MY FEBRUARY WRITING CHALLENGE: DAY 5 of 28
I receive many questions and emails regarding the topic of emotional eating, binge eating, and food addiction. It has been the greatest challenge of my life and I work hard to manage it daily. Below is my response to a recent email, that I thought may be helpful for others who are struggling.
My true recovery from my food battle is actually only a very recent one, but there were certainly a ton of little victories along the way. These little discoveries have definitely had impacts on my overall healing. I've truly spent the majority of my life on the weight loss quest because being the chubby kid caused me so much pain and it was pain that I never really dealt with properly and am currently working through. I see it as a large part of my purpose to be a catalyst in opening others' eyes about food addiction, emotional eating, and ultimately how to lose the weight for good. What I've learned through my decades of self-experimentation is that it really isn't about the food.
What I mean by that is that the actual food you're eating only has a fraction to do with the extra weight. It's important to eat clean healthy food because it gives you the clear mind and energy necessary to do the inner work that will actually help you find peace with food, but that's really it. We have every single answer and piece of guidance within us, but if our brain is foggy and our attention span is zapped and we get poor quality sleep and we're constantly distracted... then we never give ourselves any chance at hearing that inner voice. You can call it God or your inner self or your intuition or the universe or energy or whatever you choose- all that matters is the acknowledgment that it is critical in healing.
What it comes down to is that so many of us are using food as a drug. To numb out, to quiet the feelings we don't want to feel (this is often completely subconscious so it's easy to say "I'm not feeling anything" because we've gotten really good at turning them off in the immediate second that they surface). We use food instead of God and love and feeling our feelings. What I learned that stuck with me is that when we have feelings and we choose to bury or block them instead of sit with them and feel them, they don't just disappear. They take other form in our body. That sadness we didn't deal with properly by feeling it is now sadness we turn inward on ourselves. Just sitting inside of us.
And I assume you and I are very similar in the sense that you've always been the one that's happy with a great attitude and a smile on her face? I was that too and I am that, but I'm also sometimes sad and angry and quiet. But for the majority of my life I looked at the outside world to tell me what they liked from me and that was "funny" "outrageous" "people-pleasing", and so I conformed to that, without ever asking who I wanted to be and without acknowledging that every single human has a range of emotions and that is actually the most beautiful thing about this experience. And so I was only willing to feel the feelings that went along with this fabricated identity of the funny, happy Danika that kept everyone else comfortable and happy, and whenever anything that didn't match that came up, I needed to find a way to protect my ego and make sure that it was right about my identity. And so I ate. I ate to quiet the discomfort that didn't match with who I thought I was and that I didn't know how to properly deal with. And it become completely subconscious behavior which made it even trickier to break that habit. We use food to take the edge off. The same way someone has a cocktail when they come home from work, or wants to crash on the couch and watch mindless TV, or take a cigarette break to escape reality, or over-schedule themselves with being "busy" because they're terrified to be quiet with themselves. In our case, we use food to soothe and escape and relax. Some call it emotional eating, some call it food addiction, and others haven't developed the awareness to even acknowledge that they're doing it.
It starts with creating an awareness in every single situation in which you reach for food and you are not hungry. Just start there. It doesn't mean you don't get to eat whatever you reached for. It just means stopping in that fraction of a second, being honest about where your physical hunger is (you can label it on a scale from 1-10 if it helps), and acknowledge the fact that you're eating for a reason besides physical hunger. Our mental/emotional hunger can be very tricky. It tends to come from our mouth or tongue or chest or head. If it isn't coming from your stomach or a genuine low energy from nutrient deficiency (another place where clean eating makes healing infinitely easier because you're getting all your nutrients), acknowledge that you're eating for emotional hunger, not physical. Eventually what you can begin doing is pausing a little bit longer in these moments when you reach for food and you're not physically hungry and use that as a cue. "Oh, I'm not physically hungry but I want to eat... What am I feeling". Carry a little notebook and write down what you're feeling in those moments. If you can identify it (ex. You have a big deadline coming up and you're overwhelmed, or your coworker said something that upset you just seconds before you reached for the chocolate) and then tell yourself you're brave enough to feel it and that it won't break you to do so. That moment of awareness might resolve that desire to eat to soothe and you might just put the chocolate down because you're no longer counting on it to give you a hug and unconditional love. Food, unfortunately, is not love, though it can feel that way in tough moments. If you can do this even once a day, that is a huge victory. It takes time but it gets easier and easier the more conscious you become.
What I will tell you after almost two decades of deprivation and diets and willpower is that it has nothing to do with any of those things. It's actually so much easier than we've been lead to believe. For me, the biggest shift, the one that has transformed my relationship more than anything else is actually one that happened relatively recently. I found myself at rock bottom in a binge of ice cream and chocolate and chips feeling like I'd exhausted every option there was. Every diet, every book, every tool, every food group. And then I found myself praying, which I don't know that I've done from a genuinely spiritual perspective in all of my life... And then my prayers were answered. And with that little tiny flicker of faith, I was able to fully surrender and became willing to believe that contrary to everything I had been told, all this controlling and managing of food was actually the thing that was hindering my recovery and keeping the weight on. I had also been watching Gabrielle Bernstein's workshop Finally Full and so many of her words just stuck with me, reminding me that my constant anxiety and desire to control was the very thing leading me to the binges. My only option was to believe that there was something much more powerful that could take the struggle from me and handle it, as long as I was willing to trust. And I'm not sure what happened this time around that was different than the thousands of times before that I'd heard the words "surrender", but it just clicked. And since that day, I've never felt such inner peace in my entire life. It has been a long and painful and exhausting journey but there is the brightest light at the end and I know this is just the beginning..