For much of my life, I’ve struggled with emotional eating habits. I was surrounded by emotional eaters within my family, and around the age of fourteen, my older sister was diagnosed with a serious case of bulimia. I remember countless experiences of coming home from school and participating in her binging sessions, the only difference was that she’d later throw it all up, and I’d keep it.
Not-so-ironically, I developed a terrible self image. Often self conscious, obsessed with being skinny, and never thinking I was skinny enough, my body was merely an object that caused me emotional pain. As I grew older, and this habit continued, it became more and more of a destructive habit, something that I relied on. At any moment of discomfort, I’d go straight to binge eating. It was a way to avoid feeling whatever was arising, filling to not feel. I’d often get a tummy ache, but that was much safer to feel than the emotions underneath that discomfort (or so I thought). And as this habit continued, I did gain weight, without that high school metabolism, I started to really put on the pounds, which caused me to feel more insecure, which caused me to want to binge eat more to avoid feeling that insecurity.
When we develop protective habits, we become more and more attached to them, causing it to become increasingly more difficult to stop. They become like dear friends of ours, something we can rely on, something that will always have our back. I tried many a diets to lose the weight I had gained, but of course, with this habit, they never worked. And it wasn’t until I started to cultivate my inner world, that the way I related to this habit started to shift. I started to understand this need to fill, and then I started to have the courage to [sometimes] feel. And even though feeling felt like such a leap over a deep, dark threshold, it brought me relief in a deeper way, and it brought me closer to the truth of myself, of presence.
The direction of the river started to shift – instead of feeling difficult emotions and reaching for the food, I was starting to build the strength to pause and recognize the difficult emotions. I’d still often reach for food, but slowly, slowly, the effect of filling was expiring, it didn’t really work any longer. It was like once I knew what I was doing, once I was conscious of my intent, it no longer had strength. How can you fill to not feel if you already know that you’re trying to not feel? I started to realize I couldn’t truly escape the feelings any longer, that trying to escape them was leading to more suffering than facing them head on. And by head on, I mean with real gentleness and kindness, another something I had to learn and am still learning. I ultimately realized that I could never truly fill the void that I felt inside. No amount of food would calm the anxiety or stress or pain in my body. It would only put a veil over the mess, which would later come back to be seen and acknowledged. It’s as if I finally understood that there’s no way out. And if I keep pretending like there is, I’m just living in an illusion that’s causing me more emotional and physical pain.
Have you experienced a sticky habit? How did you or do you relate to it? I’d love to hear your story.