If you’re currently at war with food and your body, then you’ve surely wondered (once, twice, or maybe ten thousand times) where disordered eating behaviors, fanatical fitness habits and poor body image come from?
I bet you’ve asked yourself questions like, “Where did I acquire my beliefs about food, fitness and physique?”
“And why, exactly, am I engaging in destructive activities around those things?”
Maybe you battle your own inner-mean-girl moments and think, “HOW DID SHE GET HERE? AND HOW WILL I EVER SHUT HER UP?”
WHILE I CAN’T POSSIBLY SPEAK TO THE SPECIFICS OF YOUR UNIQUE CIRCUMSTANCES, I CAN PROVIDE SOME ANSWERS FOR YOU. And they come in the form of an analogy.
Think of your food and body relationship as a tree.
Now, let’s explore it from the ground up.
The soil where the tree is planted represents your personal, social and cultural environment. It’s where you were established as a tiny seed many years ago. It’s where you’ve grown. Soil is a mixture of nutrients, water and waste. It nourishes and it poisons. In this way, the unique place where you are planted affects your development in both positive and negative ways. It’s where you gained your idea of self and learned what it means to be a woman in this world.
The unseen parts of the tree that grow beneath the surface and anchor themselves into the soil are the roots. They support the entire plant and keep it safe and secure. They carry nourishing and not-so-nourishing components of the soil into the visible parts of the tree. The roots provide the basis for all that happens above ground. Think of your beliefs and thoughts about self, food and body as the roots of the tree. Feeding off of the cultural messaging and personal environment they are buried in, the roots reflect and reproduce the soil in which they exist. Roots are judgments like:
“I must be pretty and perfect.”
“My appearance is the most important thing about me.”
“When I lose 20 pounds, I will find a partner and be happy.”
“I can control my life by controlling my food.”
“To eat “clean” or limit caloric intake proves my will power and righteousness.”
“Fat = unhealthy.”
“I am unworthy of love.”
“I am not enough.”
“I am too much.”
And on and on it goes…
Those roots, those thoughts and beliefs, lead to the trunk of the tree. The trunk is the base. It’s the place where the tree reveals itself to the outside world. It’s what is happening above the surface. Your trunk is the food and fitness moralism you prescribe to. It’s where you determine (based mainly on the rhetoric of outside influences like media, marketing, and MLM coaches looking to earn free shakes) the DO’s and DON’TS of eating and exercise. This is where you develop black and white thinking about food and fitness and establish all the rules you believe you must live by in order to be healthy and accepted.
The trunk, of course, splits off into branches. The branches are your particular diets and fitness programs. They’re your color-coded meal containers or your month-long shred. They are your personal trainer’s eating and exercise recommendations, your killer lifting schedule, the new fad diet you read about in a popular women’s magazine or the latest calorie allotment and macro ratio you entered into your tracking app. The branches are all of the specific attempts you make to “fix” yourself, the inevitable products of soil, roots and a trunk that are each saying the same thing – YOU ARE WRONG. YOUR BODY IS WRONG. YOUR EATING IS WRONG. AND EVERYTHING WILL GO WRONG UNLESS AND UNTIL YOU CHANGE.
LEAVES + FRUIT
What grows from the branches are leaves and fruit. And these are the things that get the most attention. They are, primarily, what a tree is known for. We all distinguish an oak and a maple tree by their leaves and we can tell a peach tree from an apple tree by the fruit that is produced. Leaves and fruit identify trees and they also, quite often, reveal when trees are damaged or diseased. Binge eating, extreme restriction, yo-yo dieting, compulsive behaviors around food and fitness, disordered eating, exercise obsession, body hate, shame, unexplained weight gain, missing periods or other hormonal malfunctions, mood swings, depression, anxiety, health issues, and all-consuming food rules are just a few of the fruits hanging from the branches of many food and body relationship trees today.
But, just like leaves on trees, those thoughts and behaviors are the product, not the source. They’re the outcome of body image woes and food struggles, not the cause. Thus, when we try to fix our food and body problems by manipulating the metaphorical leaves or foraging on other branches, we completely miss the point. That’s because no matter how many times you pick the dead and rotting fruit from a tree it will continue to grow back as long as the soil, root system, trunk and branches remain the same.
Lasting change towards whole-person health, feeling like a fox in your faux leather pants, eating with ease and calling a truce with the treadmill is more about beliefs than behavior. It’s mindset, not method that most improves your food and body relationship.
So, the next time you’re wondering where body image blues are built or figuring out how to overcome food and fitness freak outs – turn your attention to the foundation, not the fruit!
Now, MAKE LIKE A TREE AND GET OUT OF HERE!