Revisiting my problem
Monday, August 09, 2010
Here's my honest, embarrassing, but necessary confession: I have gained a good deal of weight in the last six months. Probably about half of the 70 pounds I originally lost with the help of Sparkpeople - frankly, I'm not quite ready to look at the numbers. It happened slowly at first, then at a pace that was frighteningly rapid. Obviously, it's time to reevaluate my life as it relates to food and health.
So I've been reading some Geneen Roth, and it seems I'm a compulsive eater. I never thought of myself as a compulsive eater - those are the people who go to meetings, for goodness sake. But defined broadly (no pun intended), anyone who habitually eats when they're not hungry is a compulsive eater. That would be me, clearly, since if I ate only when hungry and stopped when I was satisfied, I would not be overweight at all, much less gaining weight like crazy.
I have searched for the answer to this issue of "emotional eating" ever since I adopted a healthier lifestyle almost 3 years ago, with no real success. The solution most people, including Sparkpeople experts, give is essentially distraction: when you feel upset or anxious or mad, do something else besides eat. Go get some exercise. Talk to a friend. Take a relaxing bath. As long as you don't eat to mask the feelings, it's OK to mask them in any other way you can invent.
But then there are still those pesky feelings. I'm discovering that pushing them away by eating, by escaping into a book or a computer game, by doing anything besides facing them, doesn't really solve the problem, does it? They are still there. They come back over and over, and I have to fight the same battle of distraction over and over ... and eventually, inevitably, I lose.
Geneen Roth's solution is unbelievably simple - and very scary. Face them, she says. Just sit with your feelings. Don't allow yourself to run away, don't numb them with food or anything else. Examine them, without trying to change them or make them go away. Just notice their color, their shape, their weight, how old you feel when you experience them directly. Give them space to be felt. At the same time, hear the stories you have told yourself about them, and recognize that the stories are not the same thing as the feelings. No, you will not fall to pieces if you let yourself feel that sadness. No, that anger will not consume you and burn you up if you don't bury it. Yes, you are strong enough to feel that grief, and yes, it will pass.
I have spent so many years keeping feelings at bay that this "solution" seems exponentially more difficult than the "problem" of eating when I'm not hungry. But in the end, I think, the eating is a symptom rather than the problem itself. Geneen Roth says that eating is so fundamental to our identities that it is a doorway through which we can discover amazing truths about ourselves. It's not a "problem" - it's a clue and an opportunity to figure out what drives us.
So I'm embarking on this journey again, at the moment without counting calories or making elaborate meal plans. I know what a healthy diet looks like, and I know what healthy habits help my body be its best. Right now I'm just going to listen to my body and my emotions and work on learning to distinguish between their very different wants and needs. It feels like flying without a net. But if I can't learn to trust myself, I'll never fly at all.