One of the ways that we love our bodies is by setting limits and establishing routines. I know, I know: this sounds very much like dieting or deprivation.
And yet they are two totally different animals. Honoring limits – when done from a place of love and care – is an act of love and self respect. It’s navigating that middle space where we’re not being a restrictor – controlling what we eat – or on the other hand, a permissive – eating whatever the heck we want. (Restrictor and permissive are Geneen Roth’s terms – great terms – not mine.)
Loving limits is how we walk the middle road to freedom.
I think it’s natural for us to resist discipline. This is a perfectly understandable, knee jerk reaction to years spent dieting, depriving, starving, and criticizing your body. In my 20s, I went through a continuous cycle of bingeing on sugar and junk food, and then abstaining from it. Back and forth I went: ping ponging from being a restrictor to being a permissive.
It’s no wonder that I had a negative body image during those years: how could I love my body while I was abusing it? Neither extreme healed my underlying self-loathing – what fed the food behaviors at either end.
Rigidity, control, and food or weight obsession doesn’t feel good. But neither does an undisciplined life, where you let yourself eat to the point of neglect, poor health, and excessive weight. Think about how you love your children: you set limits on their behavior both because you love them, and as a way of showing them that you love them. Our bodies are no different.
When I was overweight, my excess weight was a symbol, the natural effect of my overeating. It symbolized the ways I used unhealthy habits to soothe and comfort myself. It symbolized the ways I denied the truth – like all the pain that was buried underneath the food. It symbolized the ways that I put other people’s needs above my own, using food to stuff away my negative feelings instead of confronting someone who hurt me. At the deepest level, it symbolized fear – my fear of my own power, my beauty, my sexuality, and my fear of life itself.
If you’re overweight, what does your excess weight symbolize? What does it say about the way that you treat yourself?
My body image did a 180 – for the good – when I found healthy ways to deal with my emotions, healthy ways to comfort myself, healthy ways to meet my needs, healthy ways to interact in my relationships instead of meeting these needs with food. Losing the extra weight was a side benefit. Granted, this was not – and still isn’t – an overnight process.
In growing human(kind)ness, my approach to healing food suffering, I call structure, routines and discipline grounding. It’s how you create a regular rhythm of consistent self-care so that you can thrive. It creates a safe, strong container in which to unfold.
Grounding is challenging for me. I’ll be honest and say there are times when I wish I could “wing it” and be one of those women who can eat anything, who never thinks about food, and who flies by the seat of her pants. And yet I question if this person even exists – perhaps it’s just a figment of my wishful thinking!
I ground myself daily because I’m a human being who needs regular care in order to thrive and feel good. I ground myself daily because I’m committed to loving myself, to being kind, to being compassionate. Compassion and self-hatred can’t coexist. Grounding is how I put my love in action. How I make my love, active, a verb – something I do – and not just an idea that I write or talk about. It’s how I make love real.
The real benefit of structure is not a healthier or leaner body, although that is a natural result of grounding. The real benefit is the positive, loving feelings that flow from treating our bodies with lovingkindness.