Just as physical hunger is the signal for us to eat, and thirst is the single for us to drink water, loneliness is a signal for us to seek connection. Unfortunately, what keeps so many people stuck from seeking the connection and support they need is shame. Shame is the belief that inherently there is something wrong and broken with us and therefore we are unworthy of true love and belonging. This differs from guilt, which is a signal that we have acted out of alignment of our values. While guilt says we’ve done something bad or wrong (that could be changed), shame insidiously tells us we are bad or wrong.
The cycle so often goes like this for food and so many other addictive-type behaviors:
Feel intense loneliness and shame —> binge eat —> isolate oneself and feel more lonely and shameful —> continue binge eating
I’ve seen from my experience and that of my clients that feeling out-of-control with food in itself is painful. Add on top of that feeling like you’re alone and the only one struggling with the issue and the experience can be excruciating.
Last year, I attended a talk by Allison Kinnear, the owner of a Voice of her Own and an amazing coach for women leaders. In her talk to busy, high-achieving women, she spoke about the importance of self-care to fuel yourself. I find for my clients when they prioritize their self-care not only do they feel happier, more energized, and calm but inevitably those around them get to benefit.
There was one particular exercise Allison led the participants through that I particularly loved. It was an incredibly simple question that I think can help you distinguish between when a habit, such as eating, is beneficial for you and when it is detrimental.
One key question to begin healing your relationship with food is:
When I ask my clients to food journal we often see a common pattern in non-hunger, problematic eating. The good news with this is that because it’s often a habit, it’s predictable and therefore easier to anticipate and plan for. While you may consciously wish you weren’t eating mindlessly in these times, a part of you is getting a need met. There is always a “gift,” a positive intention being met. Once you know what positive intention is being met, it becomes easier to replace that routine.
Do any of these patterns describe you? Here’s the real need and some suggestions on how to meet the need without using food.
A few years ago, I was at Vegetarian Fest in Seattle where a vegan chef and author, Alan Roettinger shared what he believed it meant to truly love someone or something. He shared that when he fell in love with his wife, he found himself paying attention so intently on how she moved, what she said, and what she did. To him, to love meant to give complete focus and intention. He brought that same focus to the food he made with love.
“I wish I could stop eating, but I just love food too much!” I am guilty of uttering these words and have heard them countless times from friends and clients, who deep down are frustrated with the weight loss process. Chances are though if you identify as an emotional eater or someone who is overweight, you probably don’t pay much attention to your food or at all. In fact, you may find that you eat distracted perhaps in front of your phone or the TV. Perhaps you may find that you are using food to go unconscious and to soothe, as is common in emotional eating.
So what if you agreed with Alan Roettinger’s definition of what it means “to love.” What would it look like to truly love food? Perhaps you would make your meal times special. Perhaps you would place the food nicely on the plate, focus fully on how the food tastes, and be grateful for what it provides you.
I remember my dieting days. I totally blew my eating plan on Thursday, so naturally, I had to wait till Monday to start again. Or, I’d go on my own crash course plan living off of green vegetables to make up for the damage. I got excited with each new diet or fad that promised me my bikini body by summer or that I would be beautiful and flawless like the models in the fitness magazines. But then, school would get stressful or I would give into a sugar craving, and I found myself giving up, binging, and returning to that familiar dark place.
For me and for many of my clients, I find that saddest part of emotional eating cycle is not necessarily the weight or physical pain from overeating but that you lose trust in yourself. After all, if you’ve broken promise after promise to yourself, what’s to say this time will be any different. You get hopeless. You stop trying.
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results." - Albert EinsteinAlbert Einst
I don’t believe that diets are necessarily bad – in fact the structure and guidance they provide can be quite helpful for many people. However, having the plan is just one part of the puzzle. Addressing the root causes of overeating and your motivations for change are key.