Kimber Simpkins joined us for the following book interview. What follows are our questions in italics, and her thoughtful responses.
What motivated you to write your memoir about your recovery journey?
After hating my body since I was about 12, starving myself when I was 15, and spending the next dozen years wishing that I was still anorexic, I finally realized how horribly I was treating my body. I credit my yoga and meditation practice for showing me how my destructive thoughts caused me to panic about something as simple as eating a donut. Meditation also gave me tools to nudge myself in the direction of being kinder about both what I was putting in my mouth and how I looked in the mirror. I started writing Full because I had an inkling that these tools could help me heal, but I wasn’t sure how. Writing the book became a sort of internal therapy for me, noting every day in my journal whether I felt hungry or full and whether I was bullying my body or treating it like a friend. Those 15 minute journal entries over several years grew into the pile of notebooks that eventually became Full.
You comment, “the excuse of using my body to not embrace life fully was a habit too ingrained.” (p.68) Can you please tell us more about that time in your life?
From around the time I first started dieting as a girl, my mantra became: “When I finally reach my ideal weight, then my life will begin. Then I will be beautiful. Then I will be confident. Then I will be lovable. Then I can light the world on fire.” The result of that mantra repeated every day over many years was that I felt that I wasn’t entitled to start a serious relationship, or think about how to save the world, or challenge myself to do something worthwhile and important, all because my body wasn’t “worthy” in my own eyes. My perception of my body became both an actual barrier and my go-to universal excuse for not living a big amazing life.
Your pregnancy brought you a beautiful child and, for the first time in your life, a sense of trust in your body. What are your reflections on that experience?
Being pregnant was the first time in my life where my body wasn’t just about me, but also about the little being growing inside me. I felt a responsibility to treat my body with more respect, which wasn’t hard since it was doing something awesome: making a baby from scratch. Another helpful thing about being pregnant is that due to my eating disordered past, I’d become pretty inured to my body’s subtler signals — but my body signals during pregnancy were anything but subtle. More like neon light disco balls flashing: “You’re hungry! You’re full! Your legs are cramping! That smells disgusting! If you don’t eat that delicious smelling thing right now, you’ll die.” Listening to my cravings and aversions set the stage for me to be more aware of my body’s internal signals and open to the distant possibility of eating intuitively, which I didn’t discover until several years after my son was born.
By naming your inner “voices,” you help the reader appreciate the internal distress that accompanied your eating disorder. What helped you displace the intensity of “the pushy one, “ the inner anorexic critical voice, “Svetlana” with the “voice of reason?”
For years I thought the pushy, critical voice in my head was “my voice”. I identified with it completely. Yoga helped me notice–for the first time–the voice of my snarky inner narrator and how I unquestioningly believed everything it said. Thinking about these voices as “inner demons” instead of “me” gave me a little distance from them. Then, my meditation practices encouraged me to both hold those negative voices with compassion and listen for the voices that spoke with more kindness and wisdom. I slowly disentangled my identity from the negative voices and today think of them as aspects of myself that were well-intentioned, but destructive. I also began to listen for and identify with the voices that remind me that I am whole, beautiful, and lovable no matter what. It was a long process of recognizing the negative voices and saying no to them and at the same time inviting in more positive voices (the actual voices of my yoga and meditation teachers helped role model this). Then instead of allowing the same old mean voices to sing their song on repeat, I had to consciously repeat the refrains spoken by the loving voices and let them become my new favorite playlist.
You define your relationship with yoga as the key to your healing. Please share a few of the insights you’ve integrated in relation to your self and your body.
Here are just a few of the benefits yoga gave me as I went from struggling with, to recovered from my eating disorder mentality: 1) Yoga helped me slow down my mind and be present in my body. 2) Yoga helped my body grow stronger and more coordinated which led me to trust it and respect it more. 3) Yoga helped me increase my sense of where my body was in space (proprioception) and my awareness of internal sensations (interoception), which allowed me to see it as an alive being rather than as an object I should manipulate and control. Also, more internal awareness made it natural for me to start listening to my body’s signals of hunger and fullness, which I had previously overridden and ignored. 4) Yoga philosophy helped me reframe my body not as something that I had to overcome, but as something to be celebrated, appreciated, and enjoyed beyond its appearance, a view that can be summed up as: “Yay! I have a body! I’m alive!” It’s simple but profound.
Can you please elaborate on some of the mental “shifts” you’ve experienced through your practice of yoga?
One important shift was the transition from self-discipline to self-devotion. I always felt like I was willpower deficient, and that if I were really disciplined I would never get hungry or have to eat (definitely an anorexic mindset). Because I used my self-discipline to punish my body by depriving myself of food and forcing myself to exercise, my relationship with self-discipline soured. Later, I felt I had to be really careful how I used self-discipline, because there was always the danger I would use it against myself. Every week I would go to my favorite Indian restaurant for their lunch buffet and I let myself go through the line just once and no more, because I was afraid I would eat too much and feel terrible later. I was worried because it felt somewhat punishing, like I was a dangerous tiger who had to be restrained from eating everything. My yoga philosophy teacher, Carlos, reframed it for me by saying how wonderful it was that I could let myself enjoy a whole plate of my favorite food and eat just enough and not so much that I felt unwell or uncomfortable later. He showed me that eating this way is an act of love, and that I could think of it as being compassionate and kind towards myself. I was listening to my body and responding to what it needed: I gave it yummy food, but not so much that I’d have a stomachache later. That mental shift helped me find my way to intuitive eating and movement, where what I eat and how I move come from a place of self-devotion and love instead of self-discipline and willpower. It’s a lot easier and much more fun.
You grew from feeling “endlessly hungry” to joyfully teaching “a special Love Your Body Workshop.” What would you like your readers to “take away” when they read Full: How I Learned to Satisfy My Insatiable Hunger and Feed My Soul?
I don’t want readers to come away with a sense that there’s a paint-by-numbers, one-size-fits-all approach to loving your body. I do want them to come away inspired to undertake their own journey to find out what helps them feel less hungry and more full, and what helps nudge them in the direction of less self-hatred and more body love. Some of the practices I use in the book might help them, and some might not. They might find practices (like dance or prayer) that weren’t part of my book but are healing for them personally. We’re all different: our pasts and experiences and the reasons we feel how we do about our bodies are going to overlap in some places and vary widely in others. Even though we’re different, I hope Full gives readers the sense that it is possible to move from a place of suicidal self-hatred to a place of genuine adoration and love for the body. I didn’t know it could be done until I lived it. I hope the book supports others in living their way into healing and joy in their bodies, just the way they are. If there’s one overall message from the book, it’s this: No matter the setbacks and obstacles, keep heading towards love.
About the author:
Sick of dieting and hating her body, Kimber Simpkins decided to get to the bottom of her hunger and her unhappy relationship with her body. The wise teachings of yoga and meditation showed her that she didn’t have to live her life under a cloud of self-dissatisfaction and gave her the courage to share these vital tools with others. In her memoir, Full: How I Satisfied My Insatiable Hunger and Learned Feed My Soul, Kimber resists the specters of hunger and perfection, discovers her inner best friend, and learns how love can soften and transform even the toughest parts of her heart. Kimber’s next book, 52 Ways to Love Your Body (release date Jan 2016), is full of simple practices to treat your body with more love every day. Her successful shift away from secret body hating to public body loving inspires her yoga students and readers everywhere. A former civil rights lawyer, Kimber has devoted the last sixteen years to the intensive study of yoga, and has been delighted by yoga’s ability to bring joy to every aspect of life. She teaches weekly classes, Love Your Body workshops, and yoga retreats in Northern California and elsewhere. As a devoted supporter of the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement and community, Kimber welcomes students of all sizes and levels in class. Find out more at kimberyoga.com.