By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
It didn’t take long for me to notice that I was different than most of my friends. (At least the ones I was constantly comparing myself to!) Beginning in early adolescence, I noticed that my friends somehow seemed to be able to have one or two drinks, one or two bong hits, one or two late nights and one or two cookies. Not me. One or two of anything typically led me to overdo everything.
I will spare you the long, detailed saga, but suffice it to say that my inability to be moderate with substances led me down a path of addiction and depression that would last for many years.
To other people, I was the one who could handle the most shots, the most partying and the most all-nighters. But internally, my soundtrack was grim. I hated myself. My blackouts were getting more frequent, and my secret life of bulimia led to some of my darkest days (and nights) of despair.
Thanks to enormous amounts of help, grace and willingness, I was eventually able to let go of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes… and perfectionism. I did, however, need to keep eating. This one was a toughie and anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder can attest to that. So, for a few decades, I continued to ride the diet/riot roller coaster, attempting to eat only the foods our culture deems “good” until the dam would break and the bingeing began. My weight fluctuated constantly, right along with my self-worth, and while I remained extremely grateful to be clean and sober, I continued to be imprisoned by food and body obsession. I tried cutting out certain foods and I tried the eating-whatever-I-wanted-whenever-I-wanted plan. Neither brought me freedom, peace or health.
Alas the day came in my recovery when I decided that despite decades of cultural brainwashing to the contrary, I needed to strike the food rule madness from my internal record, and create all foods equal. Of course, all foods are not nutritionally equal, but when I, for example, let go of thinking cookies are bad and kale is good, I was able to begin inquiring about what my body was truly hungry for. When I also became willing to face, feel and feed my emotional and spiritual hungers, it became easier to know what and how much my body was physically needing.
I used to approach my meals from one of two positions: restrict to try to lose weight, or rebel and eat everything in sight. Then I decided to do what I refer to as “the biggest do-over of my life.” I began to approach food with honest internal inquiry: Am I truly physically hungry? What is my body (vs. my rebel or my restrictor) truly craving?
Some people on the path of making peace with food choose Intuitive Eating as their goal. This means they strive to listen to their physical hunger and fullness cues and let go of dieting mentality. Some find this path too vague and need to have a more concrete “food plan.” I refer to this as finding your “Live-it” (as opposed to a die-it!) Some people need to stay away from certain foods because they simply don’t feel well when they eat them. Some people find it helps to commit to a certain amount of meals and snacks each day and then work on not restricting or rebelling.
Regardless of the path you take, if you have been struggling with strict dieting and/or rebellious bingeing, your answers live deep inside your heart. You might not be able to hear them yet, but your inner wisdom knows how to feed yourself. You were born with this intuition. Children don’t automatically think there are “breakfast foods” or “lunchtimes,” “good” or “bad” foods, or “good” or “bad” body shapes. They learn it all.
Conscious eating requires a moment-to-moment awareness of what your true feelings and needs are, what your body is actually hungry for and what is honestly the right amount for your body at that time. And unlike what the diet industry will tell you, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Dessert might feel like a loving choice for you in one instance and not a loving choice in another. You might want sushi and a cookie for breakfast one day or an omelette and toast for dinner one night. Your body can be trusted more than your brainwashed mind.
So, while it’s true that you can stop using drugs or alcohol but you can’t just stop eating, you can stop restricting and/or overeating and you can stop making your food choices based on self-hate. You can learn to eat the foods you love in moderation and tolerate your emotions when food is calling and your bodies tank is already filled. You can achieve your natural weight without dieting and you can learn to accept your body at its natural state. And you can learn new ways to get sweetness, comfort and fulfillment in your life.