In my many years’ working with those who struggle with disordered eating, I’ve seen thousands of people all over the world make a full recovery. They are now completely recovered—period. They are living free from their struggles with all sorts of eating difficulties. So I want you to trust me when I say that it is absolutely possible for you to do the same—even if you have struggled for many years, or your entire life.
However, while I’ve seen thousands recover, I’ve never seen anyone break completely free from their struggles with food without learning one important skill. It is so essential to the recovery process, in fact, that I’ve dedicated an entire course to it.
The Importance of Assertive Communication
At its core, disordered eating is often about communication—to ourselves, or to others. When we experience something that we don’t know how to put into words—or are perhaps afraid to put into words—our bodies communicate the emotion by using food behaviors. This is how we wind up restricting or stuffing our feelings.
But imagine if, instead of falling back on patterns of disordered eating, you could respond to others and express yourself in a way that felt comfortable. You would no longer have to do whatever it is you’re doing with food.
Assertive communication is a way of expressing your feelings clearly, directly, honestly and kindly—in a way that respects your feelings as well as the feelings of others. Unfortunately, because very few of us are taught to speak this way, it’s a language that feels unfamiliar at first. But like any other skill—like swimming, or driving a car, or playing the piano—it’s one that anyone can learn. It doesn’t take some sort of special DNA. It just takes some practice.
The “Magic” Formula
You probably know by now that, unfortunately, there’s no magic potion for recovery. But there is a “magic” formula that you can use to practice the essential skill of assertive communication!
First, describe the behavior that you have an issue with. Keep it simple, using as few words as possible:
When you_____________ (Examples: use that tone of voice; don’t clean up after yourself; say those things; say you’re going to call and then don’t.)
Then, name a feeling that gets stirred up in you:
I feel_____________ (Examples: annoyed; confused; frustrated; disappointed; embarrassed; hurt.) Pick just one feeling, and avoid using the word “make” (i.e. “you make me so angry”) because it sounds accusatory.
Finally, explain why that specific behavior stirred up that particular feeling. This is where you have to get honest (instead of accusatory) and it can take some soul-searching.
…because it seems to me that you don’t care about my feelings.
…because I get the idea that my needs don’t matter, or you don’t understand what I’m saying.
…because it gives me the impression that you’re putting me down, or not respecting my time.
The “magic” in this formula comes from putting feelings you would otherwise lean on eating behaviors to cope with into words. This enhances your relationships so you don’t have to depend on food for your emotional nourishment, and also creates the boundaries needed for a sense of safety and protection. In other words, it allows you to participate in a relationship and be your authentic self at the same time.
With some practice, you’ll learn to communicate your feelings like this consistently—and your disordered eating will no longer have a function in your life.
Now it's your turn where you can apply this in your life?
I’m almost done with your book, this article is such a nice summary of your brilliant 3 steps to communicate feelings, instead of falling back on patterned behavior of overeating! I’ll be working on this, such a process… Thank you for all the work you do!
This is very informative.
You forgot the 4th and very important part of the “I” message (“and I want…”)which is to state what you wish to happen as a resolution to the issue being addressed.
I want to work at shedding a light on feelings I handle with disordered eating. I now know most of them, but want to become efficient at identifying them, paying attention to them and making choices to not eat but process so I understand.
Very informative- solid skill development opportunity. In terms of where I can use this in my own life, I automatically think of the most difficult relationships but upon reflection, I think it would be easier to start with less depleting interactions, more neutral situations with strangers even. For example, the people visiting in my neighborhood this weekend who are letting their dogs roam off leash. “Hi there, I feel nervous when I’m walking past because your dogs are off-leash. Could you leash them please?” 🙂 Thanks very much for this helpful instruction. I can already feel some relief in my body just having this in my back pocket! 😀
Thank you for sharing your magic
This is so simple and powerful. I’m familiar with this communication technique before, but the connection to disordered eating management. Has never been as clear and succinct. Thank you ,Anita for your continued work.❤️
Thank you for this ideas 🙂