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Introducing: Food (& Love) Hack Friday!

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post: Binge/Restrict: the Most Common Pattern of Overeating, and How to Stop (with Love!).  My intention with the post was to point out first, the pattern of behavior, and second, to provide a way of moving forward.

Despite the fact that I did in fact believe I was providing a solid answer: “love thyself!” I said, I still received dozens of requests for a follow-up e-mail.  “Sure,” you said, “I can ‘love myself’: but what the hell does that mean, and how can I take concrete steps to make that happen?  How can I love myself more, and how can that help me relax my grip on food?”

Rather than write one end-all-be-all post on all of the possible techniques and ways forward, I have instead decided to write a weekly/bi-weekly series on the topic.  Thus was born, and here I present to you the first,

Food & Love Hack Friday!

This week’s hack is a simple one to start us off: Get rid of the mirror.

Most of us, when we look in the mirror, see flaws.  We have been looking in mirrors for the entirety of our lives, so we know exactly what we look like.  We know every single blemish as it pops up, and every single roll as it jiggles and unfolds, but worse, we are infinitely adjusted to our positive qualities, and the absolute worst at being objective.  What this means is that most of us have a regular and negative reaction to ourselves every time we look in the mirror.  This is exacerbated by the ebb and flow of our eating habits and weight status.  If we are having a “bad” day with food, we see something even more negative in the mirror.  And this will capitulate a vicious cycle of hatred and needing to eat, and loathing, and eating, etc, etc, etc.  Mirrors enable us to pick at our perceived flaws, the exaggerate or even fabricate negative qualities, and to continually find new targets for our self-loathing.  Activities really do not get any worse.

Sometimes, on the other hand, we feel great when we look in the mirror.  This is wonderful, and I encourage people to love themselves and to cherish whatever they think is beautiful in themselves.  However, I still do not believe this is a positive thing, not for women with disordered relationships with food.  I feel this way for two reasons.  One: the mirror emphasizes the importance of our looks in our lives.  That is unfortunate, because life really is about so much else.

Secondly, however, whether we feel good or bad, looking in the mirror makes us think about food… and immediately.  Because of the world in which we live, and the viewpoint we have about food, we automatically connect our appearance with what we are eating.  This revolves around weight gain and weight loss, but can also play roles in acne, for example, or in skin and hair quality, or in muscle tone and shape.  For disordered eaters, if we feel negative when we look in the mirror, we might automatically have a self-disgust reaction, and think: “oh no, now I cannot eat for another four hours.”  If we feel positive when we look in the mirror, we might think: “oh yes, now I get to eat more!”  In either case, we are allowing our eating schedules to be influenced by what we see in the mirror.  That is far away from okay.

This is all related to the final case in which the mirror influences us: in self-sabotage.  Many times women begin losing weight, and then when they notice, they automatically begin eating more and putting weight back on.  This might be because they don’t “deserve” to be thin, because their subconscious brains do not know how to handle change, or because they do not know / are not ready to be someone else, or someone with confidence.  These are all issues that merit working through on their own, but the crux of this issue in this post is that noticing and paying too much attention to fluctuations is a bad thing.  Just let it happen.  So long as you are fitting into your pants, trust me, you are not putting on weight.  And if they start getting baggy, hooray, but don’t think about it.  Don’t go look in the mirror.  Just keep focusing on your life and the love in your life, and fuck the mirror.

Fuck it!  It’s not helping you.

And as a final, awesome point: the less you look in the mirror, the more objective you can be.  You end up judging yourself much more like you normally judge strangers, without zeroing in on habitual focus points or “flaws.”  As a personal anecdote, one time I lived on the top of a mountain for a whole summer.  I didn’t get to look in a mirror once.  And when I got out, after having completely forgotten about mirrors, I found myself staring at a “stranger” in a rest-stop mirror.  What?  I thought.  Who the hell was this sexy Amazon?

I’m not kidding.  Stop looking.  And then on the rare occasion that you do get a glimpse, you’ll be able to see your more objective beauty.  And then put it out of your brain, and move on, and focus on the good stuff.

Today’s task: Turn your mirrors around; drape sheets or towels over them, put excess mirrors under the bed or in linen closets.  It’s perfectly acceptable to briefly glimpse in a mirror to check an outfit.  It is not acceptable to do that ten times or do look for more than ten seconds.  So in this case sheets or a way to easily cover and uncover the mirrors work well.  If significant others are not sympathetic, compromise and shoot for hacking the mirrors that are most central to your own life.

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Managing director of Paleo for Women and author of Sexy by Nature.

13 Comments

  1. Reblogged at jenniferhudy.wordpress.com

    Great article and SO true! It’s an odd theory, but I very much agree.

  2. Pingback: Throw out the scale and now the mirror? « ~jenniferlynn~

  3. I have avoided looking in the mirror for at least a decade. I don’t have a full-length mirror at home and when I brush my teeth or comb my hair, I focus elsewhere so that I don’t see myself.

    I can understand wanting to not become focused on the mirror but there are people like me at the other end where the mirror aversion is unhealthy too. I don’t have a point other than you can hate yourself so much you don’t want to look at yourself ever; I don’t need a mirror to “see” everything that is wrong about me.

    Looking forward to more “love thyself” tips. Obviously something I need to work on…

  4. Wow, that’s a challenging one, Stefani. I don’t *think* I body/weight-check when I look in my mirror (or do I? not consciously), but I certainly always do have a “how do I look?” moment, though more focused on my face, having had a long history of acne (in the past) and oily skin (now). It’s just become a habit to check what other people must be seeing when they look at me, and it’s something I would like to reduce considerably. As I said, a challenge …

    Really looking forward to further Friday Hacks. You rock, Stefani!

  5. I think this could be helpful. I know many wonderful, dynamic women who sport a jellyroll, but nobody notices because of their smile.

    I also know a couple of people who won’t allow a photo to be taken and will glower at a camera. Always smile at the camera. It’s a permanent record! Smile at the mirror, too. Sounds weird, but it helps my feelings about myself.

  6. I did this my first year of college with much success. We were three girls living together and made a joint decision that the only mirrors allowed in our apartment would be small and directed to only show our reflections from the shoulders up. Budding feminists that we were, we were also variously into elaborate hairstyles, cutting our own hair, putting glitter and dramatic makeup on our faces, and so forth, and none of us worried that we were judging our heads as negatively as the rest of our bodies.

    Several years later, once again in a terrible relationship with my body, I ended up adopting a different tactic that also worked, although it took longer. I began to practice simply standing in front of a full-length mirror each day, not sucking in my or striking a flattering pose, and intentionally concentrating on honestly seeing my body without judgment. I would put my hands gently on my stomach or thighs or another area of insecurity and say, out loud, something like, “This is my body. It’s the only body I have, and I love and accept it the way it is.”

    I did not really mean it when I started saying it. I was, in my head, unhappy with my body and still judging myself. I chose to say those words instead of something like, “I’m beautiful,” because it would have just felt like lying, and still tied into an unhealthy need to be beautiful. Instead I focused on things that were true: I only have one body; and things that felt possible: that I could learn to love and accept my body regardless of whether it was beautiful.

    I kept up the practice as a daily ritual: looking honestly, touching gently, affirming out loud. Somewhere along the way, probably not for at least a month or two, something magical happened. I started to believe what I was saying. I started smiling while I was saying it.

    It’s been a little over a year and a half since I started this practice, and I still do a variation on it most days. I don’t always use a mirror–sometimes I just look down at myself and touch myself gently and say, “I love you, body.” Sometimes when I look really wrecked and hungover the morning after a late night, I’ll give myself a sassy look in the mirror and exclaim, “I look CUTE today!” I’ll probably keep it up til I die, it gives me so much joy and self-confidence.

    • Emily – That is absolutely amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this.

  7. I absolutely love this idea. It’s almost like we approach the mirror every day to do the whole “mirror mirror on the wall bit” and purposely punish ourselves into the ugly stepmother role while scheming to kill the princess inside. (I’m kind of obsessed with the societal contextualization of fairy-tales–can you tell?)

    I don’t know if this is a habit I could break–it would take some serious strength of will, and also some serious strategy…But honestly, this is even better advice than the old “throw out the scale” advice we hear when we first begin recovery (if we recover at all).

    I’m posting the link over at my blog, http://inmyskinnygenes.wordpress.com, because I think that there are some women (and men!) over there who could stand to try this challenge and start loving themselves a little more…

  8. Pingback: Food & Love Hack Friday at Paleo for Women! « In My Skinny Genes

  9. Love works.

  10. “Many times women begin losing weight, and then when they notice, they automatically begin eating more and putting weight back on. ”

    I appreciate this statement, it’s been true for me. I found that when I change too quickly, I lose what I think is my identity. I’ve always had a pot belly, no matter what, and I found out that I identified usefulness with being pregnant, so as long as I looked or felt pregnant, I was ok. It’s been a long road to being able to let that go. Learning how to take care of this body and to thank it for all it’s put up with and thank it for maintaining strength and health is where I’m going today.

  11. I agree with how much the mirror is tied to our eating and weight. But I also agree with the overlooked problem of other ‘flaws’ being targeted. I noticed that I was doing this with my curly hair.

    For most of my childhood, my mom brushed out my curls because she didn’t know how to take care of them. She loved the ‘volume’ and I hated it. All I saw was frizzo Rizzo. She always said, “Women pay to have hair like yours!” and I just thought, “Well, then, they are stupid.” And to be honest, all I saw on ‘makeovers’ in magazines and shows were how they straightened her ‘crazy’ curls into beautiful silky sleekness.

    Fast forward a few years and I learned how to take care of my curls and work with their wacky little personalities. {Trust me, they have a mind of their own!} As a way to ‘connect’ with how I was naturally made, I decided that once a week (or when I was feeling down on myself), I have to hunt for my favorite strand of curls. When I find it, I hold up that one strand and marvel at how unique it is. Like me. No two curls are the same…and the same strand of curls will make a different pattern tomorrow.

    Basically, my hair is a direct parallel to me. The more I focus on the unique, one-of-a-kind-ness of my personality, the more I can stand back and marvel at how beautifully I was made.

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