I think we’re all familiar enough with this phrase to where I don’t need to explain it’s meaning, but if you want a good laugh, I’d reference the TV series “Parks and Rec” season 4, episode 4.
Anyway, I know I’ve taken this phrase to heart and have treated myself quite frequently over the past SEVEN years since I first watched that episode. I mean, who hasn’t? But for me, it wasn’t so much about treating myself with new things but more so with foods. And gooooood foods. If you know me, you know I LOVE food and would consider myself a “foodie.” And with that self-proclaimed title, I love to eat out, try new foods, cook, watch food television; I’ve even planned my trips around which restaurants to visit. But for all the signs, sayings, shows, advertising, etc. that tell us to “treat ourselves,” there’s an equal amount of messages with the emphasis on “balance.” But to be honest, I didn’t know how to treat myself and achieve balance when it came to food. For 10-ish years, I was confused about the whole thing. I defaulted to treating myself when my mind and body couldn’t take it, and called it “balance” as an excuse to feel okay about my decisions.
My struggle with food started when I developed an eating disorder in high school and it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I found enough strength to stop my self-harming ED behaviors, like purging (now I know that’s not everyone’s story and am aware of all the hard work that goes into treatment. I’m always a supporter for treatment and the journey to recovery, however that journey looks!). But even though I had stopped those behaviors, my mindset hadn’t changed. I was still going through this war in my head of wanting to eat, then binging, and then being anxious because it was too much food. And for years I couldn’t figure out how to get that “healthy” relationship with food that I wanted. I thought that by not purging I was healthy; I was no longer harming my body so I thought I was fine. But I was still just as much “in” my ED because it’s all I could think about. I wasn’t strong enough to tell myself “no” to over-eating or “no” to desserts everyday, even though I felt physically and mentally ill afterwards. My cycle of feelings included guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, loneliness, confusion, etc. And my mind was racing with negative thoughts about my self-worth, self-confidence, and body image. This was in my head all the time day after day; I didn’t know where to start when it came to moving on from this pain.
My “turning point” happened when I felt abandoned and disposable after relationship ended. I remember canceling an event because I couldn’t get out of bed; my heart hurt too much. I kept thinking that “I can’t believe I let someone use me like that.” I wallowed in those thoughts for days, trying to figure out what I did wrong. And thankfully (and finally!) I realized that what I did wrong was that I didn’t do anything. I chose to make certain decisions knowing the outcome would most likely hurt me. And the only way to avoid that in the future was to NOT make such decisions. Sounds simple, I know. But it took this massive life experience for it to click in my brain. If I didn’t change how I viewed myself in terms of worth, love, and value, then I would repeat the same decisions in relationships with other people and in my relationship with myself (mind you, I had been going to therapy already and was about to finish my Master’s degree in Counseling…and it still took a boy for me to figure all of this out *eye roll*).
So, I started to take pride in my body and began to listen to what I wanted for myself. I said daily affirmations to myself and I actively corrected my negative self-talk. I wouldn’t dismiss it entirely though; I learned to acknowledge it and then say something positive about myself that promoted self-love, which ultimately changed my thoughts about my body and food. I started listening to my body when I was hungry AND full; I started to understand that all because there was a craving, it didn’t mean I needed to eat it. I let myself not finish my plate at meals. I let myself order the salad instead of the hamburger and fries, because I know the hamburger and fries would leave me feeling bad at that time of my life. I forgave myself instead of criticized myself if I felt too full. I learned to let it go and know that the next day was a new day. All of those little changes helped me figure out what health and balance meant to me.
And it was actually at the beginning of this year that I truly learned how to treat myself with food in ways that wouldn’t stress my mind or body. Now, I know what makes my body and mind feel at peace when it comes to eating. I like grocery shopping and cooking, so I spend more time in the kitchen. I treat myself with dessert because I still LOVE it, even though I get headaches sometimes. I just eat till I’m satisfied (sometimes it’s the entire thing, sometimes it’s not) and move on. I order the hamburger and fries-usually truffle fries if it’s an option-when I want to. And if I’m full, I stop eating it. But if I want more, then I indulge and be okay with it because it doesn’t mean I’m fat, ugly, gross, or whatever. It just means that I want to eat all the fries and I’m confident enough in myself now to make those types of decisions and still feel comfortable.
It definitely wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. And I learned that I couldn’t just “fix” my disordered eating habits with food. I had to shift my mindset, tell myself no, tell myself yes, be strong, and show myself compassion. It’s a practice that takes practice, but it’s one of the most important ones we can start to implement in our lives, regardless if it’s about food or not.
How did you come to find balance in your own life?