If you parent a young child, know a young child, or have ever been a young child, then you’re probably quite familiar with the question “Why?”
As a mother of three, I hear it all the time.
The most recent barrage of “why?” happened yesterday when I picked up my daughter from school. She wanted to go shopping at her favorite store, Target. So, she asked if I’d take her.
I answered a quick and emphatic, “No.”
But, of course, that wasn’t the end of the conversation.
“Why?” She responded.
“Because I don’t want to go to Target right now.”
“Because I’d rather not see anyone I know.”
“Because I’m feeling anti-social.”
“Because I’m still not fully recovered from the busy weekend.”
“Because I haven’t prioritized rest or self-care lately, and now I’m shutting down.”
Several “whys” from a fifth-grader and I’d gotten to the bottom of my exaggerated need for withdrawal and detachment. I was exhausted and craving solitude to recharge.
And that was the real reason we wouldn’t be going to Target.
The Healing Power of Asking Questions
In my work as an Eating Psychology Coach and Body Image Mentor, I’m often asking “Why?” to get to the bottom of my clients’ behaviors and mindsets.
Of course, I’m concerned with the impact of their beliefs and choices – the symptoms, feelings, and outcomes they’re experiencing. But I’m equally interested in their intentions.
So, I rely on inquiry to expose the underlying thoughts and assumptions that are negatively affecting their food and body relationship.
And through our work together, these clients learn to do the very same thing for themselves. They discover the power of elevating curiosity over certainty, approaching their habits and assumptions with child-like wonder, and asking compassionate questions where they once presumed to have all the answers already.
With an effective inquiry arsenal and a willingness to self-reflect, clients can analyze and understand their present experiences in new ways. Then, using the information they’ve gathered through the process, they work to adjust existing beliefs and modify future choices towards the recovery they’re after – from curiosity and challenge to possibility and change.
The first phase of inquiry, curiosity, is quite similar to a child relentlessly asking, “Why?” And just as revealing too.
Let’s say a client comes to me desperate to heal from disordered eating thoughts and behaviors. They want to stop restricting, but they’re worried about increasing their daily food consumption.
Curiosity means following that apprehension beyond the obvious, with simple questions like “Why?” Or, “Then what?” Because most people aren’t afraid of eating more food for eating’s sake. They’re afraid of what they think will happen next.
They’re afraid of gaining weight.
“And then what?”
And worried they’ll get fat.
“And then what?”
And assume they won’t be taken seriously at work or won’t ever find a romantic partner in a larger body.
“And then what?”
They’re convinced they’ll be unsuccessful, unhappy, and alone.
So then, a person’s resistance to eating more food may have nothing to do with the eating itself and everything to do with fatphobia, the personal and/or systemic fear and dislike of fat bodies, and the stigmatization of the individuals who inhabit those bodies.
This is the power of curiosity, to challenge the apparent answers behind client fears, digging deep to discover the underlying personal and cultural beliefs they represent. Only then can we see if those theories and worries hold up under scrutiny with phase two of the inquiry process, challenge.
In the example above, the underlying beliefs prompting resistance to increased food consumption are:
Eating more food = gaining weight = getting fat.
Fat people are unsuccessful, unhappy, and alone.
Now that we’ve named these beliefs, we can think critically about them and explore more specific questions like:
“Does everyone who eats more food gain weight?”
“Is fat inherently bad?”
“How do we define success and happiness?”
“Where did we learn that fat people can’t find love, achievement, or joy?”
“Can we find examples of individuals in fat bodies who are successful and happy?”
“Who do we know that’s in both a loving relationship and a larger body?”
Critical thinking involves seeing beyond the obvious and challenging assumed truths through observation, analysis, research, reflection, and communication. It means looking at ideas from new and unfamiliar angles with an awareness of what’s influencing those understandings and an openness to new, more compassionate conclusions.
Inevitably, this thought-provoking investigation leads to yet another question. And that question marks the third phase of the inquiry process, possibility.
This step is all about abandoning original beliefs by imagining optimistic, alternative outcomes. It requires a willingness to see what could be and demands a new and potentially life-changing ask, “What if?”
“What if eating more food doesn’t turn out the way I fear it will?”
“What if having less stress around food and my body opens me up to spend more time building meaningful relationships?”
“What if I regain my period and improve my physical health?”
“What if I allowed myself to take pleasure in food?”
“What if gaining weight saves my life?”
“What if I could practice neutrality around body size?”
“And what if I pursued my ambitions without needing to ‘earn’ them first?”
Of course, to experience their curative potential, it’s important to actually act on the “what ifs.”
That’s where the final phase of inquiry in eating disorder recovery comes in. Progress in healing is ultimately made through the practice of consistent and deliberate change.
Change, in this context, means taking tangible steps to think, eat, move, and live in new, more supportive ways. It begs the questions “How?” and “What?” and requires experimentation in response to the answers those queries provide.
One might ask:
“How can I increase food intake in order to support my recovery?”
“What small, actionable steps can I take towards my goal of eating more?”
“How can I make my experiences with food more enjoyable?”
“What can I do to celebrate and embrace eating?”
Practical responses to “how” and “what” questions like these, provide a plan for actionable next steps. And it’s those next steps that forge an incremental path forward in recovery. Through experimentation, observation, and thoughtful adjustment; positive change is not only possible, it’s probable.
I Can Help You Get There
Of course, healing from disordered eating and exercise, ending binge episodes, improving body image, and recovering your period aren’t as simple as reading this blog post and conceptually understanding the four phases of inquiry.
It takes time, and often support, to articulate and interrogate current beliefs, differentiate between personal, systemic, and cultural origins of those convictions, conceive of fresh possibilities beyond them, and adjust thoughts and behaviors accordingly.
That’s because the inquiry process (curiosity, challenge, possibility, change) isn’t a recipe for immediate solutions. It’s a framework for initiating and enacting future choices.
So, if you want customized, professional support in developing self-inquiry skills and healing your relationship with food and body, go HERE and learn how we can work together.
I’m currently taking on new clients.
What if one of them is you?
And what if that changes everything?
Originally posted at Seven Health, HERE.