What are the ways shame shows up if you binge?
I invite you to take time for this article. Grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage, find somewhere you feel calm and grounded.
Maybe with your journal on the side if you’d like to jot down anything as you read.
I want to talk about how shame shows up in your life if you binge and the way it influences how you feel about your relationship with food…and you body.
Shame is one of the most complex and difficult emotions to understand but also to explain. I want to try anyway.
The definition of shame I love the most is this one from Brené Brown, who has done very in-depth studies on shame and other universal human emotions that help us better understand its dynamics. She explains shame using these words.
Shame is the fear of disconnection — the fear of being perceived as flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging. Shame is feeling like an outsider — not belonging.
Let’s pause here.
Take a moment to read this one again and really feel it. If you like, close your eyes and think about whether and how shame is present in your life right now. Not to judge it, but instead to compassionately notice it’s there and explore it.
Shame often shows up in your life if you binge, and prevents you from sharing our story to others. Because you fear you are going to be perceived as weird or fallible, and we all hate the feeling of being outsiders.
In the context of today’s message to you, what I’d like to do is share 4 ways I see shame shows up if you binge.
Below I get into the details of each of them.
I’ll also add a few words on the role that shame plays in our path of deep understanding of the bingeing problem, as well as in the recovery from the same.
1. Shame for the way you experience food.
How can you confess that you eat not to feel all the pain we don’t think you can handle? Even if that food feeds an even greater pain? Bigger than your belly, than your fear of the world, of feeling inadequate, incapable, out of place.
In this context, food has a shortcoming which is this: the pleasure and oblivion it gives you is really short lived, and the stomach is too small to contain the food it would take to stop thinking.
Food and the thought of food occupy the mind and fighting these thoughts consumes a lot of your energy.
At the end of the day, you can feel as exhausted as if you have just run the marathon.
“But what do I do between one meal and the next, since I can’t go without eating or without thinking about it? “
Between one meal and another, you ‘do’ your life.
Food, as I have often said here in my messages to you, is really just the tip of the iceberg. Remove the food and see what’s underneath.
In the context of the diet-binge cycle, shame plays a double role.
It can be, at the same time, the cause (1. trigger) and a consequence (4. Guilt & Shame) of your conflictual relationship with food.
It can be a trigger that starts the cycle (feeling bad about yourself, restricting food through dieting, or a challenging situation), and at the same time manifesting itself as a feeling that affects you after you binge, so as we said before, the shame for the way you live food and the emotions associated with it.
2. Shame for a body you don’t like
When you are in a larger body, or there are specific parts of your body you dislike, you think that you always have the eyes of the whole world on you. That you are always at the center of their judgments. In common situation like when you meet someone on the street, you sit next to them in work, or when you live your intimacy with your partner.
And if they are not someone else’s eyes, they are yours.
I mean, your ferocious inner critic which, let me tell you, does not arise from the fact that you are a bad person and you do not like yourself, but from having rather internalized a distorted and flawed ideal of beauty since you were playing with Barbie as a child.
Last Tuesday, as an example, I had a serious breakthrough while attending Gillian McCollum’s course on Body Acceptance, realising there’s still a lot of work I can do on myself when it comes to grieving the missed opportunities, the things I wanted to do but didn’t do when I was younger because of the amount of deep shame I felt for my body.
I guess it’s a work in progress and, as Gillian reminded us, a process, not a destination.
You can work on shame or any other feeling that’s causing pain at any stage of your life. And come back to the same again and again, when needed.
Getting help to do this type of work might be an essential part of your healing journey.
3. Shame for all the times you failed
This is the shame that comes from having failed over and over again in an attempt to change a dysfunctional relationship with food.
For never having succeeded in your previous attempts.
And the consequent thought in your mind, questioning whether change will ever be possible for you at all.
Nobody likes to fail repeatedly.
With each fall there is a bit of energy that’s gone and it is a bit more difficult to get back up.
Therefore what often takes you away from starting to work on what’s causing pain is precisely the fear of failure, of not being able to bear the emotional cost of failure.
At the same time (let me know if this is true for you or not) there is planning in your mind for a future in which you will be well and you will be thin and then finally everyone will love you.
In the meantime, though, you eat. And keep imagining a different tomorrow.
Or at most, you try to stay on a diet as much as possible.
The desire to withdraw in oneself to feel safe is a trap. As much as not facing the possibility to try something different (like doing some deep work on what’s really causing the problem) even knowing we might fail.
You have often heard that waiting to feel ready and safe, waiting for when the timing is right, it’s an excellent excuse to stay where you are.
There is never the right time. The best conditions to begin a path to change something that causes us great suffering don’t exist.
I’ll briefly mention another important aspect that comes into play here, which is this: the feeling of failure often goes hand in hand with perfectionism.
It’s not a surprise then, that perfectionism is a very common personality aspect in binge eating sufferers. And it is also one of the first obstacles of recovery, not just in the case of binge-eating but many other problems.
You live expecting perfection from yourself and everything that fails makes you angry.
The experience of dieting tends to strengthen and exacerbate a personality already characterized by an “all or nothing” approach to life. But this is material for another article.
What would you be capable of, if you were willing to fail again and gain?
4. Shame from thinking it’s just you
There is a sense of isolation and loneliness, which is not only the prerogative of those who binge but, in general, of those who face a problem that somehow isolates them from others, puts a wall between themselves and the world and makes them feel wrong, different, outsiders.
When you struggle to talk about what’s happening in your relationship with food and your body, the feeling of loneliness and the thought that you are probably the only one with this problem get reinforced.
Also, if no one talks about it with you, then it means that it’s just you (or in any case there aren’t many others out there) and this strengthens shame even more.
The problem of binges is a problem not only of physical and social isolation, but also of isolation within a narrow and repetitive point of view.
The tendency to withdraw, having only yourself as interlocutor and harsh judge, can push you to repeat the same automatic actions, often with the feeling of not having control over them.
So, what is the antidote to shame?
Reluctance to feel the shame and work through it to be able to speak out about your problem is one of the main obstacles to recovery.
On the other hand, sharing, listening to other people telling about their state of mind, difficulties but also what has helped them so far can be a strong drive for change.
Reading other people’s stories, as you do by reading my emails for example, can also help you. Not just to understand how shame shows up if you binge, but also to encorage you to open up and share your struggles.
Trusting the help of someone who, like a mirror, puts your perspective on things in front of you and makes you reflect on the mechanisms behind the problem. Or simply helps you be more compassionate towards “what is”.
Be part of a group of kind-hearted spirits that are going through your same journey and are willing to listen to you with a compassionate mind, imagine how that would feel?
In general, the act of bringing the problem from the inside to the outside, be it in written or spoken form, through a dialogue that takes place in a safe and empathic context, can be a massive game changer for you.
There’s power in bringing shame to the surface.
Because normally shame lives in the shadow.
So it’s easier to stay in shame and keep the behaviors that cause pain when we don’t talk about our struggles and share them.
Particularly, it helps us in two ways:
> The exchange with others makes you accept that we are all more or less imperfect and that imperfection is fine, it’s not a problem.
Not accepting that you can be imperfect, that you might be wrong sometimes, or that you are different from the standards is.
I don’t know if you’ve got the chance to watch AfterLife on Netflix (if you haven’t, I recommend it 100%).
There’s a scene where Tony, the protagonist says:
“We’re All Screwed Up In One Way Or Another. It Sort Of Makes You Normal.”
I believe there is truth to this line.
Being ‘screwed up’ doesn’t make you different, or some kind of outsider; it just makes you normal.
It’s human to have flaws and fail. It’s okay.
Remember the definition of shame from Rene Brown I shared at the beginning of this email, about Shame being “feeling like an outsider — not belonging”?
> It allows you to see the problem from different angles.
Changing the point of view about yourself helps you feel able to take actions that you have never been able to do before. For example, not eating to relieve pain when it was previously impossible not to.
It helps turn ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can’.
What is required in order to activate this type of change is a small initial step towards overcoming shame, giving it space within you, recognizing it, welcoming it, and in this way you begin to be more courageous, putting aside the fear of appearing ridiculous, strange or wrong and finally open up to the many possibilities there are.
- What are you most ashamed of right now?
- How does shame show up in your life if you binge?
- If you had the opportunity to share, through a personal page of your diary, what you have always wanted to say out loud, what would that be?
I’m waiting for you on the other side of this article if you want to share it with me, knowing that it will reach someone who listens to you with empathy and compassion.
That’s it for today! Hope you enjoyed reading this one and that it helped somehow.
A KIND REMINDER
Enrollment continues for the Mindful Body Women Circle.
This could be perfect for you if you’ve been considering focusing on your relationship with food & body this year.
A safe and non-judgmental space for women to learn tools, techniques and practices to support in the journey towards joyful eating and body acceptance.
Click here for more info.