Have you ever felt like you have two sides of yourself fighting over what the ‘right’ choice is before you eat? It could sound something like this:
'That looks yum, I think I'll eat some'
‘I really shouldn’t be eating this’
‘It’s ok, I feel like eating it and I can eat what I want’
‘I can only have one’
‘This is delicious and I’m enjoying eating what I feel like’
‘I’ve eaten too many, I should stop’
‘I’m so bad for eating too much’
If you experience this, you are not alone. This is a scenario that my clients often tell me about, and something that we can identify as the ‘dieting self’ vs ‘kind self’. This concept is borrowed from Carolyn Costin's eating disorder work, where she identifies the 'Eating Disorder Self' and the 'Healthy Self', as there can often be some overlap between dieting and eating disorders.
In the example above, the 'dieting self' is represented in italics, and it really tries to control what we eat and triggers feelings of guilt for eating foods that we would otherwise enjoy. The ‘kind self’ is more focused on having food that we enjoy, eating until we are satisfied, aligning with our values and offering compassion to ourselves. It can feel like there is a push and pull between these two sides, which can feel so exhausting and have a big impact on how we feel about food, our bodies and ourselves.
If you have noticed these thought patterns in your own experiences, it can be helpful to ‘zoom out’ and start to bring awareness to it. What do you notice about what the ‘dieting self’ says? Where could those beliefs have come from? Often the ‘dieting self’ thoughts can be informed by different food rules we may have gathered from diets we have tried over the years, comments from those around us as well as the problematic food and health messaging we receive from society every day. It can also be helpful to reflect on what happens when you are impacted by that ‘dieting self’. Do the behaviours that stem from listening to that side of yourself ultimately lead to what you value in life? Or do they pull you further away? Often we can find that the more we try to control our eating, the more out of control we end up feeling not long after.
Conversely, when you tune in to what your ‘kind self’ is telling you, how does this impact your behaviours? When we lean into this more compassionate side of ourselves and give our ‘kind self’ more air time, often it can lead us closer to our values around finding a more peaceful relationship with food and our bodies. You might also notice some fears popping up when first exploring this, like 'If I listen to my 'kind self' and eat what I feel like, won't I eat too much?'. This is a really common fear, which will be explored further in an upcoming post.
It can sometimes feel a little new or foreign when we are first experimenting with focusing on more compassionate self talk and listening to that side of ourselves. At first it can be a little whisper compared to the loud booms of the ‘dieting self’. If that is the case for you, one thing that can be really helpful here is to remind yourself of how you would support or relate to a friend in the same situation. Notice how you feel after offering yourself that same compassion. You deserve it too.
In practice, this reflection may look like:
1. Pausing to ‘zoom out’ and notice your thought patterns.
2. Acknowledging your thoughts e.g. ‘I’m noticing a push and pull between my ‘dieting self’ and my ‘kind self’ about my eating right now’, ‘I’m noticing that my ‘dieting self’ really wants to control my eating and my 'kind self' wants to support a relationship with food where I can eat in peace’.
3. Choosing a behaviour that aligns with your ‘kind self’ e.g. ‘I really feel like eating this, so I’m going to eat it and enjoy it. I know that this will help me move towards a more peaceful relationship with food where I can start to eat without the internal battle’.
4. Offering yourself compassion and understanding regardless of the outcome on your behaviour.
It can be helpful to keep in mind that this reflection doesn’t have to be perfect. You might leave it for now, you might experiment with one option or you might try the whole process. It’s all ok – no one is perfect, and it can take time and support to work through what can often be decades of ingrained thinking as a result of your own experiences, our weight focused society and the impact of all the diets that taught us that we couldn’t be trusted around food.
This reflection can be a first step, and questions and sticking points can often come up in this process. If you would like some support to find peace with food and your body, please feel free to get in touch. I’d love to chat about how we could work together.
Remember that you can be trusted around food, and the internal battle doesn’t have to last forever.
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I'm a non-diet dietitian specialised in supporting women to move on from dieting, heal their relationship to food and feel good in their bodies exactly as they are. Read more..
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