Food is not the enemy

Eating is a "gift" of comfort to ourselves sometimes. Like a having a friend by our side even on the roughest of days.

Eating is a “gift” of comfort to ourselves sometimes. Like a having a friend by our side even on the roughest of days.

Why do you think you overeat, binge or yo yo diet? Why do you think you do it over and over again?

These activities cause us to feel pain, discomfort and shame. It also can cause us to gain weight.

But when we’re in the midst of it, we truly feel like it’s impossible to stop.

Why do you think that is? Why do you think it’s so difficult to stop?

Most of you will say, it’s because you’re addicted to food, or because you don’t have any self control but I don’t think that’s accurate.

Food Addict?
It’s not popular to say this in this industry, but I think labeling ourselves as “food addicts” sets us up for a lifelong and confusing struggle and I think we should avoid labeling it that way.

Here’s why:

We have to eat food to live. Every day. Multiple times a day. How can you consume something you’re “addicted to” in a responsible and healthy way? If it’s a true addiction, you really can’t, right? Common treatment for most drug or behavior addictions includes complete abstinence from the substance or activity that one is addicted to – except in the case of food addiction. Can you imagine someone in active recovery from alcohol addiction drinking daily – because they had to? Going back to the very substance that they struggled with? It would be challenging to view them as in recovery and not having relapsed, wouldn’t it? If you’re a food addict, are you relapsing every time you have a meal, regardless of what it is?

This is really confusing because we can’t not consume food.

We can't not consume food.

We can’t not consume food.

I’m not denying that some foods are made of addictive substances (of which we are bombarded with advertisements left and right) and I’m well aware that we can actually change our brain chemistry to crave more of these foods. But it’s probably not helping to call yourself a food addict. It’s just my opinion but I believe labeling ourselves that way just sets us up to feel shame everytime we eat and feeling that way only adds to the desire to eat, making what is already pretty challenging to heal from, even more so. I just don’t think it’s constructive to think of it this way.

No Self-Control?
About self-control, I know you have self control. If you didn’t have self-control, you’d probably call out of work more often than not. You’d probably tell off your boss, your child’s teacher, the lady yapping on her cell phone while being rung up by the cashier. You’d run red lights, you’d rip open presents under the Christmas tree before Christmas day, you’d rip off your shirt in public when hot etc.

I’m sure you can think of 5 things you’ve already done or not done today that exhibited remarkable self-control. What we want to do vs. what life/society/we expect of ourselves. It’s a tough thing to juggle but yet we manage to do it most of the time in many areas of our lives. You do it daily with many of your food choices too, don’t you?

If Johnny Depp or Christoph Waltz walked into the room I am in right now, I know I would be able to stop myself from ripping either of their clothes off (although if they initiated, I might talk to the husband about getting a hall pass). Can I say the same thing about a box of cheez-its? It’s debatable. I’m sure I’ve said I couldn’t control myself around them before – I like to joke about it. But I know it’s not really about being able to control myself. I know I can control myself – but if the right (or wrong) circumstances align themselves, I’m less likely to be willing to use my self-control (that I know I have). I’m sure this is true for you.

If we remove thinking of ourselves as food addicts or of having a lack of self control from the equation, what we are left with is the real reason you are having such a difficult time stopping yourself from eating.  It’s because of what the act of eating is giving you.

Eating is giving you something. What is it?
Consciously or unconsciously, you probably view eating as comfort, joy, safety, love. You may feel that you “deserve” to eat this food or the time you have to yourself while eating it. It’s like a friend you feel safe talking to at the end of a long day. Eating is about getting enough of something that you are not getting elsewhere in your life. You are hungry for something in your life – and it’s not food – but food is currently filling the place of whatever it is you crave.

You can’t give up overeating or bingeing because it’s one of the ways you “treat” yourself. It’s one of the ways you care for yourself. It’s one of the few things you do for you and not for anyone else. It’s, in a way, a gift you give to yourself.

I know you’re reading this right now both agreeing with this idea and going “no way, that’s fucked up! Why would I comfort myself with something that is causing me so much pain?”

Exactly. Why are you choosing to comfort yourself with something that causes you so much pain?

Well, on the most basic level, humans are born and bred to seek comfort. In ancient times, we had to focus on making sure all our immediate needs were met – food, shelter, warmth. Having those needs satisfied brought comfort and allowed us as a species to relax a little. Today, more of our immediate needs are met much more easily than they used to be, but we’re still wired to seek comfort and food is one of those things that we still associate with that feeling.

Food isn’t the enemy. It’s the opposite. You’re choosing to eat because you think you are doing something loving and caring for yourself.

The next time you have the urge to overeat or binge, can you think of something else you could do to feel comforted? Loved? Cared for?

This is not a failing on your part – we are wired to protect ourselves in this way. Can you feel compassion for yourself for choosing food as comfort? Why or why not? I sometimes find that if compassion doesn’t want to come out, it helps to think of how I would react if it was a young child dealing with this, or even a really good friend. Thinking of someone I am naturally more forgiving towards, helps me find compassion for myself.

What in your life is causing you to seek comfort, love or caring? Often we choose food for comfort because we are hurting in another place in our life. Work is stressful. You’re lonely. You don’t receive enough human touch. You don’t have a creative outlet. You never attempted to have a career in X even though it was always your dream etc. There is an area that needs your attention and it is communicating that through your desire for food.

How do we begin to handle this and stop seeing food as an enemy and ourselves as out of control addicts? With curiosity and compassion.

Sit in a quiet place, when you have some time to be alone and ask yourself these questions – out loud or write it down on paper (please):

  1.  What gift am I trying to give myself through food?
  2.  What am I really hungry for?
  3.  How can I get that hunger fed in a more satisfying way?

Don’t be surprised if answering those gets you feeling a little emotional (it’s not uncommon to let out some tears with this stuff!). After you’ve answered those questions and identified how you are truly trying to care for yourself, I ask that you give yourself permission to go after what you are really hungry for. Don’t worry about how you’re going to make it happen right now (we’ll figure that out later). Don’t think of the reasons why you think it’s not possible or practical. Right now, just say “yes. I can have that. I give myself permission to have that in my life.”

You deserve love. Human touch. Creativity. Inspiring work. A connected existence. Quiet time. Acceptance. A little selfishness. Whatever else your heart desires.

Tell yourself you can have it and begin to dream about what life will be like when you do.

If this speaks to you, you are my people (and I’d love it if you submitted your email below). I’m an emotional eating coach who’s struggled with this stuff herself and I’d love to support you in cultivating more compassion for yourself.

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