Eating Issues: Reflecting on a Year of Trials and Triumphs

Cropped photo of crossed legs of person on bed with breakfast writing in scheduling bookA new year has dawned. I invite you to take a moment to reflect on your experiences of the year past. The pull of looking forward can be hard to resist. It can feel good to think about the changes you want to make with high resolve. But there is value in making time to sit quietly and honor your journey over the previous 12 months. Whether you are actively recovering from disordered eating and body-image problems, just beginning to face them, or have a friend or loved one who is, your relationship with yourself is the most important thing in your life. It’s the foundation for your relationship with your body and with food. Take time to nourish it.

What has happened? How did you feel when it happened? Your struggles and triumphs are uniquely yours, and the work you’ve done, the things you’ve learned, the frustration, hurt, or disappointment, as well joy, contentment, and satisfaction you’ve experienced, had an impact on you that can never be undone.

You might want to journal about your year, describing the events and what they were like. If you’re more visual than verbal, you might like to make a collage or timeline with pictures from magazines and photos. Then, read or look over what you’ve done. Focus on what you’re pleased with and what you’re grateful for. How have you been kind to yourself, accepting of whom you are and how you acted and felt?

Notice, too, when you’ve been harsh or judgmental with yourself. Simply study these things, from a neutral standpoint, without any negative self-talk. Then look at how you handled emotionally challenging situations and relationships. Did you use strategies and tools that were good for you, or did you engage in self-damaging behaviors?

Finally, if it hasn’t come up already, explore your relationship with food and your body. Have you misused food or exercise? How have you honored your physical, emotional, and psychological well-being when it came to food and body?

As you’re ready, shift your focus to the year ahead. What can you do to treat yourself with more compassion and acceptance? How can you be more mindful, more aware of your internal experience—your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations? These are the main ingredients of health and wellness. A happy and healthy life starts with mindfulness. An unhealthy relationship with food is about mindlessness, which involves being so caught up in thoughts and feelings that we’re not noticing that we’re experiencing them.

A healthy relationship with food is moderate, and based in meeting our needs for nourishment, physically and socially. Anything extreme or obsessive is not healthy. An extreme focus on eating “clean” or “healthy” foods is not healthy, just as a steady diet of highly refined, processed foods is not. Any type of eating that’s intended to push away painful emotions or reduce anxiety is not healthy.

A relaxed relationship with food that is based not in changing the size, shape, or weight of our body, but rather in supporting our bodies’ health and fitness, is healthy. A healthy relationship with exercise is one that is not compulsive, not designed to burn off what you’ve eaten or make you feel better about eating, but to support your body’s health. This means being able to rest as needed, as well as to move regularly but not rigidly.

Toward this end, I encourage you to make resolutions not to lose weight, but instead to be more mindful: to eat mindfully, to live mindfully, and be present to yourself so you can tend to your body and spirit with food and movement.

Why do I say spirit? Let me circle back around to the idea of your relationship with yourself. Just who is relating to whom here? I believe there is a place inside each of us that is, by its nature, centered, compassionate, accepting, nonjudgmental, and intuitive. I believe we each have within us an innate energy that moves us toward growth and healing; that intangible thing that is our spirit. I believe that accessing the first place inside of ourselves, and regarding our thoughts, our emotions, our physical sensations, from this place, connects us to our spirit. And I believe that actions that support our physical well-being, if undertaken by that place at our center, support our spirit as well.

So, write, draw, or make a collage or sculpture of what you want to create for yourself in 2015. What steps can you take toward living day to day from that place inside that seeks to be present, engaged, self-accepting, and feeling the full range of emotions that humans are blessed with? When you’ve determined that, start taking them.

Best wishes for a mindful and rewarding year!

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  • Angel

    Angel

    January 8th, 2015 at 3:14 PM

    I know that I have some real problems with what I think about myself and that is pretty skewed from what my reality actually is, and I am trying to work on facing down some of those demons, but I am so scared that I don’t even know how to begin.
    I have been bulimic for quite some time and yes I lost weight but there is this fear that if I stop purging the the weight is going to come right back.
    I have no real concept of what living a healthy life actually is, and it scares me to even think about the changes thta I know I would have to make to get there.

  • haven

    haven

    January 8th, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    I have always had a very complicated relationship with food, one that I never can get the right ,ix of… I love it and I hate it because I hate what all of that love then makes my body look like

  • sullivan

    sullivan

    January 9th, 2015 at 3:38 AM

    Is there anything else that I can do that doesn’t involve journaling?
    Don’t know why but this is one of those things that I can never commit to for a long period of time.
    I think that maybe I would do better with some kind of app or something like that?
    Suggestions welcome!

  • donnie

    donnie

    January 9th, 2015 at 10:42 AM

    have you tried my fitness pal/ i think that’s the name of it and it’s a pretty good one/ electronic journaling i guess you would say

  • Sophia

    Sophia

    January 10th, 2015 at 10:54 AM

    I have gotten into this habit of feeling “good” when I have days that eat what I should and exercise, and “bad” when I don’t do the things that I want to do to be healthy. I would love to rid myself of this good vs bad mindset but it’s hard, and honestly there are days when I feel like the mood that OI am in is determined by what or how much I have eaten. That feels like a dangerous path to be on.

  • Elliott

    Elliott

    January 12th, 2015 at 3:52 AM

    Food is simply for energy. It should not hold the power over us that we allow it to have.

  • Lydia

    Lydia

    January 12th, 2015 at 10:25 AM

    Honestly, I would love it if I could turn my mind off for a while when it comes to food and just eat what I want when I want without having to consider what the negative outcomes of that kind of behavior would be. I have always worried about food, what I eat, how much weight I will gain if I do eat this and not that, and I am so tired of even thinking about all of it. It really does drain much of my zest for life away if you know what I mean.

  • Deborah Klinger

    Deborah Klinger

    January 12th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    Thanks, Everyone, for your comments.
    Recovering from an eating and body image problems is like being lost in a deep, dark forest. Every way you turn, you get caught in brambles and thorns and dense underbrush. But one way leads you in deeper, while another is the way out. finding that way out requires guidance from someone who knows the terrain.
    Angel, here at goodtherapy.org, there are many therapists listed who can help you with this. There are also many peer resources, such an Eating Disorders Anonymous, which has online and telephone meetings (and in-person meetings in some areas). I encourage you to get the help you need– no one can do this alone.

    Haven, your love-hate relationship with food is typical of many who struggle with eating and body image. I hope that you are in therapy or a program where you’re getting the assistance you need– if not, then I recommend for you what I said to Angel above.

    Sullivan, different things work for different people. Journaling isn’t for everyone. there are several apps out there. I recently discovered one that I like a lot: “Rise Up and Recover.” (Angel and Haven, you might find it helpful, too!)

    Take care,
    Deborah

  • Beau

    Beau

    January 13th, 2015 at 3:53 AM

    I see my sister working through much of the same things and while I feel for her I know that there are times when I have not been the most supportive either. I look at her and wonder how she of all people developed this- she is thin, young pretty and still there is something that is missing for er, something that will not allow that to make her see that and make those connections.

    I know that there is something there that is missing for her and I want to help but I guess I get very frustrated just doe to my own lack of understanding.

  • BBurdette

    BBurdette

    January 15th, 2015 at 3:05 PM

    Always so much more uplifting to focus on those things that you have accomplished instead of only focusing on that which you have not

  • Deborah Klinger

    Deborah Klinger

    January 16th, 2015 at 8:16 AM

    Beau, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has excellent resources for those close to someone with eating and body struggles. Please visit their web site!

    BBurdette, yes, otherwise it can be an exercise in self-recrimination and criticism, which is not helpful. Recognizing the things we appreciate about ourselves is nourishing.

    Thanks, Deborah

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