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Emotional Eating ~ Addressing Trauma with Unconditional Love & Baby Steps

By Sumitra Judith Burton.  

I sat in my chair after eating a decent-sized meal, and suddenly an intense urge arose to have “something more.” Even though I was aware that my stomach was feeling comfortably full, there was this strong craving to keep eating. My belly clenched like a wet towel being wrung. Immediately I got up, went to the kitchen and grabbed that something more, brought it back to my chair and continued eating. This is an old, old story of my emotional eating.

Once again I had given in, and given up, to my addicted behavior. Once again, there was a simultaneous sense of comfort and an uneasiness about staying stuck in this old, addictive behavior (and perhaps increasingly damaging my body).

What if I didn’t immediately get something to eat when the craving arose? What horrendous impending danger was about to descend on me if I didn’t have something more to eat? What if I could stop (when the craving arose), take a few moments to notice the craving (thoughts, sensations), allow them to be felt and heard, and wait to see what might happen? Would I … explode, disappear, crumble into despair, die … what?

Food had become my fake best friend. It had felt like I could accomplish anything as long as I had food to manage my feelings and give me solace. I had given up on using willpower to force myself into compliant dieting, since this strategy had failed numerous times over the decades.

As I have worked with the Living Inquiries over the past few years, I have gradually adopted a commitment to treating myself with loving-kindness, and to use willingness rather than willpower to address my food cravings. My greatest fear was that, in giving up on disciplining myself, my weight would increase exponentially until I weighed 400 pounds. And yet there seemed to be no other path to take.

Following the guidance of the Kiloby Addiction Recovery program, I looked at the traumas experienced in my earlier years, allowed them to be triggered and the thoughts and sensations to be experienced rather than avoided or shoved into hiding. I had misunderstood “love” early on to mean always giving in to others’ desires and putting my own needs aside. This misunderstanding led in my 20s to a disastrous marriage that ended with 4 children and 2 nasty divorces (same husband). I was devastated and alone, seemed to have nothing left of myself, and I descended into a dark psychological hole.

As these old traumatic stories were allowed to come up and be experienced, with tenderness and curiosity, they gradually began to lose their grip, and the new paradigm of loving-kindness (unconditional love) began to strengthen. A few weeks ago I was surprised to realize a readiness and willingness to take a baby step towards addressing my emotional eating.

I decided to try a commitment to not eating after 8pm at night. This was partially due to my oldest son’s success in losing 50 pounds simply by not eating after dinner. I wasn’t going quite that far (to stopping right after dinner), but was curious to see if not eating a few hours before sleep would allow the excess weight to start dropping away. I was also having a lot of trouble with insomnia and wanted to see if going to bed with a less full belly would help with my sleep.

I gradually decided that this was a baby step I’d be willing to try – to stop and inquire when I noticed an urge/ craving to continue eating. I decided to try, and to not shame myself if I failed.

In the past few weeks I’ve had pretty good success with taking this step: not eating after 8pm in the evening. The words I’m learning to use to soothe myself go something like this, “Okay, my darling, [yes, I’m learning to talk to myself like that!), you are wanting to eat when you’re not hungry. What is it you really want?” And then to take time to listen for answers and to feel the sensations that seem to be stuck to the words, all with a sense of tenderness and curiosity.

The first night that I stopped when this urge arose, I noticed an intense contraction in my belly and a sense of fear and anger (panic) that my urge was being blocked. Instead of getting something to eat, I sat still and allowed the belly tightness to be felt. Soon the belly muscles began to ease, though a sense of urgency still remained in the heart area. As I allowed that to be felt, and softened to a sense of curiosity and tenderness holding the sensation, the feeling of urgency gradually came to rest as well.

I became aware of uneasiness around this transitional time in the evening – an uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty – as well as a desire for connection. As I stayed still with all of it, I settled into a sense of connection within myself – no need to find it outside in food or company or anything else.

I noticed the need to have something interesting to do at this transitional time in my evening, something I could focus on besides the craving for food. I got up and washed the dishes and then got involved in a creative art project. Several more times throughout the evening an urge to eat something arose, and a similar process ensued – noticing the urge, allowing it to be felt (with compassion), and waiting for it to pass.

As time has progressed since that first night, it’s become easier (most nights at least) to hold to this baby-step commitment. I remind myself that it’s for my own health and well-being to keep this commitment. My sleep has greatly improved, much more than I would have guessed, now that the main part of digestion has finished before I go to bed. It feels more like being pulled “towards the light” rather than pushing against the darkness – coming home to myself. And even during the daytime now, there’s been a softening at times around the need for eating more when I’m not hungry.

It’s a tender moment in my life which takes a bit more focus or mindfulness than usual, and so far I’ve been willing and able to allow for that. I’m extremely grateful for this commitment to unconditional love – for myself!

To read more about Sumitra Judith Burton, click here.

Deprivation

By Melanie Balint Gray.  I’ve been exploring deprivation as I walk through the twists and turns of my convoluted path from unconscious overeating to… to simple, joyful eating:  eating that is easy, enjoyable, and restorative.

A sense of deprivation has been a core experience throughout this journey.  It was what I told myself sometimes—since you can’t have such and such go eat because you can always have food.

But, an attitude of deprivation also informed my approach to food.  Deprive yourself of sugar so that you don’t get fat from all those empty calories.  You can substitute zero-calorie, artificial sweeteners instead.  Deprive yourself of this fat, but allow yourself that kind of fat. Stop eating sugar and flour.  And on and on and on.

I hoped that cleaning up what I ate would leave me feeling satiated after every meal.  It did begin to physically satiate me.

But, this pesky deprivation kept creeping back in.  I can’t have this.  I can’t have that.  I can’t do this.  I can’t do that.

I sat with this gnawing deprivation awhile and memories floated upward into plain view; memories not of when I’d been deprived by my parents or by some circumstance, but memories of when I had deprived myself.  Of what?  Of allowing deprivation the room to fully express itself.  Of squashing deprivation, making it wrong, alienating it.

I learned quite early that displays of emotions other than happiness were not welcome.  I grew up with training from that song “Put on a Happy Face.”  Even as a young child, no matter what feelings lurked beneath my façade, I was to smile, say I was fine and be cheery.

So, early on I received advanced training in keeping a cheery veneer.  It’s as if there was a lockdown underway inside, disallowing any other feelings. If they did venture out, some feistiness or some sadness, a scolding resulted so I put them on lockdown again.  I cheated myself of feeling them.

Deprivation keeps knocking on that thick, metal prison door these days.  And now, I’m beginning to attend to it.  It wants release and it wants to bring all of its prison mates along.  A total breakout!  The list of prisoners is long, too—spanning the spectrum of feelings from ecstasy to despair. You see, happy, is only one, small sliver of the spectrum of emotions.  So many emotions were cut off then and are blunted these days out of habit when they do escape for a bit.

There is one night in my childhood that deprivation still inhabits and it has taken me back there few times lately.  I’m beginning to feel into the depth of the aloneness I felt that night when there was no one to turn to for help, only myself.  There is fuller understanding of how everyone involved was crippled by this “Put on a Happy Face” command, so that no one could begin to untangle how they felt, revise how they behaved or have any shred of a healing conversation about it.  Deprived.  We were all totally deprived of the capacity of allowing genuine feelings to emerge.  Feelings that could open hearts and heal wounds.  That was just how it was.  It could not have been any other way.

So, this feeling of deprivation has kindly led me to compassion; compassion for all of us.

It seems that deprivation still has some life within me.  I’m more ready to sink into it now.  What else will it show me?  What’s the next gift it holds?

How many times…?

By Hanneke Geraeds.

“How many times will one desire emotional pain to go away before one realizes that it dissolves only through welcoming it fully and consciously?” ~ Scott Kiloby

I know this. I’ve experienced the blessing of it several times. And yet I keep putting sweet food in my mouth while ignoring underlying feelings and suppressing them this way; flashing up the moment, while casting a shadow over less pleasant feelings.

I know this and yet I keep imposing rules on myself for eating and moving. They only work if in that moment my willpower is strong enough. And often it isn’t…

It is a fight between Hanneke, the little child that demands a sweet, and Hanneke, the strict parent who wants to get hold of it. And, in fact, both perspectives don’t address the real point: the underlying, less pleasant feelings.

As long as I am looking from these two perspectives, I keep falling into conflicting behavioral patterns: it is chewing or checking. My weight is maintained… at an unhealthy level according to the norm…

Scott’s words wake me up out of this battle. (And thank you, Lisa Meuser, who is a colleague of mine, for sharing them.) A battle of which I know it becomes redundant if I can remember and look from the third perspective: welcoming the unpleasant feelings fully and consciously. That is the trick. By doing this at the crucial moment, and not choosing to flash up the moment by eating something I like or obeying the strict voice of willpower and find a different distraction, the underlying feelings finally get the attention they deserve. Now they aren’t cast over by a shadow, they are brought into the light. Free to leave whenever they will. And they will leave in the end. I know that. Then there is no need for overeating anymore. And without overeating what’s here to get hold of?