A while ago, when I graduated as an Eating Psychology Coach and held the certificate in my hand, I thought my formal training was complete. Yes, I would keep up with the field via seminars and literature, but there would be no need to go for another degree.
This proved to be true, to a certain extent – yes, I am keeping myself current by taking specific, short term trainings, but the biggest knowledge by far has not come from books or institutions. It has come from my clients.
These women who are willing to share their life stories with me, who make themselves vulnerable and strong, who allow me into their dreams and fears – they are the ones that complete my training, over and over again.
Last week, for example, I was sitting at an ice cream shop with Suzanne. The weather was lovely and we decided to take our session outdoors. I ordered an iced tea, and Suzanne went for the real thing: two scoops of Italian gelato.
This was a courageous act on her part: for the past seven years, Suzanne has been furiously trying to shed 20 pounds off her hips, without any long term success. She’s probably tried every diet under the sun, and the pounds have come off and piled back on regularly. I started working with her not too long ago, and when I did she was in the midst of a very restrictive food plan.
Now Suzanne is able to eat ice cream and enjoy it – and knock on wood, she’s shed a couple of pounds off her belly. It could be the summer heat; it could be that she’s taken up a yoga class… and it could be that she’s relaxing more into her life.
However, the rest of the weight still bothers her.
“I’m happy with the progress I’ve made”, she tells me, “and I want to lose more. I’ve never been skinny, and I wonder how life would be when I’ll lose all the weight. It’s like my life would change forever.”
This is the moment when we hit the jackpot.
Just like Suzanne, many of my clients are desperate to get to the “new me” part of their lives: the time when the weight will come off, when they will be slender, when their life stories will have been altered forever. By talking to Suzanne I realize that that’s exactly where the problem lies: often times, the weight is there to remind us of our own unique journey, of who we are and who we were. And letting go of the extra pounds could mean letting go of our personal story.
Will losing the fat mean that I’ll be blissful and forget all the insights about myself that I’ve gained through the dieting? Will my struggles be erased from my memory when the weight is no longer there to remind me of what I’ve been through?
Our bodies can be powerful symbols of our own life stories. The shape of our body can be a truth teller of what has been going on in our own private universe: letting go of our current shape can feel like our identity will disappear without a trace, and that is a frightening emotion.
Suzanne and I sit outside a little longer. I thank her for her insight, and reassure her that we will work on ways in which she can still express who she is – by honoring her inner truth, by finding her own voice, by expressing herself through words, sounds, movement, art. In an nutshell: by keeping her story alive through positive, alternative ways, she will no longer need her body weight to tell her tale.
Suzanne smiles. Something has clicked inside of her: she knows this strategy is not a shortcut, and that it will take all of her to open up and honor her own truth. But she’s game, and so am I.
As I walk home I remember that I still need to go through a seminar’s notes before I join a teleclass in the evening. Still I can’t help feeling that my true learning for the day is already done, and I can’t thank my clients enough for walking this path with me.