We talk about “pulling back the curtain” to reveal the truth.
We talk about discovering in ourselves what’s been there the whole time.
We say, there’s no place like home.
That’s right. I’m talking about The Wizard of Oz. So, what does that have to do with emotional eating? I’ll explain in a moment but first, a short refresher.
In case you were raised on another planet or for some reason never read or saw The Wizard Of Oz (yes, it was a book before it was a movie), or if you need a refresher, here’s the plot:
An orphan girl named Dorothy lives with her aunt, uncle, and dog Toto, in Kansas. When a nasty neighbor threatens Toto, Dorothy runs away with Toto. They’re swept up in a tornado and land in Oz. Under the guidance of Glinda the Good Witch, Dorothy heads for the Emerald City to ask The Wizard of Oz how to get home.
Along the way she meets a Scarecrow who lacks a brain, a Tin Man who doesn’t have a heart, and a Cowardly Lion who lacks courage.
When Dorothy and her new friends finally see the Wizard, he tells them to kill the Wicked Witch, and then he’ll grant their wishes. He’ll give a brain to the scarecrow, a heart to the Tin Man, he’ll make the cowardly lion brave and he’ll help Dorothy return home.
They defeat the witch and her evil flying monkeys and return to the Emerald City only to learn that the Wizard of Oz is actually just a nerdy guy who’s fooled everyone into thinking he’s scary and powerful. They also realize the things they thought were missing, they had all along. Dorothy returns home under her own power.
So, great story, classic story, and what does it have to do with food, weight and body image? Well, each of these characters has qualities or conflicts that may relate to you and your life. When you identify and work through those conflicts, you’re less likely to turn to food to resolve them.
The Great and Powerful Oz thought he had to appear strong and all-powerful in order to be respected. He projected (literally) a huge and powerful image.
In reality, he was just a guy behind a curtain trying to make people believe in his strength and omniscience. He didn’t think he was enough as he was, so he pretended to be something he wasn’t in order to gain respect.
If you can relate to this, you may think you have to project a certain image to be likeable. You may hide different parts of yourself and try to keep them behind the curtain, so you won't be discovered as a person with doubts, insecurities, or fears.
Maybe you feel like you’re fooling people and that they have idea what you're really like. Maybe you put up a good front but it hides who you really are. If don’t show your true self, then you never really connect with people on an authentic level.
That leads to loneliness because you’re not really getting the love from others – the false front, the mask, the part you play in life gets the love, not you. When that happens, it feels empty, and you can turn to food to symbolically fill that emptiness.
Next, we come to the trio: the cowardly lion, the tin man and the scarecrow. They all lack self-confidence and don’t see themselves as they are.
The Cowardly Lion thinks he lacks courage, but in fact he shows a lot of bravery. He incorrectly thinks that courage means the absence of fear. In fact, courage is feeling the fear, and doing it anyway.
The Tin Man believes he needed a heart but in fact he demonstrates a great deal of heart with his empathy, sympathy, and love.
Scarecrow thinks he lacks a brain but – like the lion and the tin man – he also has more smarts than he realizes.
Do you imagine you're not as smart as people think you are? Does fear stop you from moving forward in your life? If so, maybe you can relate to these characters. Your self-doubt may blind you to the reality of who you are and the qualities you have.
If you're focusing on what you're NOT, instead of letting yourself see what you ARE, then you don’t have a realistic view of yourself.
When you feel as if you’re not good enough, that’s painful and upsetting, and you’re more likely to use food for comfort and distraction.
Now, what about Dorothy? She wanted to run away from home because an unfair, powerful person who was threatening her beloved Toto. Throughout the course of the story Dorothy learns to appreciate the relationships she has in her life.
She learns to take in love and connection and support from others, just as the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion had to learn to appreciate their personal internal qualities.
Do you think you have to be independent and take care of things on your own, instead of leaning on others or letting them help you? If so, you might be too disconnected and turn to food instead of people.
When you can take in people’s love, when you feel lovable, you don’t need to rely on literally taking in food in order to feel fulfilled. When relationships are satisfying, you’re less likely to turn to food for satisfaction.
Glinda the Good Witch could wave her magic wand and make everything okay for Dorothy, or tell her about the power of the ruby slippers, but instead she lets Dorothy learn that she can take care of herself.
She’s like a good parent, who can help us and do something for us, but instead tells us to do it for ourselves. By doing that, we learn to depend on ourselves and to trust ourselves – in addition to accepting help from others at times.
Glinda knew Dorothy had what it took to complete her task. She didn’t want Dorothy to change. Dorothy just needed to trust that she had inner resources to be okay.
We all need to cultivate a kind, caring, sweet response to ourselves. Glinda believes in Dorothy and because of her steadfast belief, Dorothy is able to move forward in her journey.
We all need a little internal Glinda, the ability to believe in ourselves. That’s what a supportive, soothing and comforting voice sounds like – when we can comfort ourselves with words, we don’t need food.
Now we come to the characters that are most troubling and upsetting. They can also represent parts of us, aspects we also need to challenge.
The Wicked Witch is a scary, nasty character. Think of the witch as your internal judge, critic, attacker, slavedriver, the part that tries to kill off your spirit and stop you from living your best life.
The Flying Monkeys are super-scary and have given generations of little kids terrible nightmares. The monkeys stop being so threatening when the witch is dead.
They’re the scary things we’re afraid of that maybe we attack ourselves with, that ultimately only have power if we give them power, if we feed our internal witch.
When you’re mean to yourself, when you’re critical and vicious and try to destroy yourself, you feel terrible – which makes you vulnerable to using food to feel better.
By destroying your internal witch – the critic and judge that attacks you at every opportunity – you’re free, you feel liberated – and when you feel good, you don’t need food to make you feel good or give you comfort.
The lessons from Wizard of Oz are:
- Focus on who you are, rather than what you’re not
- Connect with other people in your life
- Defeat your inner judge and all the flying mean thoughts that try to defeat you
- Accept yourself as you are
You don’t need to change to be good enough or for people to like you. Learn to accept yourself as you are in order to get where you want to go.
And, here’s some food for thought: What if you don’t need to lose weight to have a relationship? What if you just found someone who loves you just as you are? What a concept!
The characters from The Wizard of Oz can help you challenge the negative ideas you have about yourself. When you feel better, it’s easier to make better food choices and lose weight.
Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin is a psychoanalyst, author and radio host specializing in binge eating disorder. She is the author of The Binge Cure: 7 Steps to Outsmart Emotional Eating and Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders, and co-editor of Beyond the Primal Addiction. She hosts The Dr. Nina Show radio program on LA Talk Radio. Her recent TEDx talk is Why Binge Eating is NOT about Food. (we can link to it once it is up)