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Thursday, February 28, 2013

from dark into light

Let me say that this post takes a tremendous amount of courage to publish.  I am doing so partly to be real and honest about who and where I am, but also to give strength to anyone else who may be searching for something more.

In January I called a truce with myself.   The past month has been one of remarkable change, daily awarenesses of who I am and what I need to be doing, gentle shifts and massive epiphanies.

I have read and reread Geneen Roth's Women, Food and God which was what convinced me to not go back on Weight Watchers after a recent weight gain but to really be brave about looking deeper at what is going on with how I eat and how I feel about my body.  I read it again.  I felt I needed more guidance so I got on Amazon and ordered a bunch of her other books. 

These days you can find me sitting in the cozy recliner next to the wood stove and a big window reading and searching my soul.

I'm not even kidding.  I hardly recognize myself in the past few weeks.  I am finding space for myself, giving myself a much needed break (about 36 years worth in fact) and making my own self-discovery high on my priority list. 

I know, who has time for this right?  Well, it turns out I do.  It is amazing what you can find time for when your soul's future is on the line.

It would be impossible for me to tell you how amazing Geneen Roth is.  You would have to read her books to find out.  But let me give you the basic premise of her work to put my own story in context.

Geneen Roth gained and lost over 1000 pounds in her life before she became so desperate she knew she had to find another way. She stopped dieting and began to form a bridge back to herself, away from the punishment and judgement of the diet cycle. She decided to find out if she could learn to trust herself again. She has been at a normal weight for years and writes and teaches workshops to help others "break free."

Roth's basic premise is that emotional eating and the guilt and self-judgement that accompany it, the unending quest to change our bodies and beat ourselves into submission regarding what we eat is a way that we escape ourselves and our lives over and over again.  In Women, Food and God she writes: "our relationship to food is is an exact microcosm of our relationship to life itself.  I believe we are walking, talking expressions of our deepest convictions; everything we believe about love, fear, transformation and God is revealed in how, when and what we eat."

Here are the basic five eating guidelines that she developed from her own journey:

1. Eat when you are hungry.

2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.

3. Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, TV, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety provoking conversation or music.

4.  Eat what your body wants.

5. Eat until you are satisfied.

6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.

7.  Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.

It sounds wonderful right? Powdered donuts for breakfast, french fries for lunch and hot fudge sundaes for supper?

Let me tell you, though, it is wildly uncomfortable.

For those of us who have lived their lives struggling to achieve the ideal body weight or manage our eating, it is downright terrifying to entertain the idea that the way to put out the fire is to walk head on into it. 

Turns out I far prefer a strict set of dos and don'ts, a careful equation of eat this and lose weight, eat that and gain it. There is tremendous security in a diet laid out by someone else.  It takes a great deal of trust to let go of calories and points.  Not to mention it is a little dicey to begin to trust yourself  when your hunger for things like chocolate feel endless and you feel you could eat a house if it were made out of chocolate.  Okay, maybe not an entire house, but for surely a small shed.

In many ways my eating itself is way less disordered than it has been at other points in my life. Yet, the constant obsession with what I'm eating and how it is going to affect how my pants fit has brought me to my knees.  I have been plagued with a general sense of discontent and hopelessness. It makes me miserable, angry and stripes all the pleasure out of eating. I tighten up the belt, so to speak, so that I can work on this extra 10 pounds and then I feel so boxed in a corner, so deprived, that all I know to do is bust out of the chains. I will eat what I want. I will do what I want. And you can't tell me not to.

My entire life I have eaten according to a list of "good" or "bad" foods. It is not that I always eat the "good" foods, but when I eat what I considered "bad" foods, I did so guiltily, with little enjoyment and sometimes in secret. I rarely, if ever, have had a no-strings attached, pleasurable eating of something that I considered a "bad" food. Living my life in this good/bad dichotomy has meant that I have deprived myself of lots of actual food, or at the very least, deprived myself of any joy while eating them.

Geneen Roth extends such love and non-judgement in her work that I can't help but feel like a flower opening to the sun.  What would it be like to assume that you are doing what you do with food for a very good reason? What would it look like to embrace yourself as you are right now, as a worthwhile attention of your own time, rather than a project and a body that needs to shed 10, 20 or 40 pounds?  What would it be like to change my internal state of being so that the need for extra food disappears?  What if I accept that being thinner will mean that I have a slightly different body but I will still have the same insides that need my attention?  Because, honestly, when I was at my thinnest, I just wanted to be thinner.  It is the quest for this holy grail of happiness that keeps me entirely apart from being in my life in this moment. If I could just get down 5 more pounds....

When I read her words, I feel like I am almost reading a suspense novel.  Where is she going to go with this?  How is she going to get me out of the one?  Where I find loopholes and doubt, she has a needle and thread to patch things back together or a safety net on which I can land.  She is my guide on this dark journey, holding a flashlight and lighting my way.
Here are two passages from Women, Food and God that really speak to me:

"Diets are based on the unspoken fear that you are a madwoman, a food terrorist, a lunatic.  The promise of a diet is not only that you will have a different body; it is that you will have a different life.  If you hate yourself enough, you will love yourself.  If you torture yourself enough, you become a peaceful relaxed human being."

And this one from a chapter called, "Reteaching Loveliness:"

"Our work is not to change what you do, but to witness what you do with enough awareness, enough curiosity, enough tenderness that the lies and old decisions upon which the compulsion is based become apparent and fall away.  When you no longer believe that eating will save your life when you feel exhausted or overwhelmed or lonely, you will stop.  When you believe in yourself more than you believe in food, you will stop using food as if it were your only chance at not falling apart.  When the shape of your body no longer matches the shape of your beliefs, the weight disappears. 

You will stop turning to food when you start understanding in your body, not just your mind, that there is something better than turning to food.  And this time, when you lose weight, you will keep it off.  Truth, not force, does the work of ending compulsive eating,  Awareness, not deprivation, informs what you eat.  Presence, not shame, changes how you see yourself and what you rely on.

When you stop struggling, stop suffering, stop pushing and pulling yourself around food and your body, when you stop manipulating and controlling, when you actually relax and listen to the truth of what is there, something bigger than your fear will catch you. With repeated experiences of opening and ease, you learn to trust something infinitely more powerful than a set of rules that someone else made up: your own being."

Roth writes about stepping through the doorway of our issues with food to what is behind them.  Because food is really just the symptom of the bigger problem. The physical attempt to feed hunger is a failed one because, of course, the hunger I am trying to feed is not physical.  I have learned that I have not only deprived myself of real salad dressing and eating cheese but I have have also deprived myself from enjoyment, from rest, from indulgence, from contentment. It is all mirrored with food. I remember being on WW and eating an ice cream sundae without the ice cream (cool whip and diet chocolate sauce and a cherry...sad, so sad) because it was less points. It is like living a substitute life.

I am learning to treat myself with exquisite gentleness, to feel worthy of unproductiveness, to recognize my need to take a break and rest. I have stopped bullying myself.  I sit in quiet meditation and welcome myself back to the present moment 100 times a day.   I'm inhabiting my own body with love and kindness. I have banished self-judgement and extend to myself the kindness I give so freely to others. I live in my moments, even the tough ones, and am not using food or obsession with my body to escape. I notice the desire to eat when I'm not hungry and ask myself what I really need.  I am taking up space inside myself, in my life and not making any apologies. I'm not weighing myself but I would guess I'm staying right where I have been, only I feel so much lighter and freer.

So I'm eating chocolate chip cookies and ice cream (sometimes for lunch but only when I'm hungry) and enjoying them like a starving cast away eating at a buffet.  It is hard to describe the degree of deprivation and judgement I have had around food.  It is such a relief for it to be over. And you know what? Now that the stigma of "forbidden" has been removed and I can eat anything, I find I am more discriminating than I thought.  That two cookies is enough or cheap chocolate isn't that enjoyable and, when I have my own permission to eat them, I no longer want the entire batch.  I tell myself I can have more just as soon as I'm hungry again and the compulsion slips away. 

I feel like I have returned from exile and come home to myself.

The amazing awareness that this journey has brought, and one that is required for it to truly work, is PRESENCE.  Once again, Roth (in When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair) says it best:

"Every day we open our eyes, get out of bed, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, talk to our families, do our work.  And most of the time, our minds are somewhere else. When we get out of bed, we are thinking about something we should have done yesterday.  When we talk to our children, we are thinking about the phone call we need to make.  When we walk to the bathroom, we are thinking about the candy we shouldn't have eaten.  Or want to eat.  Or are going to eat.  Or how great our lies are going to be when we lose weight, or get a promotion, or fall in love.  Every day, in every moment, we spend our lives thinking about what we already did or are going to do, and we completely miss what we are doing.... This lack of attention leads to a tremendous hunger that we can't quite name, so we get fooled into thinking that it's for something we don't have yet instead of for something that is unfolding minute by minute, right in front of our eyes."

Presence is essential to this journey because it is only in the present moment than I can know if I am  hungry, know what I want to eat (or know on a non-physical level what I need), and know when I am satisified.  Because compulsion is about leaving the moment, presence is its antidote.  Being in my body, the body I have been at war with most of my life, paying attention to it in a loving, gentle manner, is the only way to care for live in a real and true way.

 And I know you must be thinking, how do you pull off eating cookies for lunch when you have kids?  Simple. It is called the "free meal".  Once a week we will have meal where each person can decide for herself what she wants to eat. No judgements allowed. (Roth's idea and perfect for our kids who I worry will internalize my food issues.) 

We had our first one Sunday.  As we set the table for crepes and ice cream and a bowl of Cocoa Puffs for Maya, I thought, if anyone who knows us comes in right now they are going to think we have lost our minds.  Then Trish and Brittany came in carrying a chocolate cream pie for us.  Now if that isn't providence I don't know what is. 

I'm pretty sure the kids thought we were messing with them and Ella looked prepared to have us say "just kidding!" right up until the moment she bit into her pie and dug her spoon into her ice cream.


 Chocolate for supper.  No forbidden foods anymore.  Freedom.

So the laundry can wait. The dust bunnies can roll on by. The school can (and always has) function without me. I am stepping off the hamster wheel and placing my feet squarely on the sand to oppose the rip tide.  No one is going to die if I sit in my chair by the fire and feed my soul.  You can find me, all of me, right there.


Willow @ My Own Trail said...

Wow...just wow! So much of what you wrote about your struggle describes me and my relationship with myself and food. I, too, have spent my life fixated on the "good" and "bad" foods and am constantly aware of what I am eating. I have decided that 2013 is going to be the year that I finally make peace with myself and learn how to just be, without letting myself get caught up in the thoughts of "If I just had," or "If I just were." I think it's because I am in the second half of my thirties, and I'm finally just tired. I'm tired of beating myself up and rushing through life. I'm tired of the stress and pressure and guilt. Sure, it manifests itself in a variety of ways, especially in my relationship with food and my body, but the root of it all is the fact that I need to let go and give myself a break. So, thank you so much for this post. You put into words exactly what I am/have been feeling, and I am beginning to understand what I need to do. I will definitely be checking out her books.

Katrina said...

Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us, Suz. Love you.

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