Can you remember a time . . . when life was as it was . . . was enough? When you were enough–not because of what you looked like or what you did, but just because everything was the way it was? Nothing was wrong. When you were sad, you cried and then it was over. You were back to a fundamental feeling of positivity, of goodness, just because you were alive. What if you could live that way now? And what if your relationship with food was the doorway? —Geneen Roth
Food is a big issue for so many women today. Food comes with heavy baggage. It represents mother love, soothing comfort, blissful fullness. It teases us and tantalizes our senses. We reach for it when we are lonely, sad, afraid, depressed, bored, happy, excited, elated. It is the focus of all our celebrations: weddings, graduations, birthday and anniversary parties, bar and bat mitzvah’s. We show up with food when we visit the sick, the lonely, the bereaved.Â Is it no wonder then that we see food as the loving mother in the sky? There to comfort us with her heavy, starchy arms.Â And even though I know all this . . . I often still reach for food after dinner when my stomach is still full from my chicken and sweet potato and green bean dinner.
Some days I have the gift of awareness. I stop for a minute and ask myself why I am reaching for the candy bar when my stomach is satisfied from the dinner I ate an hour ago? And when I take that minute to check in it hits me that there is something I am trying to run away from. My hand on the chocolate bar, I ask myself, “What am I not facing right now?” Sometimes I am not sure. So, I breathe and ask myself where the discomfort is in my body. I can feel it in my neck and shoulders. And I breathe into it . . . it is thick and jagged and gray . . . like a pile of twigs. And then it comes to me, “I am worried about my friend who is sick. I can’t bear to see her hurting.” And I know that a big part of me wants to run from the pain I am feeling. Wants NOT to face it. Wants to smother the discomfort with chocolate.Â But instead I allow myself to feel it. It is scary and sad and uncomfortable. I am angry at a God who would give her this illness. I am worried about her future. I am worried about my future without her. And I sit and cry. And I may even journal about my pain or talk to a friend. And I realize in a strange way I feel liberated. This pain will not kill me. I can bear it. I no longer need the chocolate bar.
Geneen Roth in her book, Women Food and God, says that “You will notice that when you don’t use food to shut yourself down, to leave your body, you feel more alive. That feeling anything, even grief, is different from what you thought it would be. That when you don’t leave yourself, a different life is lived. One that includes vulnerability, and tenderness and fragility and changes the landscape–makes it verdant, wider, more breathtaking.”
In using food to soothe myself, I am creating more problems for myself. The more I fill myself up with food, the less connected I am with myself and the heavier and more uncomfortable I become. And then the more I don’t love myself at all.
Awareness is the beginning of transformation. The awareness that stuffing myself with food allows me a temporary shelter from pain. The awareness that allowing myself to feel the feelings will offer me a wonderful freedom: the freedom of connecting with myself, the freedom of being more open and vulnerable and alive.Â It seems to me that when we connect more to our feelings we can begin the journey of self-love. Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance, says that we are all in what she calls “the trance of unworthiness”. She writes “We free ourselves from the prison of trance as we stop the war against ourselves and instead, learn to relate to our lives with a wise and compassionate heart.” Accepting ourselves as we are allows us to live more easily and authentically in the world.Â And when we love something we want to care for it tenderly and carefully.Â We want to feed it foods that nourish and sustain it. When we love and accept ourselves we understand that we are not perfect and are okay with that. We understand that it is our imperfections that allow us to connect easily with others. Do you remember that picture perfect girl in high school who everyone kept at arms length because it really was not fun or easy to be friends with someone who was that perfect? Who could ever measure up to that?
When we love ourselves, we become aware of the critical voice inside of us that tells us we are not smart enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not any single thing enough actually. As we begin to notice this voice . . . we realize we do not have to let it rule us. We can understand that the voice is coming from a story we are telling ourselves and it is not the truth of who we really are.
So what if we talk back to the Critic? Like the feisty little girl on the playground who says, “You are not the boss of me! I am good enough! I am pretty enough! I am worthy and deserving!”Â And then you can begin to act as if. Act as if there is an invisible crown on your head. . . not in a snooty, self-indulgent way, but in a proud, “I am okay, you are okay,” kind of way. Pamper yourself. Buy yourself flowers. Surround yourself with colors, textures, scents. Buy a lovely journal. Play soothing music. Take a bubble bath. Make yourself a delicious, nourishing dinner and slowly enjoy every bite.
Geneen Roth in her book, Women, Food and God, says, “If you pay attention to yourself, you notice the difference between being tired and being hungry. Between being satisfied and being full. Between wanting to scream and wanting to eat. The more you pay attention, the more you fall in love with that which is not obsessed; that which is blazing itself through you. The life force that animates your body. Food becomes a way to sustain that blaze and any way of eating that keeps you depressed or spaced out or uncomfortable loses its appeal.”
Loving-kindness to yourself really matters. The kindness that allows you to feel your feelings instead of run away from them, the kindness that allows you to treat yourself as you would a beloved friend, the kindness that allows you to live life in all of its magnificence.
Brenda Strausz in a holistic psychotherapist in the Metro Detroit area who specializes in women’s issues. She can be contacted at 248-231-4504, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.BrendaStrausz.com