My boyfriend and I have a deal; when we eat together, I’ll eat according to his dietary requirements so as not to derail his health goals and he’ll eat slowly so as not to derail my sobriety. You see, I used to be a compulsive, emotional eater, and a food addict. When most people hear “compulsive eater,” they typically imagine a soda-guzzling, multiple cheeseburger eating individual with mustard stains all over her enormous T-shirt. Now imagine a person whose “issues” with food are obvious and undeniable.
I was the sneaky type. If you had met me at the height of my food addiction, you likely never would have guessed. I’ve looked nearly the same since my high school graduation in 1997; long brown hair, big smile, and a slender figure. Even my best friends and family were unaware, and in some respect, so was I.
As I saw it, we all have problems. Some of us deal with our problems by seeking counsel, some write in journals, and some eat. I suppose it’s clear by now what my way of “dealing” was. I ate when I was sad, I ate when I was angry, I ate when I was confused, and I ate when I was bored. Food was my comfort and nothing felt more normal.
At my core, I felt empty and dissatisfied. I was starving and desperately searching for sustenance, while trying to avoid the pain of hunger. I “used” food (and later, drugs, shopping, work) to feel a sense of wholeness and satisfaction in my life in order to numb overwhelming emotions. To perpetuate my addiction, I felt ashamed for not feeling satisfied, while the emptiness fueled the consumption and shame fanned the flames.
No matter how hard I tried, though, the hole I felt in my core could never be filled by food, shoes or work. After all, I wasn’t desperate to feel full, I was desperate to feel whole. In my early 20s, after years of desperately seeking satisfaction, I stumbled into a major turning point in my life. My then-boyfriend and I had just separated. I wanted an escape, but this time I chose yoga as a worthy distraction from my pain. In retrospect, I was ready to “use” yoga, too, but what I received was nothing like I expected.
There on the mat, for the first time in memory, I had the experience of inhabiting my body. I could feel my heart beating and blood moving through my veins. I was alive in this body and it felt good. As I began to live in the simplest of ways by being present in my body, I began living in other ways, too. Before, life was a cycle of work-party-eat-repeat. Now, I was practicing yoga, painting, eating better, writing poetry, and studying environmental sustainability. As I began living and loving my life, I no longer felt the same emptiness. As I felt more whole, my compulsions diminished.
Within months of stepping into that first yoga class, I quit my highly-coveted job in the cosmetics industry and put myself through school, studying a whole foods based approach to nutrition. Eventually I went on to help other women heal emotional eating patterns. Over the last several years, I have peeled back more and more layers of disconnection and dissolution, revealing greater and greater levels of freedom. Each time I’ve expanded my freedom, I’ve been able to support other women in doing the same. I’ve seen the same results with the women I work with, watching freedom spread downstream.
Images courtesy of Foodaddictioninstitute.org, Yogaisyouth.com
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