aka What do you mean, the experience can be different but the feelings the same?
aka Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with your cake.
I started out writing this post with one end in mind, but the story took a twist in the middle, so now there’s a couple different endings you can choose. Just like my favourite detective books when I was a kid 🙂
So here’s a concept to think about: eating disorders and disordered eating live within a spectrum. At a certain point, the mindset, feelings and behaviours, add up to a diagnosable eating disorder.
But that doesn’t mean that less extreme mindset, feelings, and behaviours in the rest of the spectrum are ‘off the hook’. As I was saying yesterday, the external behaviour and experience might look different, but there can be room for healing in the core thoughts and feelings.
Here is my creatively expressed version of what exists at the core within the disordered eating spectrum. And since we’re talking about food here, you’re looking at the picture of a layer cake.
At the bottom you’ve got You. A source for love and connection to all creatures great and small, but that isn’t always connected.
The next layer of Shame, Fear and Vulnerability that I’ve been going on about for the past 3 weeks is a given.
However, here you could potentially start building one of two cakes.
If you haven’t learned healthy responses to these basic human experiences, you end up in the green layer, doing the trying and hiding dance. It’s a survival mechanism. An adaptation of yourself to create certainty in life and for your identity. It’s where the seeds of the good/bad mentality are planted.
Stick with that for long enough, and it manifests into the yellow layer. This is where the deprivation of desires, wants, and needs, lives; even in little things like not replacing underwear with holes and threadbare socks, or always buying the wine that’s on sale even though you really want the bottle that’s only £1 more.
It’s where it’s difficult to find the words to say what you want, when you want, to who you want, without spending a number of stomach-wrenching hours on the email.
It’s where the idea of spending time on anything other than work-related, achievement oriented, tasks seems frivolous.
And it’s where you are never happy with what, and who, you see in the mirror.
If you’ve never experienced this, there’s a lot of tension in that yellow layer.
And after awhile it busts itself out and oozes all around the cake as an attractive looking orange color of icing (OK, to be fair, I’ve never seen an attractive looking orange-iced layer cake, but that’s what happens when you create like your 5-year-old self used to. Purple elephants can fly!)
The orange icing is where the behaviours with food live. This layer tries to make the rest of the cake taste good, except that all the tension, the deprive/indulge, the good/bad, and the controlling and comforting going on underneath, manifests itself with food, and while it initially tastes sweet, there’s a bitter after taste.
Depending on how caught up you are in the mire of the blue layer, will determine the shade of orange icing; where you fall in the disordered eating spectrum.
In my book, if you are eating any of this cake, you might want to put the fork down, push the plate away, and go look for a different kind of cake.
I’ve looked at my mom’s life and I’ve always assumed she was eating this cake.
While she was nowhere near any of the extremes of an eating disorder, her outside relationship to food and body looked like this:
-Count calories and try to eat ‘healthy’. She would make conscious food choices about which brand of cereal to buy that had the least amount of sugar etc and her not-so-secret vice was and always will be chocolate. A lot of controlling and depriving with occasional indulgences.
-She wished she could be a few pounds lighter but after me and my sister was born, didn’t have time to prioritize that. But we always knew she wished she were lighter. In recent years she’s been going to spin class and pilates and we know she chagrins her ‘old lady arms’. Evidence of body-dissatisfaction.
This actually sounds quite normal, right?. Don’t most women wish they were 5 lbs lighter and could stop the love affair with chocolate?
But here’s what else I picked up on when I was a kid.
Identity & Self-worth: My mom met my dad when she was 15, she was married at 20. Her self-worth and identity during some critical formative years was heavily influenced by her relationship with my dad. They are still happily married, but even she will tell you that it took years for her to begin to see herself as separate from my dad.
Self-expression: I remember my mom saying things like, ‘I wish I could talk with you about this better.’ ‘I don’t really feel equipped to have this conversation with you.’ To be fair that is a vulnerable truth of hers that she was able to express so to that end, she was self-expressing what was true for her, eating bites of a healthier cake. But she still felt blocked from communicating freely in a way that she wanted. A lot of times she would channel my dad too. His decisions outweighed her opinion in our family. Sometimes when I look back at who mom was in our family dynamic, she was the executor. She executed on decisions to make the family run smoothly, but you never really knew how much of that was her true self, or was she just doing her job?
Body Love: As I shared before, it was as if a whisper of a wish was always hanging in the air when it came to her body. She was always striving to improve it. And I only remember one time when she put on a sun dress one summer evening before my dad came home where I remember thinking, ‘Wow, mom looks really pretty in that.’ It must have been their anniversary. Normally mom was in cleaning clothes or church clothes. Neither which are very sexy. Practicality and the household budget was the driving force behind clothes shopping.
Food rules: You could tell she had her own paradigm to live by. In addition to counting calories, she’d always serve herself the smallest portion at dinner, take the smallest slice of cake, comment on what she had for breakfast ‘I only had a yogurt and an apple for breakfast so I guess I’ll have one more cookie.’ It was as if she had to earn the right to have a treat.
Her story has a lot of necessary precursors for an eating disorder. I talked with her about all of this and asked her why she thought this combo didn’t turn into one.
Her answer was this:
- She didn’t know it was an option. (Wow, that really makes me think about how to go about raising awareness and how eating disorders are talked about because perhaps the less you know, the better!)
- She recognized that there is only so much in life that she could control. She embraced the belief that we regardless of what happens around you, we only have control over our reactions. And I guess she chose to react with a Pollyanna smile.
- Pre-pregnancy she was happy with her shape. She didn’t internalize comments about her teen body as shaming. She took them as motivation to be healthy. Post-pregnancy, at first she worked to get her pre-pregnancy body back but at some point accepted that it was ‘OK’ as it was.
- She knew that a sense of humour fixes everything and laughter is the best medicine out there. Even better than chocolate.
While I see a lot of external overlap between my mom’s relationship with food and body, and mine, I’ve also noticed the differences at the core.
There is a presence of more self-acceptance and love for herself and a penchant for joy. The blue layer of her cake wasn’t as big.
Another big difference is that part of her quintessential self has led her to behaviours that look similar to disordered eating behaviours.
This year at Christmas, we all took an abridged version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test (yes, I do geek out on this stuff), and it was no surprise when my mom’s Type description came out as ‘content to enforce “the rules,” often dictated by tradition or handed down from a higher authority.’
Following the rules feels natural to her. (Get this, she even wanted to get the facts straight for a fictional short story she is writing. I had to remind her about little thing called IMAGINATION 🙂 )
I’m realizing that some of my mom’s behaviours with food and her body were a reflection of her ‘True You’; the following the food rules, and advice from authority figures about her body. That is just her being her quintessential self vs her trying to control.
The opposite of yesterday’s message, today’s message is: You can have similar experiences, but different feelings on the inside.
I come out as a much different personality type on the Myers-Briggs scale; more of a rules, schmules kind of person.
Understanding the innate differences between me and the rest of my family has helped facilitate healing.
To understand that what I saw modelled as a child was never going to be right for me, has given me some space to breathe.
Duh, there is going to be some disconnect when they are all J’s, and I am a P!’
It also explains some of the trying I’ve experienced in the layer cake. I can stop trying to be my parents.
I’m sharing this example about my mom for the following reasons:
- Don’t underestimate the influence that your parents have on you as an adult. You are not your parents. How you live your life, clean your house, relate to your partner, and parent your own kids, is best done when you are being You, not channelling them.
- You can not change your parents. Their quintessential selves are not going to change just because you feel you need them to.
- The most important thing about your relationship to food and your body is that it reflects your True You. If you count calories because that is just how you naturally think, and not because it’s a behaviour being driven by shame, fear, or control, then go for it.
So here’s the two endings to the story that you get to pick. If you’re looking at the layer cake and are noticing some behaviours that fall into that spectrum, ask yourself why.
Is it because like me, they are rooted in the blue layer and you were doing the green trying and hiding dance? (If yes, turn to Day 29.)
Or because like my mom, that’s part of being your quintessential self? (If yes, The End.)
Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like yours shared there.
Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.