Is Shame Making You Gain Weight?
Women who take the Releasity course will often say that, by the time the course is over, they have lost a lot of “shame” in addition to losing physical weight. My friend Heather, who is a counselor in the Virginia Beach area, recently wrote a book about shame called Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom From Shame. I asked her if we could have an open “chat” about her book and, specifically, talk about how shame can relate to overeating. Check out some of her answers to my questions regarding shame, her book and overeating.
Me: Heather, your book is about shame and, when I began it, I wouldn’t have said that I felt a lot of shame. However, since reading it, I’ve begun to notice little moments in my life where shame is present (after someone has said something to me that “stung” and the funk of it lingers, for example). What are some questions we can ask ourselves in order to know whether or not we experience shame? What are a few examples to share with potential readers who might think that this book doesn’t relate to them?
- Heather: I wouldn’t say I knew about my own shame either until I read Brené Brown’s definition of shame as “the message that you’re not enough”. She described it as the source of self-doubt that arises any time you’re about to “put yourself out there” or be creative. I realized that anytime before I press “publish” on my blog, shame is what I feel – it’s the hesitation of “Have I shared too much?”, “Will anyone read this?”, or “Who do you think you are to write about this?” Shame also is there in places where I compare and compete with others. For me, it’s usually not obvious – more like the secret ways I measure my parenting against other parents, or feel bad because my book didn’t automatically go to the #1 New York Times bestseller list when it was published. Shame is most common for us as women when it comes to our appearance and our relationships. It’s found in the areas where we’re constantly trying to better ourselves and our relationships and where we feel like we’ll never quite be good enough. For example, what women do you know who are content in their marriages or in dating? And we all wrestle with how we look and what we weigh. Shame is one factor underneath all of these self-doubts.
Me: I loved how, early on in your book, you talked about the importance of being in a healthy, loving community of friends in order to find healing from shame. For readers who find themselves isolated (either because they are single or because of the transient nature of relationships), what are some simple tips you’d offer for finding the type of community you recommend?
- Heather: When you’re single and/or part of a community where you feel like your friends move every few years, it’s hard to build safe and trusted community. As someone who lives in an area with a large Navy presence and a medical school, I understand. I think I say good-bye to at least one good friend almost every summer. It gets hard to keep starting over again. Here’s what I’d suggest: choose 1-2 friends locally who you’re going to commit to staying in touch with no matter what. And don’t wait to make these friendships deeper and more intentional. Suggest meeting regularly – even if your schedules only allow for a monthly ladies’ night out or breakfast. That, at least, begins to build some sort of relational consistency for all of you and consistency is essential to feeling connected. Another way of making new friends who could become tried-and-true friends is to get involved in a meet-up or group doing something you enjoy. If you’re not sure where to start, Meetup.com is a site that features all sorts of groups for all kinds of interests, from hiking to photography to book clubs. Or start a meet-up yourself – a dinner group or a book club are easy places to start – and invite people you’d like to get to know better. Ask them to invite friends, too, and you’ll find yourself getting to know friends while sharing a common interest.
Me: Finally, my readers are particularly dealing with overeating. As a counselor, what are some ways that you’ve seen shame show up with overeaters and what are some practical tips for addressing those areas of shame?
- Heather: Shame is isolating by its very nature, and we isolate to hide areas of our lives for which we feel ashamed. Overeaters often use food to insulate and isolate from others. Overeating feels like a way to avoid or assuage painful wounds in the past or present, like childhood sexual abuse or mistakes you’ve made or unhealthy relationships. The cyclical nature of shame and overeating is that the more you escape to food, the more reason you have to feel ashamed of yourself and hide from what will heal you. No shame disappears in isolation, and so to overcome the areas of shame specific to overeating you have to become brave enough to talk to someone about what you’re avoiding. Being part of the Releasity program is a great start, and so I want to encourage you that you’ve already done what’s hardest: admitting that overeating is a problem you can’t overcome yourself and daring to believe that other people understand and can help you out of it. Talking to a counselor is another good step because he or she will help you diagnose the connection between overeating, shame, and pain, and this counseling relationship becomes a safe place for you to practice community. One thing I love about Releasity is the way you are asked to connect your feelings back to your eating. Why do you reach for another cookie or bag of chips? You’re feeling something, and identifying this emotion is a crucial step to becoming free from trying to solve or numb the feeling with eating. It takes courage to admit what you’re feeling and then to feel it instead of avoid it. But as you take these courageous steps, you’ll find yourself becoming free from both shame and the overeating it can result in.