For anyone who has a tendency to eat away their emotions – or rather eat away to avoid their emotions, then the concept of power is a useful one. I’ve been re-reading Anatomy of the Spirit, by Caroline Myss. It’s a great read that I initially read a couple of years ago, although I wasn’t actually reading it for help with my eating habits. However, the concepts she uses are incredibly helpful for people who have a tendency to emotional eating. I’m not talking about the odd extra biscuit here and there, rather when thinking about what you have or haven’t eaten is something that takes up a huge amount of time in your day and is usually linked to how you are feeling emotionally. So when I started re-reading it I began applying some of these concepts to my eating habits and have found it really enlightening actually.
I realise this isn’t a straight forward nutrition blog, but I do think it’s important when we talk about nutrition, not just to focus on what’s good for us and what isn’t. Let’s face it, plenty of people know what kind of diet helps them to feel better, and yet they aren’t able to keep to it – or at least not for more than a few weeks. So rather than just talk about green smoothies each week and how they will transform your life, I wanted to start branching out a bit more into subjects that might not be for everyone, but hopefully will resonate with more than a few of you.
The main concept I want to focus on here is “power”. I don’t mean power in the sense of authority and being in control of other people, but personal power and how we use it – or lose it. And what are the situations where we find ourselves losing our power. This could be a whole range of things, including relationships, fears around money and careers – and obviously addictions, including compulsive eating. Or even if you are just an emotional eater, rather than a full on addict, it’s still a situation where you are giving away power to something external.
Although I’m a big believer of focusing on the present and not re-hashing the past just for the sake of it, I definitely think if done in a constructive way, it can be helpful to reflect on the past initially to try and establish when and how patterns developed. What struck me is just how much power I’ve given away, particularly during my years at school and university, to an ideal I thought I needed to be – a certain weight, wearing certain clothes (many of which I bought and are still stuck in the back of my wardrobe 20 years later!!!). For a long time I was convinced that eating the right foods and losing weight were going to give me the self-confidence I was lacking. This ended up becoming a situation where I gave my power away to food completely – becoming so attached to something that it felt like I had absolutely no control over it. I am much better at managing food now, but I still spiral out of control at times, which when you think about symbolically is basically handing over all your power to something external.
So although if I look back over my life there are plenty of other situations where I’ve given away my power, the main patterns involve food, weight and ideas regarding what women “should” look like. Once you start to see where you lose your power, you can then go a bit deeper and start thinking about what the beliefs are that are linked to these situations. Often these are beliefs that have become so engrained that we no longer question them. Such as: being slim is the ideal, men are attracted to women who look a certain way, being overweight means you are probably a bit idle and just lack will power. Beliefs can become ingrained to the point where people don’t seem to question them anymore. My first degree was in social anthropology, and it was interesting to read about other societies around the world that hold very different ideals and different preferences. We decide what’s beautiful or attractive; it’s not an objective thing. So if people decided that the new norm would be to see the beauty in everyone, no matter what our previous beliefs about beauty were, then over time that might become the engrained belief. Maybe not overnight, but cultural ideals do change.
When you don’t fit into sociocultural ideals, you can end up feeling left out and hard done by. I don’t think there is anything wrong with acknowledging your emotions and feeling sorry for yourself for a short while – in fact I think it’s detrimental to just push it all away and never deal with those feelings, as they can be extremely powerful. But you can’t go around feeling like the victim for long before you start attracting all sorts of crappy situations to you. If you look at it in terms of power, victim mentality is also just handing your power over to other people with a nice bow on it. Maybe some of those people are judging you, probably most of them aren’t. It doesn’t really matter as you can’t change another person’s behaviour or beliefs. So difficult as it may be – I think you have to decide to let it go and take back your power from that situation.
Once it clicked that every thought and action we have involves a transfer of power, I became a bit more picky about situations around food or body image and how I kept or gave away my power. I realise this might seem a bit whacky, but honestly, it really works. I think the simplicity of focusing on where I am putting my power has been really helpful. It’s become easier to stop myself from over-eating, as I focus on how empowering it is to eat a regular sized portion that includes plenty or fresh foods, or even if I have one of those days where I just crave carbs (and I’m not talking veggies here), then I don’t tend to go so overboard. It’s more centred and therefore feels more sustainable, where in the past it’s felt like a mental effort of sheer will.
So for anyone this resonates with, why not try just observing over the next few weeks, what situations come up where you feel you’ve given your power away. If it involves people, don’t focus so much on the actual person/people involved – rather look at the situation in a more symbolic way and think about what is happening energetically. Do look back over your life as well, particularly around food and eating and see if you can trace patterns back to earlier in childhood. Not to wallow in this, but just to help understand. Then start applying these concepts to your current eating habits, and observe what kind of power balance is going on when you decide what you are going to eat.
Ok guys, hope that wasn’t too outside the box for you! Will see you next week.