The Question You Need to Ask Yourself When Feeling Food and Body Shame


Since leaving Mormonism, I’m grateful to have found Alain de Botton and The School of Life — a secular institution that offers science- and philosophy-based education in the arenas of relationships, work, and self-knowledge. Books and videos and articles from The School of Life have informed my approach to my relationships with myself, my partners, my work, and even my former religion.

But a School of Life post the other day on YouTube got me thinking about food and body shame. A portion of “The Question You Need to Ask Yourself When Anxious”:

One of the most difficult features of anxiety is that it tends to be all-consuming. It squats in the middle of our minds and refuses to let anything else in or through. Though the anxiety causes us great pain, it denies any attempts to be questioned, analysed, probed or reconfigured. We are both terrified and unable to think beyond our terror.  Our thoughts become low, relentless, repetitive, stymied things: returning again and again to the issue of whether the door is locked, the accounts were signed off or the social media account is not under attack. Anxiety dominates over and excludes any other form of mental activity; all that will be in our minds is terror. Impregnable and bullying, anxiety in effect shuts down our central faculties.

But there is one nimble way to try to outwit anxiety - and that is with a question that recognises a fundamental feature of anxiety: that it is frequently a smokescreen for something else, something beyond what we consciously think is worrying us, that we’re in fact concerned with or sad about. …

And yet, of course, we are always better off getting to the root cause of our troubles, rather than filling our minds with diversionary panic - and in order to do so, we would be wise at points to ask ourselves a simple but possibly highly revealing question: 

‘If your mind wasn’t currently filled with these particular anxious thoughts, what might you have to think about right now?’

Great, right?

This is a super useful idea for women who feel shame about how they eat or how they look.

Like anxiety, food and body shame are a smokescreen for deeper concerns. Rather than focusing on dread, concern, and discomfort, we focus on how disgusting we are because of how we eat and how terribly unacceptable our bodies are. 

Photo by  Jonas Androx  from  Pexels

Photo by Jonas Androx from Pexels

We can use The School of Life’s advice to uncover the deeper concerns food and body shame bury. The question “If your mind wasn’t currently filled with these particular anxious thoughts, what might you have to think about right now?” turns into “If you weren’t so concerned about the way you eat and the way you look, what would you have to think about right now?”

After introspection, the answer you get might sound like the ones The School of Life puts forward:

I might realise how sad and lonely I am…

I might realise how angry I feel towards my partner…

I might realise how abandoned I feel…

And as The School of Life says, that answer is, “of course, is precisely what we should be doing now. Filling our minds with, and processing, all the stuff that our anxiety [food and body shame in this case] was trying to keep at bay.”

Food and body shame might distract us for a while (and give us a false sense of control because we believe we can “fix” our food and our bodies) (it’s useful in that way! Honor that!), but discover the root issue causing the discomfort and not only can you start to make peace with your loneliness, address your anger, or grapple with your sense of abandonment, but your food and body shame disappears, too.

The School of Life post notes that “certain anxieties can be taken at face value, for they do clearly relate to worrying things in the world” and this applies to women with food and body image issues, too: it cannot be ignored that what underlies food and body shame might actually be food- and body-related:

I am terrified to be fat in a world that demonizes fatness.

I am afraid to eat what I want in front of my dad because he might make a hateful comment towards me.

I am afraid I’ll never find love because I’ve been taught I am not lovable with a body of this size and shape.

These fears and anxieties are real and not to be taken lightly. But even these are actionable. Getting perspective on the greater social and political factors at play around beauty, bodies, health, and fatness lessens the concerns (but unfortunately, not so much the realities) of body-related bigotry in the world around us, and, same as before, food and body shame become a non-issue.

Teaching the social and political factors that influence how you feel about your body is part of my curriculum-based coaching program. Schedule a free 30-minute call with me for more info about this! You can talk to me about what’s going on in your head and heart regarding your food and your body, and I’ll suggest a few ways you can deal with your food and body image issues once and for all.


About Holland Hettinger

Holland Hettinger

Hi, I’m Holland Hettinger, and I help women stop binge-eating. I believe your life doesn’t have to revolve around food. Your mind can think about something other than what you eat. You don’t have to shrink yourself and hide your body. There is an alternative to food guilt and body shame. And none of it includes dieting, meal prepping, weighing yourself, or forcing yourself not to binge-eat for just one—more—day. (Insert sigh of relief here.) Through training videos, coaching emails, and one-on-one work, I teach women to stop binge-eating for good.

Holland Hettinger