Binge Eating Therapy

How Shame Contributes to Eating Disorders and Eating Disorders Contribute to Shame

Do you ever feel shame?

Shame for eating too much, shame for eating too little, shame for the way you look, shame for the body you’re in, shame for the things you do, for the thoughts that you have, shame for lying about what you ate, shame for eating out of the garbage can, shame for stealing food, shame for drinking too much, shame for taking risks, shame for flirting, for being rejected, shame for not being good enough, shame for being too good, shame for being too proud, shame for your size, shame for your shape, shame for your job, shame for how much or how little money you make, shame for where or where you didn’t go to school,  shame for your parents, your husband, your wife, your friends, the people you associate with, your home, your judgements, your fears, your sleep patterns, your sex acts or masturbation habits, your messiness, your car, your furniture, do you ever feel shame simply because of who you are?

Renowned shame researcher Brene’ Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”  Because we are human, we want to feel loved for who we are, not for what we do or how we look, yet, somehow, at some point, many of us lose that sense, that we should be loved unconditionally and spend the rest of our lives trying to deem ourselves worthy of love. And for many, the task seems so momentous, that they give up. They believe that they are not worthy of love and figure “why try?”  Well the good news is, you are worthy of love whether you try or not. You are worthy of love if you’re fat or if your skinny, if you’re binge eating or if you’re purging or if you’re using drugs or drinking, or having sex with the wrong people, you’re still worthy of love. You don’t have to do anything to be valuable as a human being.

Yet, so many of us don’t believe that. Shame is a huge contributor to binge eating disorder. We believe that we are so damaged and so broken that we have to fix ourselves.  One of the ways that people try to fix themselves is by losing weight and becoming thin, they believe that if they are thin, they will be impervious to criticism by self and others. However, dieting can become binge eating, which then creates shame, which creates diet, which creates bingeing which creates shame.

Shame + Diet = Binge = Shame. People diet to get rid of shame. It’s almost as though they believe that they can sweat it away or starve it away.

But you can’t get rid of shame by trying to fix yourself.

Fixing yourself because you believe you are broken is very different than self growth and evolution and working to become healthy because you love yourself.  Fixing yourself because you are broken is a task of Sisyphean proportions because you will never be fixed. Mostly because you were never broken. You just thought you were, and you will continue to think you are until you find the antidote to shame, which is acceptance.

Because you believe that you are broken, there’s a part of you who tries to destroy yourself. How many times have you seen people reinvent themselves, “that was the old me, this is the new me!” (Ala Kirstie Alley– over and over and over again).

You’re always you. It’s okay, it’s necessary even to improve and change, but that happens naturally through the course of life experience, self growth, holding integrity and finding yourself. One of the wonderful parts about finding yourself is when you stop trying to fit into a mold that you think you’re supposed to be, you find that the person underneath is truly wonderful. Maybe the things that you do are not wonderful. Maybe the habits that you have are bad, or even shameful. But who you are and what you do are not one in the same. As you begin to accept who you are, you stop trying to destroy that person with bingeing, starvation, purging, excessive dieting, compulsive exercise, abusive self talk, promiscuity,  or other self harming behaviors that have the underlying intention of making you more acceptable.

So how do you accept yourself and find some freedom from shame?  That’s not a simple question.

  • One of the ways is through radical acceptance. Not necessarily liking the things to do, the habits you have, the things you say, the mistakes you make, the feelings you have, but accepting them without judgment.
  • Dr. Brene Brown talks about healing shame through connection and empathy. Having the courage  to share your stories, your mistakes, places where you messed up with someone who will listen and empathize, and also being able to hear others’ stories with empathy and without judgement or criticism. A great place for this is group therapy or 12 step groups.
  • Having integrity. Thinking about what traits you respect in other people and applying them to yourself. Traits aren’t eating carrot sticks instead of pizza. Those are habits. Traits are kindness, compassion, consideration.  Think about who you would want to have as a  best friend and be that person to yourself.  So often I see people come in who have best friends who they consider to be bitches. They hate their best friends. Yet somehow, they keep them around because they want to be like them, “she’s pretty, thin, rich, popular…” etc. They aspire to be like that person, yet they don’t really like that person. Be your own best friend and be the friend to others that you would want for yourself. Holding yourself with integrity helps you to feel good about who you are.
  • Break the binge-shame-binge cycle. Don’t beat yourself up. When you catch yourself beating yourself up, be kind. You are not a bad person because you binged. You binged because you thought that you were a bad person. The irony is, when you have a binge, that’s when you need the most compassion because you were probably having a tough time to begin with. So be kind to yourself.

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