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.
I’m sitting her in a coffee shop where I just enjoyed some tea and a cupcake (gluten-free for me ;), having fully enjoyed experience of eating. To think, in the past I feared cupcakes and would avoid them at all costs…
Flashback to 2013….I remember a particular morning I woke up, feeling bloated and disgusted with myself. I had binged the night before going completely mindless with food. For me, binge eating started as an occasional occurrence in middle and high school, but once I started my first year of college, it had become an daily nightmare. I was in my 4th year of college at the time, which had been incredibly stressful with the number of classes I was taking, trying to balance my extracurriculars and social life, and uncertainty about my future career.
I look back with compassion on the writings of my younger self. I wish someone could have told her that overcoming binge eating wouldn’t always be a linear process. There were some days I would learn a new concept or tool and do really well my eating. “Yes!!! Finally! I’d tell myself… this is the answer.” Inevitably, the new “diet high” would wear off and I would be back to where I started. Then I’d beat myself up and wonder if something was wrong with me or even binge to escape the sense of unworthiness I felt.
Looking back, I wish someone had told me to be gentle with myself. After all, I was doing my very best. I wish someone had told me that change and healing isn’t always linear. At the time, I think it’s something I understood theoretically but didn’t fully embody especially having come from a culture and expectation of “Straight A’s” all the time.
So let me tell you this, if you struggle with the dieting-binge eating-repeat cycle, there is nothing wrong with you. You just need a better understanding of yourself and your biology.
So whatever your relationship status, I invite you to use this Valentine’s Day to prioritize the most important relationship of all, your relationship with yourself! After all, even if you are in a relationship or not yet in a relationship and looking for one, you will still always have your relationship to yourself that will serve the basis of how you connect to and relate with others. Make today a day to practice self-love.
So how do you do this? Here are 3 practical ideas on how you can show yourself love today:
I remember being in a job interview when the interviewer asked me:
“What is your greatest weakness?”
I’d smile back, so pleased to answer the question I know how to answer so well:
“I’m a perfectionist….I set high standards for myself and others. I achieve a lot but then can often get frustrated if things aren’t going as planned.”
Well, the part I’d withhold is the depth of the frustration - how this inner perfectionist never ever is truly satisfied. How even if I achieve one thing, the goal line keeps moving further and further. How sometimes this inner perfectionist makes me take on more than I can chew or say that I don’t want to complete something or deliver because I’m/it’s “not ready yet.”
While perfectionism can be great to help us to strive and achieve more, on the shadow side, perfectionism can be maddening. It can cause us to hold impossible expectations for ourselves that are more about keeping us safe and protected vs. driving us to grow. In this way, perfectionism in fact is an insidious coping mechanism that can stop us from realizing our goals and full potential.
If you relate to this at all, make this your new mantra:
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.