For many years, I saw my issues with food as something to deal with and overcome.
They had been with me for as long as I could remember and like many people, I carried them like a shackle of shame.
Like so many others, my patterns with food started innocently enough in childhood but by the time I was an adult, they had ballooned into emotional eating, periods of dieting and deprivation, followed by “screw it” bingeing and struggling to maintain the “magic” number. The all or nothing mentality and obsession with food and weight was life-draining. Ultimately, however, because the obsession became life-draining, I sought new and life-affirming solutions.
When I finally addressed these issues, I had a big old realization. My issues with food had almost nothing to do with food.
This was one of the single most liberating truths I had ever uncovered. Suddenly I went from someone who was fundamentally broken to a sensitive and complicated human being who had some work to do in uncovering herself. My issues with food ultimately wound up being a path my my personal and professional unfoldment.
So many of our habits around food are built when we are kids, which tends to be the same time some of our biggest and most vivid pain points originate. We are trying to figure out who we are in the world while experiencing huge waves uncomfortable emotion we don’t understand. We experience feelings of rejection, humiliation and grief for the first time and don’t necessarily have the maturity to be able to sort it all out. We take everything incredibly personally. This is a super normal part of our human development so we can survive physical and emotional life more adeptly.
As a pioneer voice in emotional eating, Geneen Roth speaks about this time in our lives in Women, Food and God. If we don’t have other ways to cope with our feelings, we learn to unzip from our bodies because all emotion lives in our bodies. Eating is a really convenient and legal way to unzip, to numb or to feel hits of distracting pleasure when are experiencing anxiety producing thought. Being a kid can be massively emotionally confusing. We are in control of such a small portion of the conditions that bring us consistent pleasure or joy.
As adults, we have a whole lot more control of our lives and how we feel, but like tigers who have been trapped in the same cage for many years, even when the bars are removed, we may not realize and keep pacing the same terrain. By that point, unless we really stop and investigate, we are hardwired to a certain extent. Habit can drive a large portion of our behavior around our personal numbing agents. Sometimes, we don’t even notice we are doing it, or we live in a state of denial about our habits until we see the scale start to creep up or the disintegration of our health.
The real problem with emotional eating isn’t weight gain. It is missing out on our own personal transformation.
We miss out on the potential to change the circumstances or internal blocks that are keeping us in those states. It helps to think of our bodies and emotional lives as a navigation system or tuning fork for what our deeper truth is trying to communicate. It shows us when we are behaving or attaching to thoughts that aren’t in sync with who we are and who we want to become. When something is painful, our intuition is engaging in a game of hot and cold with us. Our unwillingness to fully FEEL our negative emotion costs us something. We wind up swimming in circles, living in the gray, because we never feel pain deeply enough to actually DO something about it. Our hot red pain is always dulled into gray apathy.
Of course we need to do the work on educating ourselves on nutrition and what works for our bodies. Of course we need to understand the impact different foods have on our systems and slowly create habit change. All of that is relatively easy to learn as it is just information and repeated action. If information on how to achieve our ideal body was the key, we would all have them and be eating perfectly all day.
The really important information lies in our resistance and fear toward being present with what our patterns with food are telling us.
The predominant issue at play has to do with our crazy, beautiful, complicated internal world and our willingness to be fully present with life itself, and all the experiences it tosses our way. The more we numb or press the pause buttons on our emotional experience, the more we press pause on our life process because we stop having the realizations necessary to grow.
Once I looked under the hood of the car and was finally able to listen to my deeper truth, I quit acting and became a health coach. I had difficult conversations that I had been waiting decades to have. I ended toxic relationships. I began investigating my spirituality.
I have seen clients finally face sexual trauma from their pasts, move across the country to pursue new career paths, leave engagements, get dogs, score major TV shows, climb out of debt and buy houses. Our lives tend to accelerate because we gain major clarity on what our eating patterns are telling us and where we have been in denial. Like most of my clients, if emotional eating hadn’t caused me to gain weight, I’m not sure I ever would have bothered to look within.
The good news is that each time we start to engage in familiar patterns with food, it is sign that it is time to look beneath the hood of the car again, that a new transformation has already begun, a new self is emerging.
We never stop growing and changing, and neither does our truth and our internal desires. And sometimes those desires communicate through overwhelming negative emotion. Our first impulse may always be to brace against pain, but that pain can be one of our greatest teachers in how to experience more joy in our lives. I try to teach my clients that these cycles of emotional eating are not failures, but openings. And each time, our eating patterns become the gate for us to walk through toward becoming our own personal savior.
When you are noticing emotional eating creeping up, resist the urge to reach for yet another diet, cleanse or a distraction. Instead, get curious. Something new (or old) is wanting your attention. Invest in someone or something to deepen your exploration of yourself and your patterns rather than just muscling through habit change.
There is incredible information in between the impulse to eat and the mindless consumption of food, and when it is lost, we miss out on our most vibrant, authentic, aligned lives. We miss out on our internal freedom.
It may be time to end the struggle against your eating patterns, and instead ask, “What am I REALLY hungry for?”
Rock On & Be Well,