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I used to have an eating disorder that led me to be controlling, critical, and mean to myself. I spent years hating my body, secretly binging and purging, and overexercising. Each day was filled with self-judgment, pressure, stress, self-hatred, and shame. After years of this I learned how to become more healthy, but eventually I found I swung to the opposite side of the pendulum – letting myself eat mostly anything I want and exercising very little. In a way this has felt freeing and relaxing. All the years I spent obsessing about food and weight, and forcing myself to exercise, were horrible. But now I see I’ve let myself get to a place where I feel stagnant, lethargic, and have a low energy engagement in my life. My question is: How do I motivate myself to do healthy things for myself, like eat better and exercise, without slipping back into self-judgment and pressuring myself?
Any advice would be helpful,
Wanting a new way
Dear Wanting a new way,
You’ve come to a good place because I can completely relate. I had an eating disorder for many years and although I was anorexic as opposed to bulimic, the feeling of needing to constantly control myself and live inside a bubble of self-hate and pressure was very similar.
I think it’s a fairly normal progression to gradually let go of the controls, rules, and habits that constituted your eating disorder and eventually swing to the opposite side of the pendulum and live without restrictions. It’s almost like you have to let yourself go there to see what it’s like. And yes, it is relaxing and freeing to live without constant pressure, rules, and shoulds. In fact, I found it to be deliciously wonderful – like a huge, burdensome weight that had been on me for years, that I thought I’d never be free from, was suddenly gone. What bliss!
But eventually other kinds of imbalances start to show up that prompt you to consider what is truly healthy for you and to get back into the game of health, exercise, and self care… but to come at it from a completely different and self-loving approach.
I’ll share with you two approaches that work well for me. But let me first say that they only work when I’m really clear I’m not trying to motivate myself because there’s something wrong with me, which is the cornerstone belief that fueled my years with anorexia, but that I want to be loving to myself and feel as good as I can.
The best approach I’ve found – that doesn’t pluck at the old, familiar strings of self-hate – is to get EXCITED about what it will feel like to feel GOOD (balanced, healthy, energized, fit, etc.) and motivate myself from there. For instance, if I’m feeling stagnant from having gotten into a cycle of hedonism and/or laziness, I imagine what it feels like to feel awesome in my body – to have my digestion rock, to feel strong and energized from being more active, to have more overall vitality. The more I imagine this and let myself feel how great it will feel, the more I begin to WANT to be good to myself… to make better food choices, be more active, go to bed earlier, meditate more, journal, spend more of my days outside, etc.
So I grab this enthusiasm and begin with whatever seems reasonable, like starting my day with some exercise before anything else, or finding time to meditate each day. After doing this for a few days I start to feel better and this builds on itself, propelling me to do other things that continue to raise my feeling of well-being.
But sometimes being excited about feeling great isn’t enough to motivate me. In this case I draw on my second approach which is to think about the people I know who have great energy, clarity, and health and consider what they do to cultivate this so I can INSPIRE myself into action. The number of people I know who fit this description is relatively few so it’s easy to sum up their approach – they all get up early, mostly exercise in the morning, eat well for their bodies, and are really committed to their spiritual practices. Then, instead of beating myself up as I would have in the past, I take this information and use it logically. If the people whose health and light I most admire do X, then… if I start doing even part of X I’ll start feeling more that way myself. Continuing with inspiration-based logic, I remind myself: I want to feel good. These shining people are showing me a way. Just take a step. You’ll feel better. This isn’t a “have to”, it’s a “want to”. I want this. I want to feel light, clear, and energized. I want to take better care of myself. And so on until I raise myself up with enough inspiration to get the ball rolling.
In some ways, pressuring and forcing yourself seems easier because it’s such a familiar approach. I did it for YEARS! When I look back on it, I can hardly believe how deep I got into the mindset of self-hate and control. But that time in my life serves as an excellent reminder of what I never want to do to myself again. Yet even still it takes courage to look at the fear-based approach that you know so well and to instead CHOOSE to courageously let it go and motivate yourself with self-love, enthusiasm, honesty, and positive inspiration… but I think you’ll feel so much happier and genuinely elevated for having done it.
I hope this helps you find a new way. Robin x