How do beliefs about food and our body affect our emotions?
I’ll use one woman’s story about her relationship with her body to illustrate the affect beliefs in the mind can have. Shelly wanted to lose weight but it was a struggle to exercise and eat healthy food. It seemed the body didn’t behave as it should and rebelled against her wishes.
She had never been very athletic but had worked hard in the past to exercise, lose weight, and get her body into good shape. The problem was that her body didn’t want to stay there. If she didn’t stay on top of the issue her body would put on pounds again. Shelly was tired of the struggle to win the short term battles only to lose the war over her weight.
Shelly described her relationship with her body as that of a misbehaving child. The body didn’t want to obey her wishes. The hard work to get her body into shape was like punishment that was needed to get a child to behave.
After years of the same routine with her body without lasting progress, she was willing to adopt a new point of view. It only makes sense that if we want a different result we will have to take a different approach.
Shelly has Two Children
Let’s start by considering that Shelly has two misbehaved children. She has a body that doesn’t follow the rules and she also has a mind that is misbehaving. It spurts out opinions, judgments, and punishments about the body in an uncontrolled and sometimes abusive manner. It is also the mind that is making the rules for the body. The frustration and disappointment for the body isn’t from Shelly, it is from the character voices in her head. It is the beliefs and stories of her mind that emotionally abuse her body.
It is easy to realize that our thoughts are not our own. A big clue is if we attempt to turn off our thoughts and we can’t. If they were our thoughts they would stop when we want them to. Since they don’t turn off we can consider them as part of our mind that has taken on a life of its own. It is our mind that has become like a misbehaved child that runs amuck making a mess in our head and with our emotions.
To help become aware of the different stories, beliefs, and emotions, I like to lay them out in an orderly table. A first cut at Shelly’s character voices and dialogue from her mind looked like this.
|Voice in her Head||Story or Belief||Result on Emotions|
|Judge||Body image in the mind. This is what my body should look like.||Hope|
|Judge||My body doesn't look like it should.
(based on the body image above this looks like a truthful statement)
|Victim||"I" don't look like I should. Self rejection.
Almost the same statement but comes from a different part of our mind that agrees with the judge.
|Sadness, feeling not good enough.|
Shelly has a strong type A personality that is success oriented. She outlines tasks and knocks them out with efficiency. This helps her feel like a successful winner. This is the way her belief system structures criteria for allowing her to express love for herself, or withhold love for herself. These criteria in the mind are the gate keepers for her emotional happiness. Her mind applies the same program to her body image as she does to a job at work. However this might not be the most helpful approach to raising children, and that includes our body and mind. Her mind set the goal for her body to be a size 8.
Because of the preceding agreed to beliefs about her body, Shelly's belief system concludes some things about herself.
|Voice||Story or Belief||Resulting Emotion|
|Authentic Desire||I want a healthy and fit body.||Emotional integrity|
|Judge's Criteria||If I am a size 8 I will fit my image of success.||Basis for success.|
|Hero||I need to be a size 8 in order to succeed.||Hope, goal, prize that determines self worth.|
|Judge||The body is not yet a size 8.||
Righteous authority figure.
|Victim||I am failure for not reaching my goal.||
I am a failure, loser, not good enough, sad, depressed.
|Judge||Blames the body for the failure.||Hates the body for creating the feeling of being not good enough.|
Body size is the means by which her belief system determines her worth. Happiness is now dependent on a number sewn into the label on an article of clothing. This can create an added feeling of powerlessness over her emotional happiness.
Shelly has at the core of the story a purely authentic desire for her body to be healthy and fit. The problem is that her mind has taken that desire and given winning and losing criteria to it by which she judges herself. These stories and beliefs in the mind are the source of her unhappiness, not her body.
Needless to say it isn’t a fun scenario for Shelly. Her mind set up criteria for her body and then judged and rejected her body for not meeting the mind’s criteria. The child-like mind is abusing the body with its comments and Shelly is experiencing the emotional punishment from the active voices in her head. It isn’t not only the physical body that ends up being punished. Shelly’s emotional body is being abused by the mind. It is helpful to realize that neither the physical body or the emotional body did anything wrong to deserver the punishment.
From the mind’s point of view feeling better emotionally requires that the body become a certain size. Shelly’s belief system only authorizes the expression of love for the body when the criterion of size 8 is met. If her body doesn’t change the belief system considers Shelly a failure.
Chances for success with this mindset are bleak when our emotions are sabotaged in this way. For starters Shelly’s mind develops frustration and hate at her body for keeping her from being happy. The lack of expressing love facilitates unhappiness and depression. These emotions create a mindset that drives her to eat unhealthy food and avoid working out at the gym. When the emotionally abusive mind is in charge of child raising the body in this way, things are headed in a downward spiral.
The challenge in realizing these dynamics of the mind is to shift her point of view out of the internal dialogue far enough to see the mind as having a life of its own. It gives opinions, stories, judgments, and criticisms like a misbehaved child. Shifting her point of view far enough is what will keep her from judging herself for what the mind is doing.
If we look at our mind as being separate from us we can begin to see nonsensical elements here. The mind sets up the goals, plans the "fix it" agendas, makes the decisions about food and exercise, and then takes no responsibility for the results. Instead it dishes out the criticisms and punishments about the body and doesn’t acknowledge itself as ring leader or even party to the process. This is the kind of nonsensical things belief systems do when they are allowed to operate without self awareness.
Exercise Your Mind to Make It Healthy
What might happen if Shelly exercised her mind? Or should I say exorcised her mind. How could Shelly feel emotionally if she got her mind settled down and it stopped emotionally abusing her and her body? We could think of this as getting her mind to act like an adult instead of the emotionally abusive and misbehaved child.
If Shelly eliminated some of the beliefs that kept her from loving and appreciating her body her emotions would change. She could stop letting her mind treat her body like a misbehaved child that needed to be punished.
Shelly could then start to treat her body with love, and respect, just like children need to be treated. Just like children, our bodies respond and behave better when treated with love and respect than with abuse. As Shelly loves her body more she will naturally take good care of it. She would want to feed it only healthy foods. She would also want her body to get out and feel the euphoria of good exercise.
If we are to have a healthy relationship with our body we will also have to work on the relationship we have with our mind, and how the mind treats our body. Consider engaging in some emotionally healthy exercises for your mind and your belief system.