ability to start to shift them because when we come into this world, we’re living in reaction to our environment and to our parents and to people and to things and to situations. And we’re just trying to survive. We’re trying to get by. We’re trying to make sense of the world. We’re trying to just figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and how to feel and how to be in a ballet class and feel good about yourself.
Children are learning how to find a sense of self in a world that’s not always so easy to have a strong sense of self. And we survive to the degree that we survived. We thrive to the degree that we thrive. And here you are. And all things considered, it sounds like you’re doing okay for yourself. All things considered, here you are. You’re alive. You live in a beautiful place. And you have a great partner. And you have a beautiful stepdaughter. And you have a good career.
And now here’s these challenges that have been with [you] for a while. So all I’m saying is I’m just kind of acknowledging that you are positioned to make a shift. You’re positioned to make a transformation. Sometimes for young people in their late teens and early twenties, they have to go through a period of upheaval and upset before they can begin to love their bodies. There’s a lot of young people who I’ve worked with over the years who they just need time.
Now, we all need time for sure. But for some of us, the timeline starts to shorten and collapse because we have the momentum and we have the tools and it’s the right timing. So I’m just acknowledging that I think the timing is really sort of right for you.
You mentioned the term “perfectionism.” Doesn’t it seem like being a ballerina when you’re young or taking ballet classes and perfectionism almost goes hand in hand?
Marc: And it’s fascinating to me, as well, how it’s not like your parents were saying to you, “Oh, you’re too big. You’re too this. You’re too that.” It’s not like kids were necessarily make fun of you. It’s just your noticing, your observations. And here you are twenty years later. And even though you’re petite and even though I’m guessing based on what you’re saying that most people in your environment will look at you that way and see it that way, in a weird way, you’re still that ten-year-old girl feeling like, “I’m awkward. And I don’t fit in here.” Is that true?
Marc: So psychology, for those of us who are essentially okay—so we don’t have to be hospitalized—psychology can become playful. Psychology is a beautiful exploration because people get afraid of the word “psychology.” It’s like we’re all human beings. We have a psyche. We have a mind. We have emotions. Let’s study ourselves. Let’s learn about ourselves. It’s wonderful. It’s fascinating.
For most people, me is my favorite topic. You’re your favorite topic. I’m my favorite topic. We’re self-referencing human beings. So I like to look at we’re often as adults living in an age that was long ago, community can often look at somebody and talk to them for a while and say, “Wow, there’s a big part of you that’s this eighteen-year-old-kid who, when you went to camp, umph.” We pitch our tent often times at a certain pivotal time of life when things were difficult or challenging for amazing or whatever it was. We grab identity from that time. And it kind of sticks to us like Velcro because it was powerful.
There are times in our lives, psychologists call it imprint vulnerability where we are very receptive to imprints, to a new way of thinking and believing. And you were very imprint vulnerable at that age when like, “Wow, this is me. I’m a little girl. I’m being with all these kids end up getting into my body. And I’m being a ballerina. And, oh, my goodness. Wait a second. I heard you’re supposed to be a tiny thing to be a ballerina.”
Nobody even have to tell you that. That’s in the soup. We somehow know that they’re supposed to be these tiny little things. We somehow know that football players are supposed to be these big guys. And they’re not these tiny little things. So we’ve somehow figured out that information. And all of a sudden, you as a child understandably took that information—“I’m bigger”—and made a good observation. You were bigger. You are not bigger anymore. But you were. So there’s an observation.
And then make these conclusions that don’t necessarily hang with reality. So the conclusion you made, which is understandable, was, “Therefore, there’s something wrong. Therefore I’m not good enough. Therefore I’m less of them. Therefore I need to do something about this. Therefore I need to change this. Therefore I’m not perfect. And if I was perfect, I wouldn’t have this problem.”
So to a child’s mind, that makes a hundred percent sense. And is completely understandable because we as children want to fit in. You don’t want other kids making fun of you. You want to feel, “I am loved and accepted.” That is the human freaking condition. We want to feel loved and accepted, particularly at a young age because we are vulnerable. And we do need that feedback from the world so we can develop a healthy sense of self.
And you took on, “I need to be different. And I need to change this,” which will then likely lead to a challenged relationship with food. “Oh, my God. What should I eat? Food is the enemy.” And it makes sense you would think food is the enemy because, “Well, that’s what’s going to make me fat and not perfect.”
Bethany: Mmm hmm.
Marc: So I’m just kind of laying out the territory that I see you in right now. And here’s the weird thing. There comes a point… This stuff is confusing, what we’re talking about. And, Bethany, it’s not easy because otherwise here you are. You’re a professional. And you just can’t push a button and make it better.
Marc: None of us can because it’s difficult. So I want to acknowledge that. Were talking about this because it’s not easy because it is difficult. And it’s not cookie-cutter. There’s not a pill we can take to make it go away. So there is a work that’s before us. It’s almost like we’re training. And in order for you to heal this and transform it, it’s going to take a little bit of training. And it’s mental training. It’s emotional training.
And training means really repetition and intensity. If you’re going to train for anything, if you’re going to train for an athletic event, you are repeatedly training so you can run the marathon—repetition. And you measure your intensity. On some days, you can’t just run two miles to train for a marathon. You have to run ten miles on certain days. And then on other days, you have to run fifteen or twenty miles. So we increase the intensity.
So all I’m saying is to me the road before you is almost like a new training for yourself. And I’m kind of inviting you to begin fresh, to consider this. Even though you’ve been dealing with this for a long time, I want you to think of this as a new beginning now and a new approach because previously what happens is we are almost in a spin cycle. “How do I make my body perfect? What do I have to do? Let’s see. I’ve been controlling my diet. But I’m still not perfect. I try to exercise. That worked. It didn’t work. I can’t really exercise as much as I can. I kind of sit a lot. So I want to be perfect but I can exactly have the perfect body. I don’t even have the energy to make that happen.”
So there’s all the stuff that goes on. And we end up sort of being in a washing machine is what it feels like. We’re just getting spun around. So this is a time for you to step out of, I almost want to say the confusion that happens inside as we try to resolve, “I want my body to be perfect. Then I’ll be happy. But I can’t make the body be perfect. Therefore I can’t be happy.” It’s kind of the conundrum.
You said to me when I asked you how would life be different, what would it be for you if you have perfection, you said, “I’d be lighter. I wouldn’t be as heavy.” You also said—and I’m paraphrasing here—“I’d be more in the game. I would just do things that normally I might not do. I would just be happy to participate in life because I wouldn’t feel so heavy. It’d be like, ‘Ta-da! I’m here! Let’s play!” Right?
Marc: So what I want to suggest to you… I don’t even want to make a suggestion. I’m going to say it flat out. You can have that. You can have those results. You can have the result called I feel lighter. You can have the result called, “Ta-da! I’m now a participant in life. And I’m here to play. And I’m available,” no matter what you look like.
It is truly not dependent on what your body looks like. I know you know that intellectually. But your brain doesn’t really believe it yet. There’s an old pattern is there that says, “Yeah. I hear you. But, not true. Not true.” And that’s where your work is. Your work is actually changing of very toxic to believe that you didn’t invent that doesn’t belong to you that belongs to a lot of us that we suck from the airwaves.
It’s no different than opening up your computer and you turn it on. You’re connected to the Internet. There’s an invisible way that’s your computer works. And it’s tuning into invisible frequencies that we can’t see. And it allows us to look at visual images of each other and talk in real time. That’s magic. That’s how magic the invisible world is. The invisible world is so magic that we can have these thoughts and beliefs that we cannot even see where they come from. We grab them from the environment. Your software picks it up and adopts it as its own.
So our job is to kind of undue that toxic programming. And it’s a practice. And it’s a self-training because the conundrum is if you set yourself up for, “I have to have the perfect diet and the perfect body in order to be happy. But I don’t have that. So I can’t be happy. But as soon as I have that, then I’ll be happy and be the real me,” we are essentially telling the universe, “I ain’t gonna be happy. It’s almost impossible.” We are telling ourselves, “I am setting up an impossible situation for me to be happy, for me to be the real me, and for me to step into life.”
So the practice becomes—and here’s the first part of your homework assignment that I’m going to ask you to consider—is to actually write a list of all the things you would do, big and small and medium, all the different ways that you would be as a person, small, medium, and large, when you’d be perfect and have this perfect body that would allow you to be the real you and start living life and jumping into things and doing things you normally wouldn’t do. Like, “Okay, what would that be?”
What would those things actually be? What would your personality be like? What would your facial expressions be like? How would you carry yourself? Who would you talk to differently? Where would you go? What would you do? How would you play? How would you feel in your body? That becomes your Bible. That becomes your religion to start doing those things because life is short. Life is short and you’re not that’s ten-year-old girl anymore. You’re not in that ballerina class anymore. You’re in your life. And you kind of call the shots in terms of what goes on in your mind.
Right now your mind is calling the shots. Right now the mind is locked into that ten-year-old girl that doesn’t quite fit that wants to make it different. And all I’m saying is it’s time now to be the… How old did you say you were again? Thirty-one?
Marc: Thirty-one. It’s time to be the thirty-one-year-old Bethany. So second part of your homework assignment is I would love for you to do some journaling and writes down who’s the thirty-one-year-old Bethany and the Bethany into the next ten years. Who is she? Who is she? Who do you want her to be?
Because in a way you’re still trying to not to be that girl. Let’s switch to that and say, “Who do I want to be really? Forget about not being that girl. Who do I want to be?” And being, we’re not talking about how you look because there’s probably a lot of women out there who want the body and the petiteness that you have thinking that way to make them happy. You have it.
There’s probably a lot of women out there who would trade places thinking that it’s going to get them somewhere. So it’s this weird twist of fate that a person could legitimately not be petite and think, “Wow, that’s going to be the answer.” And it never quite works out that way.
So all I’m saying is this is time for you to step into in a lot of ways it’s like a self-parenting. You have to learn how to talk to yourself like you’re the parent because my guess is when you’re judging your body, you’re being that ten-year-old girl. You are being this insecure person who, “If only I could change this, then I’ll be more secure.” When did you find out that you were adopted?
Bethany: I was a child. I don’t remember the exact age. But I feel at that just always known.
Marc: Uh-huh. I don’t know if it’s true for you. But oftentimes with people who’ve been adopted, there’s a particular lifelong challenge or there can be of this sense of like, “God, who am I? And where do I come from?”
Bethany: Yeah, absolutely.
Marc: And it’s an added piece. I’ve known a lot of adopted people over the years. I’ve had a lot of clients who’ve been adopted. And it’s a theme that’s really strong. And it’s completely understandable. “Who am I? And where did I come from? And what happened?” So your search for identity in a lot of ways is going to be a little more challenging than the person who wasn’t adopted.
Bethany: Mmm hmm. Absolutely.
Marc: My sense is you’re up for the challenge. And it starts in the comfort of your own skin. And, to me, part of writing down who you want to be into your thirties now—not who don’t you want to be—but who do you want to be? Not in terms of your body. How do you want to show up? How do you want to be in the world? And start to use that as your game plan. That sets you up to start to create a new life. There literally has to be—and I mean this—it’s almost like a delineation point like, “At the end of the year, we celebrate New Year’s. Okay, end of the year and now a new one.”
I’m saying for you, let’s start to look at this phase of your life of, “I don’t love my body. I want to be different. I need to change it in order for me to be happy.” I want to see that as a phase that you’re saying goodbye to as opposed to something you’re trying to fix and solve. Do you see the distinction there?
Marc: “Wow, let me see if I can fix this. Let me see if I can fix this.” It’s less about fixing and solving it. It’s more about saying goodbye to it, which means it’s the adult in you that is the one that’s going to say, “Okay, I can make a choice here. I can step up with myself and say, ‘I’m here. Oh, here’s me being critical. Here’s me looking in the mirror and say something nasty to myself. Here’s me going into my perfectionist thing.’”
And then you catch yourself because you know it’s not going to change overnight. But the practice is to start to notice the dialogue that happens and let the adult inside you step in. Let Bethany the adult step in and give Bethany the ten-year-old girl and nice big hug in the moment and say, “Thanks for the perfectionism. We’re going to just turn that off now. We’re going to gently let that go.” So you have to learn how to monitor yourself. And it’s not easy. But it’s the practice. It’s the training that you have to give your self to uplift yourself.
And what I want to tell you is it is a thousand percent possible for you to turn this around in a short amount of time. It could be weeks. It could be months. It could be a few years where you get to the place where the majority of you is loving your body. And the majority of you is feeling good about the skin that you’re in. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have moments. It doesn’t mean that the perfectionism thing is going to be a hundred percent gone. We are shooting for percentages.
Usually if you are below fifty percent in terms of, “I love myself. I love my body,” it’s a lot of pain and suffering. It’s a lot of challenge. And it’s constant mind talk. And it’s constant energy drain. And it stops us from being who were supposed to be. It stops us from living our fullest life. And we end up passing on that nonsense to the next generation.
In this case, your stepdaughter’s going to feel it at some point. Girls want the role models to be women who are empowered. Boys want their role models of men to be men like, “Here’s who I am. Here’s my purpose. Here’s why I’m here.” So as adults, we have to step into that. It is a choice.
And I want to say again there’s an adult voice in you that I’m looking for. And it’s almost like learning how to be your own good parent. So there’s a parent that lives inside you. It is a parent that comes out from you when you’re with your stepdaughter. There’s a parent that might come out if you’re holding your friends a baby. That’s persona, that goal, that archetype comes out. I want you to hold that archetype for you, meaning I want you to be able to stand by yourself when you start to judge yourself.
If your stepdaughter was looking in the mirror and screaming horrible things at herself, you would intervene is my guess. Right?
Marc: So I want you to do the same for you. If you’re talking bad language to yourself, I would want you to intervene in that it just as you would intervene for a child. So it’s become a little cliché in certain psychological circles. But the inner child, for so many humans is such an important place for us to hang and notice and give some love and care to because when we heal that part of us, when we start to give it more love and attention and consciousness, magic happens.
How are you doing right now? I’m throwing a lot of things out there. Give me a weather report. How are you feeling? What’s going on for you?
Bethany: Everything you’re saying is resonating pretty deeply. It’s so funny that you said that I absolutely know all those things intellectually. There’s really no doubt. I know those things. And how do I do it? It’s funny. I counsel and provide therapy for people on a day-to-day basis. And I’m saying the same things. And it’s like, “Okay, now I’ve got to practice it. I’ve got to do it on a daily basis.
And I like, too, what you said about the training for a marathon. I ran for a lot of years and trained for short races, half marathons and sprint triathlons and stuff. And I loved it. But it’s doing the same thing, but mentally. And it’s, for whatever reason, more difficult and harder for me to do the training on a day-to-day basis.
There will be weeks when I meditate and I spent some time with myself and I journal. And I do all those things. And I catch myself and I’m very present and aware of where I am. And then there’s weeks where it’s like no. So that consistency peas sometimes falls apart.
Marc: I got it. So that’s a great observation for you to have and for you to make. For so many people… Here’s another little psychological distinction that I find so super helpful. For so many of us, to change whatever unwanted habits, whatever unwanted set of beliefs, to change whatever it is were trying to change, it’s all about shortening the time between remembering and forgetting.
It’s shortening that time to say, “God, I could be taking care of myself for a whole week. And, ugh, I stop.” So, wow, that seven days where you actually forget in a way. We kind of go a little bit numb. We go back to sleep. We go unconscious. And then something wakes us up.
Now, by the way, some people, they’re asleep for years or decades. And then they wake up. So maybe you might just go a few weeks in that state until you go, “Whoa. Wait a second. I’ve got to come back to me.” So now we’re looking to shorten it more. We’re looking to not go a week with a lot of self-rejection and a lot of the perfectionism and self-punishment and getting out of your body and out of yourself and out of your own heart and out of your own kindness toward self. We’re looking to collapse that into no more than a few days. And then we’re looking to collapse that into no more than a few hours, nd then no more than a few minutes.
So you’re shortening in the amount of time that you’re spending in misery and suffering and self-rejection. Who wants to live there? It’s a bad neighborhood to be in. So it’s literally learning how to remind ourselves. And that’s about staying awake.
It’s no different if you’re learning how to drive a car and you wants to get behind a wheel and daydream and not pay attention. If I’m teaching you how to drive that car, I’m like, “Hey, pay attention. Keep your eyes on the road.” “No, I want to go think about this. I want to look at my cell phone.” No, you’ve got to keep your eyes on the road. Some so there’s got to be a voice that says, “Whoa, keep your eyes on the road.”
And that is sort of the executive function of who we are as humans that needs to be exercised. It needs to be trained. It’s a muscle that the more you use it, the stronger you get. So this is the big conundrum that you and me and so many people have, which as we go, “I know that. I understand it. I know what I’m supposed to do. I get it.” And we get stuck in that little plateau of, “I know what I’m supposed to do. I understand this. But I just can’t put it into practice.” Exactly! We’re not putting it into practice. So it becomes a practice.
Don’t tell me you want to run a marathon and then you don’t train for it. So you want to run a marathon? Great. Now here’s the practice. Don’t tell me you want to learn a foreign language and then you don’t get a book or by a program to learn how to speak it. So there’s a practice involved. So there’s a practice involved in this. It’s not a mystery. It’s not a secret.
So the practice on a daily basis for you again is noticing when you start to go into the self-rejecting thoughts. And in the moment I want you to notice that. I want you to catch it. And I want you to see what you can do in that moment to give yourself kindness and acceptance and compassion. Even if you’re feeling bad about yourself, you can still hug your step daughter when she’s feeling bad about herself. She might still feel bad about herself. But she’ll be getting a hug. And that will feel good.
So it’s like that. It’s literally like mothering yourself. We’re learning how to be better parents and adults for self because that means maturity. That means growth in character. And that means that we begin to take command. The true control is just command over how the mind is operating. If the mind is torturing us, then, yeah we want to figure out, “How do I stop that?”
Marc: So, again, some of the pieces for you, some of the homework assignments for you our journaling about who you’re going to be into your thirties, like in the positive. Who do you want to be? How do you want to show up? It’s journaling all of the ways that all the things you would be doing, as well, if you were being the real you, if you were being in the game. If you were doing things without holding yourself back, what would that be?
And the practice is to start to do them literally. To start to do all those things that you’re waiting for and to not wait because then you’re literally moving in the direction where you say you want to go. You said that’s your goal like, “Well, when I look this perfect way, then I’m going to have these things. I’m going to feel lighter.” Well, you can feel lighter now by being the real you. You’ll feel lighter.
Marc: You have to prove to yourself that there’s an untruth there that, “I can’t be the real me until I have a perfect amount of tone and muscle tone and body fat.” You have to prove to yourself how bizarre that is because it’s a bizarre concept.
Bethany: It is bizarre. It really is.
Marc: Absolutely bizarre. It’s so freaking crazy and insane. It’s insane. It’s absolutely insane. And that little bit of nonsense and insanity holds us back. We’re not just talking about you. We’re talking about millions and millions of people. It holds us back. We have to be to look in the mirror and to see the insanity of that. It’s absolutely insane. And it has to be addressed on that level because then we can laugh at it a little bit and see how silly it is.
And, at the same time, it’s humbling because is also strong. And it’s powerful. And we’re respecting the power of this viral, untrue believe just like we have to respect the power of something like AIDS or the power of any infectious disease. We want respect power. But at the same time, we want to have a stroke immune against it.
Thoughts? Feelings? Questions that you have?
Bethany: Not at the moment. I know that this is going to sit with me and resonate. And things will pop up. So I guess it was one thing that struck me when you said saying goodbye to the old ten-year-old me. It’s funny. Again, I’m going to kind of go back to that whole intellectual piece because it’s been knowledge in my head that, yeah, I know. I’ve got to let go of it. I’ve got to come in my own. I’ve got to move into my adulthood. “Shoulda, shoulda, should. Would, would, would,” all those expectation words.
And it’s so funny because the two words that are really just hard in my life is, “Yeah, but. Yeah, but.” It’s always this, “Yeah, but.” There’s this thing that’s holding me back. Or, “Yeah, but that wasn’t good enough.” Those are toxic for me. And I’ve got to catch those. So, yeah, for what that’s worth.
Marc: It’s catching those. It’s knowing that those come up. And it’s knowing that you’re turning a corner now. It’s choosing to turn a corner. It’s not always going to be easy. It’s choosing to turn that corner and say, “The, ‘Yeah, buts’ are not going to stop me anymore.”
Marc: So it’s not about exerting these vast amounts of willpower. It’s a regular daily practice of chipping away at this and realizing that what you’re doing is you’re stepping into a maturity. You’re stepping into a maturity. You have to be more responsible for how you’re talking to yourself.
Marc: Because how you talk to yourself is how you create your life. So how you’re talking to yourself when it’s, “Yeah, but,” it’s just holding up a stop sign for yourself and saying, “Just stop here.”
Marc: And there’s nothing—I promise you—from there there’s nothing to figure out because I think your default mechanism is especially challenging being a therapist because therapists can really try to think their way out of everything.
Bethany: Oh, yeah!
Marc: And it’s not about thinking your way out of this. You’re going to have to get more into your body, get into your feelings, and get into the present moment. As soon as you start to solve everything up here, you know it’s time to take a deep breath and breathe into your body.
As soon as you start to feel like you’re living from the neck up, get outside. Take a walk. Do some deep breathing. For you it’s all about getting into your body. Like you said, “Wow, I feel good when I’m out in nature.” You’re really in your body when you’re out in nature. You feel good in the morning.
Morning for you, for your rhythm, that’s the time when you feel most in body. And then throughout the day you lose your momentum for being in your body. So you want to try to catch yourself. And a lot of that can simply be taking a moment, between sessions, between clients, between whatever and just breathing and saying, “Okay, Bethany, how do I get back in? How do I breathe and feel like I’m me instead of feeling like I’m living in my head thinking about being me?”
Bethany: Right. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I’ve noticed a shift. Prior to doing therapy, I fought fire for about six seasons and loved it because I was out in nature and I was physical every single day. And it just was lovely. And being a therapist, it is very much headspace, very much headspace that it’s completely draining for my entire being. And adopting more mindfulness techniques and yoga and things like that, even just taking a moment to breathe helps me get back into using the other parts of me that there are. So it’s been an interesting shift to say the least.
Marc: And you can make that shift really, really work. It’s a wonderful challenge. It’s a wonderful challenge for you to just finally step into who you are meant to be. Who you’re meant to be is not a set of conversations in your head that are self-limiting about what you’ll look like and how you can’t be the real you unless you look a certain way. That’s an old conversation that just wants to slowly have the air left out of it so it can eventually just fizzle away.
And because it’s not real, it will fizzle away. It just needs your attention.
Marc: You could do pretty good, Bethany. What do you think?
Bethany: Yeah, I think so, too. Like I said, there’s a lot of things that I just know. It’s just that practice piece that I need to kind of get in touch with regularly.
Marc: So do you feel you can do that now? Are you willing to commit to making this a practice in terms of catching your thoughts, catching yourself, starting to get more embodied?
Bethany: Absolutely! Like you said, it’s sort of time for me. I feel like it’s been coming. It’s just been slowly but surely kind of coming into me and realizing it and being ready for it. I’m ready for it. And I need to do some work. It’s important for not only me, but it’s important for the people I love.
Marc: Good for you. Because it is important. The more you let go of the nonsense in your head, the more you’re available to everyone else in the world.
Marc: Well, I have all kinds of faith that you’re going to be able to do this. And you and I will meet again about three months into the future and we’ll check and see how you’re doing. And thanks for being so real. Thanks for being brave. Thanks for being willing.
Marc: And thank you, everybody, for tuning in to Psychology of Eating podcast. I’m Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Lots more to come, my friends. Take care.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
Get Your FREE Video Series
New Insights to Forever Transform Your Relationship with Food
P.S. If you haven’t had a chance to check out our FREE information-packed video series, The Dynamic Eating Psychology Breakthrough, you can sign up for it HERE. It’s a great way to get a better sense of the work we do here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. If you’re inspired by this work and want to learn about how you can become certified as an Eating Psychology Coach, please go HERE to learn more. And if you’re interested in working on your own personal relationship with food, check out our breakthrough 8-week program designed for the public, Transform Your Relationship with Food, HERE.