Can you relate to this story?
I was a young teen enjoying the fun and excitement of a kitchen full of friends, family and yummy food. As I reached for one of my favorite treats, a homemade dark-chocolate brownie, a young guy standing across the room smirked at me and said loudly:
“Once on your lips, forever on your hips.”
I shrunk back from the counter, brownie in hand, cheeks burning bright red with shame and humiliation. Shoulders slumped, head down, I turned away without saying a word and headed to a quiet corner to eat my brownie alone. Sadly, it didn’t taste as good as it usually did.
Those eight words stung. This is what they meant to my 12-year-old mind:
- I should be worried about my weight.
- I should fear gaining weight.
- Eating treats, like brownies, will make me gain weight, which makes them bad.
- Eating bad foods makes me a bad person.
- I will have to pay for my food sins.
- People are observing and judging my actions.
- If I eat bad food, I better do it while no one is watching.
- If I eat bad food, I will immediately gain weight.
- I need to vigilantly monitor every morsel I eat.
- With a body like this, I don’t deserve to eat treats.
- I am somehow falling short.
Cemented Core Beliefs
This incident further cemented many core beliefs about food and body that had begun taking root inside my increasingly self-conscious teenage self as I attempted to navigate a culture obsessed with dieting and skinniness.
These core beliefs led to decades of deprivation and overindulgence, playing “Hide and Eat,” and making food choices based not on nourishment and pleasure, but rather on how they would impact my weight.
And, they contributed to years of warring with my body and bouncing between good-girl/bad-girl status depending upon whether I ate a big bowl of broccoli or a big bowl of ice cream. Guilt and shame were constant dining companions.
While there are many takeaways from my story, there are three key ones I want to emphasize:
1. The Power of Words
My hope is that this story will remind you of the tremendous power of your words and to be extremely conscientious and thoughtful about the comments you make to others regarding their food choices, eating habits and body.
This is especially important with children, teenagers and young adults, who are so incredibly impressionable, eager to be loved and belong, and struggling to develop a strong sense of self.
This also includes negative, disempowering comments you make about yourself to yourself and others about your own body and food choices, which come from your own core beliefs and can easily influence other people's core beliefs.
2. You're Not Alone
I shared this story to let you know that if your food choices, eating habits and/or body shape make you feel guilty, ashamed, embarrassed or unworthy, you’re not alone and it's not your fault.
Many of us experience these same feelings.
Most likely, your beliefs and actions are being driven by a set of core beliefs you adopted at a very young age, that are often influenced by repeated messages you received from others and/or your environment.
3. You Can Change
Lastly, may my story reassure you that you have the capacity to change your core beliefs and transform your relationship with food, eating and your body into a more nourishing, loving, relaxed and peaceful one, just as I've done (and continue to do).
I don’t have any magical powers. If I can do it, you can do it.
One of the first places to start is sharing your own stories in a safe and accepting space, whether it’s with a trusted friend, therapist, coach or support group. For most of us, exposing this dark, messy side of ourselves is really scary.
It wasn't easy when I first started talking about aspects of myself that I had long kept hidden. I still feel a bit of vulnerability and fear every time I share one of my stories.
However, over time, I’ve found doing so has helped me cultivate more self-acceptance and unconditional love. And, it's helped me release my feelings of shame and create deeper connections with others who can relate to my experience.
As shame and vulnerability expert Dr. Brene Brown says:
"If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive."