While reading an article entitled Therapists and climate change by Garry Cooper(PSYCHOTHERAPY NETWORKER, 10-11/2011), I was amazed at the parallels that occur between repairing and protecting our natural world and attending to appetite. Turns out that both share similar psychological dynamics.
A quote in the article on climate consciousness from The myth of apathy, an article by Renee Lertzman who teaches about psychology and sustainability, resonates with me: “…what appears to be apathy is really a ‘tangle’ of confusion, emotions and desires,” resulting in a gap between values and behaviors. Lertzman is saying that people have mixed feelings: On the one hand, they want to save the environment and, on the other, their every day behaviors contribute to destroying it. In psychology, this type of unconscious conflict involves denial, when fears and uncomfortable feelings and thoughts are pushed out of awareness. What looks like indifference or disinterest in change is actually denial caused by an underlying, unconscious conflict between our values (to save the planet) and our desire for comfort (life being easy).
A similar conflict can occur regarding getting healthy. On the one hand, you want to eat healthfully and be fit. This is what you are aware of valuing. However, equally strongly, you want the comfort and distraction of food. Because this immediate need trumps your long-term health and fitness desires, you end up dissociating or disconnecting from your values. In fact, many disregulated eaters go even further by detaching completely from bodily signals. It’s as if you want a body to be healthier, but don’t connect this desire with the body you are not caring for effectively. You appear to yourself (and others) to be apathetic, and can’t fathom why you’re taking such risks with your health. This is similar to folks who seem apathetic because they insist they want a more ecologically balanced world but don’t recycle.
If you’ve disconnected from your body and how you are harming it, the first step is to acknowledge this fact. Accept that what you say you want and what you do are going in opposite directions. Be compassionate and stay aware of and curious to this conflict. Then as you think about food during the day, return to your higher order desire to be fit and healthy so that you can break dissociation and reconnect your values and the behaviors which lead you to supporting them. Resolve your conflicts about self-care and doing what’s in your best interest and it will be easier to eat “normally.” And while you’re at it, please do your utmost to take care of the planet as well!