When you catch a mean thought, ask “Would I say this to someone else?” “Would I appreciate someone else saying this to me?” “Why would someone say this to me?” and “What could I have said instead?” Taking yourself through this sequence can help you shift to something more loving, truthful, and useful.
As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Kate Huffman. Kate is an award-winning actor/writer and a certified body positivity coach. She helps people who struggle with diet, exercise, and body image to rewire their brains towards self-acceptance and self-love so that they can reclaim their time, energy, and money to live in greater alignment with their purpose. After two decades of hiding behind a wall of shame around her eating disorder, she told her story in an award-winning one-woman show called, I’M TOO FAT FOR THIS SHOW, and the overwhelming response from audiences and critics alike awakened her to a calling of helping others live in their bodies with more authenticity.
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
In 2014, I sat under the stars in Joshua Tree trying to make meaning out of what seemed like a wasted life. I had allowed two decades of secret anorexia, exercise addiction, and chronic pain to destroy every area of my life — career, love, friendships, health. My goal for the previous decade had always been to be of service through creativity, and it dawned on me that night that perhaps the only way to do that would be to tell my story. Thus, terrifying as that notion was, I set out to do just that.
Writing what would eventually become I’M TOO FAT FOR THIS SHOW was one thing; sharing it with the world was quite another. But once I overcame the crippling fear I felt around this, I discovered that I was not shunned for all that I hid for so long. Rather, I was celebrated and thanked.
As I took the show to more and more cities, audience members repeatedly asked me… what could they do? How could they help their loved ones — and themselves — with these types of problems?
I had no answers for them. I was very much still living the story I was telling. But I felt a responsibility to these people to find some answers out. And so, I dove deep into body positivity, neuroscience, quantum physics, and thought work, and I landed at a system that allowed me to rewire my brain once and for all, to walk away from the lies of diet culture and fatphobia, and to help others do the same.
I obtained several certifications and got to work coaching, teaching, and speaking about body acceptance and body liberation. I never saw it coming, but I have never felt so aligned with my purpose.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
At the start of quarantine, I moved my services to a digital setting, which has been wonderful in that it allows me to reach people across many time zones.
In addition to my free workshops on body positivity, my courses that take the work more in depth, and one-on-one coaching, I am publishing a book soon that will include the script of my show along with the methods I used to rewire my brain after the profound experience of sharing my story.
A television adaptation of the solo show is also in the works, though at present very little in Hollywood is going into production, so that is currently on hold. Likewise, live performances of the solo show are on hold until it is deemed safe for audiences to attend live events again.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?
Seeing how powerfully people were affected by my show shocked me into considering the possibility that perhaps all of these things that I had for so long been certainly rendered me unlovable, worthless, and loathsome… in fact only made me human.
Brene Brown is correct when she says that shame can’t survive the light. I had lived behind an isolating wall of shame for so long. No one could truly know me because the most significant part of myself was a deep, dark secret. The moment I stepped over that wall of shame, I could start to see, for the first time in living memory, a glimmer of hope.
When I witnessed how my story unearthed deep truths in so many people, I saw that I had offered something to the world. I had been of service in a variety of ways. One man told me he called his estranged sister of 20 years because he finally understood her struggles. Another woman told me she would divorce her scale and use the F-word more (I consider this a major success). Men with no body issues whatsoever tearfully told me they saw themselves in the OCD and self-flagellation that was presented on stage. Many, many women emailed me and wrote physical letters to say they had never felt so seen as they did when watching this show.
The gratitude was overwhelming, and I had the oddest sensation ever. I thought to myself…. “What is this feeling? Could this be… self-worth? No wonder everyone has been raving about this! This is great!” I highly recommend you try it if you haven’t already.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
At a time when our brains are undergoing a significant period of formation — ages 12 to 25 — we are bombarded with messages about what gives us value. For women, the message is overwhelmingly this: Your value is connected to your appearance, first and foremost — to the shape of your body and the beauty of your face. Sure, other things, like kindness, intelligence, integrity — these might provide some value. But before you concern yourself with any of that, you must first have the perfect appearance.
That appearance, of course, being one and only one body shape: the “thin ideal.” A shape that is not a real human shape anyway! It is a digitally enhanced shape of alien proportions. But our brains are quite skilled at taking what they are shown repeatedly and locking it in as truth.
For men, their value, too, is linked to appearance, though they also get bombarded with messages that their value as a human is linked to the amount of money they make and/or the ability to attract the most attractive women.
All in all, these are unfortunate lies that take deep, dedicated work to remove from our brains. Knowledge alone that they are lies is often not enough because, again, the neural networks in our brains that have learned these false beliefs are powerful. You have to be dedicated to the thought work necessary to walk away from these lies and live in greater self-love and freedom.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
We have this notion that being mean to ourselves will somehow push us to be better. In truth, hurling negativity at ourselves only perpetuates shame. You must treat yourself the way you would treat a dear friend that you care about. Many people credit their success to those around them who were unwaveringly supportive of them. Think how much more powerful that can be when that kind of unwavering support comes from within you.
An exercise that I often have clients begin with is to give what I call your “monster buddy,” the mean voice in your hear in your head, the mic for five minutes. Write out all the mean thoughts you have about yourself in the second person. “You are so lazy. You will never find love until you lose weight. You’re a terrible mother,” etc. Then, walk away for five minutes. Shake it off, stretch, make yourself a tea.
When you return to what you wrote, read it as if you had written this to a dear friend. This is meant to wake us up to how unacceptably we speak to ourselves.
Now, don’t use this as an excuse to further beat yourself up. Rather, tap into gratitude for the awareness that something in your self-talk needs to shift. You can now begin implementing thought work tools to begin that shift.
True, unconditional self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-love take a while to reach, but when you do, you are finally in full alignment with your soul. You are free to do anything.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
I believe people are deeply afraid of being alone. This fear dissipates when you truly become your own best friend.
During a period of deep heartbreak — the kind that makes you dizzy — months went by where I felt I would die anytime I was alone in my apartment. My body was in full shock, my hair was coming out in handfuls, adrenaline was pumping at full blast as my brain believed there was a life-threatening situation 100 percent of the time. In order to calm this long, extended panic attack, I had to figure out how I could stand to be with just me — an entity that I had deemed unworthy and unlovable for a good decade and change.
I imagined a duplicate version of myself next to me on my couch. I looked at this imaginary entity next to me from the nonjudgmental and loving space from which I approach all other human beings that I encounter. When I looked from this outside perspective, I could see, “Oh, wow. This person is not horrible after all. This person is kind. This person cares about others and does what she can to help them. She’s smart, thoughtful — even funny! I can totally see why someone would hang out with her! She is flawed, certainly. But she is human. She is working on those flaws, and I can see the goodness in her that outweighs that.”
This was a powerful exercise, and after enough practice with it, there’s been nothing about being alone that could ever frighten me.
When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
After the first tour of my show, I injured my foot. At that time, my obsessive calorie counting and exercise addiction had continued even as I went around the world telling the story of how harmful these practices are. This foot injury felt like a sign from the Universe that I had to live in greater authenticity to what I was sharing with the world.
Still, I fought it. I ate less and swam daily through the pain that kicking my foot caused. I waited months for it to heal and finally had six glorious weeks of two feet. Then, I flew to Scotland to do my show — and I injured the other foot the day that I landed.
I knew even then this was a gift. The Universe was begging me to wake up. I had to ask myself, can I continue to live one way and declare to the world that they should live another way? Can I continue this message of, “Do as I say, not as I do?”
I knew I couldn’t. I forgave myself for who I had been, and I readied myself for a difficult path forward. I couldn’t even see the path, but I knew I had to forge it.
The question, then, that I think people must ask is, “Am I living in alignment with my values?” That is often the toughest question to face. If the answer is no, you must love, accept, and forgive yourself, but you must also begin to steer the ship towards the path of your values.
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
My alone time is a precious commodity. That is the time of getting in touch with one’s truest self, the Universe (or whatever term resonates with your spiritual leanings), and one’s purpose. If I’m deprived of alone time for too long, I get a sense of being disconnected from myself. Meditation can bring me back, as meditation allows a person to be both alone and connected to all beings at the same time.
Again, if being alone is troublesome for you, the exercise of sitting next to your imaginary double is enormously useful. During that period of heartbreak, I imagined me hugging myself and saying, “I love you, Kate. I will be with you for the rest of your life.”
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
You can receive the words of others more fully when you are at peace with yourself. When you accept and forgive yourself, you walk away from shame. Shame is the ultimate divider. My whole life was shameful until I told my story. When that has no power over you, you can give and receive more fully with others.
When you are actively entrenched in disordered eating and exercise, this has a massive toll on those around you. Time with loved ones is sacrificed to the gym, plans are cancelled if a restaurant won’t have the right foods, and so much time is spent thinking about yourself and all that you hate about that self that you cannot put time into thinking about your loved ones’ needs. Ironically, self-hatred makes a person very self-involved. Self-love is the key to giving more fully or yourself.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
a.) Remember that all beings suffer. We often look at others and believe they have no problems, and thus we compare ourselves to them and feel worse. Instead, remember they have stories that they are carrying with them that we can never know. Seek empathy for them. Then turn back to your own circumstances with acceptance and gratitude.
b.) Society must put an end to perpetuating the lies around how our body shapes are connected to our value. Digital enhancements in magazines, film, and tv should be made illegal in my view. The damage is measurable and pervasive. Millions of human bodies and souls are suffering because of these falsehoods.
Because that will be an arduous mountain to climb, efforts can be made in the meantime to teach children and teens media literacy and body positivity.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
The strategies I focus on fall under the umbrella of Thought Work. This requires recognizing that your thoughts are not truths. They are not facts. And as such, we can choose our thoughts.
1.) When you catch a mean thought, ask “Would I say this to someone else?” “Would I appreciate someone else saying this to me?” “Why would someone say this to me?” and “What could I have said instead?” Taking yourself through this sequence can help you shift to something more loving, truthful, and useful.
2.) Another great strategy is to simply shift thought to neutrality. Going from negativity to positivity doesn’t work because our brain is too strongly wired not to believe positivity. Thus, if you think, “I hate my body,” and try to go, “No I don’t! I LOVE my body!” Your brain will laugh you out of the room and you will dismiss all thought work as hopeless. Instead, shift to, “This is a human body.” Your brain can’t argue with it, and now you are dealing with a thought that will not drag you down for the rest of the day.
3.) Meditation and hypnotherapy. Thought work leaps through the roof when you combine it with a regular practice of slowing down you mind, which both of these techniques accomplish. Getting your brain into theta state speeds up the process of rewiring your brain, as it is in this state that neural networks are readily created. The first time I experienced true self love was under hypnosis. It was shocking and powerful, and I will never forget it.
4.) Add openers to goal thoughts when they seem like too much. If you want to believe, “I love my body as it is,” but that seems like too much, try instead, “I am willing to believe that I deserve to love my body as it is.” Or “I am learning to love my body as it is.” That’s all. Your brain is less inclined to yell at you if you simply express that you believe in the possibility of loving your body someday.
5.) Make the shift to intuitive eating and movement. This involves releasing all the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” around food and exercise that you may have learned. There is no morality around food choices. You’re not “good” or “bad” based on what, when, and how you choose to eat.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Vickor Frankl.
THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron
Brene Brown’s first TED Talk
These three works conspired to lead me to the creation of my show. Frankl tells us to find meaning in the suffering and to dedicate oneself to a greater cause. Cameron helps our artistic souls remember that story-telling is of great service, and the desire to be of service has always been what drives me. Brown says the original definition of courage is to tell the story of one’s heart.
I sought to make meaning of the suffering by telling the story of my heart and seeing if it might be of service. I remain humbled and grateful to discover that it is.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
Teaching media literacy and body positivity in grade schools is crucial. Young ones should be taught about gender messaging, racial messaging, and body/beauty messaging as soon as they hit puberty, if not sooner. Let them have the option of questioning the world around them rather than accepting early messaging as inherent truths.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?
Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
I heard, “Remember that everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle,” when I was 14 years old and in the height of total, all-consuming anorexia. Somehow it shook me awake to seeing other people around me again, something that falls away when you’re in the thick of the number one deadliest mental disorder. (I’ve seen this quote cited to Plato, Socrates, Rumi, and anonymous, so sadly, I don’t know who deserves the credit.)
Today, I also thrive on the notion that happiness is “the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.” — Victor Frankl
And I mustn’t forget Caroline Caldwell’s wonderful assessment: “In a world that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.” Let’s all be rebels!
Lastly, I don’t know who said it first, but its truth is palpable: “You were not put on this planet to pay bills and lose weight!” We are all meant for so much more.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Free Body Positive Facebook Group: Body Positivity for People with Bodies
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!