This article appears in the 2014 Gurze Salucore Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue.
In Need of Repair:
The ability to listen to internal cues: hunger, feelings, pain, needs and desires
TOOL: Listening Inward:
Asking questions and listening to the answer from within,
Fine-tuning our ability to listen to our inner self (our hungers, feelings, pains, pleasures, needs, and desires)
Eating disorders develop and are perpetuated by the loss of trust in your inner voice and bodily messages. Instead, you come to rely on external cues, rules, beliefs, and rituals to regulate how you feel, what you allow yourself to do, and how you relate to your food, weight, body, and other people. It is this separation from one’s inner self and the increasing reliance on outside information, judgments, or beliefs that cements eating disordered behaviors in place. The greater the gap between what you do, think, and say on the outside and how you really feel, who you truly are on the inside, your authentic self—the greater the need for the eating disorder to fill the void, anesthetize the pain, or suppress uncomfortable feelings.
Recovery is about tuning inward. It is about reclaiming your authentic self from your eating disorder and learning to listen to your internal messages. It is about taking the focus off what the outside world is saying and tuning in to what your inner self and your body are telling you. Recovery and healing result from listening inward. In order to progress, you must develop skills for listening inward, as well as skills for tuning out the external messages of the media, friends, parents, and society. Healing occurs through the process of learning to listen to your own physical, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual needs. Reclaiming yourself requires learning to listen, hear, and embrace your own hunger for food, love, acceptance, health, connection, pleasure, community, and peace of mind.
How can you learn to be a better listener? Listening is best facilitated by asking questions and waiting for the answers from within you, from your internal voice, your inner guide, or your true self. Learning to ask questions of yourself and to listen for the answers from within will help you get back to being the expert on you. It is a vehicle for developing trust in yourself and creating confidence in your life. Listening to the answers from within that get you in touch with your physical hunger will help you ask questions and listen to the answers that get you in touch with your emotional and spiritual hungers as well. Recognizing and learning to trust your physical cues will help you learn to recognize and trust your emotional cues. Asking questions that identify what foods you are hungry for will help you ask questions that identify where else in your life you are hungry or feeling less than satisfied. Tuning inward to determine what you want at a meal will ultimately help you determine what you want in life. Identifying and being able to ask for what you require to meet your emotional, physical, and spiritual needs will foster your growth. I encourage my patients to practice this in all areas of their lives—with their foods, in their therapy, at their jobs, and in their relationships. Asking questions of yourself will increase awareness and assist you in developing the skill of listening to answers.
This is a complex skill since our body speaks to us in so many ways. Our body speaks to us through all our senses, our heart, our mind, our feelings, our muscles, our conscious and unconscious thoughts, our energy, our posture, our actions, our hunger, and our fears. To hear it may mean letting go of many past beliefs, rules, and external ways of feeling secure or in control. Developing the skill of listening inward will definitely require persistence, patience, and compassion to break through your old patterns.
Meeting your physical needs develops parallel skills you will use for meeting your emotional needs. Listening to and trusting what your body is telling you physically is paramount to learning to trust your feelings and, ultimately, yourself.
Contrary to the belief of most people with eating disorders, our feelings and our bodies are not the enemy. In fact, quite the opposite is true. If we allow ourselves to align with and listen to our feelings and our bodies, we can use them as our guides. If we listen and attune to our bodies and our feelings, they can help us make decisions that support our growth. They can be our antennas, moving us away from that which causes pain, harm, and disconnection in our lives and toward people, places, and opportunities that meet our innermost needs.
As always, go slowly. Practice using this tool with patience and compassion. Successful change is a slow process.
by Sondra Kronberg, MS, RD, CDN, CEDRD