Body Image: What’s Really Eating at You?


man at sunset nice

You want to tackle your body image issues, but you fall off the wagon.  What causes this?  How can you fight the Body Image Bandit and win?

The first thing is to learn to identify what’s really eating at you.  Whether you’re battling an eating disorder or compulsive overeating (now called “Binge Eating Disorder”), if you can learn to figure out what’s bothering you at any given time, you will be much more successful. If you’re eating and you’re not hungry, something is going on in your heart, most likely.  You’re stuffing your feelings.

Stuffing is for teddy bears and turkeys.

When we stuff our feelings, it makes us much more prone to an addiction or eating disorder.

Many of us don’t even know what our feelings are if we grew up in a dysfunctional household in which the three rules are: 1) Don’t tell 2) Don’t trust, and 3) Don’t feel. 

So we lost touch with our feelings and are unable on most occasions to explain how we really feel.  And remember, “fine,” “Okay,” or “good” are not feelings.  Feelings are divided into six main categories: 

Mad   Sad   Glad   Fear   Lonely   Shame

Since my menopausal memory is slim, I’m thankful that three of the the four main feeling words rhyme!  Google “feeling lists” and you will find a lifetime supply of feelings.

I don’t mean to oversimplify when I say to figure out what’s really eating at you.  Addictions, eating disroders, and body image issues are much, much more complex than simply figuring out what’s eating at you.

However, most people don’t deal with what’s eating at them all day, every day.  Me included.  I’m get much better, still need to work on it.

How do you deal with your feelings?

After you identify your true feelings using real feeling words(like the ones on the lists), then share them in a safe place.  David in the Psalms frequently told God his feelings.  He expressed all four categories of mad, sad, glad and fear.  So of course prayer is a great way to express your feelings.

Another safe place is a journal in which you spill your soul. It shouldn’t be a log about what you did on a particular day.  Rather, it should contain your true feeling words about your life in that moment.

If you aren’t seeing the mad, sad, glad, fear, lonely and shame feelings expressed in your journal, it is less effective.  Safe people like friends, counselors, and spouses (only if you feel safe with them, which many people don’t) are often other safe places.

The purging of feelings is often what we’re trying to do when we attempt to fill the holes in our hearts with food, alcohol, drugs, bingeing, over-shopping, purging, and other addictions.  This is why many addictions begin to take root when we experience hardships in our lives.

Believe it or not, getting your true feelings out will help immensely as you battle the Body Image Bandit.  The release will help you not to stuff your feelings and as a result, you will be much less likely to act out against your body.  Once again, I’m not saying it’s a magic cure in any way.  But if you don’t learn to identify your true feelings and get them out in healthy ways, you will continue to overeat, binge, purge, or starve yourself.  Remember, you’re not a turkey (although you may feel like one sometimes!) or a teddy bear, so don’t try to fill yourself by stuffing your feelings.

Then you can begin to fight the Body Image Bandit and win.

Time Line: Next week, learn how to identify the point when you really started to act out against your own body and what to do about it.

To learn more about how to tackle the roots of food addiction, read my book, Tooshue: Defeating the Body Image Bandit


Body Image and Sexual Abuse


When did you first start substituting food for love?” I asked my client. (Note: names and
identifying information have been changed to protect confidentiality.)

“I don’t really know,” she answered as she reached for the Kleenex box. “I remember in high school when I’d lost a lot of weight, and this really popular guy gave me the eye, if you know what I mean.”

My nod encouraged her to continue. “What did you do right after he gave you the eye?” I asked, knowing what was probably coming.

“I went right home and raided the refrigerator.”

You’re terrified of your own beauty? “ I asked, although it was spoken softly and sounded more like a statement than a question.

“I guess so. His look made me realize at that second that if I didn’t put a layer of protection around myself—actually a layer of
fat—then I would probably be abused again, or turning back into my old promiscuous self, which is even worse. So yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m terrified of my own beauty.”

I encouraged her to continue therapy to get to the roots of the issues, which often display themselves through many secondary symptoms, including:

  • Depression
  • Eating
    disorders (including obesity, anorexia, and bulimia)
  • Other
  • Promiscuity
    or lack of sexual intimacy
  • Difficulties
    in relationships

When did you first start to gain a lot of weight?” is a
crucial question.
Something happened to the person at that time in her life. It may have been the divorce
of her parents, sexual abuse, or another extremely painful situation. Until the pain is dealt with, the food addiction will probably not improve. 

Body image issues like bingeing are much more about our hearts and our stories than food and fat. 

The great news is that help is available! Professional counseling and sexual abuse groups, where you work through the pain, is the
road to change.

This client has now lost over 40 pounds, and is becoming increasingly comfortable with her beauty.

Does this mean that every woman who is significantly overweight was sexually abused? Of course not. However, many who have struggled with weight issues did experience major trauma in their lives. Usually they will continue to struggle with the weight until they work on the roots of their issues. Obviously our culture’s shift from an active to sedentary, computer-centered lifestyle plays a role.  So does the fact that we have more fatty, sugary foods available than ever before.  But if the major traumas of life aren’t dealt with, the person trying to lose weight will continually go up and down on the scale and probably have a poor body image.  Research shows that mostdieters lose weight, then eventually gain more than they lost in the firstplace.  (I’ve written many posts on this
throughout this blog.)

Being overweight is usually a symptom of underlying issues, and more than likely the weight loss won’t stick
until these issues are dealt with. To work on the weight alone is somewhat like chopping off the top of a weed in your garden. The root will be hidden for a while, but sooner or later the weed will reappear.  Thankfully, the Lord has provided us with many different resources – including counselors –  to work on the heart of our issues so we can be set free from food addiction.  It’s
not easy, but with his help we can become the people we were meant to be.