I used to be a people pleaser. My focus was on getting validation from others, not from within. In my super stressful nursing job, this was extremely painful. After a back injury, I started working as a case manager. As a hospital case manager, it was my job to make a plan. Everyone had an opinion about the plan and everyone was my customer- the patient, their family, the doctors, the Physical therapist, etc. It was impossible to make everyone happy. Even if I could make the patient happy, that didn’t mean anyone else would like the plan. So, for me, frequently having to make others unhappy to honor the wishes of the patient, or worse, when the system didn’t support me even making the patient happy, I felt like I had failed. Or, when I was simply human and unable to complete my work (frequently, because it was more work than one person could do in a day) I would feel like I was not “good enough”. I neglected myself to work harder, to be sure I was doing my absolute best (aka making others as happy as I could). If I fell short, I wasn’t good enough. Occasionally I pulled off nothing short of a miracle and then I would feel “good enough” for a day or so.
Ultimately the stress and overworking lead to burnout; the self neglect made my health spiral out of control. I put on 70 pounds. I had chronic health problems worsen and an autoimmune disease pop up.
Finally, I realized that something had to change. I had to start making myself a priority. Years before I had been introduced to the idea that Love is an action. Thankfully I didn't have to feel or believe that I loved myself, I only had to take consistent loving actions to “Love” myself. Haltingly I took actions, I started with breathing. Taking the time (a few moments) to do deep breathing exercises 3x/day, everyday, had a big impact in reducing my stress.
But I still struggled, with being consistent with self care, and with food. I obsessed about food and was always going on some plan, then falling off the wagon and beating myself up. I gradually discovered that I had to understand that I was valuable no matter what. I had to know, on the deepest level that I was worthy of love and respect no matter what. I needed to learn how treat myself with love and respect in all aspects of my life, especially my relationship with food. When I finally understood my value and worth was constant and non-negotiable and had nothing to do with how happy I made anyone, everything shifted. I was able to finally make caring for myself a priority, consistently. I was also able to heal my relationship with food.
Knowing your value and subsequently treating yourself with love and respect is the foundation to your relationship with yourself and in your relationship with food. Do you know your value?
Our value is a constant. It’s not negotiable. It does not change with age, size, appearance; we are not worth less if we are ill or having a bad day. We are not worth less when we don’t get anything checked off our list. When we truly know our value and worth we are able to want the best for ourselves, know we deserve it and take the steps needed to give that gift to ourselves.
What is the biggest barrier? Shame. The antidote to shame is two fold- talking about it...knowing you are not alone and self-forgiveness. If we hold onto something shameful in our past, it will tell us we are not good enough. Shame says we are not valuable and not worthy of love and respect. Brene Brown’s writing is all about healing from shame so her work is a great resource. If you feel you need additional support, please consider getting therapy as this is deep work and can be extremely challenging.
I used the ho’oponopono prayer-
“I love you”
“Please forgive me”
I also adapted an affirmation (may have come from Brene Brown but I’m not really sure where I got it)
“ Forgiveness is a gift I give to myself. The person I was in that moment in time did the best I could with the skills I had, today I am a different person and I will do better. Forgiveness is a gift I give to myself “
These are also great to use during relationship challenges;) I said these daily until I believed it. When I was finally able to know I was value and worthy of love and respect, I knew I deserved to care for myself impeccably. I was able to improve in all areas of health- I have more energy, am much happier, have freedom, balance and satisfaction in my relationship with food. I lost 70 pounds and easily maintain my weight.
How do we begin take loving action toward ourselves? I always recommend starting with very small, do-able goals around self care and stress reduction. Consistency is the key. That's why simply breathing 3 times per day was so effective and was all I needed to start a ripple effect.
To get in the habit of taking small loving actions, it must be really do-able. Start small and do things that feel right for you. I love to take into account the 5 love languages. I always have my clients take the test and we integrate their top love languages into our work.
They are- Physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, and quality time. You may be wondering how this applies to your relationship with yourself? You can give all of these things to yourself. The loving actions you take toward yourself should be in alignment with YOUR love languages. If you are a physical touch person you can literally hug yourself, you can book massages, hug others more often, wrap yourself in soft blankets, etc. If you like gifts, reward yourself with gifts, wrap things in pretty paper, hold items your love in your hands, notice all the gifts in your life. If you like acts of service, pay someone to get things done that you don't want to do or trade with a friend, get some thing you are avoiding done (this counts as self-care too!). If you like words of affirmation, that is the easiest one to give yourself! Tell yourself kind things, celebrate your wins! Last but not least, quality time- take yourself on dates, spend time with yourself intentionally, be intentional with spending time with friends and loved ones.
For me what really brought it all together was applying this growth and knowledge to my relationship with food. Using food as love. I realized that if I deserve to care for myself impeccably, that had to be true with food too. What would caring for myself with food look like? I was fortunate to discover intuitive eating. The idea is to listen to our bodies, our hunger signals, and trust that our body know what we need. I still have my autoimmune condition so I need to eat really clean but I craved balance. Food as love looked like eating nourishing AND satisfying food. It also included having access to really nourishing/healthy food all the time but also having enough flexibility to eat treats sometimes.
This deep healing work, knowing I was worth caring for myself impeccably in all areas of my life, especially food, no matter what was the bedrock for loving me first. When I did that my relationships shifted. I found happiness, freedom and balance. I found love.
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The first step to healing our relationship with food is reconnecting with the signals our body gives us. One of the ways to do that is by checking in with your hunger before you eat. Here's my spin on the traditional hunger scale.