Every overeater has heard them a million times: the admonishments of weight loss. You’ve got to stick to your diet, commit to the process, stay with it no matter what, discipline yourself to "just do it," and so forth. Yet such admonishments only add to your anxiety; if you were able to consistently be there for yourself, you wouldn’t be an overeater to begin with!
While overeating would be seen by some as an indulgence of self, it is in fact a profound rejection of self. It is a moment of self-betrayal and self-punishment, and anything but a commitment to one’s own well-being. Why would you be able to commit to a diet if you’re not consistently committed to yourself?
Your relationship to food is but a reflection of your relationship to yourself, as is everything in your life. There’s no reason to think that you’ll be capable of loyalty to a diet until you address your basic disloyalty toward yourself. Until your fundamental relationship with yourself is healed, then your relationship to food is doomed to be neurotic.
As committed as you might be to the process of weight loss, there will always come those moments when your self-hatred rises up like an oceanic force from the bottom of your subconscious mind, demanding to assert itself. That’s what makes addiction and compulsion so cruel: you could be committed to your diet for 23 hours and 45 minutes during a day, then ruin all your efforts in 15 minutes. What is not self-love carries within it the seeds of self-hate, no matter how small; wherever the mind is not filled with love, it has a propensity for insanity. And just a tiny bit of insanity is enough to do it—in about as long as it takes to open up a bag of cookies, you find a way to destroy your most cherished dream.
This lesson addresses your basic lack of commitment and compassion toward yourself, your lack of self-care that leads you time and again to punish and betray yourself. Only when you learn to commit to yourself will you stop your self-sabotaging behavior. It’s not enough to just tell yourself what not to do; you must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be.
Next: What does your past have to do with your weight?
All of us wish we’d had perfect childhoods, with a mother and father who modeled ideal parental attitudes and taught us to internalize the tenets of self-love. Many of us, however, did not. Perhaps you grew up with no one to model for you that you were truly valuable, that your thoughts were appreciated, that your feelings deserved tending to, or that your worth was deeply appreciated. And whatever was modeled—positive or negative—became the model for your relationship with your adult self. That is simply how adult personas form.
If you were neglected as a child, you learned to neglect yourself as an adult. If you were betrayed as a child, you learned to betray yourself as an adult. If you were unappreciated as a child, you grew up with a lack of self-appreciation. If no one cared about your feelings as a child, you didn’t know how to care for your own feelings once you became an adult. Maybe on some level your parents weren’t there for you; and now, in the moment when you overeat, you simply repeat the pattern by failing to be there for yourself.
Or your parent or parents might have loved you very much yet simply lacked the psychological tools to help you build an emotionally healthy relationship with yourself. It’s only recently, in historical terms, that society has even considered the possibility that children have valuable thoughts of their own. Looking back into your childhood isn’t about figuring out whom you can blame, or building a case to justify feelings of victimization. It’s simply about identifying your wound so the medicine of love can be applied correctly.
A way to repair a broken childhood is to allow God to re-parent you. As a child, you had no choice but to depend on your parents’ love...and where it was twisted or absent, you suffered accordingly. Yet now you are no longer a child, and can redo your childhood by remembering Whose child you truly are. By seeing that you are a child of God—by recognizing the unwavering love and mercy He extends to you every moment of the day—you begin to realign your attitudes toward yourself with His attitudes toward you. You no longer need to model anyone’s neglect of you; you need only model God’s love for you.
As you reestablish the divine connection that was severed by any harshness in your childhood, your mind begins to move away from thoughts that weaken you and instead think thoughts that strengthen you. You will learn to be there for yourself, and in a moment when you are there for yourself, you simply don’t want to behave self-destructively. It won’t be so hard to commit to right eating once you’ve recommitted to yourself. It will be natural. Appetites that reflect an unloving attitude toward yourself will simply fall by the wayside, like leaves in autumn when their season is done.
Next: The questions you need to ask yourself
Lesson 1: What Are Your Thoughts?
For this lesson you will use your journal pages, beginning a process by which you’ll learn to support yourself...befriend yourself...commit to yourself. You start by learning to dialogue with yourself, asking and receiving the truth of what you think and how you feel.
Oprah.com Exclusive: Keep your journal private with this personal workbook for self-reflection when answering the following questions.
1. You to self: What are your thoughts?
This question shows that you care what your own thoughts are. You value them.
If, when you were a child, no one seemed to care what you thought, then you developed a habit of not listening to yourself any more than those around you did. Perhaps you were teased for your beliefs by a parent or sibling, teaching you to deem your own thoughts valueless. If either of those situations occurred, it would have severed your connection to self in a most fundamental way. If you don’t listen to yourself, you can’t honor yourself. If you don’t listen to yourself, you can’t hear God’s voice within you. If you don’t listen to yourself, you program your body to stop listening to itself. And thus the hell that follows.
In your journal pages, morning and evening, write down your thoughts of the day. Your writing will become a conscious repository for thoughts you would have formerly discounted. You speak, and someone listens. Whatever thoughts you can remember—whether you consider them significant or routine—write them down and allow yourself to see, review, and bear witness to them all. They aren’t good or bad; they just are. What is important is that they are yours. Any positive thought obviously needs to be heard by you. And any negative thought needs to be heard by you as well, to be learned from perhaps and then surrendered for healing.
What matters now is that you realize that it’s right, not wrong, to listen to yourself. In the moment you overeat, it’s not just that an inappropriate dynamic is present; it’s that a healthy dynamic is absent. By learning to build anew the dynamics of a healthy self-regard, the craziness of your compulsion is cut off at the pass.
Next: How to forgive yourself
Lesson 2: How to Forgive Yourself
2. You to self: I forgive you for your mistakes.
This lesson speaks to your need to show compassion for yourself as a prerequisite for attracting compassion from others. And the "other" from whom you are seeking compassion is the working of your own body. Your body, remember, is a reflection of your thoughts...particularly your thoughts about yourself. As long as you withhold love from yourself, your body will appear to withhold love from you.
If you didn’t receive much mercy as a child—if mistakes were met with a lack of forgiveness or you were repeatedly told you weren’t worthy or good—then overeating is a reenactment of the message, "You’re bad! You’re bad!" The fork or spoon with which you overeat is not a beautiful thing with which you gift yourself, but rather a whip with which you punish yourself. And once you realize what you’ve done, once you see that you’ve fallen off the wagon again, then you’re thrown into a new cycle of anger—anger at yourself for overeating!
Write down whatever you feel were mistakes, but then try to forgive yourself. Explore the feelings of both remorse and forgiveness. Feel the pain of knowing you’ve made a mistake, but also the extraordinary relief that comes over your spirit once you’ve atoned for your error and surrendered it to God.
When you overeat, you show a lack of mercy for yourself. By reclaiming the compassion that is natural to your true self, you will learn to eat moderately as an expression of self-love. If and when you fall off the wagon—times when, despite your efforts, you can’t resist the urge to eat self-destructively—you will learn how it feels to say "Oops" with a lighthearted acceptance rather than a groan of despair. And that will decrease the chances that it will happen again, for you will have stopped fueling self-hate with more self-hate.
Next: Why dreams are important
Lesson 3: The Importance of Dreams
3. You to self: I think your dreams are important.
A healthy person is constantly dreaming up the next best thing...from what video would be fun to watch tonight, to whom it would be good to call on the telephone later, to where it would be pleasurable to go for the weekend. But if you don’t listen to your dreams, then how do you know the right place to go or the right thing to do? And if you don’t know the right thing, then you’re prone to doing the wrong thing. And that includes what you eat and don’t eat.
Someone somewhere didn’t listen to your heart, and as a consequence you stopped listening to it, too. Not in every area of life, perhaps; in many areas you might be very functional, even supremely successful. But your subconscious mind chose an available tool by which to express the deeper truth of a hidden self-hatred. The voice of the discounting or belittling grown-up has remained, for it has not yet been ushered out. As a consequence, you subconsciously follow the dictates of a ghost. You still punish yourself; you still deny yourself; you still discount yourself. And so it goes. The idea that you can fight such a force by simply sticking to a diet is almost silly.
Dialogue with yourself about your true dreams. From going to Paris to looking beautiful, from writing a book to owning your own business, what do you really long for? What do you really wish to be true for you? What is your heart’s desire...for if you won’t honor it, then who else will? It doesn’t matter that Mommy or Daddy or your siblings or your teachers or whoever else didn’t value your dreams. God did, and He does. It’s time for you to start thinking like God whenever you think about anything...including yourself.
This journaling process is an important tool, and not just for losing weight or even for maintaining your best weight. It’s a tool for cultivating your highest self, as applied not only to weight but to any area of your life. Journaling is a way you listen to yourself, by making it clear to yourself what you actually think and feel. The more room you give yourself to express your true thoughts and feelings, the more room there is for your wisdom to emerge. In listening to yourself, you learn from yourself. In listening deeply to the voice of your heart, you reestablish relationship with your true self, so long denied.
Start listening to yourself now, and you will find that what you hear is the music of your soul. Its sounds will accompany you as you move toward the life—and the body—that nature intends for you. In the eyes of God, you are more beautiful and more creative than even a rose could ever be.
Taken from A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons For Surrendering Your Weight Forever, by Marianne Williamson (Hay House 2010).
More from Marianne Williamson
10 ways to stay spiritually connected
What you think is what you get
Trust is shorthand for going with the flow
The power of light to cast out darkness
Printed from Oprah.com on Sunday, March 9, 2014
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