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Actually, You Aren’t Really Afraid of Getting Fat

I’ve received email after email that has the same statement in it…

I want to recover/be happy/live a normal life, but “I’m afraid of getting fat.”


That’s what stopping you from a life of happiness and freedom? You’re letting a little weight gain keep you spinning in the crazy things you do around food?

Don’t answer that.  I get it.  I already know the answer.

I’ve been there.

I used to have the fear of getting fat thing, too.

Like a megaphone in my ear!

“I don’t want to get fat” was one of the driving forces behind my bulimia for 20 stinking years.

Because I’m on the other side of bulimia and well into recovery, I have a whole different perspective and that’s what I want you to share with you.

I’d like to open you up to perhaps a new insight.

Maybe a new paradigm from the one you’re living in today?

I hope so.

You’re Really Not Afraid of Getting Fat…

Here comes the new perspective…I don’t really think you’re afraid of getting fat. 

There.  I said it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I DO think you’ve convinced yourself you have a fear of getting fat (and I did, too).

However, I think there’s a deeper fear/need underlying that’s driving your behavior. The fear of getting fat is at the superficial level. Somewhere along your path you made up that being fat = bad.  Fat = unloved.  Fat = isolated. Fat = scary.

To avoid being un-loved, un-admired, un-certain you started controlling your weight by binging and purging.  There’s probably a few other things going on here, but for now I’d like to address this situation in particular.

In all the coaching I’ve done and all of the stories I hear of people in the throws of their eating disorder the fear of getting fat is often the loudest and most often heard voice that comes crashing in and ruins their recovery battle – or keeps them from getting started.

Man that sucks!

I suspect you have an unmet need – or needs – in one of these areas (these are four of the basic human needs):

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure

2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli

3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed

4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something

From what I’ve learned over the years people will go against their values, lie, cheat, and steal to fulfill their basic needs.  At this point I want to help shine a light on the alternative notion that you don’t have a fear of getting fat…you may have a fear of having one of your needs unmet.

You’ve set up bulimia as a way to avoid feeling unloved, un-admired, undesirable, uncertain.  Now your binging and purging are what you know and somehow, in an often twisted way it’s serving your needs.

[sidebar: it’s only a perceived meeting of those needs.  Deep down, those needs are raging and calling you to meet them for your highest fulfillment and that’s what’s driving the crazy-making behavior]

Recovery Doesn’t Make You Fat

Now let me give this to you straight.

The fat monster is out of the recovery bag.

Recovery does not make you fat. 

I am the same weight I was when I was bulimic.  Did I gain a little weight here or there?  Shoot, I gain a little weight here or there every month!  It just doesn’t run my life.

Gaining a little weight here or there no longer makes me hate myself and do shameful, yucky things to myself like over exercise, take massive amounts of laxatives or binge for 8-12 hours a day.

Did that crazy-mind of mine that used to link up being fat = being unloved used to run the show?

You better believe it!

Now I have a new association with my weight, my body and my identity.  I know I’m in charge of me. I take good care of myself inside and out.

I now trust that if I have too much food at one meal or I snack all afternoon (hello monthly!) that it will naturally balance itself out.  I don’t go into the spiral of binging and purging because of the things I just mentioned. But probably more than that because I have healthy ways of meeting my need for love and connection.  (I realize I have a lower than average need for certainty and significance; love/belonging and variety are my highest needs.)

So now that you know that underlying every behavior or fear is essentially a basic human need not being met, let’s explore what this means in your life.

If you had to look at your own situation if you’ve ever said to yourself “I want recovery, but I’m afraid I’ll get fat”…which human need does your situation sound like:

Certainty – at least with bulimia I keep the same weight.  By being bulimic I don’t have to face things I don’t want to face.  I know how to manage/control it.  It’s always been in my life so it’s safe for me.  I know how many calories I burn when I work out X amount of time.  I know exactly how to control my weight.

Uncertainty – with bulimia I’m able to eat whatever I want and not get fat.  I can do all of the things I enjoy doing and eating without having to diet or restrict myself.

Love/connection – I don’t really feel close with people/spouse/family/friends.  I’m afraid if anyone found out they wouldn’t accept me.

Significance/special – People don’t know I have bulimia and I’m afraid to tell them because they wouldn’t understand – they think my life is perfect.  I’m successful, I’m well liked, I have a great family, people look up to me, I have a really big/important/high paying job and bulimia is the one thing that’s sort of out of whack in this picture.

Your particular situation may take a little self-examination.  This is just to get you started.  I’ve found you can have several needs unmet that are driving you, but often you have a primary need.  You may have both certainty and love and connection that you’re afraid of losing that’s got you so locked in you can hardly breath.

Don’t overanalyze this.  Most of us have the need for love and connection one as a theme.  The significance one is pretty easy to spot.

Get Those Basic Needs Met!

We’ve started to understand what’s driving your bulimia behavior…now what?

Your first step is to begin to find healthy ways to meet those same underlying needs.  How do you do that?  Whew!  A LOT of ways.  This process is for you to discover and create solutions for yourself.  Your heart and inner wisdom will help you discover the answers that will fulfill YOU.

Here’s just a few examples in my life….

Like I said, I have a high need for love and connection (low on the significance).  What I didn’t realize when I was bulimic was how much space and time being bulimic put between me and people.  I thought I was loved because I was being the “perfect” weight and looked like I had it all together.

Boy was that ever bullshit.

One of the things I learned recently is about something Tony Robbins calls your primary question.  It’s something that we made up a long time ago that we ask ourselves in situations all the time.

My old primary question went something like “how can I make this person happy so they’ll like me?

Pretty outwardly focused and lead to a lot of people pleasing my whole life!  For Pete’s sake that was exhausting.

Now, my primary question is “how can I feel even more of the love flowing in this moment?”  I think about that when I’m alone.  I think about that when I’m with a good friend.  I think about that when I’m being intimate with a man.  I put that question ahead of my experience as much as possible.  It’s becoming my new primary question and so being aware of it helps me stay on track for what I want.  Love, that is.  I don’t mean feeling the Hollywood hyped love, but all of the beautiful magic and love that is around us all the time.

For me that can be the love I feel towards someone who’s having a bad day.  For someone who’s giving me service with a smile.  For someone I have known for a long time and is telling me something hard they’re going through – or vice versa.

How can I feel more of the love flowing in this moment?  That’s what’s important to me nowdays. That’s what’s driving me towards a fulfilling life filled with LOVE. I’m working intentionally, healthfully at filling that basic need.

Another way I introduce and feel love is through my awareness practice of appreciationActively looking for things to appreciate.  Big and small.  Day and night.  In people. In nature.  In myself.  In the stillness of the Universe.  What can I appreciate in this moment?  It gets easier when you set your tuner to the natural miracle and love of the Universe.  It really is there all the time.

Lastly, one of the ways I feel love and belonging is to spend five minutes each and every morning before I get out of bed feeling feelings of love and appreciation for what’s in my life.  I reflect upon the love in my heart (head to toe) that I feel for my body, my belongings, my friends, my community, you here reading this…and of course the unseen.  The feelings of love when you actively introduce them into your day each morning will carry you through your day.  It’s amazing and I highly recommend this as a practice to you and each and every coaching client I work with.

These are just a few of the ways I’ve tapped into that help me feel love and belonging each day without being bulimic.  Does it take practice? Yes.  Is it worth it? You bet.

Can you do it?

Of course.

Will you?  That, my friend, is up to you.

Now that you’ve read this you know too much.  You know a  little too much about what’s driving your eating disorder craziness to not do something.

Look…this blog isn’t just my random ramblings.  It’s meant to inspire and provide you with insights you didn’t have before so you will transform yourself from the inside out.

You’ve just spent all this time reading and listening to my ramblings about the underlying needs that you’re not fulfilling that being bulimic has you thinking are being met.

What are you going to now do about this?

What are you going to do differently now that you know this distinction?

What’s one step you could take, one action to change the course, one thing you could add or delete or a stretch goal you could set for yourself that will help you make progress today?

Please share your commitment below in the comments.  It doesn’t have to be huge.  Yet, the more you step outside your comfort zone, the more fulfilling and joyous life usually is.

Go out on a limb…that’s where the fruit is.

I think that really fits in this situation.

I look forward to reading your comments – or email me a question if there’s something I can help you with!