If you struggle with food, you know all too well that the heart of the struggle isn’t with the food so much as it is with yourself. We can’t just remove certain foods, or change what we eat, and hope that’ll be enough to end our emotional eating. It won’t. We’ve tried that. What we need is an overhaul of the relationship with ourselves. And that’s some hard work. After all, we’ve only been fighting who we are for, oh, decades maybe?
But there’s a secret—a shortcut even. Not an easy path, let me warn you, but it’s the straightest, surest one to working through emotional eating. And it’s going to startle you, but hear me out: To recover from emotional eating, you must first accept yourself.
If the concept of self-acceptance seems contradictory to change and recovery, I get it, because we’re often trying to recover because of the dissatisfaction we feel with our current state. How can I accept the very thing I want to change? And then, If I could accept myself, why would I need to change? But self-acceptance is more beneficial than you think.
Simply, it is accepting all parts of ourselves—from our limitations to our strengths. Acceptance doesn’t mean we think we’re perfect, or allow complacency, or even stop us from improvement. It’s complete, eyes-open, awareness of who we are in the present moment and embracing that. Why embrace that?
Because we’re not motivated by criticism. We’re not inspired when we hate ourselves. If your daughter became chubby, and you judged her, shamed her, and let her know just how much you couldn’t accept her chubbiness…would it motivate her to change?
Or would she feel ashamed? Would she begin to eat secretly and alone, like us?
Or let’s say it did lead her to lose weight…what do you think her relationship with food, herself, and you, would look like afterward? Years from now?
As hard as we may try, you just can’t beat yourself into change. When we constantly judge ourselves, we internalize those harsh criticisms, and stop believing we’re capable. Instead of recognizing that we have moments of weakness, we start to believe we are weak. Instead of recognizing that we have some ingrained habits that don’t serve us, we believe we are deeply flawed. It’s so commonplace to believe these things about ourselves. Ask any woman you know. She can’t bear to accept herself and she’s got a list of things she could rattle off that she needs to improve.
A person who is not self accepting might be in such a state of inner and outer turmoil that they can’t help but avoid their current reality. They’ll do anything to repress the emotions they feel. I’ve been this person, with my eyes closed and fingers in my ears, trying to block out how shameful the reality of my binge eating was—and how much weight I’d gained (hi, 2012!). I thought that accepting myself meant being OK with myself, and I wasn’t. So I didn’t weigh myself, didn’t write about it, didn’t want to talk about it. I just distracted myself so that I couldn’t feel the anxiety, all the while gaining, eating nightly with the promise to start clean tomorrow. And every day I hated myself, because I deserved it.
What would self-acceptance have looked like then? I remember my therapist mentioning it and me, almost spitting out my coffee at the very thought, “Of course I can’t accept myself! I’m a mess!” But knowing what I know now, I recognize that self-acceptance means waking up the morning after a binge, acknowledging that it’s shame I feel, and knowing that when I hear the voice in my head saying, “You always screw up. Why are you so weak?!” I should remember that it’s the same voice who tells me a million conflicting thoughts 100 times a day—the same voice that can, within the same hour, make me think I’m pretty and then ugly, smart and then dumb, secure and oh no.
If I were self-accepting, I could have recognized that I was lodged in a cycle of binge, restrict, repeat, and rather than trying to spend that day eating next to nothing to make up for the zillion calories I’d eaten the night before, a compassionate me could have encouraged, “Andie you’ve learned that never works. Maybe you won’t make up for the binge today, or ever, but mentally and emotionally, why don’t you try feeling stable and balanced?” Because the old way never worked. And the compassionate way is precisely what does.
Acceptance gives you permission to practice kindness with the person you’ve historically been the least kind to: you. If you give it a real try, you’ll see how the criticisms get lighter. Self-doubt shakes off. Shame dissipates. Hating yourself becomes a rare phenomenon, but you’re human. Slowly, your beliefs about yourself shift from less-than to enough, from powerless to empowered. And when you do make changes, like losing weight, let’s say, you have the perspective to see that hating yourself never made you any thinner, and doubling up on self-criticism never counted for a damn thing.
But acceptance did.
Such a well written post! Beautiful.
Thank you Jenna!!
Thank you so much for sharing, for a long time I had problems accepting mysel. I personally have been battling with my weight all my life, even as a teenager I was always a little on the chubby side and got picked on consistently. But as an adult woman things changed for worse as I gained all the more excess weight especially after my first pregnancy. However recently I have lost almost 35 pounds, after a friend of mine shared a weight-loss newsletter from a German diet guru with me, so with the intention to give back this is a link to the free newsletter for women: http://bit.ly/1kxNYvM
Thank you for sharing about the real problem!
Thank you Katelyn!
This lesson is so important and it took me years to understand it. I had to go through my addiction and then recovery to learn things that I should have learned growing up. On top of drugs and alcohol, my relationship with exercise and food became disordered as I was always trying to change myself into my own version of perfection.
It wasn’t until I realized that perfect doesn’t exist that I learned to accept my unique and original self. Thanks as always for your words and I made sure to include It Was Me All Along on my holiday book gift guide a couple days ago. You rock!
I love how open you are, Erin!! Thank YOU!
I love this post and so many of your posts and your book…it feels like you’re in my head! Thank you for sharing with so much honesty and clarity.
Jen, I appreciate you!
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You always know just how to put things like this. :) I’ve recently lost about 20 pounds on Weight Watchers, and I credit a lot of things, but mostly my newly acquired ability to acknowledge a binge as part of the overall journey, something to work through and get past and move on from. You don’t stop painting a picture because you made a mistake, right? You keep on painting and make that mistake a part of the picture.
“You don’t stop painting a picture because you made a mistake, right?” <--Exactly :) It sounds like you've got a really great mindset, tK! THANK YOU!
Great post! I’m a fairly new reader of your blog and I appreciate your honesty and transparency. While I was reading this post it reminded me of how when we are at our largest weight we look at the pictures from the past and see the photos and think to ourselves, “I thought I was fat in that photo, and what I would give to be at that weight.” It’s such a simple thing to accept, you would think, but wow…. it really is a struggle. I’m glad you shined the light on this. Much love to you on your journey.
Thank you so much Joanna! xo
But how? How do you do that? How do you keep self-revulsion in it’s place and allow acceptance to become a thing? What does it look like? How does it function?
I think it’s just little by little, day by day. It’s not a total overhaul overnight. It starts with just recognizing that you criticize yourself all the time, or that after you binge, you try to restrict the next day…that awareness is the starting place. The next time you hear yourself criticizing, pause and notice it. Is that helping to build you up and feel motivated to change? Or is it tearing you down and probably going to make you want to eat? You’re not going to start artificially praising yourself and replacing all the self-hatred with self-love in one fell swoop, but just knowing that the hatred isn’t serving you is a step in the right direction.
Similarly, the next time you overeat, instead of trying to negate the binge (and not accepting that it happened/that you consumed a lot of calories) by trying to undereat the next day, maybe just accept that the binge happened, that you might have made a few choices you wish you hadn’t, but hey, so you ate, now we have to move on and eat normally today. Because restricting today only makes me want to overeat tonight, and keeps me on that cycle of restrict, binge, repeat.
It’s just little steps, it’s slow, and it’s not perfectly linear. But when you’ve tried the way of non-acceptance (of self-hatred and restriction and shaming) for long enough, you start to realize that it never worked and it never will.
I hope this helps :)
Thanks so much Andie. This was so so so so helpful. You are always so inspiring. As Dory would say “Just keep swimming!” I use this mantra in a lot of areas of my life especially when it’s implementing habits that are lifelong. Self acceptance is no exception and it is something I am working on. It’s a practice and there are bound to be ups and downs.
Andie thank you so much. This is exactly what I needed today.
This has been something that took YEARS for me to reconcile. I knew that I needed to accept myself in order to change and get healthy, but then I would think “But how will I be able to change if I’ve accepted myself. How will I be able to move forward if I’m also trying to learn how to be okay with the way I am right now?” It definitely seemed counterintuitive to me on the surface, but now I realize that the acceptance is what has helped me to become healthier. I struggled with bulimia for almost ten years and that awful cycle finally ended once I really and truly started to accept who I was and that I deserved to be healthy.
I get sad when I think about all the years I spent thinking that I was “fat” and was so preoccupied with the weight I never needed to lose in the first place that I forgot to enjoy life; not to mention that I definitely bought into the fallacy that you can’t be happy until you’re at your goal weight (lies), but I’m just so thankful that I’ve finally started to turn the corner and that’s 100% been because of accepting myself for how I am in the present moment. I’m excited for what the future holds, but I’m also excited for each day. And I think that those thoughts are what encourage me to stay healthy.
Thank you so much for this. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only person who has ever had these thoughts and struggled with these issues. It’s great to know that I’m not alone in this.
THANK YOU Caroline xoxox
You’re the best, H xo
Thank you for putting into words (and so eloquently) how I feel. “How can I accept the very thing I want to change? And then, If I could accept myself, why would I need to change?” I’ve wondered this exact same thing and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one. I often feel this way when reading your posts (and book, which is amazing by the way!) because they’re so real and honest and focus on the JOURNEY not just the destination.
Adore you, Haley
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I just finished reading your book and loved,loved,loved it. Thanks for being so honest and raw about your life. I am looking forward to following your blog and advise.
Thank you so much Alicia!!
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I just finished reading your book and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time! After going on an off Weight Watchers for years and just losing the 25 pounds that I needed to lose, I was freaking out about maintaining this weight. Your book gave me much food for thought. No pun intended. I really need to stop seeing food as an enemy and start seeing it as a friend. I am looking forward to trying out your recipes! Thank you so much for writing a book that I could relate to and for helping me understand some things about myself that I never knew.
Maggie, thank you so much!!
This is wonderful! Somehow you always know just where I am and what I need to hear. I’m looking for some kind of book or other guide to get me started on this whole self acceptance journey… Any suggestions?
Thank you so much, Beth! Here’s a post I wrote on books that changed my life: https://www.andiemitchell.com/2015/07/16/best-diet-weight-loss-books/
I’m wishing you the absolute best year :)
Great! Thanks! I found a book by Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, it has been great so far!
So true and beautifully written. I find Louise Hay’s affirmations and mirror work greatly help me with cultivating a strong sense of self acceptance and love. It is definitely the first step and then health and happiness follow naturally from being in the state of self acceptance.
Thank you so much!!
I just wanted to let you know I read your book and loved it. I laughed and cried, relating the entire time, and for me, that’s the perfect mix. You have a powerfully eloquent way with words, and this post was no different. It’s a tall order to change when you can’t really pinpoint what’s not working. Your words help readers put a name and better understanding to what they’re feeling and doing and therefore, can empower them to change for the better. You continue to inspire me and I want you to know I truly appreciate you and am so happy to hear about your engagement and continued personal success.
Thank you :)
Hayley, thank you so, so much :)
Hi Andie! I love your blog so much – your recipes are wonderful, but it’s really your writing that keeps me coming back. My story is completely unoriginal – I’m 20, and struggle so much with eating. I was restring to between 250-800 calories for a long time, but recently when I get stressed (mainly as a high-achieving University student whose depression usually leaves me crying doing all-nighters for essays I am determined to do well on) I eat. I’m not hungry, I just want to eat. It’s a form of comfort, as I’m sure you know. Thank you for all of your posts relating to binge-restricting, seeing someone writing so beautifully about something that still cripples me is so helpful. Does it ever go away completely? This desire, to be thin? To be technically slim, and feel like it’s not enough? To hate yourself when you binge, imagine your body thickening seconds after you’ve inhaled whatever food you eat? I think it’s mainly my depression as well, which I haven’t really had any professional help about…I just want to know if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel I guess. Not reducing the binges, just, if it ever stops. Completely. Thank you again, your writing and thoughts are so beautiful, always.
This post was exactly what I needed to read today. I happened to run across your blog thanks to google and trying to find inspiration to keep going on my “healthy lifestyle” journey. “Self Acceptance” is almost a bad word these days. There are so many people and things in the world, including our inner selves, telling us that we are so imperfect and worthless unless we look and act a certain way. But, in reality, we can find that small piece of satisfaction by simply realizing that we are always exactly where we need to be at that point in time. The small choices we make today create who we are going to be tomorrow. And just because I messed up today, doesn’t mean I’m a total failure tomorrow. Anyway, thank you for writing this blog and sharing with the masses. Your words have truly inspired me today.
I really cherish this perspective on self-acceptance and being kind to ourselves. I can relate when you write about how we distract ourselves. At a very deep level I find that I constantly distract myself from other areas of my life that are lacking. I’ve discovered that accepting those areas where they are, and acknowledging that they areas for improvement rather than innate flaws is an excellent approach.
You are talking about me…..those thoughts are my thoughts, the criticisms are exactly what I say to myself every day of my life. The cycle you speak of is the very thing I experience almost daily. Thank you for putting my thoughts and feelings into words. I will read them over and over agin.
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Thank you for sharing!
I fought the criticism and big size most of my life. With that, ridicule from myself didn’t help.
This is a new year for me to work on myself and I am glad I found the guidance I needed on
Your writings are so totally relatable. Thank you Andie.
I love you… That is all :) Thank you for your beautiful, insightful, helpful posts. And amazing recipes!
Thank you, Andie! I needed to take the time to slow down and read your post. As always you reel me in and remind me of the kindness I can show myself. I am more than willing to shine kindness on everyone else. Whether in words or deeds. Today I needed the reminder I can be my best critic or I can chose to be my best friend. Today I choose to be kind to me. Just for today… I can do something to nourish my heart, my soul and my body, giving grace to myself for once. Love and hugs, Andie! Thank you, again! Your words do make a difference, you speak life into dark corners.❤️
So many words of wisdom in the post you write and the wise ladies that commented! I’ve been so frustrated with myself for gaining weight lately after reaching my happy place again in my weight lose journey. So, so disappointed in myself at this point as I have gained back 20 lbs of that hard fought weight. I know that much of it has to do with each pound that I gain, my confidence in myself and the negative talks I give myself only cause it to continue to happen! Thank for sharing this great post. I am going to try really hard to be kind and patient with myself no mattter what weight I am. I need to be remember I need to love myself and stop medicating with food! Thanks Andie and ladies of this post!
Couldn’t agree with you more!
Weight loss is biggest problem in this world. I really like your Blog