My body is constantly surprising me. When I really listen, it tells me that its needs are often different from what I expect them to be–they are different every day. I am not like a car that just needs gas and oil and water and I will go along happily. There is not a daily routine I have found that I can just follow and have my body respond positively. When I look back, though, there is often reason, there is often rhyme.
I have noticed that when I am not hungry, but for some reason I feel expected to eat (so food doesn’t go to waste, or because I am at a restaurant, or I have just cooked myself a delicious meal, or this is the only time in my day I have scheduled a break to eat), I find myself eating faster just to get the eating over with. I often don’t really even taste the food, and I certainly don’t enjoy it.
Sometimes in these cases I will even end up eating more than I would otherwise because I have no access to my “hunger-ometer”; it has been overridden, and therefore, the only direction that I have about when to stop eating is from my mind. “Ok, Lily, that should be enough food. You can stop eating now.” And because I am already doing something that is overriding my body’s requested/expressed needs, I am feeling anxious. And in the past, my go-to cure for anxiety has been… you guessed it, eating!
Eating because I am full also used to show up in scenarios like this one: I have eaten too much and feel stuffed and yucky and fat. All of a sudden, as I am having this uncomfortable experience of being over-stuffed, I have the thought, “Oh, I’ll be ok, I still have a half a chocolate chip cookie in my bag if I need it.” Need it for what?! What kind of bizarre program am I running in which my remedy for feeling stuffed is to eat a half a chocolate chip cookie, in which my answer to feeling stuffed is to eat more food?!
I realize that what my mind probably means when it thinks, “I will be fine” is that it has somewhere to escape to. It has some way to escape from feeling whatever uncomfortable thing it is experiencing that it doesn’t want to experience.
When Geneen Roth talks about why we eat compulsively, she suggests that it is because we either don’t want to feel what we are feeling, or don’t want to know something that we already know. In that half a cookie I could count on a moment or two of numbing relief, allowing me to escape from the actual experience I was having in my body. Eating it would allow me to check out of the present for a minute. The problem with this strategy was that once I had finished the last crumb, there I was, still feeling fat, and even a little bit more stuffed than before.
What I have finally begun to be able to do, though, is to be willing, little by little, to allow myself to feel what I am feeling. I have begun to realize that even super-uncomfortable feelings are not an actual threat to my well-being. While I used to perceive the act of feeling my feelings as a mysterious danger zone to be avoided at all costs, I now have practice in just being with them. I often can let them pass through me, breathing, and find myself still intact, and often in awe, on the other side.
What I know to do in situations like last night is to breathe. I know to sit or to write and to let myself sort out whatever craziness I have gotten worked up about. I know that the best thing to do, when I feel like I could eat everything in the whole house, is to pause. To take a minute or five or 30–however long it takes for me to slow my nervous system down, to get out of fight or flight mode, and to get clear about what I am actually experiencing. I can now recognize this kind of ravenous hunger as emotionally based, because no matter how hungry my body ever gets physically, it never imagines needing to eat more than a few courses before it will be satisfied.
My my mind, or whatever is in charge when my body isn’t running the show, is the one who thinks, feels, that it could eat everything in the house, and more, and even then is worried that it would still feel that emptiness inside or that perceived lack of the ability to get its needs met.
When I am, “so hungry I could eat a horse”, I ask myself what I would actually like to eat (assuming I haven’t already served myself a hunk of horse) and I prepare myself a meal. When I feel hungry enough to eat my whole house, and everything in it, I do my best to sit down and breathe. I have a glass of water, I get out my journal, or just simply sit, and I ask myself what it is I really want. What is my heart or my body really yearning for? It is my guess that there aren’t, in fact, many human bodies who would think that they actually need a whole house full of food to satisfy their physical hunger. It is only our emotional appetites that can feel that large.