I received an email from a beautiful female asking about how long it would take for her to build a healthy relationship with food and with her body image. That is such a heavy question to answer without getting to know someone.
Even though I work in the field of nutrition, most of what we deal with when we look at someone’s behavior patterns comes from deep within. Psychology of Diet is pivotal in our field.
Many people grow up without the best example of a healthy relationship with food and a lack of coping skills. These deficits can sometimes foster unhealthy habits that children can be either predisposed to or ones they are so appalled by that they swing hard to the opposite side of.
Deep personal insecurity can arise throughout our lives and rear its ugly head in the job force, personal relationships and especially arise with family functions.
While many of these involve food and alcohol, some involve more complex issues like family resentment and difficult conversations. While these things are extremely real to the person who feels the anxiety or stress they can cause is to lose ourselves in addictions, affliction patterns and can make us focus on things that we are not truly going to grow and find success through. Because food is such a coping mechanism we often have to unpack the person’s life to see what they are truly passionate about and what brings them fulfillment.
This can be staggering for someone who is a perfectionist or doesn’t have good role models around them. We are a reflection of the people we run with and oftentimes we don’t know how to run away from those who steal from our personal identity.
The language psychologists use for a person who hasn’t “found themselves” is: lacking a sense of self or a lack of personal identity and psychologists recognize that when a person lacks a sense of personal identity, their problems extend into every aspect of their life: relationships, career, even mental and emotional health.
A person without a strong sense of identity tends to suffer from:
- Manipulative relationships
- Feelings of emptiness or meaninglessness
- Feelings of helplessness
- Lack of self-confidence
- Stunted dreams
- Financial difficulties
Not to mention, it can be really difficult to make a decision or even stick to a small one. This is why when people want to lose weight to “look better” I have to make sure that it’s for the right reason. We don’t want people pressing into “looks alone” as that will not solve their lack of feeling like they have no purpose. Instead as coaches we seek to find the giftedness in the individual. This is one of the reasons our staff is dedicated to helping people. We truly want to help people discover and prepare to move from paralysis to healthy freedom and clarity.
What does this look like?
For some, this means changing their hardwiring system. Sleep patterns are huge. Water intake, sunlight exposure, exercise daily, healthy food and socializing. Human connection is so important even if it centers around food. The gift of feedback is important. Where you get that feedback from is even more important. When we’ve been programmed to feel like we don’t have purpose ever searching for affirmation in places that doesn’t always bring opportunity.
When we don’t know who we are, we end up spending more time wondering about what other people want from us than about what we want and need for ourselves. Which, of course, can be incredibly anxiety-producing. This is where many people who struggle with weight will cope by restricting or binge eating. They are often ridden with guilt and shame and start yo yo dieting and feel like they are failing over and over again. We often lack knowledge, skills and tools to really fight for the good in ourselves. We often overlook failure being part of a tracking system. Failure allows us to see clearly in time where we need to “adjust” course slightly when we decide to take action.
Failure is always a learning opportunity.
And how can you possibly measure your success or progress or integrity in life if you’re measuring by other people’s standards?
The measuring stick is constantly shifting, depending on certain circumstances, your situation, your surroundings, or who is doing the asking. You feel pulled between your boss, your mom, your friends, your spouse, and maybe, just maybe, some very quiet, inner voice.
And at some point, you will let one or more of them down. You cannot possibly meet so many expectations.
Personally for years, I remained trapped in that circle of the same. I think this is part of the reason that I decided to really press into fitness and nutrition coaching. I wanted to help other people see the greatness in themselves far before they could see it and feel it in themselves deeply and authentically.
I didn’t want the pain that sat inside of me to reside in others. I wanted to help people discover what it is that is causing the pain so that they can find their purpose.
Trust me, the years of body shaming, depression, and reaching a total 360 degree overhaul took 10 whole years of my life and 15+ years of failure to really adjust course. I adjusted hard.
It’s exhausting. It’s awful. I’ve been there.
Not only was my life completely unmanageable in several areas, it was all centered around, not feeling like I had purpose or a gift. I bought things I didn’t need, I hung out with people I thought were big names and even altered the way I looked because people told me I was “less than.” I’m glad I was strong enough to ask for help. It took a long time of me thinking I could handle this all on my own.
And in many ways, we are all there at some point in our lives, including the young woman who sent me the email asking me about my past because finding yourself is not a one-time event. It’s a journey we’re on together. It takes a team to help get us into a better position for growth.
Lack of Personal Identity and Depression.
There is a psychologist and author named Albert Bandura who has done a considerable amount of research around something he calls self-efficacy, which could be translated: as a strong sense of self. He makes a specific connection between a weak sense of personal significance and depression.
I know depression is a complicated issue with lots of complicated answers. Not to mention, I have gone around and around with depression in my life.
I’ve spent years doing meditation, prayer and in therapy and it hasn’t been until the past five or ten years that I’ve discovered some freedom from it. The process is ongoing and you have to want to rebuild one day at a time. As a nutritionist I’m only 1 small piece of the puzzle. Having a team of people we can call our “wellness team” might even consist of people you did not consider health team oriented.
Let me give you an example:
When I was broke and didn’t know how to save, I hired a financial advisor who graduated me to a tax and investment planner and when I became undoubtedly proficient I went to an advanced investment team. This took 3 years. The same goes with nutrition, training and all the other amazing things I added to my wellness plan. Don’t get overwhelmed, and stop, just work on 1 thing at a time. Give it time, and be patient with yourself.
It hasn’t been until I’ve begun to develop a stronger sense of self that I’ve been able to find a bit of freedom from my anxiety completely and put a stop to my depression.
That is not a prescription, but it is a suggestion to consider that if depression is as much a part of your life as it has been of mine, it’s worth considering it might help to work on finding yourself. This discovery is filled with so much joy if you embrace even the ugly in it. I learned to use myself as a humble example with my clients. They laugh, I laugh at myself and we create a trust system. They know I’m perfectly imperfect in all ways but that I strive to bring my best every single day. Through personal growth I created self esteem and freedom from depression. I developed skills that I can now share with others. I teach them to save money doing things that matter instead of chasing dopamine all day and ending up exhausted and broke. I teach them to make healthy choices to build their personal integrity with themselves by keeping their promises to themselves like they would with others.
Showing up for yourself is like anything, you can blow yourself off but what will you gain? Another day of pain.
“A weak sense of personal efficacy operates on the cognitive source of depression in several ways.” Here’s how a weak sense of self could contribute to a person’s depression:
- First, it impacts how we interpret positive and negative experiences. When someone with a strong sense of self experiences something negative in their life anywhere from a bad grade on a test to a death in the family or a personal illness here is how that person interprets that experience: “what a bummer that happened to me. I wonder how I can turn this around.” On the other hand, when someone with a weak sense of personal-efficacy experiences the same thing, they say to themselves, “this always happens to me! Why is my life such a disaster? There must be something wrong with me!”
- Second, it impacts the degree of control we believe we have moving forward. When the events of life are less-than-ideal, a person with a strong sense of self puts the locus of control inside himself for moving forward. So, for example, if he scores poorly on a test, he thinks to himself, “I’ll have to study more next time.” Or if he suffers an illness he thinks, “I need to take better care of myself in the future,” or “I will approach this with a good attitude.” On the other hand, a person without the same sense of self-efficacy puts the locus of control for moving forward outside herself. When the events of life are less-than-ideal, she says, “I wonder when my time will come,” or “I can’t catch a break. Everybody is out to get me!”
- Third, it influences the story we tell ourselves about personal accomplishments and failures. Psychological research actually shows that people with a strong sense-efficacy felt slightly better about themselves socially and emotionally than their peers. The story they told themselves about their successes was, “that’s because I’m smart and capable,” and the story they told themselves about their failures was, “well… I couldn’t have been expected to do well because I didn’t get much sleep [or that person was distracting me… or whatever.” This isn’t to suggest we should have inflated egos (which can cause depressed states of our own) but rather that the story we tell ourselves about our successes and failures influences how we feel about ourselves.
- How do you process successes and failures as they happen to you?
- What does this tell you about how much control you have moving forward?
- What is the story you tell yourself about your personal accomplishments or failures?
When it comes to developing overall “health” and wellness, mental health is the base of this pyramid. Honestly, finding yourself, hitting depression head on, and making big decisions shouldn’t paralyze us. It also shouldn’t surprise us that the mind and body are profoundly and miraculously connected.
Keep moving forward