i could eat a house. day #13.

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.

Day ten.

“Creamy Mug of Warming Deliciousness”

I know, I skipped a few days.  I wrote them in my journal, and rather than continuing to put off posting again until I have the energy and interest to type them up, I am going to skip to today’s entry, to real-time.

I have started going to bed or laying down whenever I find myself wondering if I am hungry or not.  Cuddled cozily under my down comforter, between my flannel sheets, I feel safe.  Any phantom hunger pangs brought on by anxiety or boredom or other emotional or mental disturbances seem to float away when I give myself permission to take complete and utter care of myself.  Then, from the depths of my downy nest, I can tune into my body and ask it what it wants.  “Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Would you really just love a nap and that is why you are reaching for the jar of nuts, or the leftover birthday cake?”

Post nap, I check in with my belly again and can very clearly feel that, yes, I am hungry!  It is such a victory to be able to sense and know for sure that I am hungry.  My body wants food.  After many years of using and confusing all sorts of other cues with physical hunger for food, I am beginning to recognize and distinguish this feeling again.  There is no doubt in my mind or in my grumbling tummy.  It’s time for lunch.  So that is what I shall give it!

——–

It’s the first day of my moon time today, the beginning of my womanly cycle and I find myself craving rest and comfort.  After lunch, I sit at the table and read one of my favorite cookbooks for a while, The Healthy Hedonist by Myra Kornfeld, and then I acknowledge that really all I want to do is go back to bed.

There is nothing like sitting in the sun on a Saturday afternoon, sipping a cup of turmeric tea (my new favorite hot drink, aka, “Creamy Mug of Warming Deliciousness”), and then crawling into bed to take an afternoon nap.  Especially a second afternoon nap.

Moontime Reflections

It’s the end of the third day of my moon time.  I find myself with the same slow tempo in my brain and body that I experienced for the last week or so, but the tune of my thoughts have changed. And the way my body feels, is lighter.  It’s like tonight’s strong breeze, rattling the window panes and rushing from the trees, has helped to change the weather in my mind.  After almost 20 years of experiencing this monthly cycle of hormonal changes and its resulting emotional roller coaster, I am finally beginning to come to some peace around it.

I knew, last week, that even though I wanted to eat every single thing in my pantry and refrigerator, especially the extra fatty, carby, sweet options, that I wouldn’t always feel this way [why do we crave the carbs so much before menstruation?].  I knew that the red tide would come in, as the moon grew dark, and all of a sudden I would feel differently.  My hormones would swing back the other way, my body would loose its bloated hold on weight and water, my energy would begin to return, growing with the moon, and all of a sudden, my appetite would be gone. I would find myself poised at the fridge, ready to consume large quantities of food, only to notice that I wasn’t, in fact, hungry.  That I felt satisfied, full, but not bloated.

A few years ago, when I was feeling particularly challenged by my goal of healing my emotional, compulsive eating self, I would find myself so disappointed at this period of my cycle.  After a week or two of craving and giving in to my cravings and getting to binge and drown and numb myself in delicious treats, all of a sudden I would find there was barely room in my belly.  That it no longer worked to substitute food for comfort because I didn’t want to eat. For a couple days after my cycle begun again, I would serve myself huge quantities of food only to remember, oh yeah, I don’t need to eat as much anymore – in fact, I literally can’t.

Dr. Christiane Northrup, in her book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, shares insight about the details of the menstrual cycle. She explains the way our hormones change throughout the month, and the way that these changes usually affect women during each part of cycle.  I had already been tracking this change for myself for about five years before I discovered her book, and I no longer let it bother me when I found myself feeling low around day 7 or so, or when I was ready to cry at the drop of a hat and incapable of using my brain to form coherent sentences around days 23-28, but I hadn’t quite realized to what extent I could put the knowledge of my cycle to good use  Now, after reading Christiane’s description of the changes, I can look forward to planning for creative and written endeavors in the first couple weeks of my cycle – the time from menstruation through ovulation.  It is a great time to begin new projects (as we are very literally growing an egg), with mental and emotional creativity at its peak.  This is also a time when I know I will feel connected to the world and the people around me.  It is fun to plan to attend a party or gathering around the time of ovulation because I know I will feel beautiful and out-going.

A few days after the social butterfly feelings of ovulation have passed, I find myself slowly starting to draw inward.  I begin to feel disconnected from my left, or logic, brain and find myself a little more emotional. I also find it is easier to go through my closets a few days before my flow because my thinking brain isn’t around to talk me out of getting rid of this or that wretched garment that I never wear, but “might need some day”. It is not a good time to communicate with others about complicated or touchy issues (I find myself very short on patience), or to write eloquent essays, or to design gardens.  I remember one summer afternoon a couple of years ago, I had offered to help my mom work in the garden.  She was looking for input on where to plant this or that, and I realized that all I could do was dig – I had no brain power for making any decisions whatsoever.

On the other hand, it does seem to be a good time to tune into and unearth the way I am really feeling about important areas of my life.  I seem to have access to my deeper feelings and unconscious parts of myself.  It is an opportunity to look at meaningful issues that I have not wanted to look at, a good time to tune in and allow myself to rest and reflect.  I find that this tuning in doesn’t even take much effort – just space, an allowing and an intention to know my deeper self.

The moon is two days full of a fingernail crescent tonight.  It’s 9:40 and I am ready for bed.  I feel connected to the world around me, and trust that all things will unfold as they need to.  Even with the wind whooshing restlessly outside, and my small apartment swallowed by the chaos of an imminent move, I feel at peace.  I give myself permission to  leave the dishes until morning and tuck myself tenderly into bed.