We live in a weight-obsessed world. Not only are we exposed to a constant barrage of images of the “perfect body,” but when it comes to attaining it we tend to focus on all the wrong things. We cut our carbohydrate intake, follow any exercise program that promises quick results, and even resort to fasting if we have to – all to attain the body that promises happiness.
But, according to Shari Brady, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in eating disorders and is herself recovered from anorexia, achieving freedom from eating disorders starts with stopping the focus on food as the answer to life’s problems.
In her new book, It’s Not What You’re Eating, It’s What’s Eating You: A Teenager’s Guide To Preventing Eating Disorders – And Loving Yourself, Brady offers teenagers a way to happiness and a healthy relationship to food that begins with their relationships with themselves.
“Our relationship with food begins at birth and never ends. How we feel about our body and eating is a direct reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Life can be difficult and unfair at times, and nobody is born with the knowledge of how to navigate through its many challenges. Sometimes, turning to food becomes the only way we cope with life” writes Brady.
Brady describes emotional eating as “consumption that is triggered by something other than hunger.” One telltale sign of emotional eating, says Brady, is when we can’t remember the last time we were hungry.
“A lot of people don’t know how to cope with feelings like depression, isolation, or seriously low self-esteem so they attempt to self-soothe or “fix” themselves with food,” writes Brady.
The problem, however, is that using food to cope with feelings we’d rather not feel is a self-destructive habit that usually creates more unwanted feelings. A better solution, Brady says, is to run toward our feelings.
“Lots of studies have proven that once you allow yourself to feel these negative feelings, they will go away,” writes Brady.
The process starts with identifying our thought patterns. Brady draws on the work of Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and their cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) model, to offer readers a way to better understand their thoughts, thought distortions, and the effect they have on their feelings and behavior.
Challenging thought distortions and learning to separate ourselves from our thoughts are the keys to beginning to understand, and ultimately being able to sit with our feelings. Brady offers examples for ways to manage the larger “umbrella” feelings such as sadness, anxiety, anger, boredom, and loneliness that frequently drive emotional eating.
Brady also makes the important point that our body image can also dramatically influence how we feel.
“The truth is, despite some progress, our society still places a strong emphasis on being thin, and there is no way of avoiding the images we see in the media or on social media,” writes Brady.
What we can do is learn to feel good about the body we have. Here, Brady offers ten helpful steps such as being grateful for our bodies, looking at ourselves in the mirror without judgement, thinking critically about media and social media, and finding time to help others.
Nurturing ourselves in ways that don’t include food is also a vital part of achieving a healthy relationship with ourselves and with food.
“The most important key in nurturing yourself is to listen to your body. Notice when you feel physically tired or stressed, or when you are so full of energy you could take on the world,” writes Brady.
Of pivotal importance in overcoming emotional eating is that we forgive ourselves for our indiscretions.
“The challenge, moving forward, is learning to see yourself in a different, more positive, light and appreciating all the things you have to offer this world,” writes Brady.
Through identifying our strengths and values, pursuing our goals, incorporating mindfulness, and learning to accept life’s challenges, we can develop a way of navigating life that cultivates our internal resources, builds our confidence, boosts our body image, and fosters feelings of self-efficacy – all while unraveling tired patterns that rely on food to make us feel better.
Brady suggests that readers ask themselves, what is my why? Not only does knowing our “why” give our lives meaning and purpose, it also helps us cope with challenges. Brady cites the work of Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, who argued that it is through finding meaning in life that people are better equipped to deal with painful experiences.
Highly accessible and easy-to-read, It’s Not What You’re Eating It’s What’s Eating You offers numerous tips, exercises, case studies and examples. It is a helpful guide for any teenager seeking to not only prevent or treat an eating disorder, but to develop a better relationship with themselves.
It’s Not What You’re Eating It’s What’s Eating You: A Teenager’s Guide To Preventing Eating Disorders – And Loving Yourself
Softcover, 174 Pages