Self-blame and humiliation lead to passivity, not intelligent awareness and resolve. Taking responsibility for ourselves doesn’t mean ignoring the circumstances of our lives. Instead, it inspires us to recognize a situation for what it is, then plot a new course of action.
-Sharon Salzberg, Real Love
(Note: this is part 1 of a 2-part blog post. Check out part 2 here!)
Women’s relationships with food are complicated at best. From familial norms to social pressures to our own desire to find control in a crazy world, combined with monthly hormonal changes that change our appetites and cravings, there are a host of forces creating a perfect storm of fear, anxiety, control, shame and sadness.
One theme that came up again and again was the dichotomy between acceptance and change.
We fear acceptance of things we don’t like. Acceptance can sound like condoning or giving permission; if we accept, why would we ever change? This came up in a question about the body-positive movement: if we say “I love my body no matter what it’s size”, is that ignoring the potential negative health consequences of having a larger size? Or in another question: when it comes to our past experience, how do we deal with past negative eating behaviors and attitudes around food?
I was reminded of the quote above by Sharon Salzberg in her *fabulous* book Real Love (I’m only partway through, but the learnings have been so great, I couldn’t recommend it enough.)
Blame doesn’t work. Guilt and self-flagellation doesn’t spur us forward, it keeps us caught. We know from studies and experience that telling people (or plants) that they are bad only beats them down and keeps them caught in their current behavior, it doesn’t allow them to thrive or move forward. And whether the voice telling us that we’re wrong is a parent, a friend, a teacher, or ourselves…it makes not difference. If anything, the self-talk is more dangerous because we’re with ourselves for so much of the day.
On the other hand, acceptance based on “I don’t know/I can’t/I’m not good enough to change” isn’t acceptance. That’s fear and resignation.
Rather, true acceptance says “what’s past is past. This is my current state. I have the opportunity to choose anew.” True acceptance honors reality (past), and says that in this moment I can choose again.
Here’s an exercise I did with a breakout session last night around acceptance and understanding. It takes between 5 and 10 minutes.
- Find a comfortable seat, feet firmly planted on the floor, and a tall posture. Close your eyes or have a soft gaze.
- Take a few deep breaths, inviting air to fill your lungs and rib cage.
- Take about 10 breaths to feel amazement for your body: you have a trillion cells working in perfect synchronicity. Your blood is flowing. Your organs are working. All without asking you to. Your body is taking care of you, every moment of the day, simply because it wants to. And even with injury or illness or any other ailment, there is so much more going right than there is going wrong.
- Next, bring your attention to a moment where you have felt anger, sadness, fear, or shame around food. A time where you haven’t experienced food freedom. Breathe deeply into this experience and really put yourself there. See what you were wearing, the weather, anything about this moment. Notice the emotions that you feel and see where they are in your body. Is it a clenching in your stomach? A hardening of your heart? Caught in your throat? Bring your attention to that sensation and feel it. Be with it.
- Invite yourself to see that moment. To notice it’s presence. To say “I see you. I accept that you happened.” You might be able to thank the moment for bringing you this awareness, but that’s not a requirement. Just simply see it.
- Next, bring your attention to a moment where you have felt positive feelings around food. An experience of food freedom. This might be a moment that already happened, or this might be a future experience that you wish to have. Again, really put yourself there. See what you were wearing, the weather, anything about this moment. Notice the emotions that you feel and see where they are in your body. Where are the sensations in your body and what do you feel? Bring your attention to that sensation and feel it. Be with it.
- In this moment, say “I see you. I accept your possibility. This moment is possible.”
- Then, bring your attention back to the center of your heart. Thanking your body for it’s awareness and it’s messages. For all of the information and intelligence it has.
- As you’re ready, open your eyes, coming back into the room.
Invite acceptance, and invite the possibility of a different future. They can coexist.
Thanks to Pineapple Collaborative for inviting me to this fabulous event and thanks to all of the attendees who were so open and willing to share. We could have talked for hours – it is such an important topic.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,
P.S. Ayurveda for Relationships is coming up February 17th!
Samantha Attard, PhD, is the founder of Happy Healthy Human. Sam is a performance coach and yoga instructor who helps people eat, move, and live with intention. Learn more here.