Ok, that sounds totally weird, but let me explain.
The other day I was talking to my mother on the phone and I reached for a piece of chocolate. I opened up the sweet little bite of goodness in shiny foil and popped it into my mouth. The conversation with mom continued.
Now, my mom is 84 years old, in poor health, and lives in an adult family home in LA, 1000 miles away. There was nothing about this particular conversation that was overtly disturbing, and it wasn’t a particularly long phone call. Keep that in mind.
Before the end of our talk, I realized that the piece of chocolate was long gone…but worse: I hadn’t tasted it at all! In fact, I didn’t even consciously choose to have the chocolate when I reached for it. Hmm.
I’ve been doing this work for 25 years, and I can say with honesty and certainty that my personal journey continues. I have no shame around that anymore because I truly believe that this work is, not only challenging at its core, but also an everyday challenge in that—you guessed it—we have to eat everyday! We all go through SO MUCH in our lives that can lead us back to a place that we know will bring comfort and relief. For many, including me, that place is—food.
As a younger therapist, working with women with eating issues, I used to think there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have all my shit together. I felt like a charlatan, an imposter, a snake oil saleswoman. The truth is, my own journey, and doing my own work, has helped me to help others. And getting off the perfectionism express train was essential.
There is no perfect recovery. There is only your honest, courageous, willing, beautiful self– moving forward at a pace that is doable and sustainable, and authentically yours.
So there I was, in my kitchen, talking to my mom on the phone and realizing what had just happened. After our conversation ended, I knew right away what I had to promise myself: Never eat chocolate when you’re talking to mom.
Why? Talking to my mother is painful. It brings up ambiguous loss and grief, memories, and anxiety. As tough as it is, I need to keep doing myself the favor of actually feeling those things– working through what is painful, and finding some peace where I can. When I put the piece of chocolate in my mouth, I was seeking that comfort and peace. My old brain pattern: eating chocolate=feeling better was activated once again. I don’t begrudge my brain for this. There’s history there. But I know it doesn’t really work long term. I’m still left with the end of the conversation, and the decline of my mother.
And on a lighter note, I’d so much rather choose the chocolate at a time when I can be fully aware of that wonderful, creamy, sweet taste in my mouth. I want to enjoy it in its entirety, mindfully, blissfully, from the second I put it into my mouth, until it melts away.
Is there anyone in your life that triggers painful emotions? That would be pretty darn normal! Sometimes it’s very subtle and you might not realize that you’re feeling discomfort, but you might notice a pattern.
After an interaction with that certain someone you’re on autopilot eating.
Next time you notice this happening, try to connect with a feeling. You might even start by noticing a feeling in your body: Agitated? Nervous tummy? Tightness in your neck and jaw? Feel like crying but not sure why?
Stay with it for a little longer… Tummy ache? Can you listen to your heart now? See if you can identify an emotion. Try to name it. Maybe it’s grief, or fear. Perhaps it’s anger that is covering up hurt feelings…Acknowledge it. It’s ok.
Open to the possibility that you might be eating to soothe an emotion. Just realizing this is freeing.
It won’t always be an interaction with a person that will set emotional eating into action, but it’s a good reminder that it might be.
Part of the freedom is in knowing, really getting, that it’s not about lack of willpower or something about you that’s awful. It’s about life being hard sometimes, relationships being complicated, and you being human.
Find a way to work through the emotion with gentleness and compassion. Give yourself permission to take the time and space to experience it—write about it, give it some air time and talk about it, breathe. Get the support you need. Again, with compassion.
Be gentle with yourself. Always. And know that you are loved.
This week’s journal prompt:
In what ways am I/can I be gentle with myself?