I Feel Fat, Therefore I Am Fat?
Body image dissatisfaction is so widespread in our culture, Yale researcher Judith Rodin named the term a “normative discontent”.
If we honestly added up all the time, emotional energy and money we have invested in this personal body shaming war, what do you think we would find? A cost so staggering that it is simply beyond the comprehension of a non-dieter?
When do you find yourself saying “I feel fat” and what else is going on in your life at the time?
Right after you feel you have overeaten?
Standing in front of a mirror, getting dressed for the day?
When you’re out on another futile clothes shopping trip?
Out socially, meeting new people?
After a heated discussion with someone close to you?
When we play the I Feel Fat game in the presence of others, we’re seeking emotional support. Body shaming is contagious and a bonding experience and we usually don’t have much trouble locating a sympathetic ear to off-load our misery. Sharing is caring, right? When we say it to ourselves, without an audience, it’s a blatant attempt at reducing and containing ourselves – not consciously – all this happens in the depths of our unconsciousness.
In my experience, what’s really going on here is that we are talking in code. Our fat talk is less about the fat on our bodies and more about the power struggles we face in our relationships, only we don’t feel safe enough to voice this.
We are basically a group of co-dependents (the pleasers, the fixers) with our emotional eating being a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. And as such, we seem to attract an inordinate number of opposite type people into our personal sphere (the takers, the controllers).
In a subtle transfer of energy, we voluntarily pick up responsibility for the other person’s feelings and we make their issues about us.
The previously good, usable energy we had five minutes ago quickly gets converted into a thick, dense fog that envelopes us, leaving us gasping for air and unable to get our words out when we need to.
While ever we believe that other people are judging or rejecting us because of something we have done, then we also believe there is something we can do about it, to make them like us, because we are dependent on getting their approval. We have a fuzzy bottom line when it comes to setting boundaries in some relationships.
Many of us become confused and lose our way in this process. In general, we feel that in all other areas of our lives we are doing relatively well. But in this last intensely private area, our relationship with food and our bodies becomes a giant excuse bucket we throw everything into.
According to us, our perception of the loathed fat on our bodies is the single, stand-alone reason for our past failed relationships, it’s why we can’t be more intimate in our current relationships – both sexually and non-sexually, it was the cause of our parents inability to be emotionally available for us growing up and it’s the reason we now often feel isolated and alone even when surrounded by people in social situations.
At a certain point, the I Feel Fat game becomes a self-indulgent activity. A small part of our rational brain knows this game goes nowhere, and yet while we’re in this space, playing the game, we doggedly persist in our self-contempt scripts until we are locked into predictable endings, playing out familiar and comfortable but ultimately dysfunctional roles in our co-dependent relationships.
Beginning in infancy, we accumulate experiences of shame that get stored in our bodies and we drag this energy around with us day and night. In answer to a question I am often asked by clients: What? Do I have a sign on my forehead that says ‘doormat’ or something?
The answer is yes, we do. Not a flashing neon one, but the signs are there for all to see. Without uttering a word, we send a powerful message to others about how we feel about ourselves. It shows up in our body language, our posture, eye contact and tone of voice. The way we move and carry ourselves reveals all.
Our shame creates a stifling internal environment where we feel completely inadequate to make a more honest and direct connection with others. Feeling Fat erects formidable walls that separate us from the very people in our lives we wish to be closer with.
Feeling Fat consumes us and draws our energy away from the source of our original difficult feelings. Robert Burney who wrote “Co-dependence: Dance of the Wounded Souls” says “Loneliness, heartbreak, grief, sadness, sorrow or helplessness over others are existential feelings – feelings that are a natural result of life. Many people would rather feel an awful feeling that they are causing, (the shame) than feel the authentic painful feelings of life”.
And this is the plain truth, we don’t have control over other another persons behaviour but we have such a hard time swallowing this. We refuse to accept that other people have complete control over their own behaviour – whether they are kind to us, or unkind, honest or dishonest, open or closed in their communications. We’d rather believe our deficits are the reason these people are rejecting or disrespecting us.
Our compulsive control mechanisms propel us into doing more and more for others, being overly nice and over-accommodating every step of the way, then because we know we’re not being authentic, we end up turning to food (and other substances) to soothe the hurts and stop the pain.
comic by Corinne Mucha maidenhousefly.com
With a combination of an addictive personality and poor impulse control, as is evidenced by the frequency with which we lose control and overeat, we’re forever on the prowl for the next hit that’s going to do it for us. The first one doesn’t quite satisfy, so the hunt continues. A mood change is what we seek and find through our addictions.
Harvey Milkman and Stanley Sunderwirth who wrote “The Consciousness of Chemistry Escape” define specific addictive highs to which we are attracted – arousal and satiation are the most common.
“The arousal high comes from amphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy, the first few drinks of alcohol, gambling, sexual acting out, spending and stealing.
The arousal highs speak directly to a drive for power, where as a satiation high gives us a feeling of being full, complete and beyond pain. We get a satiation high from heroin, alcohol, marijuana, Valium, overeating, watching TV and playing slot machines.
The satiation high numbs sensations of distress or pain. The trance state created by the satiation high always fades away, leaving the addict with the original pain plus the loss of the pleasurable sensations.”
With an addictive personality, our energy is never static, it’s always on the way up unless we’ve reached the point of depletion with our internal Bank of Deprivation and then everything around us takes a nose dive and we’re crashing back down to earth. If we are rarely present inside our own bodies – and we’re not, we live in our fearful heads most of the time - then no one is ‘at home’ to notice the warning signs before it all fades to grey.
We are so intent on escaping our current reality that “anywhere but here” starts to look really appealing.
Seriously, what’s left if we are not agonising over how much we hate our bodies and policing ourselves over our food intake?
Think about the big black hole that would be left in your life if you were to truly resolve this issue and your ‘weight problem’ became a non-issue. What then? We create this dependable drama because we are terrified of what we will find in its absence.
The fantasy of When I Am Thin is so exciting and powerful to us precisely because it’s a fantasy. This fantasy is a safe place for us to escape into and we keep it alive by knowing full well there is no possibility of this becoming real in our lives, because we will not allow it.
It’s a maladaptive attitude that keeps us entrenched in our diet mentality and the diet mentality is all about extremes: we’re either on a diet or we’re off the diet, we’re either being very, very good or totally bad with our eating choices and everything around us is either black or it’s white. We can’t seem to get out of our own fears for long enough to trust ourselves in the moment to go about making promises and honouring commitments to ourselves.
We need to introduce a kaleidoscope of beautiful colours into our thinking, we need to create our own guidelines to build a solid foundation of consistency and stability.
I love the quote “moderation in all things, including moderation” and to me this is a way of moving forward. It accepts and allows for our tendency towards these extremes and it works well with our addictive personalities.
Many of my clients have had the experience at least once in their lives of achieving their ideal size – they remained this size for a microscopic space in time before an inexplicable series of events occurred where things just seemed to fall apart.
Panic set in, as did a return to nasty habits they thought they left behind: sneaking food again, unable to control themselves and watching in disbelief as their weight climbed right back to where they started from. Why??
Because anyone can go on a diet and lose weight, but if we never allow ourselves to experience our feelings fully, especially the difficult ones, then we never have the experience of trusting ourselves that we will be enough to handle them when they arrive – and this is the crux of the issue.
We may have proven that we are capable of depriving ourselves of the food we love for long periods of time, but even with a smaller sized body, we haven’t yet mastered any new skills in dealing with those pesky feelings, they continue to torment us.
Food and the fat on our bodies was never the problem in the first place, that’s why losing weight never solves the problem, though it will thrust into the spotlight the same triggering feelings that caused us to turn to food in the first place.
© Copyright Karla Cameron 2017
“Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts with pain and ends with pain. Whatever substance you are addicted to – alcohol, food, legal or illegal drugs, or a person – you are using something or somebody to cover up your pain.”
Every addiction reaches a point where it does not work for you anymore, and then you feel the pain more intensely than ever.
This is one reason why most people are always trying to escape from the present moment and are seeking some kind of salvation in the future. The first thing they might encounter if they focussed their attention on the Now is their own pain, and this is what they fear.”
Eckhart Tolle “The Power of Now”