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Let’s Get Real

This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a week devoted to awareness and prevention.  NEDA’s theme, “Let’s Get Real,” struck a deep chord in me because their hope is to start authentic and brave conversations around not just eating disorders—but the shame and pain that fuel them. 

Shame and vulnerability researcher and author Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” 

Did your heart quicken when you read that?  Or did your breath catch?  Talking about shame often invokes a feeling in us that makes us want to change the subject quickly.  But this denial of shame is actually fueling the shame and making healing from it even harder.

In my work with moms, it is clear that many mothers are drowning in shame, but they’re working like hell to look like they have it all together without a care in the world.  Often this shame isn’t the shame of their post-baby bodies not resembling their 20-year old bodies (although this is certainly a component of shame for many)—it’s the shame of not being good enough.  Not being a good enough mother, wife, partner, friend, sister, and daughter. 

For some moms, this shame fuels an eating disorder or an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise.  For others, the shame feeds an addiction to distraction through busyness, social media, wine, sex, shopping or any other activity that masks the intolerable feelings of shame.

So, how do we get real about shame, eating disorders and other numbing behaviors and addictions?

3 Ways to Get Real About Shame:

1. Talk About It

In order to heal from shame, we need the experience of belonging and unconditional acceptance from a close friend or loved one.  If your courageous vulnerability in speaking your truth elicits a response such as, “me too … I get it … I’ve been there … I go through the same thing … you’re not alone in that … etc.,” you’ve take shame’s biggest component away:  secrecy and the feeling that you’re the only one struggling.

2.  Notice Your Thoughts

Our thoughts fuel our emotions and behaviors.  Often, we have this ongoing background noise in our heads full of automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) such as: “you suck … you’re not good enough … you messed up again … you’re too fat … you’re not as slim as her … you need to do more …” etc.  Often, people don’t even realize they’re telling themselves these damaging thoughts throughout the day.  But without noticing the thoughts, we can’t change them.  We then work on changing their thought to a more useful belief. 

3.  Change Your Thoughts

When my clients are having a tough day, I ask them to pause and notice what thought preceded their negative emotions.  Once they identify it, I ask them to remind themselves that their thoughts aren’t necessarily true and aren’t helping them.  A mantra can help, such as:

“A thought is just a thought … and a thought can be changed.”  This diminishes the power of your automatic negative thoughts.

“I am having the thought that … (I’m not enough)”  This helps you put some space between yourself and the negative thought.  When we introduce this space, it introduces the opportunity to not cling to the thought and believe it. 

Many clients tell me they need constant reminders to banish their negative thoughts.  If you need a reminder, I’ve created an image you can put on your phone background.  Grab it here. 

If you think you’re struggling with your relationship with food, get screened and get help.  This short screening — appropriate for ages 13 and up — can help determine if it’s time to seek professional help.