I've written about emotional eating before and, just so we're all on the same page, I still haven't conquered it. I am taking steps to figure out why, though, after a pretty good day at work and a great workout I still allow food and drink to sabotage all that I'm working toward. Why mindless eating takes precedent over sticking to what I've put my mind up to, which is to finally rid myself of the physical weight that weighs heavily on me mentally. Why a taste is never enough and I end up throwing a full day's work in the trash in one hour of eating.
As I stumbled through programs on On Demand trying to find something to watch as I worked, I figured I should probably take a break from other people's reality and see if I could improve my own. I decided Oprah could probably help me so I clicked on her "Super Soul Sunday" series and came across an episode with Geneen Roth, author of Women, Food and God. Within four minutes of the program she'd pinpointed my problem. "Compulsive eating," she told Oprah, "is an attempt to avoid the absence of love, of comfort, of knowing what to do." In short, when you don't want to feel that sensation of lacking, you engage in other activities that provide satisfaction, albeit temporarily so, and for many of us that activity is food.
That truth wasn't necessarily a revelation as much as it was a reminder for me, as I realized a couple of years ago that I was misusing food. What I couldn't understand was why this continued to be a consistent issue. I could feel great all day then, like the song says, "'round midnight (or 8 or 9 pm) I'm feeling sad" (and fake hungry). According to Roth, that's because that person seeking food isn't really me or "I;" It's the you that feels left out. The you she calls ghost children.
As Oprah explained it, these are the parts of ourselves that were developed in the early years of our lives. The unhealed parts that believe we're not enough because somewhere in life we didn't get what we needed so we try to meet those unmet needs with food. Ghost children are the stories we repeatedly tell ourselves: I'm not good enough; I'm unlovable; I'm not worthy. The parts of ourselves we want comforted. And because food is meant to fuel our bodies and not our minds or hearts, it's never enough. And the cycle of destruction never ends.
So what's the anecdote? "Welcoming the parts of ourselves that are unloved," Rothe said. "Be unspeakably kind to yourself and to that which turns to food." In other words, be the comfort to yourself that you've been using food for.
Second, you have to set an intention to heal. When a craving to turn to food for any other reason than hunger hits, take a moment to figure out what triggered that urge to binge. Know in that moment that's not the real you that wants to give in to the compulsion. It's the hurt you, the part of you that sees life through "loops of lack," as Roth put it, and is focused on what you don't have instead of all that you do. Don't give in to that broken part of you, be the whole who knows putting something in your mouth won't feed your spirit.
Finally, practice simple gratitude for your body. The more you appreciate how your body physically carries you through life, the more you'll realize feeding it good things is an act of thankfulness, and that inundating it with trash demonstrates quite the opposite.
The reality is that, initially, as you're trying to get a hold on this emotional eating thing, every single moment of every single day you're going to have to make a conscious choice not to allow yourself to eat unconsciously. It's like when you first start working out and you have to drag yourself to the gym and make a choice to put exercise before other extracurriculars. The more you make that choice, the less it becomes a "thing" and the more it's simply now your lifestyle. You eat mindfully because you're living in the now and not in the hurt of the past.